Faith and works
About good works, faith and salvation James 2:14 tells us:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?”
Many brothers are perplexed with this passage, thinking that James contradicts Paul, who so many times said that a man is saved and justified freely, without any works, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection (see the articles: “Righteousness and the Bible” and “Saved and righteous by faith”) Something that we need to make clear right from the beginning is that the Word of God never contradicts itself. What is usually happening, and is happening also with this passage, is a problem of understanding what the Word of God tells us. The purpose of this article is to help the reader in the understanding of this passage of James 2 as well as to give him a more complete view about salvation.
Faith and works: he who has true faith he will also have works.
Starting from the first part of James 2:14, we see that James is speaking for “someone that says he has faith”. The verbal expression of one’s faith i.e. If someone says he has faith, is not enough to save him. In fact, Paul tells us the same too, in Romans 10:9-10, where we read:
“if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
For somebody to be saved what is required is real faith, faith from the heart. Such faith the Word of God means when it speaks about faith. Faith that is simply in the mouth, i.e. does not exist in the heart is not real faith. As the Lord said: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). The confession of faith is meant to be a confession that comes from a heart that has believed. Otherwise it is a fake confession. If therefore as James 2 says “someone says he has faith”, two things may happen:
His confession is genuine i.e. what he says is true, or what he says is not genuine i.e. though he says that he has faith he actually does not have. Let’s get the first case, the case of a genuine confession. This confession being genuine is a confession of the faith that is already in the heart. In this case natural consequence of this faith is the fruit, the works. To say it differently: though the works do not precede salvation and faith (i.e. we are not saved through works), they are however natural consequence of salvation, they are coming as a fruit, as a result of the faith present in the heart. As the Lord said:
“a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
The fruit, the works of every man is the result of what is in his heart. As we also read in Romans 10:10, “with the heart one believes .. and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”. In other words the mouth is to always follow what is in the heart. There is salvation not when the mouth simply confesses but when the heart has believed and then as a result the mouth confesses this faith. And since such treasure, such tree, such faith exists in the heart it is natural to see from that tree the respective good fruit too. Therefore the good works is something very natural, as natural is for the good tree to give good fruit.
Faith and works: the works, proof whose children we are.
When somebody is born again (Ephesians 1:13) he is sealed with the holy spirit, receives a new nature and becomes a child of God. This new nature gives fruit - when, as expected, we walk with it. As Paul says about this fruit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
All these are characteristics of God too. He is kind, good, long-suffering, gentle, loving, faithful etc. Now, since we are children of God – and I’m referring here to people who have genuinely believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the Son of God – it is absolutely normal to exhibit the same characteristics as our Father i.e. to be good, kind, joyful, with longsuffering, gentleness and self control etc. It is normal to resemble Him, reflect Him. The same happens with our kids: it is normal for them to resemble us, to look like us, as they are our kids. The children of God therefore resemble, reflect God, Who lives in the inside of them. Obviously this cannot happen for those who are not His children: they do not and cannot resemble God as they are not His children. And how somebody resembles, reflects God? Very simply: in the characteristics he exhibits, in the fruit he bears, in his works. The works, the fruit show whose children we really are. See this dialogue between Jesus and certain Jews, who, as the context tells us (John 8:30-31) had in fact believed in Him but then eventually, after the below conversation, they wanted to stone Him (John 8:59)!
“I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and you do that which you have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said unto them, If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man that has told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. You do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, [even] God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, you would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do.”
These people believed that God was their Father. But, if God was really their Father they would do His works. They however were doing the works of the devil. Who therefore was their father? He whose works they were doing: the devil.
What I want to say with the above is that the works, the fruit of every man is the proof whose child he or she is. If somebody is really a child of God he will do the works of God and in fact he will do them very naturally as they are part of his spiritual DNA. God has made him for this. As Ephesians 2:10 tells us we were created for, made for, it is in our spiritual DNA to do, the good works God has prepared for us. The works therefore though they do not precede faith and salvation, they indeed follow it. Faith that has not given fruit, faith without works, is truly as James 2 says dead.
I know that some may have difficulty to believe what I’m saying, as in some churches there is a teaching that says “confess Jesus as Lord and you will be saved”. This however is not true. „Believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and then confess Him as Lord. Then you will be saved“ (Romans 10:9-10). This is right. It is the faith that saves and the confession simply confesses this faith. As the Lord said:
“Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
For somebody to say “Lord, Lord” is not enough. He needs also to mean it. And if he means it or not will be shown by the fruit, by whether he does the will of the Father. And yes somebody may fall into mistakes that may affect, even seriously, his fruitfulness. However it cannot happen that he or she is permanently fruitless. A Christian that has never brought forth fruit is simply not a Christian1. I know that this may not sit well for certain readers but this I believe is the truth of the Word.
To sum it up: when there is true faith in the heart of a man, the works will come out naturally, as fruit comes our naturally from a tree. We are created for, made for, it is natural to us to do, the good works that God has already prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).
This is therefore the one case of man: the case of the man whose confession is a result of the faith he has in his heart, it is in other words REAL.
Faith and works: he who “says he has faith”.
Apart now from this case, there is also another case. This is the case of the faith that “someone says he has”, but it is faith only in words. This is the faith of the man that has not really believed in his heart and who, for various reasons, may pretend, even without realizing it himself many times, to be a believer. Such a man, a man that “says he has faith” but actually he does not, is NOT a born again man and therefore the only that he has is the sinful nature of Adam i.e. he has a tree that is rotten and sick. And from such a tree there is no way to get good fruit. If therefore “someone says he has faith”, but the respective good fruit is missing and this happens on a permanent basis, we have to wonder whether the faith that he says he has is a genuine faith. As the Lord said: “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). Seeing the fruit we know the tree. Here I need to make clear that this article does not propagate to make people suspicious about the salvation of others. God will judge the work of everybody and He knows our hearts. What this article aims to is to wake up the reader who is complacent because some time, somewhere, he made a confession of faith without any transformation ever happening to his life. If somebody believes that because of a confession alone he is going to be saved he deceives himself. It is the faith that saves! And if faith is present then there is really no need for anybody “to say that he has faith”: this faith will be manifested through the works, the fruit it bears.
Having said the above let us now read James 2:14 once again:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can [the] faith [that he says that he has] save him?”
Can the faith that is only in words and not in the heart save the one that says he has it? NO. The fruit, the walk in the works that God has prepared for us and He has created us for (Ephesians 2:10) is the natural result of the faith. As from an orange tree we get oranges, so also from the born again believer, the believer that has the spirit of God in him, we get the respective fruit. If somebody says he has faith but he never has the good fruit that accompanies it then probably he does not have the faith he says he has. Such faith, faith in words and only in words, is a dead faith like the dead tree that gives nothing. And to this man James says: “Can [the] faith [that he says he has] save him?”. And the answer is clearly: NO.
1. Somebody may now ask: and what happens if one accepted the Lord just before he died? As I said salvation is by faith! So if somebody believed in his heart in the Lord Jesus Christ and let’s say after a minute died, he will be saved. This article does not say that salvation is by works. Salvation is by faith and faith alone. However, true faith always bears fruit. So the fruit, the works is the sign of the true faith. That’s what we say.