What the Bible says about
Faith with Works
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The first humans failed their test of faith. They trusted what they "saw" rather than believing what God said—His words—and became the first example of man choosing to walk by sight rather than by faith. Humanity has followed this example ever since, proving that Adam and Eve's faithlessness was not an aberration but a trait of every human heart, including ours.
What were the consequences of this sin, this act of faithlessness? The answer is in Genesis 3:24: "So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life."
Adam and Eve's sin of faithlessness destroyed the close relationship they had with God. Because they did not trust Him, their lack of faith put a barrier between themselves and God. The broken trust, faithlessness, ruined that relationship just as it does in our human relationships.
Adam and Eve chose to follow the faithless Satan rather than the faithful God. Satan persuaded them to focus on what they could see rather than what God said. The strategy was so successful that Satan has consistently used it on humanity.
Satan is the prime example of faithlessness. Satan believes God exists, but his is a dead faith because it does not lead to right action. James 2:19-20, from the New Living Translation, forcefully points out the futility and foolishness of Satan's faith: "Do you still think it's enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?"
Faith—What Is It?
Here, the subject is the role faith and works play in the justification process. This time, he uses Abraham as the model by which all his "children in the faith" also become "children of God." He begins by posing a question, which can be paraphrased as, "Do miracles come by ritual?" There is in this a veiled illusion to magic. Do miracles come by incantation? Do they come by knowing certain formulas that may include even such things as cutting the flesh or going through long periods of fasting or sufferings to get God's attention? Will God respond with a miracle out of pity once we show Him how humble and righteous we are? No, it does not work that way. Miracles come by a living God, who is actively working in our lives because He called us and we have faith in Him.
With that foundation, Paul begins what turns into the preamble for a very controversial section of Galatians. He proceeds to state that it was through faith that Abraham was justified. It is good to remember that Abraham not only believed who God is, but he also believed what God said. This is what set him apart from everybody else. His faith was not merely an intellectual agreement, but he also lived His faith.
Abraham's works did not win him acceptance by God, but they did prove to God that Abraham really did believe Him. So Paul says in verses 10-11 that those who rely on their works to justify them are under the curse of the law. What is "the curse of the law"? The death penalty! When one sins, he brings on himself the curse of the law he broke, which is death. In effect, he says that those who seek justifcation through works are still under the curse because justification by this means is impossible.
So powerful is the curse of the law that, when our sins were laid on the sinless Jesus Christ, the law claimed its due. Jesus died! Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 to counteract those who were troubling the church, because they were saying that their asceticism, magic, and similar things (like keeping Halakah, the oral law and traditions of Judaism) could justify.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Six)
In God's mind, true faith or living faith is virtually synonymous with obedience and works. Faith and obedience are interchangeable, even though they are not specifically the same thing. This is just like the Bible's usage of mind, heart, and spirit—they are not specifically the same thing, yet they are so interconnected that they really cannot be separated.
This verse is a quotation of Genesis 15:6. There is a parallel quotation in Romans 4:1-3:
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
This verse in essence says that Abraham was justified because he believed. He was legally righteous before God because of his faith. This becomes the basis for Paul's teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. What Paul does not mention here is that Abraham's justification (Genesis 15:6) occurred 14 years before Abraham was circumcised. Paul's conclusion is that, based on Genesis 15:6, Abraham was justified by faith. The "work" of circumcision did not come for another 14 years! The circumcision did not justify him—the faith did. See the notes at Galatians 2:16.
Paul explains further in verses 21-25:
And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Paul shows that we are also justified (cleared of guilt, have our sins wiped away) by belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. What God did for Abraham, He will also do for us. Paul's conclusion then is that justification is by faith.
But like Galatians 2:16, this seemingly sets up a paradox, because faith does not stand alone:
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:20-24)
Paul also points out that there is more to the equation of justification than just faith in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."
