The Word of God makes abundantly clear that human works have no part in God’s saving grace. If a single work is added to the work of Christ for salvation, no matter how sincere, grace is nullified, and life will not come (Romans 4:4–5). The obvious reason is that by adding works to grace, we diminish the precious value of the work and worth of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 11:6). However, we are saved by faith in order to work for the God that saved us.
Works do not save, but we are saved to work. Christians are not given God’s life to simply sit in a pew and listen to sermons their entire Christian life. Someone has accurately said, “Christianity is not a spectator sport.” Christians are saved to glorify God within the generation in which they live. To glorify is to “shed light upon.” Said simply, Christians are saved to serve the God who has given them life. Every Christian has a divine destiny to fulfill.
Though we cannot work for our salvation, the faith that saves us will be productive. The very next words after Paul’s declaration that we are saved by grace through faith attest to that fact. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB). We were created in Christ for the purpose of walking in good works. Notice the small line that jumps out at us. “Which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us to accomplish. As we have already learned, “It is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He works in us, executing that which pleases Him.
James made a heart-stopping point. He said that as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26). Wow! Was James contradicting Paul’s teaching that we are saved by grace alone? Absolutely Not!
Follow the context of what James was saying. Just prior to writing this section, he had taken believers to task for treating the wealthy differently from how they treated the poor. They ushered rich people down front in their meetings, giving them the best seats, but the poor had to take what was left. James appealed to the believers to reach out to the poor among them (James 2:1–5). In fact, he insinuated that how they treated the poor revealed the kind of faith they had. Dead faith is faith that does not produce (James 2:14).
James illustrated his point by referring to the unbelieving, arrogant Jews who said they had faith in God yet made no attempt to meet the physical needs of the poor. This religious crowd, when approached by believers in desperate need of clothes or food, responded with words like “We’ll pray for you, brother.” They made no attempt to help. They were good with their words, but they were always careful to separate themselves from the Christians in need. The obvious reason is that this self-righteous crowd were not Christians. They said continuously that they believed in “one God,” indicating that they felt the Christians wrongly believed that Jesus Christ is God. Yet their works spoke so loudly that their words concerning their belief in one God fell on deaf ears.
James emphasized that faith that is not productive in some way is not saving faith. The Jews reminded the Christians often – as they do today – that they believed in the Old Testament Shema. “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God.” They did this so they could biblically counter the Christians claim that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. James reminded these religious hypocrites that the demons also believed in God, and they trembled (James 2:19). The demons obviously are not saved. To profess belief in one God is good theology, but it is not saving faith. Saving faith must be centered in the gospel and faith must be placed in the right object: the Lord Jesus Christ.
James went on to illustrate his point by saying that in this particular incident the way believers show their faith is by treating the poor fairly (James 2:15–20). Again, James was not teaching that we are given life from God by faith plus works. He was saying that God will work out the salvation that He has placed in us to will and to do of His good pleasure(Philippians 2:13). A living faith in Jesus Christ will be a living, productive faith.
That is exactly what Paul said in Ephesians 2:10. Believers are created in Christ for the purpose of producing good works – not to be saved, but because they are saved. The germinated seed of the gospel will produce God’s life in the believer, and this life should produce fruit. This is at the heart of what James taught. James quickly gives can’t miss illustrations. Stay safe and stay tuned.