Faith and Works

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith

but does not have works? Can faith save him?”

   James 2:14


This question presented in the Scriptures nearly 2,000 years ago remains for many Bible students a point of confusion and contention.  What does God really require of those that seek to serve Him?  Is my faith enough, or is there something more?  Should I simply trust in God’s ability to save, or do the works of my life affect whether or not the Lord will redeem me by his grace?          


Can faith alone save?

 While some scriptures may appear to complicate the question, the Lord is emphatic that faith alone will not satisfy the conditions of his salvation.  In the same place that the question is presented, James also makes several revealing statements about the significance of works in our salvation.  He explains, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” [James 2:26].  Evidently, faith that is unfruitful, not yielding the good works characteristic of a Christian, is hardly faith at all.  Faith alone, he says, is dead.  The relationship between faith and works is further explained in James’ comments concerning Abraham: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” [James 2:21-22]  Faith and works function together in our salvation.  True faith will always bear the fruit of good works and good works legitimize true faith.  So can faith alone save?  James says no.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” [James 2:24].


Other passages offer the same conclusion.  Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  According to Jesus himself, acknowledging him as Lord, though essential in our salvation, is not enough not to fulfill his will and find entrance into the Kingdom.  The Apostle John reiterates this truth through the Spirit when he says, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” [1 John 2:4].  In this passage we make a crucial observation – to know God means to serve God, carefully following His commandments.  To profess a relationship with the Lord on the grounds of faith alone, the Spirit explains, is a lie.  For this reason, John explicates further in the next verse, saying, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. [1 John 2:5].  Interestingly, the relationship between faith and works is so close Jesus teaches that they are one in the same.  John 6:29 records, “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’”  According to Jesus, faith itself is a work!     


What about Grace?

There is no doubt that obedience in the form of godly works serves an elemental part in the whole plan of salvation.  James noted that by works we are justified [James 2:24] and Paul even goes so far to say that we are judged by our works.  He says: “[God] will render to each one according to his deeds” [Romans 2:6].  But if this is so, what about grace? 


While works certainly have a place in our salvation that is not to say that the works themselves actually save.  Consider Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Being created in Christ our life’s purpose is to perform the good works designated by God.  This is evident in verse 10.  Yet, in the previous verses the writer explains we are saved by grace through faith, not of ourselves and not of works.  A proper interpretation of this passage reveals a tremendous truth of the Scriptures.  Salvation is a gift given by God according to his grace – it is not earned nor can it ever be attained by any number of good works.  In this way we might say that although godly works are required for salvation works are not in themselves a means of acquiring salvation.  This point may be best explained in Titus 3:4-5.  Paul says, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…”  We know the Lord requires our obedience [Hebrews 5:9]; yet it is only through the mercy of God found in the sacrifice of his Son that salvation is attained.  Works are required for salvation, but it is not the works themselves that save us from our sins. 


Having this understanding we see that grace is not at all minimized in the Bible’s teachings on good works.  No human element on it own is sufficient to obtain salvation – not works, not repentance, not baptism, not even faith.  While these are all required conditions placed on our salvation, nothing can replace the essential place of God’s grace in the plan of our redemption.



Knowing that works have a vital role in the salvation of a Christian it should come as no surprise that the value of these works is a central theme of the New Testament.  Paul says in Titus 3:8: “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.”  In the same book, God makes an interesting point about the nature of a Christian: “[Christ] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works”  [Titus 2:14].  God’s people are defined and identified by their zeal for good works!  Good works are not merely a valuable compliment to our faith in Christ; they are the fruit of true faith abundant in the lives of God’s children! 


Faith alone will not save – the Lord says such faith is dead being alone.  However, true faith manifested in godly works will invite the grace of God by which we are saved for eternity with Him!     

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  1. Amanda
    April 7, 2009

    “In this way we might say that although godly works are required for salvation works are not in themselves a means of acquiring salvation.”
    Does this mean that once we acquire salvation, we must do godly works in order to keep our salvation? How many works and how often? How do we know if we are doing enough works to be saved?

  2. Paul
    April 8, 2009

    No Doubt this has been a topic that has been debated over the centuries. You do make a good argument for your case. I still believe in faith alone for salvation. I do believe that works are a result of salvation. So closely linked that “faith without works is dead.(James 2:26)” It’s kind of like having a hot dog without condiments. It’s hardly worth having. Forgive the trivial analogy. The Bible says: “it is the gift of God, not of works.(Ephesians 2:8-9)” It explicitly says by grace, and not of works. God would not leave us guessing. He would have said, by grace and works. I believe our faith is justified by our works, however, we are saved by faith alone. Should this be a point of division?

