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If salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, why does James say that Faith without works is dead? Is James asking us to go back to works again to earn our salvation? Is he contradicting what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote? Let’s find out together.
SALVATION BY GRACE, THROUGH FAITH
The teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and Apostle Paul clearly brought the truth that we are saved through faith and not by our works or deeds.
This simply means that apart from Faith in Jesus Christ and His redemption through His finished work on the cross, we cannot be saved. It is not possible for us to do enough works that can set us free from the bondage of sin.
In fact, the Old Testament shows us that our own righteousness is like filthy rags to God. No amount of good works could restore us into the right relationship with God, only the blood of Jesus could do that and when we have faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us, we take a step to experience His saving grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. ~Ephesians 2:8
Paul shows us that if we were to be saved by our own good works, we would have some ground to boast in our own strength. But instead, it is because of God’s grace through faith that we have been saved.
“When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” ~Titus 3:4-5
It is made very clear, all through the New Testament that it is only Jesus Christ who saves. Works are not sufficient to earn salvation. Only Faith in Jesus Christ guarantees our salvation.
I see Faith in Jesus Christ as the door that ushers us into salvation and fruit and works as the path we walk on in this journey of salvation on our way to eternity. I like to say it this way:
We were saved: When we believed the gospel of Jesus Christ, repented and abandoned our old ways to follow Him, we were saved.
We are being saved: When we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives and obey Him, walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh, with our minds being renewed through our study of the scriptures and communion with God through prayer, we are continually being saved.
We will be saved: When Jesus Christ comes back again for His church, we will be saved.
GOOD WORKS FROM TRUE FAITH
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” ~James 2:26
James is one of those books that can confuse some Christians who read it for the first time. In some ways, it sounds like James is contracting what Paul wrote about faith and works.
However, James is not in any way contradicting what Paul wrote; in fact, they are exactly on the same page. James is simply talking about what happens in the Christian life after justification by Faith.
Paul also writes and says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” ~Ephesians 2:10
Paul is also in agreement that our faith produces good works. And this is what James takes time to really speak to the church.
In the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “A tree is known by its fruit”. He constantly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, for they claimed to have faith in God, but they did not honor Him with their actions. They only followed the traditions of men but did not obey God.
Faith is meant to spur us on to obedience in Christ. Good works are the outer reflection of inner transformation.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled.’ But you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” ~James 2:14-17
James is saying that real and genuine faith, faith that actually relies on Jesus Christ will produce good works. He is saying to the Christians, yes you are saved through faith and that faith produces a life lived in obedience to God. A life absent of good works or good fruit indicates a Faith that is dead and if that faith is dead, then there is no salvation therein.
And that’s why Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” ~Matthew 7:22-23
I believe it takes faith to prophesy, cast out demons, and do wonders. These are people who are certainly not without faith, however, their faith is incomplete or in other words, dead, for they produced no works. Jesus says they practiced lawlessness. Their faith bore no fruit.
“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe- and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” ~James 2:19-20
Even demons believe there is one God. In fact in the gospels, we see that they even believed He is the Son of God. But that does not mean they are saved! If our faith yields no fruit, it is a phony faith, one that cannot save.
“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 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 a friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” ~James 2:21-24
James actually accepts everything that Paul says when he quotes Genesis 15:6 that Abraham was justified by faith, he believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. James agrees with that and affirms it. He then continues to show us what happens in Abraham’s life as a result of this. That faith produces fruit. That verse is fulfilled when Abraham actually offered his son on the altar. That was the proof of his faith. His faith found its maturity in obedience.
If our faith is dead, that means it is nonexistent. James is urging us to have a living faith and living faith produces good works. Let us not be deceived or deceive ourselves, Faith without works is dead. If we truly love Jesus with all our heart, might, and soul, it will show.
This does not mean that we pursue works without a relationship with God. Rather because we have a relationship with God, we will live in accordance with His ways. Our good works are to be birthed from a place of communion and fellowship with the Lord.
If you’re reading this and you were previously deceived that producing good works is legalism, it’s not too late to repent and walk in the truth. Allow the Holy Spirit to show you what it actually means to be the righteousness of God. Set aside time where you talk and listen to God in the place of prayer and study the word of God. This will help you to get closer to God, to know Him, to know His ways and walk in them. God loves you so much and He wants you to walk in the truth so that you will inherit the kingdom of heaven and enjoy eternity with Him.