By Cecil Willis
In our last lesson we studied the relationship that existed between faith and salvation, and from that study we concluded that there was a definite relationship existing between faith and salvation, for without faith one could not be saved. We then studied that it was not by faith alone, or by faith only that one is saved, for James says “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24).
In this lesson we want to see the relationship that exists between faith and works, and then to observe the relationships of faith, works, and salvation.
Salvation and Works
There is a definite connection between salvation and works, for John says, “He that believeth on the Son bath eternal life, but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (Jn. 3:36). John says that the curse of heaven is upon all those who do not obey God, and if one does obey, he works. So then, John is saying that all those who do riot work are to have the wrath of God poured out upon them. In the passage from James, quoted in our first paragraph, it was said, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). We can very readily see that there is some connection between works and salvation.
It is necessary that man does the things that God has required of him. If it is required by God, then it is necessary that man works in order to be saved, for to obey the commandments of the Lord is to do the works of the Lord. But someone very quickly replies, “If it is necessary for man to work in order to be saved, then salvation is not of grace.” Let us consider this objection. Just what does it mean to be saved by grace? We read in Ephesians, “for by grace have ye been saved through faith.” (Eph. 2:8). Before one can say that works would eliminate grace, first he must tell us what grace is. The word “grace,” simply defined, means “unmerited favor,” and so, when we are saved by grace, it means that we are saved when we did not deserve to be. In Rom. 3:23 we read, “for all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God;” since we had sinned, we were deserving of death. Peter says, “God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment . . .” (2 Pet. 2:4). God did the angels no injustice when he cast them down into hell because they sinned. When man sinned, just as justly as God cast the angels down into hell, He could have cast man into hell, but He did not. His mercy interceded and prodded for us Christ Jesus. Inasmuch as man was guilty, of sin, he deserved to die, but the grace of God permitted him to live, and to receive forgiveness of his sins, if he will obey the commandments of God. Grace is not eliminated because God said that man must do certain things in order to be saved, for man could never have been saved without God’s grace. God’s grace was expressed in the giving of Jesus Christ. Man did not deserve Christ, and so Christ was God’s grace, God’s favor that was shown to undeserving men. That is grace. The commandments of God have nothing to do with excluding God’s grace, for grace has already been given in Christ Jesus and the scheme of redemption. If man did every single thing that God said do, his salvation would still be by grace, for “all have sinned.” Sin deserved the punishment of death. Thus, our salvation is by grace, for we are underserving of it by ourselves. when independent of Jesus Christ.
“Faith is wrought with his works”
A problem that often arises when we study the subject of works, is how the Bible is to be harmonized when it says “we are saved by works,” and “we are not saved by works. ” Notice these passages from James 2 that state that we are saved by works. “Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself” (v. 17. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” (v. Zl). “Thou seest that faith is wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect” (v. 22). “Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith” (v. 24.)If these passages teach anything at all, then they teach that justification comes by doing some kind of works. We shall study in a few moments what kind of works about which these passages are talking.
The Bible also says that we are not saved by works. “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory” (Eph. 2:8, 9); “. . . according to the power of God; who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (2 Tim. 1:9). “But when the kindness of God our Savior, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5).
We make one more rather lengthy quotation to show that the Bible says that we are not saved by our own works: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, bath found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he bath where of to glory; but not toward God. For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh’ the reward is not reckoned as grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” (Rom. 4:1-5).
Now pause to think for a few minutes. In one group of these passages it is said that we are saved by works, but another group of passages says we are not saved by works. Is this just an open contradiction in the Bible or is there some solution to the problem? I think we can see the key to solving the problem by a careful reading of the passages we have cited. Take the comments Paul made in Romans 4:1-5 about Abraham and how he was justified. Paul said, if Abraham was justified by his own righteousness, then he had something to glory in but not toward God. There was a way that a man could be saved without the grace of God, but no one has been able to meet the requirements of this other way, except Christ “who did no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22). Paul says, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Gal. 3:10). If a man would live perfectly righteous, without every committing one sin, then by his own righteousness he would merit salvation. perfectly righteous, without ever committing one sin, then by his own righteousness he would merit salvation having never violated one of God’s laws. Theoretically man could be saved, by living perfectly, without the grace and favor of God, for God would owe him salvation. But no one has ever been able to be saved in this manner, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore, Abraham and all other men are not saved by works. But by what kind of works are we not saved We are not saved by our own goodness, or meritorious works. That is the sense in which we are not saved by works.