  3. Tad
    April 8, 2009

    @Amanda To Amanda… Good question. Most often when the Bible uses the terminology ‘good works’, God is not so much talking about a quantity of godly deeds as he is about the quality of our lifestyle. There is no threshold number of good works provided in the Bible; however, God does say that His children would be ‘zealous for good works.’ [Titus 2:14] If our faith consistently manifests itself in good works and obedience to God, and if we make it our life’s purpose to serve God in this way, then we can be sure of our salvation. John says, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” [1 Jn 2:3]. We will certainly never be perfect, we will never do all the works we should do, but God promises that if our life can be identified by this zeal and obedience, then we can be sure we are saved. Thanks for your comments.

  4. April 9, 2009

    @Paul It can never be understated that without the grace of God we would all be lost, and no amount of good deeds can ever “cover” even one sin. To that end Paul clearly states in Ephesians 2 that we are “saved by grace” and “it is the gift of God.” This statement does not reduce the need for good works. We all remember the story of the wise man and the foolish man. In Matthew 7 Jesus begins that account with: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Matthew 7:24] Our Lord has something for us to do, He desires that we hear His words and live a life that demonstrates our foundation on Him. In fact Paul in the book of Ephesians deals with this very concept. He admonishes us to put off our former conduct, and put on Christ. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” [Ephesians 5:8] We cannot be saved by our deeds, but God still has work that he wants us to do. We still have a life to live as a Christian. Why else would Paul say, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.” [Ephesians 5:1] Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:8 both state that “we have access by faith into […] grace.” This adds another interesting dimension to this concept. It is our faith that grants us access into the grace of God. You rightly pointed out that “our faith is justified by our works.” If our faith is justified/validated by our works [James 2:21-22], and we have access to grace through faith [Romans 5:2 & Ephesians 2:8], then works truly are essential [James 2:14].

  5. Lee
    April 12, 2009

    It’s good that we consider the totality of God’s word (as is being done in these prior comments) when we discuss salvation, what we often see as the crux of conversations on faith and works – not just for simple context, but for an appropriate image of the lengths He has gone to in sparing us from ourselves. Paul writes of the “mystery” to both the believers in Ephesus (Eph. 1:9) and in Rome (Rom. 16:25). Undoubtedly, this “mystery” is salvation – what does it take to be “saved.” It’s a question that was asked in a defining moment by thousands of Jews in Acts 2, and by thousands more up until this day, including us. The point being, we wanted to know, just as they, what we must do to be saved. Some would place a time stamp on salvation, a particular moment in their lives when they first believed and nothing more. To others, it is entirely dependent on misappropriated fear-walk, day by day where more time is spent dotting I’s and crossing T’s than the Lord considers proper stewardship of His word and the sowing of the gospel.
    What is indeed curious about salvation is the future tense both God’s word places it in at various times. At many points under the old law, salvation was immediate or to be expected immediately. It was also given a physical character in terms we could more easily comprehend. A Rock (Deut. 32:15); a rescue from death (1 Sam. 11:13) At all points, salvation here is assurance that the Lord is faithful in His promise.

    We know this mystery more completely now because the law has been fulfilled, the gospel brought forth, and the commandment to obey has been given. We have written that there is a wrath to come, that those who endure will be saved. If the wrath has yet to come and we’re still in a mode of enduring, salvation is then dependent on perpetual faith and works until a time in the future. Salvation is the gift of God. We cannot attain it by ourselves. Paul wrote that his own righteousness wasn’t good enough, but righteousness from God by faith in Christ. (Phil. 3:8-10) He knew just as we know that we can’t save ourselves. He goes on to state that He had not yet attained the resurrection or been perfected, but that he presses on to the goal – as we should.

