The Good Deeds of Faith

In the last several messages we have considered the grace of God in relation to our Christian walk and also as the foundation for how we interact with others. However, the area which probably causes the most contention is the role of grace in Salvation. Unfortunately, this debate is largely due to various sides not really understanding one another, and also to shifting the debate to the role of good deeds. For the purpose of this message, I will focus on those who agree that Salvation is completely through the grace of God but may disagree as to the role of good deeds.

For those who hold that good deeds do not have a part in Salvation we can point to, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We have to admit that this seems clear: Our works, or good deeds, do not save us.

Now for those who hold that our good deeds definitely do have a part in Salvation we can point to, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14). The implied answer to this question from James is a resounding NO! And yes, we have to admit that this seems clear: Our works, or good deeds, are necessary to save us.

There are several passages which can be used on either side of the debate, but these will suffice for our purpose in today’s message. I believe the answer to this apparent contradiction is found by looking closely at what James is really saying. And he seems to make his point abundantly clear in the next few verses.

James 2:15-17
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

When combined with verse 14, James is equating the one who claims to have faith with the one who says “keep warm and well fed.” He is saying it does no good to verbalize these words, or claim to have faith, if you do not follow through with action – meeting physical needs or doing good deeds. A faith which does not result in action is useless – it is dead!

Now let’s be clear: Our good deeds cannot save us! Jesus makes this clear when He rebukes those who come to Him with their list of good deeds; “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23). Nor can simple belief save us; “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19).

How then is Salvation made effective? James gives us this answer through the example of Abraham as he offered Isaac to be sacrificed; “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (James 2:22). In this we see that saving faith cannot be separated from good deeds; rather, a saving faith is defined as a faith which results in good deeds. Good deeds are an integrated part of saving faith!

Let’s hold on to a faith which transforms the entirety of our life by the grace of God. And let’s live a life which properly reflects this transformation through the good deeds of faith.

Have a Christ Centered Day!

Steve Troxel
God’s Daily Word Ministries

**** Reading Plan ****

Oct 15 Jeremiah 26:1-27:22; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18; Psalm 85:1-13; Proverbs 25:16


9 responses to “The Good Deeds of Faith”

  1. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    I taught through James verse-by-verse and I would ask you to consider some things that I gleaned from that study. James 2 does not say that good deeds will result from saving faith. It says that good deeds should result from saving faith. The faith being dead in that chapter does not mean that a person has not trusted Jesus Christ unto eternal life. It means that your faith is effectively dormant, producing nothing. Faith is internal to your soul and is invisible to others. James is trying to explain that the only way you can show others the reality of your faith is through your actions. You have to compare James 2 with 1 Cor 3 which states in verse 15, “If any man’s work in burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” That means that if everything burns up and there is nothing left – no gold, silver or precious stones remaining – the person is still saved. In other words, even if you have never produced any fruit of the Spirit – you have done nothing that results in eternal rewards – you are still saved through your faith in Jesus Christ. It is clear from this text that the type of faith that saves will not always result in good deeds…
    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

  2. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    Sorry for the late response. The ministry and my secular job have been keeping me very busy lately…

    I define saving faith the way the Bible does over and over again – personally trusting in Jesus Christ unto eternal life. I believe the popular phrase Faith Alone in Christ Alone correctly states what the Bible actually says. In other words, nothing more than faith is required and that faith must be in Jesus Christ and nothing more. I have spent a fair bit of time studying this to make sure that my background is not clouding my understanding. There are many, many passages in Scripture that make it clear that faith (pistis) or believing (pisteuo) is all that is required – John 3:16, Eph 2:8-9, Acts 16:31 just to name a few. Many believers have allowed one chapter of their Bible – James 2 – to totally confuse all of those very clear passages. The problem is, James is talking about experiential sanctification (justification), not salvation. The textual clue is James 1:21-22. The “saving” that James is talking about in James 1:21 is not salvation unto eternal life. The very important clue is the phrase “all that remains of wickedness.” He is talking about the day-by-day “saving” of the believer from the defilement of sin that comes from what “remains of wickedness” in the life of the believer even after being saved. James then follows that up with James 1:22 which is a lead-up to an entire chapter rebuking believers that are unproductive (they hear, but don’t do). He hits believers (there is no doubt that the audience for James are believers) on two fronts. First, if believers are not humble in receiving God’s word they will be susceptible to the filthiness and wickedness that controlled them as unbelievers (Peter also hits on this in 1 Peter). Second, believers are told that their faith is dead (unproductive) if it is not resulting in good deeds. So, the life of a believer should be one that is “saved” from the defilements of sin (James 1:21) and also “saved” from being unproductive (James 1:22 and James 2). I believe (very strongly) that it is problematic to try to define saving faith as anything but a simple trust in Christ for your eternal salvation. The moment you suggest that it MUST result in good deeds you have made good deeds a requirement for “true” saving faith and, therefore, a requirement for salvation. There is simply no way around it. I encourage you to take the time to do your own detailed study on this and I am confident that, when you do, you will see that, while God desires good deeds from his children, He does not require good deeds in order to be saved. Jesus Christ has already done everything that the Father required. The Father is completely satisfied (propitiated) by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Nothing more is required but to trust in Him…