These last two scriptures show that living faith cannot be separated from obedience—from works. Faith and works go together; where there is living faith, there will always be good works. If no works are produced, there is no living faith. What we truly and deeply believe will determine the actions we take in our lives. If we truly believe something, our "works"—what we do in our lives—will always point to that. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)—a man lives and acts according to what his core is.
As discussed previously (Galatians 2:16), these verses are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Each of these passages has a different context and purpose, and so we do not get the whole answer from any one of them individually. James' purpose is to show that there are two kinds of faith—living and dead, genuine and professing.
James says that a person's faith is perfected or completed by the kind of works that the faith produces. He shows that it is the kind of faith that Abraham had that made the real difference and brought about justification. Justification is entirely an act on God's part, but the kind of faith that brings about justification is the same kind that also brings about good works. It is not our works that save us, but only those who are "working" in the right way will be saved because their works will be indicative of what they truly believe in. Living faith, which James talks about, cannot be separated from works.
Paul backs this up in his second letter to the Corinthian church:
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim [work; labor], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him [our acceptance by Him after being justified is dependent on what we do!]. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)
Paul lived by faith, but he worked (labored) so that he would be acceptable to God. If he did not work, he would not have been acceptable to God even though he professed God, said he believed in Christ, had faith that He could save, etc. His works were an indicator to God of what he had faith in—what he believed.
Paul's faith was the same faith that James was talking about—a living, active faith which produces good things—good works. Dead faith is inactive (toward the things of God). It does not produce anything profitable. It is the particular kind and quality of works that separates the Christian from the world, giving evidence of what a person believes.
David C. Grabbe
When Paul says, "know you therefore," he is instructing them to learn from this case (Psalm 100:3; Luke 21:31; Hebrews 13:23).
The Greek word translated "of" here is "a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds)." In this case, it is referring to those people whose origin or source is faith—those who have the right faith, which have been justified by God. This is the starting point of their spiritual life. Paul is showing that we are children of Abraham based on what we believe (have faith in), which is then evidenced by the way we live our life.
One of the many disputes that Christ had with the Jews during His time was over lineage. The Jews traced their physical lineage back to Abraham, and thus considered themselves to be children of Abraham. Christ disagreed with this because, if they were Abraham's sons in the fullest sense, they would have believed and acted just as Abraham did. The real children of Abraham are not his natural descendants (Matthew 3:9), but those who share his faith. This is why Abraham is called the "father of the faithful" (see also Luke 3:8; Romans 2:28-29, 9:6; James 2:21-23).
It is interesting to note again the link between faith (belief) and works (action). In this verse, Paul says that the true children of Abraham are the ones who have the same faith that Abraham had. Yet in John 8:39-41, Christ says the Jews really are not Abraham's children because their works—their actions—were not in accordance with what Abraham had done. There certainly is no contradiction here; the faith that made Abraham remarkable is the faith that motivates people to do good works (James 2:17-26)!
David C. Grabbe
The Old Testament has "included" or "enclosed" or "shut up" all of humanity under the umbrella of sin. Not a single person can appear before God on the basis of his own merit or righteousness. The totality of mankind is enslaved by sin and does not have the means to break free from its grasp. By "concluding" that everyone is under the bondage of sin, or under the curse of sin, Scripture shows that something external to mankind has to act to provide a solution that can save man from himself and his sinful nature. This "conclusion" also demonstrates that none of the paths that man has embarked on—primarily justification on the basis of one's own works—are of any lasting worth.
Because all other paths are shown to be futile, the only option for salvation and glorification is the way that Jesus Christ has set forth. There are no other alternatives. Faith in what Christ has done, is doing, and will do is mankind's only hope.
The story of the Israelites is a record of a people whom God chose, set apart, and blessed with incredible blessings and opportunities. But it is also a record of mankind's sinful nature and how illogical it is that a man could stand before God on account of his own innate righteousness. God revealed just a portion of His will and character—the letter of the law—to Israel, and its history powerfully demonstrates that, by himself, man is unable to live up to God's standards.
