Each and every true believer is saved by grace through faith in what the Father has said and written about the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Messiah, enabled our forgiveness through the shedding of His blood and resurrection and Himself declared that “he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24). This means that because of the faith God has given us, and His unending grace, we can live with Him in eternity.
Some denominations of Christianity (and indeed some cults) teach that, while we are “partially” saved by faith, we must continue to “earn” our salvation through good works (good deeds). These teachings are usually backed up by a letter in the New Testament, written by James, to the early church. It says this:
“14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15 And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”; and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 18 Yes, a man will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:14-19)
While it is true that faith will accompany works, to insist that salvation is dependent upon a believer’s works is dangerous and places a heavy burden on the beloved of Christ, a burden Jesus came to destroy. The Apostle Paul wrote to the early church: “ for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, that no one would boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He is stating that God saves us by grace through faith, that He gives us this faith and this grace wholly and completely. Our salvation is a gift from Him, not something we can work for.
Throughout the later books of the New Testament, the early church is repeatedly rebuked for teaching that Gentiles (Greeks or non-Jews) must adhere to the Law of Moses (Old Testament covenant) in order to be saved. So what, then, is James referring to when he says that “…faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself”? James is referring to a living, active faith given by God.
What is a “living, active faith” and how do you identify it?
Living, active faith is given by God and will accompany good works; not because we have to do them, but because our desires begin to conform to God’s (as the Holy Spirit works to transform us) and we *want* to do them. The good works are out of love (the godly, selfless, active love known as “agape love”) and are not done with selfish motives in mind. We will be moved to compassion and love towards people who are lacking physically (take the example in James’ letter, for instance), and emotionally, and we will want to help them *out* of love and compassion, like God continues to help us in His unfailing love, compassion and faithfulness.
Dead faith is shallow; it may do good works out of duty or obligation, usually with selfish motives in mind. It does not change or love because it quite simply can’t. Dead faith is without the Holy Spirit, and is a faith fought for in vain. Dead faith is not moved to true “agape love”, for it cannot love in this way as it does not have the Spirit of God in its heart, and so it would likely be the one who simply looked to the believer in James’ letter and says “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” before leaving them cold and naked, and going home to their own food and clothing.
We are constantly being changed by the Holy Spirit, being new creatures in Christ, and gradually in our walk with God our desires become His desires (though not in God’s entirety, the human mind and nature could not contain Him!), which would lead to good works. Good works, really, are an act of obedience and reverence to God, and an act of love and compassion towards our fellow man. That love is given to us by God and is not something we can achieve on our own.
I’m not saying that we will always, every single time, live in love and compassion towards our fellow man; no, we are still human and are fighting our old, fleshly, sinful nature, but we will gradually change. The transformation given us by the Holy Spirit is a gift from God the Father. It is not something we can earn neither is it something we deserve, but in God’s loving faithfulness, His tender mercy and absolute compassion He gave us the gift of His Son that we may live in right relationship with Him for all eternity! How amazing is that?
We can rest in Jesus, knowing that everything He sought to achieve on the cross (our redemption and saving from our sins, a restoration to God the Father) was finished… after all, He *did* say “it is finished” (John 19:30). Why would we want to dispute the words of our beloved Jesus? Rest in Him, my love, for He has done all the work; all we need do now is obey and allow ourselves to be tender to the Holy Spirit’s guiding, we can do nothing to perfect what has already been perfected.
There is a great deal more that could be said on this matter however, as an alternative, I’d like to offer you some bible verses relating to this that may be an encouragement to you.
(John 3:16) (Acts 16:31) (Romans 3:28) (Romans 4:5) (Romans 5:1) (Galatians 2:16) (Galatians 3:24) (Ephesians 1:13) (Ephesians 2:8) (Philippians 3:9)