What does it mean that faith without works is dead? Does this mean we need works to help our faith or that our faith is incomplete without works?
Religions with Works
All religions without Christ demand works that are added as part of their belief system. They include many of the cults and world religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and just about every other faith or belief system you see on the planet except for Christianity says “do, do, do” but with Christ, it is done! Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” or essentially, “paid in full” (John 19:30). By Jesus saying “It is finished” what He is saying is that He does not need your help in the process of salvation. If you try to work for it, then it is not by grace any more but of works and God accepts no works from anyone as part of their salvation. Paul wrote that salvation is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). If it is of works then it is not grace for grace is given freely and cannot be earned. If it were by works then surely we would boast about it but by our boasting we show that we don’t understand what grace really is. If we add one drop of works then it is not grace anymore and by adding our works we are robbing God of His glory which He will not share with anyone (Isaiah 42:8). The fact is that we are not saved by works but we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). We are saved for works not by works.
Faith Without Works
James wrote that
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
I saw a church sign say that “you are not saved without works.” To me, that is heretical. That is a lie straight from the pit of hell. They are saying that works contribute to your faith but that robs God of glory for salvation is fully a work of God and no man or woman can add anything to faith or it is no longer faith. They misquote James and say that a person has to add works to complete their faith but Jesus said that “It is finished” and in the Greek it means “Paid in full.” The thief on the cross had no ability to do any works, nor get baptism but some say, “Well, that was before Christ died” but does God have two plans of salvation: One before the cross and one after the cross? No! James is saying that if a person has faith then they will have works. Good works are a result of faith not a contribution to faith. If a person’s says that they are saved and has no good works then they show that their faith is not genuine for a person that is saved naturally does good works for the Spirit of God is in them. It is a faith that works not works that produce faith. A faith that saves is a faith that works and that is why James work that a “faith by itself [that] does not have works, is dead!”
A Faith Apart from Works is Dead
James continues to show that works accompany faith but doesn’t produce a saving faith. James wrote
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:18-26).
If a person says that they believe in God then they only qualify to be a demon for even the demons believed but this doesn’t mean that they are saved because they don’t do any good works, only evil. Notice that James asked people “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” That is spot on that faith is revealed by our works and shows that we are truly saved. Abraham was “justified by works” because of the evidence of his faith in offering “up Isaac on the altar.” James even says to those who believe or teach that we are saved by works, no, “a person is justified (gives evidence of) works” and this shows that his faith is real. Abraham had faith and he proved his faith by offering up Isaac knowing that God could raise him up again even if he was killed in a sacrificed as it was written “[Abraham]considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11:19).
Abraham showed his faith was real because “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb 11:9-10) so by Abraham’s going to a place where he did not know about he acted in belief and showed that his faith was real. His going and leaving his kindred, family, and nation (Gen 12:1) was evidence of his believing God and this believing was works (proof) that his faith was real. Those who were following Jesus asked Him “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29). That is the only work that we can do…it is a free will, voluntary act to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and by this work or evidence of your believing in Him, you will be saved. If anyone claims to be saved and does not produce good works then that person is not saved. If a person claims to be saved and they naturally produce good works then you know their faith is real. They are not saved by those works but those works show that they are saved. If you are not saved, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved because there is no other name given to us whereby we must…I repeat…we must be saved (Acts 4:12, 16:30-31).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon