Dear Friends,                                                          

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; (demonstrated complete trust in God)23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”                                                              

If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?
True saving faith is an objective reality. We are either saved or lost; in or out, black or white, and nothing in between. We either possess eternal life now and forever or we don’t. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) And we are changed at the core of our being to want to know, love, and glorify God by serving His people. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ (truly saved), he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)                                                              

But works are subjective and are not black or white, but a million shades of gray. Works could be anything from small acts of kindness to being martyred for our faith and both acts be prompted by and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit in a true believer. Unsaved people can do good works but without true belief in Jesus they are “filthy rags” because they are tainted with pride and self-interest. “For we have all become like one who is unclean [ceremonially, like a leper], and all our righteousness (our best deeds of rightness and justice) is like filthy rags or a polluted garment; we all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away [far from God’s favor, hurrying us toward destruction].” (Isaiah 64:6)  Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7:21–23)                

True saving faith is a faith that works. We are saved by grace through faith alone, not by works, but saving faith will be evidenced by our works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Saving faith is more than mental assent. Knowing about God or Christ is not the same as personally trusting in Jesus’ substitutionary payment for our sins and experiencing the new birth, being born of the Spirit.  Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, a well-respected religious leader and said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Born Again was the title of Chuck Colson’s book about his conversion after Watergate.   And it was not just “jailhouse religion” as he went on to start many new ministries that continue today after his death.                                                          

The demons are an example of dead faith because they believed about Jesus but they rejected Him as their Savior and Lord. Abraham and Rahab are examples of a living faith that works. This is a good example of a million shades of gray seen in the contrasts of the works done by Abraham and by Rahab. Abraham was founder of the Jewish nation, the father of faith, and is known and revered by Jews and Gentiles all over the world. Rahab was a relatively  unknown Gentile harlot and yet because of her faith she saved her natural family and became an ancestor of Jesus. (See Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5 and Hebrews 11:31.)

So in summary we are not saved by faith and works but by faith alone that is evidenced by works. Paul’s emphasis on justification is that we are declared righteous by God by faith alone and James’ emphasis is that we’re justified (demonstrated righteousness before other people) by works. In fact, the Greek word for justified is dikaioō and it has both meanings: 1. “to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered; 2. to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be.”                    

The doctrine of eternal security teaches that we cannot lose our salvation if we have true saving faith but we can lose the assurance of salvation through disobedience and suffer the  loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ (for believers- 1 Cor. 3:10-15). We see in the following passage from 2 Peter that increasing obedience to God (“works”) gives us a full assurance of salvation, strengthens us from falling into sin, and provides a joyful anticipation of eternal rewards.  “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election (assurance of salvation). For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-11)                                     

Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”  (John 9:4) Remember that the work He calls you to do may be very different from what He calls others to do. Works are a million shades of gray.

Until He comes again, Len and Kristen                   

For an excellent study on the book of James by Ken Boa see

This entry was posted in Monthly Teaching Letter. Bookmark the permalink.