The Good Deeds of Faith

James 2:15-17

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 ****

Jul 23 2 Chronicles 8:11-10:19; Romans 8:9-23; Psalm 18:16-34; Proverbs 19:26
Jul 24 2 Chronicles 11:1-13:22; Romans 8:24-39; Psalm 18:35-50; Proverbs 19:27-29
Jul 25 2 Chronicles 14:1-16:14; Romans 9:1-24; Psalm 19:1-14; Proverbs 20:1
Jul 26 2 Chronicles 17:1-18:34; Romans 9:25-10:12; Psalm 20:1-9; Proverbs 20:2-3

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2 responses to “The Good Deeds of Faith”

  1. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    Steve,
    I want to give you something to think about…

    The NASB has a better translation of James 2:17 which reads, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” This verse does not state that there is no faith. It states that faith is by itself. From Eph 2:8-9 we know that faith is all that is required for salvation. So, we must conclude that a person who has faith, even if it is by itself, is born-again. So, what is this verse talking about when it describes the faith as dead? It is describing a born-again believer whose faith is not a living faith. In other words, the faith that saved him is not being lived out in his day-to-day life.

    But what about James 2:14 which says, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” To understand this verse we must put it in context. James 1:19-21 reads, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; or the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” The people being addressed are beloved brethren – born-again believers in Jesus Christ. So, how is the implanted word going to save a born-again believer? Isn’t he already saved? The word of God saves believers from the power of sin in their lives every single day. That is what James 1:21 is talking about and that is also what James 2:14 is talking about. It is a mistake to assume that the word “save” is talking about being born-again in these passages when the context shows otherwise. The importance of James 1:19-21 in understanding James 2:14 and following becomes even more obvious when you look at James 1:22 which says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” That is the same exhortation to believers James is giving in James chapter 2:14-26. (James chapter 1 is an outline of the rest of the letter.)

    The final piece of the puzzle in understanding that true saving faith may not be accompanied by works is in 1 Cor 3:11-15 which reads, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” This passage is talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ which is for Church Age believers only and verse 15 is describing someone who has all of his works burned up by the fire of judgment. There are no good works in the life of this person and yet he is saved. From the context of this passage it is clear that this usage of saved is talking about a person being born-again unto eternal life.

    In conclusion, the way I would state what James is telling us in James chapter 2 is that good works SHOULD be a part of the believer’s life. He is not stating that true faith WILL be accompanied by good works. James is warning us that, if a born-again believer who will spend all of eternity in heaven with God does not show any good works in his life, then his faith is not a living and active faith. This is someone who has eternal life, but he has not taken hold of that eternal life (1 Tim 6:12) and started exercising faith in his day-to-day life. James is exhorting such a believer to start practicing his faith by being a hearer and a doer of the word so his faith will be working together with his works (James 2:22).

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

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