Can faith and works exist apart from one another?
The authors of the New Testament seem to be so concerned about answering this question that they sometimes sound as if they are contradicting themselves.
In some texts, for instance, the apostle Paul takes pains to emphasize that salvation is by faith alone without any hint or trace of human effort (Titus 3:5). In his letter to the Romans, he writes, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5 NKJV).
Yet, in other places, all of the New Testament writers, including Paul, also emphasize the need for action that shows our faith and gives evidence of a right relationship with God. The apostle James is well known for writing as if he disagrees with Paul. In his New Testament letter, James argues that faith without works is dead. He even goes so far as to say that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24 NKJV).
Over the years, much has been written to resolve this apparent contradiction. At the very minimum, the answer is that while no one is declared right with God on the basis of human merit, it is just as true that without actions that show our faith, our relationship with God remains immature and unconfirmed in the sight of others (James 2:18, 22).
To maintain this balance, my RBC Ministries co-workers and I have written a document to remind ourselves of the importance of both the faith that saves and the practical outworking of a faith that works.
Because we believe . . .
• Because we believe the Bible is a reliable revelation of God, we want our lives to reflect what the Scriptures teach us about who our Creator is, what He values, and what He wants to do in and through us.
• Because we believe in the Triunity of God, we want our relationships to reflect the unity of purpose and loving cooperation by which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit care for one another.
• Because we believe Jesus Christ is our Savior, Teacher, and Lord, we want the attitudes He shows toward His friends and enemies to be our attitudes as well.
• Because we believe Jesus died in our place and rose from the dead to live His life through anyone who will trust Him, we want to spend the rest of our lives letting others see that what He has done for us, He can do for them as well.
• Because we believe Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to be with us and in us, we want to live with a courage and confidence that is not in ourselves but in Him.
• Because we believe in one church, of which Jesus Christ is the Head, we want to identify with, and show our love for, the family of God that crosses all lines of age, race, gender, and class distinction.
• Because we believe Christ makes His people ambassadors to all nations, we want to participate in a mission that rises above and reaches beyond all national, ethnic, and religious boundaries.
• Because we believe each of us will give account of ourselves to God, we want to be so aware of our own sins that when it becomes necessary to give attention to the wrongs of others, we will do so with care rather than conceit and with conviction rather than condemnation.
• Because we believe we are stewards of God’s creation, we want to be faithful caretakers of the spiritual, material, and natural resources that have been entrusted to us, for the good of our neighbor and for the honor of our God.
• Because we believe in the promised return of Christ, we want to live every day of our lives in a way that reflects hope rather than despair, love rather than hate, and gratefulness rather than greed.
Admittedly there are dangers in such a summary. We could be like those who make a list and consider the job done. Without ongoing honest reflection, we could lose sight of how often we fail to live up to our best intentions. Without remembering the need for both faith and action, we could also forget that spiritual maturity is not the automatic result of our salvation (2 Peter 1:1-15).
We can’t afford to ever stop asking our God to give us the daily grace we need to show real ongoing evidence of a faith that works.
Father in heaven, we are so quick to forget our need to consciously walk by faith and not by sight. We so easily assume that because we believe in Your Son, a good life will follow. Please give us again today the grace we need to show Your presence in a faith that works. —Mart De Haan