This semester at Men’s Basic, a men’s group that meets at 6 am on Thursday mornings at Cornerstone Church, we are going through the book of James. This is a great book and I have learned alot about what it means to be a “godly man.” A few weeks ago we were reviewing the following passage in our study of the book of James:
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
That seemed straight forward enough, but then about a week later I read the following passage from Ephisians:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
After reading that I found myself asking the following question: Are we saved by grace through faith alone or do we also need good works?
James does not argue that good works are required for salvation. Nor does he say that deeds are more important than beliefs. Rather, he insists that there are two kinds of faith. One type of faith is legitimate and the other illegitimate; “faith … made complete” (James 2:22) and “faith without deeds” (James 2:20). Both are “belief” in one sense of the word, but legitimate faith goes deeper than “right thinking” to “right living.”
Confusion may arise, however, when we recall that Paul writes that we cannot earn salvation. Paul uses Abraham as an example of one who received God’s promise, not through human effort, but through faith. This idea is laid out in Galations 3:6-12.
6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”[d] 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”
James also uses Abraham as an example, but his focus and emphasis are different than Paul’s. James skips over the futility of human effort to discuss the futility of deficient faith. A faith that stops at the intellectual level. Even demons have that kind of “faith,” James exclaims (James 2:19)!
James’s point, then, is that Abraham exercised authentic faith. Faith that was demonstrated by his actions. Abraham’s deeds earned him nothing, but they proved his faith was genuine. Having a right faith led to right actions. If he had not trusted God, Abraham could never have offered his son (the fulfillment of God’s promise) on the altar (James 2:21-22). Paul uses Abraham to show that people are justified on the basis of real faith. James shows that Abraham’s faith was proven to be real because it worked.
This idea is made clear in the following verse found in Galations:
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
So then, we don’t need anything but faith (the right kind of faith) to be saved by God. Our behavior will show what our faith is made of. Our actions will show whether or not our faith is legitimate.
Let me see if I can put some sort of practical spin on this. If you are a Christian and you go to church every Sunday, that is great, but that will not earn you a ticket to heaven. If you go to church out of a sense of obligation, you are going for the wrong reason. On the other hand, if you do not go to church, that does not mean that you are definately going to hell either. If you have faith (a strong relationship with God) you will desire to go to church each Sunday because you want to. It is enjoyable to you. You want to meet up with other people who have a relationship with the same God you do and you want to worship Him together. It brings you great joy to do that. The fact that you go to church each Sunday is a result of the relationship you have with God. Does that make sense?
Let me give you another example. Lets say you see a homeless man at McDonalds and you buy him some food to eat and take the time to sit down and talk to him for a bit over the shared meal. This is an awesome thing to do. Simply doing this deed is not going to earn you a spot in heaven. Ignoring the homeless man will not doom you to go to hell either. When you have a relationship with God, His love fills your heart and as a result, the love inside your heart spills out onto others. In this case the love spills out onto the homeless man at McDonalds. You help the man because you want to, because your heart tells you to, not out of some sense of obligation or hoping you will get some sort of recognition for doing it.
Hopefully this idea makes sense to you. It can be a tricky concerpt and it is one I have struggled to understand for many years, but with the help of God and some great guys at Cornerstone, I think I just might get it now.