This should be glaring testimony that some other means is required for man to have a relationship with his Creator. The solution is justification—being brought into alignment with God and His law—on the basis of belief in the Savior and His perfect sacrifice. This marks the beginning of the relationship.
But because faith without works is dead, the way a man lives his life demonstrates who and what he believes in. If he has been justified before God and is being saved, his life will reflect God's mercy, providence, and sovereignty. We are not justified or saved by our works, but if we are justified our works will demonstrate that we are being saved. "Belief" in Christ will be an everyday, continual reality, and true belief will shape every thought, word, and deed.
David C. Grabbe
What avails a person is faith working through love. These three verses are important because they introduce "Spirit" and that "faith works through love." Faith works. It works through—meaning "by means of"—love. In other words, if a person really has faith in the right things and the right Person, what will he will produce? Love!
What is the Bible definition of love? "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (I John 5:3). That is beautiful! Similarly, Paul is saying that, if we really believe in the right things and the right Person (that is, have faith), then it will produce the keeping of the commandments.
The evidence of our faith, then, is in whether or not we keep His commandments. John tells us that the basis of love is commandment-keeping. It is not the whole picture, because emotion, feeling, is also tied to it, but we have to begin somewhere, and the bottom line is keeping the commandments.
Another statement that proves that Paul was not doing away with law- keeping comes right from this context. The word "Spirit" reflects on a subject he dealt with earlier. The enemy—Judaistic Gnostics—believed that their calling and election by God came because they had the law and kept it. But Paul is saying, "No. We are drawn to God by His Spirit," which is what Jesus says in John 6:44.
Also, truth is revealed by God's Spirit (I Corinthians 2:10-16; John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), so our calling has nothing to do with our works. Romans 9:16 tells us that it is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. Thus, we are in this position because God, by His Spirit, has drawn us. He, by His Spirit, has revealed Himself, His Word, and the purpose of life to us. Our calling and election are completely a work of grace. At the point of our calling, law-keeping has nothing to do with it, but comes into play later when our faith works through love.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Eight)
A simple illustration will help us understand. Imagine being the root of a tree. The root does a tremendous amount of work in producing the tree's fruit. It draws moisture and nourishment in the form of minerals from the soil, processes them to some degree, then passes them on to the rest of the tree. However, the root could do none of this unless the minerals and water were freely given and available for it to do its work.
Similarly, faith is a gift, like the water and minerals, freely given by God to produce certain works. Like a tree root, we have a measure of control because we have a part to play—working to believe and use what God has given—in producing the fruit of the Spirit. Thus, faith is simultaneously a gift and a work. It is a gift because the Son of Man gives it to us (John 6:27) and a work because we must exercise it (John 6:29). As a food, faith is very nourishing for the mind, necessary for mental soundness and an abundant life. It will not be present in us unless we work to assimilate it by believing it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)
Is there any contradiction between the opinions of Paul and James on this matter?
Simply, no! Paul, in Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is required and, as we have seen, in verse 10, says that good works are also required. James, in the second chapter of his epistle, says that faith and works are inseparable:
· Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (verse 17)
· But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (verse 20)
· For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (verse 26)
In his Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley states that:
Paul's doctrine of Justification by Faith, and James' doctrine of Justification by Works, are supplementary, not contradictory. Neither was opposing the teaching of the other—they were devoted friends and co-workers. James fully endorsed Paul's work (Acts 15:13-29; 21:17-26).
