So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. -- James 2:17-18
It got me thinking about the tricky relationship between faith, works, and salvation. Why is it tricky?
So what about works? Are works as important as faith? Most people I've talked to say that you need to do good things to get to heaven. Is that true? The Bible is very clear that no amount of your own good works can get you into Heaven. Take a look at Romans 3:10-18, Isaiah 64:6, and Galatians 3:11 if you disagree with me. The Bible tells us that the only way for us to be saved is faith in Jesus. Again, check out John 14:6, Galatians 2:16, and Ephesians 2:8-9 if you think there is some other way.
But works can't have nothing to do with it right? James just said that without works, faith is dead. According to James, there is real, living faith and fake, dead faith. How do I know which one I have? James says that the key is works.
But wait a second, I thought we just said that our works don't save us! We did, but that doesn't mean that works aren't a part of the equation in some way. Like I said, there is a very tricky relationship between faith, works, and salvation that is easy to get wrong. Let's look at the options for how faith, works, and salvation interact in a different way.
Option 1: Works = Salvation + Faith
We talked about this one already. Galatians 3:11 says, "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." Works do not save you, so this one can't be right. It also looks pretty backwards to say that works produce faith.
Option 2: Faith + Works = Salvation
This one is a much more commonly held belief. Many people believe that they need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved and forgiven. But they don't stop there. They also believe that they need to be a good person. Basically, Jesus did some of the work to save them, but they have to pitch in their fair share of the load.
The problem with this view is that verses I've previously mentioned like Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly tell us that we are saved by faith alone and that works has nothing to do with it. Holding this view is very arrogant because you are looking at Jesus' finished work on the cross and saying, "That couldn't possibly be enough to save me. I'll add all of my amazing good deeds to what Jesus did for me and that will surely win my salvation from God. Jesus couldn't do it alone for me, but with my help, we got me saved."
Option 3: Faith = Salvation + Works
If faith alone saves me, then where do my works come in? Look again at James 2:17-18. What is it that the works are doing? They are showing or revealing the person's faith. Works are a bi-product of having faith and they serve as evidence of that faith. Faith in Jesus doesn't just produce one thing, it produces two. Faith in Jesus produces salvation and good works. This is what the Bible is talking about when it speaks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Its the faith that causes a Christian to take action. Because we believe, we obey.
Whenever I come across passages in the Bible like this, I try to ask myself two things.
Am I trying to earn God's love, forgiveness, or favor by any works of my own?
This is an important question because I think it is in our nature to try to earn God's love. We innately feel like we have to be good enough, pray hard enough, or whatever the case may be. Its hard to truly accept that God's love and our salvation is a no strings attached gift from Christ. So, I find it helpful to check myself every now and then to see if my motives for reading the Bible, serving in ministry, or obeying God have begun to take the oh so subtle turn toward earning God's favor. If they have, I repent and remind myself of the amazing grace God has poured on me, not because I earned it, but because He loves me.
Does my life display works that confirm my faith is real and not fake?
Its also easy to just let your faith and relationship with God go into auto-pilot. You keep doing the same old and stop any real sort of growth. When this happens, people around you don't even notice very often because the same old seems good enough to them. Really, the only people who can honestly tell tend to be ourselves and God. So, we need to make it a habit to check in on ourselves and honestly ask if our relationship with God has been vibrant and life-changing lately. If not, we need to pull out of auto-pilot and spend time seeking God to bring our hearts and affections back to Him.
So spend some time today evaluating your own faith and thank God that salvation is a free gift from Jesus that you don't have to earn!
PS: I hope to address the theology question about David/Saul and God sometime this week.