Friday, September 6, 2013

Faith and Works

 Question: Hey Wayne! Hope you're doing well! I have a question! I saw someone's conversation on twitter with their friend. This guy (he's catholic) started it off with saying he doesn't think you earn salvation through Jesus Christ only. And someone replied with Ephesians 2:8-10. Then the other guy responded back with James 2:14-26. I know that we are saved by grace alone, but I was wondering what a correct response to him saying James 2:14-26 would be?

Answer:  This is a great question and one that is key to life.  Basically the question is how do both faith and works factor into salvation?  These passages appear to be in contradiction to one another.  It seems Paul is saying that salvation is by faith alone and James is saying that you have to do good works as well.   

The short answer is that in fact while they seem to contradict each other, in reality they both agree and in fact clarify one another. 

I find the way that our Senior Pastor, Steve Bateman, clarifies this point with some equations outlining the contradictory teaching of different groups to be very helpful:

Basically every world religion outside of Christianity says that to be saved you need to do the right stuff and not do the wrong stuff.  The thought is, "well if I do enough good in my life then God has to let me into heaven."  In the words of Allen Jackson, “workin’ hard just trying to get to heaven.”  The problem with this is that the bible teaches, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  So basically, to be good enough and to do enough good works means that we would have to be perfect because God is perfect. Alas, we all fail. 

A distorted version of Christianity takes passages such as the one listed, James 2:14-26, out of context and say that yes we are saved by faith, but we also have to do our part.  So basically we work hard, do our best and expect God to make up the difference.  However, this is in direct contradiction with passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9

  Another distorted version of Christianity takes works out of the picture completely.  Passages such as Romans 6:23 will be cited.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Like all distortions of Biblical truth, this emphasizes part of the truth at the expense of the full truth.  The problem with this view lies in the question: How do you know that you have faith?  This is the question that James is answering in the passage in question.  Billy Graham illustrates, “I cannot see the wind, but I can see the effects of the wind.” 

Which leads us to the proper biblical understanding.  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). But how can you know that saving faith is present?  How do you know that faith is not dead?  Well you know that it is there because you see good works coming from your life (James 2:14-26).  In fact, Paul lays all of this out together in Ephesians 2.  In verses 8 and 9 he outlines that we cannot earn or work for our salvation, but in verse 10 he explains that we are in fact saved so that we can do good works and glorify God. 

This is the same thing that Jesus talks about when he tells us that we can know a tree by its fruit. (Matthew 12:33-37) If you have faith, then you are saved. Another way of talking about being saved is to be born again (John 3). If you are born again, you can tell because of the way your life is different.
So, how can you know that you are saved? You see good works in your life that come from the faith given to you. How can you know if someone else is saved? What do you see coming from their life?