Paul preached Faith as the basis of justification before God, but insisted that it must issue in the right kind of Life. James was writing to those who had accepted the doctrine of Justification by Faith but were not Living Right, telling them that such Faith was No Faith at all. (p. 659, capitalization as in original)
The Revised Standard Version translates James 2:20 in a very interesting and appropriate way: "Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?" It is barren that is so intriguing. In the Bible, several women—for example, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth—could not have children. In the physical realm, a fertile male and a fertile female are both required conditions for reproduction for most forms of life. Spiritually, active faith and active works are both required conditions to reproduce godly, spiritual life in us. In both cases, life, whether spiritual or physical, is a gift of God, the Creator and Life-giver. If either condition is absent or inactive, barrenness or lack of new life results.
Another meaning of barren common in English is that of a land without vegetation, a desolate place. The Greek word James uses is argos (instead of nekra, "dead," as in verses 17 and 26), meaning "lazy," "unproductive," "unprofitable," "idle," "ineffective." Its literal meaning is "no work" [a (negative) + ergon (work)]! The word picture that develops is of an area of land that receives plenty of sunshine but too little rain, and hence, it is barren, desolate. Such a land cannot be worked because it will not produce anything profitable. In the same way, a person having only faith will produce nothing profitable; he needs a steady "rain" of work to grow and mature.
So there is no contradiction. Faith is required. Works are required. Works toward God are to do His will and His work and, yes, to obey His laws. Works toward our neighbors are to serve them and to do good for them. Doing them promotes growth of godly character and provides a shining example of true Christian living.
Faith without works is dead. Faith with works is life—eternal life!
Faith Without Works
Hebrews 11:5-8 clearly teaches that God chooses to bless with rewards those who by faith choose to cooperate with Him in His spiritual creation. Abel, Enoch, and Noah are proofs of this fact. Thus, three major factors are linked in the spiritual creation process leading to salvation: grace, works, and rewards.
We can watch this unfold in Noah's experience with God. This is of particular importance to us living in the end time because both Jesus and Peter state that the end time would bear a similarity to Noah's day. Peter specifically shows in II Peter 2:5-6 that the Flood is a strong witness against the doctrine of uniformitarianism, the idea that earth's history has passed without variation through the ages:
. . . and [God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly. . . .
If God is the Savior and Rewarder of those who obey Him, then the opposite must be true: that He is the Punisher of those who despise Him. The Flood and Sodom are witnesses of this truth. Not all things have continued as they always have. The godly lived; the ungodly died. Despite what men say and think, God moved to punish mankind's sins in the days of Noah. That punishment came in the form of the Flood, which wiped out all land-based mammal and bird life except for Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark.
Genesis 6:8 reveals the beginning of Noah's salvation. It began in God's mind. It was absolutely unearned, being an act of God's kindness. This is step one.
Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah believed God's warning. This, combined with God's grace, becomes the foundation for Noah's reaction. Noah's belief is step two.
Next comes the effect of this combination: Internally, Noah "moved with fear." He was motivated—he felt an urge—due to his deep respect for God. The external effect was that he built the ark. This is step three.
The consequences of his foundation of grace and faith plus the impulse to move with fear comprise step four. He and his house were saved from the Flood, the world was condemned by his witness, and he became an heir of the righteousness that is by faith.
Did Noah's works save him? The answer is both yes and no. Consider: If Noah, not believing, had failed to prepare the ark, would he not have perished in the Flood along with everyone else? Certainly. Did his own efforts in building the ark, then, save him from the Deluge? No, they did not, because we have not yet considered all the parts God played in this scenario. He did far more than just warn Noah to build an ark.
Philippians 4:19 promises, "God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." This does not at all mean that we can do anything we want to, and that God will take up the slack. It means that God will supply all our needs within the project He has us working on.
Genesis 6:13-16; 7:14-16; 8:1; and other verses show God's oversight, guidance, and providence. Genesis 8:1 is especially important: "Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided."
"Remembered" indicates His special attention during the entire project, but it especially focuses on the time following the shutting of the door when those in the ark were helpless before the overwhelming onslaught of water. Huge torrents of water gushed from the earth, as well as fell from the heavens. This must have created huge waves. There is no indication that the ark had mast, sail, rudder, or wheel for navigation. Nevertheless, God was with them from beginning to end, giving them His special attention to preserve them and see His purpose accomplished.