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

  3. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    As a follow up. Another fun study is to do a word study on the Greek word sozo (and its cognate forms). You will discover that the words “save,” “salvation,” etc. refer to something other than salvation unto eternal life more than half of the time. More often than not they refer to “deliverance” for someone who is already a believer…

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

  4. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    Everyone who places their trust in Jesus Christ is changed – they are born again. God creates in them a living human spirit which is created in righteousness. In addition, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer. So, at the moment of salvation a new believer has the ability to live in an entirely new way. As an unbeliever, all we could do is live as slaves of the sin nature. As believers, we now have the chance to walk in the newness of the eternal life God has given us in His grace. But will we? That is a choice every believer must make. Follow the old (sin) nature which still exists in us or follow the new (righteous) nature which God has created in us.

    I am going to use a dumb analogy to try to explain this. Let’s say I am a carpenter and I only have a hand saw. That is all I have ever had and I have always done all of my carpentry work using that hand saw. Then, I get a job working with a construction crew and the foreman of the crew gives me a brand new electric circular saw. Every time I need to cut some wood on my new job I now have a choice to make – a choice I did not have before. I can use my old hand saw like I have always done or I can use the new electric saw that I have been given. So, when I took the job something changed (I received a new saw), but I have to choose to take advantage of the blessing I have received to cut wood in a new and better way. Most carpenters will gladly choose the new and better way, but some carpenters would be much more comfortable cutting wood the way they have always done – with the old, familiar hand saw.

    This is exactly how it is with our salvation. God blesses us with a new and better way to live, but we have to choose whether or not we are going to live that way. Most believers will jump at the chance to live in a new way, but there will be some believers who choose to live the way they have always lived – in slavery to the sin nature. But even for these believers something is different, something has changed. As unbelievers, their slavery was a forced bondage – they had no other choice. Now, as believers, they have volunteered themselves to this slavery.

    Back to your definition of saving faith. You say that someone who truly believes will necessarily do good deeds. How many good deeds must they do to have truly believed? 10 good deeds? 100 good deeds? You see, as soon as you add good deeds to the equation, even if you try to explain them as a necessary consequence of “true” faith, you have brought back the scales of almost every false religion that weigh the person to see if they have done enough good deeds to qualify for heaven. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ did all that was required for our salvation – all that is needed for any of us to get into heaven. I cannot, nor do I need to, add anything to what He has done. I must simply trust in what He has already done…

    I would like to ask you about James 1:22. Is James talking to believers there? If your answer is yes, then is that not the same message as chapter 2? Isn’t he telling believers to live out their faith by doing what the word teaches in both cases? If your answer about James 1:22 is that he is talking to unbelievers, then what is he trying to tell them?

    I am enjoying this discussion. I hope you are as well…

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

  5. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    Sounds like we will simply have to agree to disagree. I have so many other thoughts I could share on James 2, but it is clear that you see that chapter in a very different way. The one final thing I will say is that I have seen much damage being done to the body of Christ by pastors preaching messages that lead believers to doubt their salvation. That message does not help believers grow; it immobilizes them with fear. As I study the book of James I see him encouraging believers to live a fruitful life, not to question whether or not they are saved.

    I thank God for your ministry and I thank you for this discussion. May God bless…

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

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