    No, we could not and cannot come up with a plan for salvation so complete and sincere as God’s is. The solution is to look at what God desires for us, what He offers us, and the means by which we obtain it – the entire picture – perpetual faith and works that are evidence of God’s Spirit dwelling within us – evidence of being sealed by God’s Spirit until the day of redemption of us as God’s purchased possesion (Eph. 1:11-14). Yes, faith and grace and works are all gifts of God. It is by His grace that the mystery of salvation is offered. It is by the faith He has given us in Christ that we can be assured that His promise of salvation is true. It is by working in the fields and vinyards of the Lord that we are shown as distinct from a world that would rather provide lip service to a “good man” rather than the Son of the living God. Christ declares that we are to obey Him. He tells us that if we love Him, we will. He has saved us with a holy calling (2 Tim. 1:8-10) for a future event that we are to look forward to, all the while serving in every aspect he requires of us. We owe Him as much. It is our reasonable service.

    And yeah, this is a really long comment.

  6. June 27, 2014

    SEEKER FRIENDLY PREACHING BY STEVE FINNELLThere are more than a few who believe more people would be converted to the truth about Jesus and His gospel plan of salvation if preachers were nicer and more understanding in preaching the truth.

    Is seeker friendly preaching the answer to evangelism?
    Is the gospel of the Bible too narrow and restrictive to win the world to Christ?
    Should the gospel be expanded to include, all men, no matter what doctrinal position they embrace?
    Is God’s truth too offensive for that world to accept?

    If Jesus and the apostles would have been more seeker friendly preachers would the world have already been converted to Christianity?


    John 8:24 ‘Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”(NASB)

    John 8:24 ‘Therefore I judge no man. It is optional to believe or not believe if I am the Son of God.” (Seeker Friendly Handbook)

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (NASB)

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am one of the ways, and I have partial truth, and there are many different roads that lead to the Father.” (Seeker Friendly Handbook)

    John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.(NASB)

    John 8:44 I will not make any judgment concerning any ones genealogy. Who is truthful is strictly a matter of opinion. (Seeker Friendly Handbook)

    Acts 2:36-37 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ— this Jesus whom you crucified” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?”(NASB)

    Acts 2:36-37 Peter said, “Jesus loves you this I know.” 37 Then they were pierced to the heart and all recited the “Sinner’s Prayer.”(Seeker Friendly Handbook)

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived ; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.(NASB)

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 I just preach Jesus, I am not the judge of sin nor sinners. Only God will decide who will enter the kingdom of God. (Seeker Friendly Handbook)

    Galatians 1:6-9 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;…….9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received he is to be accursed! (NASB)
    Galatians 1:6-9……8 Let God’s cures fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other way to be saved than the one we told you about……(The Living Bible—Paraphrased)

    Galatians 1:6-9 Let every denomination decide in their heart how to become saved and write it in their creed book. God will not judge those in error. (Seeker Friendly Handbook).


  7. October 10, 2014

    1. Meritorious works cannot save you.
    2. Works of the Law of Moses cannot save you.
    3. Works of righteousness (good deeds) cannot save you.

    Titus 3:5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, (NKJV)

    Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (NASB)

    Titus 3:5 then he saved us—not because we were good enough to be saved, but because of his kindness and pity— by washing away our sins and giving us the new joy of the indwelling Holy Spirit(The Living Bible —Paraphrased)

    Ephesians 2:8-9….you have been saved…9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV)

    Ephesians 2:8-9 …have been saved…9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NASB)

    Ephesians 2:8-9 …you have been saved…9 Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take credit for it.(The Living Bible—Paraphrased)

    Galatians 2:16 “knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law….. (NKJV)

    Galatians 2:16 and yet we Jewish Christian know very well thatwe cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish law,…(The Living Bible–Paraphrased)

    1.It is not a work of righteousness.
    2. It is not a good deed.
    3. Men are not baptized because they are good enough.
    4. Water baptism is not administered as a reward for good deeds.
    5. Baptism is not a work of the Law of Moses.

    Water baptism is so men can be saved. (Marl 16:16)
    Water baptism is so men can have their sins forgiven. (Acts 2:38)

    1. They are not works of righteousness.
    2. They are not good deeds.
    3. Men do not believe, repentant, and confess because they are good enough.
    4. Faith, repentance, and confession are not works of the Law of Moses.

    Faith, repentance, and confession are so men can have their sins forgiven and be saved. (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10)

    SALVATION IS A FREE GIFT FROM GOD. But men have to accept that gift through faith, repentance, confession and water baptism.THERE IS NO WORK REQUIRED.

    Men can be saved in the time it takes to believe, repent, confess, and be immersed in water.

    (Note: Repentance in Acts 2:38 means to change from unbelief and to make the commitment to turn from sin and to turn toward God)


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