James 2:14 KJV
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
The debate about faith and works still goes on today. It amazes me that the church can be so divided on this issue, just as it was in James’ day. We can listen to so many different churches and denominations that take either side on this that we can get confused and wonder if we are really correct in our thinking. I am not claiming to be some kind of an expert (only a licensed minister), but I’d like to share how see it after studying it for 40 years, because I think both Paul and James are correct!
Let’s start with Paul. in Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul states in the simplest terms that we are saved by faith alone, and that is only a product of God’s grace. Works have nothing to do with it. In essence, grace is the main factor that saves us, and our faith is the vehicle God uses to bring it to us.
The word saved here is the Greek word sozo and it means to save, deliver, make whole, cure and other words that signify taking a person out of one condition and bringing them to a place of healing or deliverance. It is a verb and implies action. It is used over 100 times in the New Testament. In this verse, the word saved is talking about our initial redemption from sin by Jesus blood on the cross. God displayed His grace in the most amazing way.
In Philippians 2:12 Paul says we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Is this a contradiction to Ephesians? Absolutely not! This is the word soteria, used over 45 times in the New Testament, and it implies saving one from danger or situations in life and bringing us into God’s safety. These situations come upon us all the time, and God is continually rescuing us.
It’s really simply, my friends. James is not talking about our redemption from sin here. James is talking about the ongoing work of salvation in our lives, being saved from our flesh so we can live by the Spirit of God. Paul says the same thing in Philippians. Our redemption from sin is assured, and our place in heaven is secure, as long was we remain obedient to His commands (Matt 7:21). Jesus was very clear about that.
So does obedience to His commands imply that works are necessary for our eternal salvation? No, because we are saved from our sin the moment we ask Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior. If He is Lord, than we must be obedient to our Lord. The continuing work of salvation brings us nearer and nearer to the perfection He asks of us (Matt 5:48). It brings us closer and closer to the holiness He asks of us (Lev 11:44, 1 Peter 1:15). If we are not obedient, repentance is necessary.
Works and faith are both integral in our maturity in the Lord. Grace is what saves us initially, not faith. Faith is the vehicle in our lives that God uses to make that salvation real to us, that makes us involved in the process. Our faith calls on His grace to save us, and it does. This faith is given to us by God in measure (Rom 12:3). We cannot even take credit for that! The only thing we exercise is our free will to choose God and not the enemy. That is the extension of our faith that accepts His sweet grace.
So those of you who believe that by faith alone we are saved, you are right – faith that comes by grace brings us into His redemption from our sins and into right standing with God. Those of you who believe that works are necessary for our salvation are correct as well – we must work out our ongoing salvation from ourselves by our works – works of faith that God has asked of us.
I know there are various schools of thought on this within the people who regularly read my blog, and I hope you will comment. Let’s get a discussion going. Hopefully, I have stated my position clearly that both faith and works are required.