This illustrates God working in them both to will and to do as they cooperated in their human, weak ways. This combination of God's grace and human cooperation produced their salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Just as surely as a dead person does no works, so a faith, a religion, that does not include works is also dead. Thus, a person in whom living, saving faith exists will produce works.
One must also consider Ephesians 2:8, 10, which tell us that salvation is by grace through faith, and that the Father created us for good works, which He prearranged for us to perform. Therefore, how can a person with a dead faith, one that produces no works, be in God's Kingdom, since he would be failing to do the very thing for which God is creating him in Christ?
Furthermore, we are to be in God's image and to imitate Christ. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Our spiritual Father is a Creator, and a creator works. Most certainly, Jesus worked during His lifetime on earth, living a sinless life to provide us a means of justification. As our High Priest, He continues to work toward our salvation.
The root of this issue is that people have a dismally vague knowledge of what sin is, as well as an equally weak appreciation for the dangerous filthiness of sin, which can prevent us from entering God's Kingdom. We live in an exceedingly sinful nation in which we are confronted by sin from every quarter, including from within. Sin is so blatantly exhibited that most people seem to treat it with casual indifference until some form of it—rape, murder, thievery, lying, gossip, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drunkenness, etc.—personally hits them.
So many are unaware of what sin is that they ignorantly participate in it. Television and movie "entertainment" overflows with it. In fact, sin is woven so tightly into the fabric of movies and TV shows that one could wonder if any other subject material exists! In America, over one million unborn children are aborted each year, and people euphemistically call this a "privacy right," hiding from the reality that they are murderers! What else can one honestly call the taking of life from an unborn human being created in God's image?
Through Jeremiah, God accuses Judah of having a "whore's forehead," indicating a people so perverted and hardened in their sins they could no longer be shamed (Jeremiah 3:3). If we as a people have not reached that stage of degeneracy, we soon will because God cries through Ezekiel, "Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence" (Ezekiel 7:23). Is there any other nation in the Western world that so openly exhibits as many violent crimes as the United States of America?
When one realizes sin's stranglehold on the United States, it becomes clear that a majority of its people are either ignorant of their responsibilities to God and fellow man, or no longer care what God thinks. A recent Barna poll reveals that an astounding 76 million American citizens never darken a church doorway to receive spiritual and moral instruction. How can they possibly appreciate what sin is and does?
Of far greater concern, though, are those who are reading this. God's ministers are responsible to make their teaching of God and His way as sharp and clear as they can so that those they teach can understand, not just the basics, but as broadly and deeply as possible so that it can be lived.
Wrong ideas about holiness usually lie in wrong ideas about human corruption. The responsibility of the Christian to seek the holiness of God provides the very reason God requires works. I Peter 1:15-16 charges us, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
The obverse of this common ignorance of sin is that, without a firm understanding of human corruption, we have little appreciation of the radiant glory of God's holiness toward which we are to strive! Sin lies exposed as the root cause of humanity's corrupt condition, but many, even in the church, do not appreciate the depth of persistent corruption in themselves.
Vague, dim, and indistinct understandings of sin will never serve a Christian well. He must always apply his mind to growing in understanding to throw off spiritual vagueness and simultaneously glorify our Father and Elder Brother. If one does not grasp the depth of his carnal heart's disease, it will constantly deceive him into thinking he has little to overcome, thus dragging him into pride. The human heart is so sick God tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurable!
Scripture uses terms for sin that are easily understood, but unless one meditates on them, they may not provide a clear picture of sin's many means of exerting its influence. The Bible's terms generally mean something like "missing the mark," "turning aside," or "slipping off the path." They can sound quite innocuous unless one recognizes the devastation sin has caused and ponders it seriously.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
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