In what sense are we saved by works% We are saved by doing the works of God. The works of God are the things that God has commanded that we do. Anything that God has commanded man to do cannot be said to be a work of man. In Acts 10:48 we read, “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Is baptism a work of God, or of man? Certainly it is a work of God. Today, though, denominationalists say, “If you say that one must be baptized in order to be saved, then you would have us saved by men’s works.” But anything that is commanded of God, is not a work of man, but it is a work of God.
There is not a single person living that would’say that man is saved without doing some works. Everything that God has commanded is a work. They simply say that some of the works of God are necessary and some are not. I would be very fearful to say that any commandment of the Lord is unnecessary. The religious world would tell one that he is saved by believing, and not by works. But friend, even faith is a work; it is a work of God. In Jn. 6:29, Christ said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” If man is saved without any kind of works, then he could be saved in unbelief for Christ said that faith is a work of God. Faith is a commandment of God, but repentance and baptism also are the commandments of the Lord. To be saved by doing the things commanded of God, is not to be saved by the works of men, but by the works of God. We are saved by one kind of works (God’s works), but are not saved by another kind of works (man’s works). So we can see that the Bible does not contradict itself. Man just fails to make the distinction between the works of man and the works of God.
Now we want to study the relationship that exists between faith and works. When we see the relationship existing between faith and works, we then will see what kind of faith it is that saves one. We are now going to consider the entire quotation from Jas. 2:14-26 and make some observations to see if the doctrine of salvation by faith, without any kind of works, could be harmonized with this passage. “What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say that he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him?” Notice that this is exactly talking about the class of people we are referring to, people who have faith, but have not works. “If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Suppose I came to you and told you that I was cold and hungry, and you said, “You have my sympathy, be ye warmed and filled,” but did not give me any food or clothing. What good would it do? Would your sympathy satisfy my hunger and warm my body? Certainly not. Sympathy alone would not help my physical circumstance one iota.
So James says, “Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.” As your sympathy would not help me without some action too, so also, faith without works is dead. Faith without works will not be enough. James is saying one must have the works, too. “Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith.” You cannot demonstrate your faith without works, but by my works I show my faith, James said. “Thou believest that God is one, thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” Abraham was justified by works, but Paul had said that it was not by the works of his own righteousness that he was,,justified. James stated that the particular work, referred to here, was his offering up his son Isaac. This was the commandment of the Lord, and so Abraham was justified by works, the works of God, and was not justified by his own meritorious works. “Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.” What is the relationship between faith and works? It was stated in those last two verses. The relationship is that works make faith perfect.
Now this question: “Could a man be saved with an imperfect faith?” The denominational world says that one is saved by “faith only,” without works, and James says that faith is not made perfect until it works. The logical conclusion that the religionists would have us believe is that one can be saved with an imperfect faith. James says faith without works is dead. Denominationalists must say that one can be saved with a dead faith. See verse 24: “Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith. And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.” Everyone of us can see that works has something to do with out salvation. Works make perfect and alive our faith.
Remember that this passage did not say that we are saved by works only, but it is when our faith works that we are saved. Anything that is a commandment of the Lord is a work of God; we are saved by these works of God, and not by our own works. Peter told the believing Jews on the day of Pentecost, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is a work of God. Because it is commanded by a God-sent apostle, it cannot be inessential and unnecessary. We therefore conclude our lesson with a plea that you believe in Christ and obey these commandments that you might be justified by a perfect and living faith, a faith made perfect by doing the works of God.
Truth Magazine XIX: 43, pp. 675-677
September 11, 1975