Many denominations are deceived and confused about the correlation of faith and works. In this lesson let us see the relationship that exists between faith and works, and then to observe the relationships of faith, works, and salvation.
Salvation and Works
There is a definite connection between salvation and works, for John says, “He that believes on the Son bath eternal life, but he that obeys not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36). John says that the curse of heaven is upon all those who do not obey God, and if one does obey, he works. So then, John is saying that all those who do riot work are to have the wrath of God poured out upon them. In the passage from James it was said, “You see then how that by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (Jam. 2:24). We can very readily see that there is some connection between works and salvation.
It is necessary that man does the things that God has required of him. If it is required by God, then it is necessary that man works in order to be saved, for to obey the commandments of the Lord is to do the works of the Lord. However, someone very quickly replies, “If it is necessary for man to work in order to be saved, then salvation is not of grace.” Let us consider this objection. Just what does it mean to be saved by grace? We read in Ephesians, “for by grace have you been saved through faith.” (Eph. 2:8). Before one can say that works would eliminate grace, first he must tell us what grace is. The word “grace,” simply defined, means “unmerited favor,” and so, when we are saved by grace, it means that we are saved when we did not deserve to be. In Rom. 3:23 we read, “for all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God;” since we had sinned, we were deserving of death. Peter says, “God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment . . .” (2 Pet. 2:4). God did the angels no injustice when he cast them down into hell because they sinned. When man sinned, just as justly as God cast the angels down into hell, He could have cast man into hell, but He did not. His mercy interceded and sent for us Christ Jesus. Inasmuch as man was guilty of sin he deserved to die, but the grace of God permitted him to live, and to receive forgiveness of his sins, if he will obey the commandments of God. Grace is not eliminated because God said that man must do certain things in order to be saved, for man could never have been saved without God’s grace. God’s grace was expressed in the giving of Jesus Christ. Man did not deserve Christ, and so Christ was God’s grace, God’s favor that was shown to undeserving men. That is grace. The commandments of God have nothing to do with excluding God’s grace, for grace has already been given in Christ Jesus and the scheme of redemption. If man did every single thing that God said do, his salvation would still be by grace, for “all have sinned.” Sin deserved the punishment of death. Thus, our salvation is by grace, for we are undeserving of it by ourselves. when independent of Jesus Christ.
Faith is Wrought with His Works
A problem that often arises when we study the subject of works, is how the Bible is to be harmonized when it says “we are saved by works,” and “we are not saved by works. ” Notice these passages from James 2 that state that we are saved by works. “Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself” (v. 17. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” (v. 21). “You see that faith is wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect” (v. 22). “You see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith” (v. 24.) If these passages teach anything at all, then they teach that justification comes by doing some kind of works. We shall study in a few moments what kind of works about which these passages are talking.
The Bible also says that we are not saved by works. “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory” (Eph. 2:8, 9); “. . . according to the power of God; who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (2 Tim. 1:9). “But when the kindness of God our Savior, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5).
We make one more rather lengthy quotation to show that the Bible says that we are not saved by our own works: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has where of to glory; but not toward God. For what says the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now to him that works the reward is not reckoned as grace, but as of debt. But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” (Rom. 4:1-5).
In what sense are we saved by works? We are saved by doing the works of God. The works of God are the things that God has commanded that we do. Anything that God has commanded man to do cannot be said to be a work of man. In Acts 10:48 we read, “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Is baptism a work of God, or of man? Certainly it is a work of God. Today, though, denominationalists say, “If you say that one must be baptized in order to be saved, then you would have us saved by men’s works.” But anything that is commanded of God, is not a work of man, but it is a work of God.
There is not a single person living that would say that man is saved without doing some works. Everything that God has commanded is a work. They simply say that some of the works of God are necessary and some are not. I would be very fearful to say that any commandment of the Lord is unnecessary. The religious world would tell one that he is saved by believing, and not by works. But friend, even faith is a work; it is a work of God. In Jn. 6:29, Christ said, “This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.” If man is saved without any kind of works, then he could be saved in unbelief for Christ said that faith is a work of God. Faith is a commandment of God, but repentance and baptism also are the commandments of the Lord. To be saved by doing the things commanded of God, is not to be saved by the works of men, but by the works of God. We are saved by one kind of works (God’s works), but are not saved by another kind of works (man’s works). So we can see that the Bible does not contradict itself. Man just fails to make the distinction between the works of man and the works of God.
Now we want to study the relationship that exists between faith and works. When we see the relationship existing between faith and works, we then will see what kind of faith it is that saves one. We are now going to consider the entire quotation from Jam. 2:14-26 and make some observations to see if the doctrine of salvation by faith, without any kind of works, could be harmonized with this passage. “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man say that he has faith, but have not works? can that faith save him?” Notice that this is exactly talking about the class of people we are referring to, people who have faith, but have not works. “If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be you warmed and filled; and yet you give them not the things needful to the body; what does it profit?” Suppose I came to you and told you that I was cold and hungry, and you said, “You have my sympathy, be you warmed and filled,” but did not give me any food or clothing. What good would it do? Did not the scripture command every Christian to do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith? (Gal 6:10). Therefore, would your sympathy satisfy my hunger and warm my body? Would your faith alone in Jesus save you without assisting the needy and poor (especially the saints)? Certainly not! However, if you truly had faith in Jesus, it would be revealed by you doing the works of God.
So James says, “Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.” As your sympathy would not help me without some action too, so also, faith without works is dead. Faith without works will not be enough. James is saying one must have the works, too. “Yea, a man will say, you have faith, and I have works: show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” You cannot demonstrate your faith without works, but by my works I show my faith, James said. “You believe that God is one, you do well: the demons also believe, and shudder. But will you know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” Abraham was justified by works, but Paul had said that it was not by the works of his own righteousness that he was justified. James stated that the particular work was Abraham’s offering up his son Isaac. This was the commandment of the Lord, and so Abraham was justified by works, the works of God, and was not justified by his own meritorious works. “You see that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which says, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.” What is the relationship between faith and works? It was stated in those last two verses. The relationship is that works make faith perfect.
Remember that this passage did not say that we are saved by works only, but it is when our faith works that we are saved. Anything that is a commandment of the Lord is a work of God; we are saved by these works of God, and not by our own works. Peter told the believing Jews on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is a work of God. Because it is commanded by a God-sent apostle, it cannot be inessential and unnecessary.
We therefore conclude our lesson with a plea that you believe in Christ and obey God’s commandments that you might be justified by a perfect and living faith, a faith made perfect by doing the works of God.