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Faith Without Works is Dead?

There are those who believe that Paul and James contradict each other in their writings. However, properly understood, they actually compliment each other.

Paul said: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph: 2:8, 9).

James said “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone. (James 2:17)

So, who is right Paul or James? Answer: Both are right.
Paul is speaking of a genuine faith and James is speaking of a vain man who claims to have faith but cannot demonstrate it because he is not producing good works.

“But thou will know (on judgment day), O vain man, that faith without works is dead. (James 2:20).

What is dead here? The vain mans faith is dead which of course implies that he has no faith otherwise he would be producing good works.

“What doeth it profit, my brethren, though a man SAY he has faith, and has not works, can faith save him?” Of course not since his faith is dead. In other words actions (works) speak louder than vain words (dead faith) as it were. Or, actions prove words.

What James is teaching here is that anyone who has a genuine faith will be producing good works because of his faith.

“Yea, a man may say, you have faith and I have works, show me thy faith without thy works (impossible) and I will show thee my faith by my works” (the things I do). (James 2:18). It is the faith that saves but the true works are the evidence of that faith.

A simple illustration may help. When my son was very young he would stand on top of his bunk bed and I would tell him to close his eyes and fall forward and I would catch him. Since he trusted me he would say OK (had a genuine faith) close his eyes and fall and I would catch him. If he had said that he trusted me to catch him but really didn’t believe that I would, he would not have fallen. In other words, his falling demonstrated his faith. This was my way of teaching him about faith.

Suppose you started a business and prayed that God would help you become successful. Then all you did was sit around and do nothing. What would happen to the business? It would fall flat even if you claimed to have faith that it would succeed. We must step out in faith believing, not wavering or doubting God. We should work the business and all the while believe that God will keep his promises to us. Here again we have faith first then proceed with our works. Our faith is no good if it’s not real.

Saying we have faith and truly having faith are two different things. So, how do we obtain a true faith? Our faith comes by a consistent study of the Bible. We first have a faith in Jesus Christ when someone explains the Gospel to us from the Bible and then when we continue to learn our faith will grow as a result of our knowledge about Jesus Christ.

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17)

Look at what happened to Abraham: (Genesis 22: 1-13) God told Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt offering to the Lord.

Abraham took the fire and a knife to kill his son as an offering because he had a genuine faith. At the last minute an angel of the Lord said: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do anything unto him for now I know that thou fearest (trust, a genuine faith) God seeing thou hath not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Gen 22:11).

Abraham had proved his faith by his works. It should be pointed out that Abraham had no idea that God was testing his faith yet he trusted the Lord. If we truly believe and trust God we can’t help but live our lives doing good works. Anything that an unbeliever can do in the energy of the flesh is NOT good works even though it may seem to us as good. For example, an unbeliever can be religious, give to the poor, visit the sick and elderly, sing in the choir, donate to charity etc. but these are not good works as far as God is concerned because good works are generated by faith in God. We cannot please God without faith no matter what kind of good works we do.

“But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6)

There are two types of good works. There is the type we generate from ourselves in an effort to gain the approval of God and there is the type that we produce under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as a result of our faith and love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

“But we are all as an unclean thing and ALL OUR righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6)

Many atheists are good and decent moral people and many do a lot of good things, humanly speaking, but works do not save them nor or their works counted as good by God. In Hebrews 11 Paul gives examples of Old Testament believers who produced good works because of their faith. Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Sampson, Rahab the prostitute, Sampson, David, Samuel and more.

“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted (tested), were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11: 37-38). These people did what they did because they believed in God not because they were trying to be seen by men as a good person or earn their salvation.

The human race exists to resolve the conflict between the elect angels (those who stayed with God) and the fallen angels (those who followed Satan). They are watching us. Satan deceived many of them and they were judged and cast out of Heaven to the earth. God knows that many of us believe in him and that’s what saves us. However, as a demonstration of his fairness in judging Satan and the Fallen Angels to the Lake of fire he allows us to be tested for all to see. When we use our faith during a time of hardship God considers this good works. Such is the case with Abraham. This is quite different than many of the things we often consider good deeds. It is easy to have faith when things are going smoothly in our lives but when the pressure of an impossible situation is upon us we are forced to make a decision as to which way we will go. We will either turn away from God (dead faith) or we will rest in Gods promises while we are enduring our period of suffering. Others will be observing what we do. This is a part of our witness for the Lord.

James gives the same example of Abraham as Paul did. Paul, remember, was speaking of a genuine faith and James was speaking of the works that Abraham produced because of his faith.

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son upon the alter? “ (James 2:21)

If you stop reading here you might think that Abraham was saved because he did good works. Abraham was a believer long before this time so he wasn’t saved by his works. In the next verse James tells us:

“See how faith wrought with (produced by) his works, and by works was faith made perfect.” (James 2:22)

Perfect means mature in the old English. In other words, Abraham in demonstrating his faith became a more mature believer having been through what must have been a time of agony knowing he was to sacrifice his son. This is how our faith grows.

“…Abraham believed (faith) God, and it was imputed (credited by God) unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23) Notice here that James says that it was Abraham’s belief (faith) that made him righteous not his works.

As an unbeliever we have a dead human spirit which makes our body dead in that we are unable to do good works that are pleasing to God. So, if we say we have faith but really don’t our works are useless and our faith is dead.

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26)

This is why James tells us “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving your own selves. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein he, being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Good works are the result of a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Good works are not something that we must generate in the energy of the flesh.

“For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we (Christians) are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph: 2:8, 9, 10)

Notice that we are saved first and then the good works come as a result of our faith.

. Salvation comes by faith, a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and at some point in your life you can expect that faith to be tested not only for the benefit of the angels but for your spiritual growth as well. Your obedience to God as a result of this testing will be counted as good works and is evidence of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants you to grow in your faith and to become spiritually mature and at the same time demonstrate to unbelievers, angels and Satan that you are truly a child of God.

“But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

“Therefore 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.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7)