Faith That Works
How are we saved? There's a helpful saying heard in some churches:
It's not faith or works. It's not faith and works. It's faith that works.
Perhaps most people think they are basically good, and better than most, so they deserve to go to heaven 'if there is one anyway...' But if they are reading the Bible at all, they are not reading carefully (Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:18). We can never work hard enough to earn our way to heaven (Galatians 3:1-14).
Jesus says most people are headed for hell, and we will know them by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7:13-20). James warned people who claim to have faith, but their faith doesn't show up in their works:
What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14)
The answer is no, but, Jesus will be the judge of that. There were two thieves crucified with Jesus. Both mocked Him (Matthew 27:44) but one later demonstrated faith by calling Him Lord (Luke 23:42). So, that thief was saved (Luke 23:43). He was nailed to a cross, and couldn't do much more than just have faith.
Paul worked harder than them all (1 Corinthians 15:10), presumably, harder than James too. Paul goes on to "boast" in his own weakness (2 Corinthians 11:1-12:12), finally saying "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." Paul explains the relationship between faith and works beautifully in just a few sentences:
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Put another way, we are given the gift of salvation because we believe. We are weak compared to God, so we can do nothing more than believe. God knew exactly when we would believe, and has good jobs for us to do on this earth from that point forward. The strength to do works is given to us because we have faith (Hebrews 4:1-2). We cannot just arrogantly expect that we know what good works are (Romans 3:12). Neither can any church expect to tell us what to do (Matthew 23:8-12). So... what do you think God is asking you to do today?
James and Paul are not standing face to face in conflict with each other, but back to back, defending each other. Paul fights the Legalists (who enslave people, telling them how to work their way to heaven), while James fights those who preach Cheap Grace (justifying themselves and fooling others into thinking Jesus died so they can keep sinning). Do you see God’s amazing definition of real faith between the backs of these two men? Paul eliminates every religion besides Christianity, and every false doctrine within it (see Galatians Ch. 3). James eliminates every slacker within Christianity. The middle is exactly where your salvation exists.
The "Hall of Faith" is a famous part of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1-12:2). Nobody calls it the "Hall of Works" because that would seem like these heroes were just doing it for themselves. The writer of Hebrews (probably Paul, translated by his friend Barnabas) doesn't glorify these men and women because they sat around claiming they had faith (James 2:14). They did amazing works, even to the point of death, but their faith guided their works. It makes no sense that they were just being practical or pragmatic according to what everybody can see, but their works make obvious sense when you understand they knew God rules on earth just as in heaven. They were only doing the obvious thing, what God wanted them to do. This is exactly what James and Paul are talking about.
Here is a practical, honest method to learn how to do God-given works. First, prayerfully examine what you presume (or your culture or church or family presumes) are obviously good works. God's Law is "weak and beggarly" (Galatians 4:9), so how much worse are those codes of conduct made by human flesh (John 3:6)? Then prayerfully consider taking a holiday from some, most or even all of those works. Given time, prayer, and hopefully lot’s of Bible study, an honest Christian will be exploding with God-given energy for good works. If you stay in prayer, hopefully only those works that God approves of will remain. Almost certainly, God will impress upon your heart good works that you will be excited about doing, because He gives you the strength to do them. It's not a "Got to." It's a "Get to."
So instead of thinking your works will make you good, make sure that it is your faith in Jesus that guides your works. Remember:
It's not faith and works. It's not faith or works. It's faith that works.