Saved By Grace Through Faith – So Where Does ‘Works’ Come In?…

faith in action

“For it is by grace you have been saved- through faith, and not that of yourselves; it is a gift from God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9

 Saved by Grace Through Faith

This central theme of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the very crux of the Protestant Reformation. The biblical term justification is defined as – God’s act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin, while at the same time, declaring a sinner righteous through faith in  Christ’s atoning sacrifice, whereby we may be granted such status by God’s grace, through genuine faith, and not merely by our own works.

It  was this core doctrine of justification which contested the Pelagian view of Roman Catholicism, which states –  ‘ justification is based on our good works, as foreseen by God ‘.

A notion such as the Pelagian view is hard-pressed to substantiate itself with sacred scripture. The teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and all the scriptures are quite clear of the  grace-based justification – through faith.  So if this ‘saving grace’ from God is accessed through our faith, then we must understand what genuine faith is, and what place works have in all of this:

There are numerous definitions and demonstrations throughout the scriptures which clarify the reality of our own works – which fall far too short of God’s  ways, whereby man could never satisfy the demands of God’s righteous standard. The subsequent reality is how God’s redeeming grace may be accessed through genuine faith.

Yet, in the letter of James, chapter 2, he speaks about genuine faith, and strongly emphasizes what qualifies real faith is – works…

So how does this idea of ‘faith validated by works’  line up with the above passage to the Ephesians and many other passages which speak of  justification by faith and not by works?…

Distinction between  ‘Justification’  -and-  ‘Faith’

It is so very important to  not lose the distinct concept of  ‘faith’ within the formula of  ‘justification’.   In passages like Ephesians 2:8-9, or Romans 5:1-2, it is the concept of  ‘justification’ which is being defined. In the second chapter of James, it is the concept of  ‘faith’ which is being defined; two closely related concepts, yet each are distinct.

Whenever justification is being defined, it is on the basis of God’s work, not man’s work. Another way to put it – is to distinguish between the atoning work of Christ from the works of our faith; Man does not have the means to atone for his own sins, so that particular work was only accomplished by Messiah; Yet man is to respond to such atoning work with a proactive faith. All through-out its entirety, sacred scripture labors to demonstrate how man can never achieve the righteous standard of God except by putting full trust in Him (See Foundation of the Gospel). So mans justification is faith based, not works based.

So where does works come in?…

It’s been said that ‘works’ is much like a byproduct of genuine faith. Realizing the saving grace of God empowers our faith to produce good works- so that works is not the basis of our justification, but is most definitely incidental to it. Works is  a reasonable response to God’s saving grace.   –Romans 12:1

However,  ‘works’ are not merely a separate after-thought of  faith, but is integrated together with faith, producing a synthesis  whereby  works are intrinsic to faith.  For faith is an action, not just a regard. Thus genuine faith is a type of  ‘works’ which allows access to God’s grace.

“Do you see that faith was working together with works, and by works faith was made perfect?”   –James 2:22

So we see that faith is a proactive response to God; Faith is an action and not merely a regard or intellectual acceptance. Anyone may confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, but if their actions run contrary to their confession, then their confession is null and void; “So as the body without the spirit is dead, so also is faith without works dead.”  James 2:26 .

To be sure, faith is ultimately a matter of the heart which is something only God can accurately discern. So if our heart is truly committed to God, then our actions (works) are sure to abound from our allegiance to God.

“..even the demons believe and tremble” James 2:19

The first beings on earth to clearly recognize and acknowledge the divine nature of Jesus Christ- were demons (Luke 4:33-34  & 41, 8:26-28). They, being spirits,  perceived the Spirit of Jesus as divine and not merely human; they believed the truth of Jesus Christ and trembled! (That is more than what can be said about many who call themselves “Christians”)

Yet their actions have been in violent opposition to the work of Christ. The demons believe and acknowledge Christ, but their allegiance does not abide in Him — a perfect example of the inadequacy of mere acknowledgement without proper actions and allegiance.

“And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”   –Gen 15:6

God knew Abraham’s heart all along and recognized genuine faith in him by accrediting to him the righteousness of God. Abraham demonstrated proof of his faith by his works, yet God recognized his faith before his actions would fully prove so. Thus we can say Abraham’s justification was not works-based, yet his works became an outpouring from his genuine belief in God. Again,

“Do you see that faith was working together with works, and by works faith was made perfect?”   –James 2:22

Again, the point is made which shows the integral union of faith and works.  So when we consider Paul’s doctrine of ‘faith alone’ , it may seem to be contradicted when James exclaims ‘that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only’.  However, James is only supplementing Paul’s teaching by giving a more clear definition of what genuine faith actually is; true faith being a proactive faith.

Every example of genuine faith we see is accompanied with action. Look at Hebrews 11 – which runs down a list of various demonstrations of faith, that is the actions(works) that proved the faith of these people of God:

“By faith, Abel offered…”  —  “By faith, Noah prepared…”    “By faith, Abraham obeyed…”  —  “By faith, Issac blessed…”  —  and on it goes giving a multitude of accounts demonstrating proactive faith.

“So as the body without the spirit is dead, so also is faith without works dead.”  James 2:26

saved by grace

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Written by Scott Yonker