I have been preaching God’s word for the past 20 years. However, I believe the sermon you are going to hear from me today is the most important sermon I will preach ever. I tell you so because it concerns the eternal salvation of our precious soul. It’s based on a question many Christians seem to struggle with. Is faith alone sufficient to be saved or should faith be accompanied by works?
At a glance, this looks like a question any Christian can answer with a simple yes or no. But is it that simple? Truth be told Jesus dedicated plenty of his time to answering it. He used parables such as The Good Samaritan, Lazarus, and the Rich Man, and The Vine and the Branches. Today I decided to answer that question once again from the book of James because the apostle James answers the question in a much straight forward manner. So please turn your Bible with me to James chapter 2.
Read James 2:14-26
1. Faith without works is words without deeds
James insists faith without works is good for nothing because it cannot save us, (James 2:14). Now some of you might wonder, why then Paul taught salvation is by faith alone and not by works. But James isn’t saying we are saved by works. He is saying we are saved by faith verified by our works! (James 2:15-16).
What type of work is able to verify our faith? They do definitely not work such as observing religious rituals or keeping traditions. James 2:8 says this.
But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
So by works James actually means, treating one another with brotherly love. Without love, faith is dead and therefore cannot save because love is the only external manifestation of true faith, (James 2:17). Now we do know other religions also teach their adherents to love everybody. Then what difference does Christianity make in the salvation of man? All those religions teach we are saved by our works verified by faith. But only Christianity teaches we are saved by faith verified by our works!
A small boy bought a dozen eggs for his mother. Unfortunately, he tripped while walking out of the store, and dropped the sack. All the eggs were broken and the sidewalk was a mess. The boy tried not to cry. A crowd gathered to see whether he was alright and told him how sorry they were. In the midst of the works of pity, one man handed the boy a quarter. Then he turned to the group and said, “I care 25 cents worth. How much do the rest of you care?”
Living faith is expressed by works motivated by brotherly love. Aren’t some of us guilty tonight, because we have failed to treat someone with such love at some point in life? We have preached to people about salvation when they needed to be fed. We have blamed the government and the social workers, for the misfortunes of the society but have not done anything on our own. What shall we do then? We need to treat each other with brotherly love because that’s what God expects from us, (Leviticus 19:18) and that love is best expressed in deeds, not speech! (Galatians 6:10).
2. Works are the natural result of faith in God
Faith and work cannot be separated. Either they coexist in the believer or don’t exist at all, because works are the natural result of faith in God! Where there is faith there are works and without works, there is no faith, (James 2:18).
In the next verse, James says intellectual belief by itself cannot save us. Even the demons believe and tremble but God condemned them for they disobeyed. There’s not much difference between those demons and the Christian who doesn’t obey what he already knows. It’s obedience that distinguishes us from those demons and the heathen. Not the head knowledge.
James is also implying it’s impossible to say that God once wanted people to do good works and now wants them to do nothing. He is “one” in His mindset. God cannot disagree with Himself. Instead, salvation is a gift, resulting in people no longer having to live by the Old Testament Law and the natural output of believing that salvation is doing good works, which is in line with God’s ways, (James 2:19)
The Doctrine of Faith and Works are like the Theory of the Cause and the Effect. Every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. One cannot happen without the other. In Christianity faith is that cause and works that lead to salvation are its effects.
The New Testament teaches that we get justified when we have true faith in Christ, but thereafter our faith should be accompanied by our works of obedience. It’s true we are not saved by deeds. But it’s also true that we are saved for deeds, (John 15:1-8).
3. Works are essential for completing our faith
It’s foolishness to say faith by itself is sufficient for salvation because there’s biblical evidence that says otherwise. The faith of Abraham is one such piece of evidence. His faith and actions worked together. His works completed his works. That’s the faith that God credited to Abraham as righteousness, (James 2:21-24).
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
The Amplified Bible defines righteousness as conformity to God’s will in thought and deed. Abraham conformed to God’s will in thought when he reasoned in his mind God could even raise the dead. He conformed to the divine will by deed the moment he bound and placed Isaac on the altar in obedience to God’s command.
Then we meet Rahab the professional prostitute. She was probably the worst sinner in Canaan by God’s standards but still Rahab and her household was spared and considered righteous because she treated God’s people with honor. So based on this evidence as sure as the body without the spirit is dead faith without works is dead, (James 2:20-26).
The examples of Abraham and Rahab indicate James is talking about the second type of work here. Jesus said those who love him will keep his commandments, (John 2:14-15). Abraham obeyed because he loved God. So works also mean obedience to God not out of obligation but love, (Deuteronomy 6:5).
In the living room of my parent’s house where I grew up, hanging from the wall is a replica of a painting of a tearful boy, by the Italian painter Giovanni Bragolin. One day when I was still a very small boy, I asked my father why is the boy in the painting crying? He answered that according to legend the boy was on a voyage with his father who happened to be a sailor. The father told the boy to stay put in their cabin while he work on the ship.
While the father was busy a fire started in the ship and soon the smoke spread to the cabin in which the boy was. But he stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his father’s instructions which caused his death by smoke inhalation. Apparently, Bragolin’s painting was inspired by that legend.
A legend is a semi-true story. Nevertheless, I shared the story of that boy with you for a purpose. He obeyed his father’s instructions to the letter but perished. In fact, he died because he obeyed.
But the story of Rahab says God protects those who obey him. Here’s why? The king of Jericho certainly knew that the spies were in Rahab’s house. Rahab wasn’t a good liar. She told the king’s men the spies were indeed in her house but left at the dusk and she doesn’t know which way they went, (Joshua 2:2-7). In those days who in his right mind will leave the safety of the civilization to venture out into the dark?
The king’s men were not James Bond or Ethan Hunt. But they were not fools either. Why did they trust the word of a lowly prostitute? They should have searched her house but didn’t! Had they discovered the spies, it would have been the end of not just the spies but Rahab and everyone else in her family also. But God’s shadow of protection was over Rahab. Likewise, God has guaranteed the eternal salvation of souls of those who not just believe in him but also obey his will, (John 8:51).
Just like we need both hands to clap, salvation also needs both faith and works. Think of your right hand as faith and left as works. Cut off one and your salvation becomes null and void. Works are not the root of salvation but the fruit. Faith brings a person to salvation, and works bring that person to fruitfulness.
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