The Good Deeds of Faith

James 2:15-17


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. Please read this again! Good deeds, which can also be defined as obedience or following Jesus, are an integrated, essential, part of saving faith!

Let’s hold on to a faith which transforms the entirety of our life by the grace of God. Let’s put an end to the divisive debate and 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 ****

May 3 Judges 17:1-18:31; John 3:1-21; Psalm 104:1-24; Proverbs 14:20-21



5 responses to “The Good Deeds of Faith”

  1. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    As you know, I have been blessed by your ministry for years now. I want to encourage you to do some additional study regarding James chapter 2. When James asks, “Can that faith save him?” in James 2:14 it is very important to consider what he means by that. You are correct that the assumed answer to the question is NO, but to understand what James is asking you must go back to James chapter 1…

    In James 1:2-3 he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” This verse makes it clear in two ways that James is addressing an audience of born-again believers. First, he calls them brethren. In this verse that is not a reference to his brothers as Jews, but his brothers in Christ. Second, he talks about the trials testing their faith. His audience are men of faith. Later in verse 21 of the same chapter James says, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” We know he is talking to believers, so what does James mean by the saving of their souls? He is talking about the daily salvation born-again believers receive as they are rescued from the power of sin in their lives. He is not talking about the moment someone believes in Jesus Christ which results in being born-again to eternal life that Paul is talking about in Eph 2:8-9…

    We step forward to chapter 2. Now we can see that James is not asking about the faith that leads to eternal life when he asks, “Can that faith save him?” James is asking about daily rescue from the power of sin. James 2:17 suddenly becomes much more clear. Faith by itself is exactly what Paul told us is required of us to be saved (born-again) in Eph 2:8-9. But if our faith (true saving faith) that has resulted in our eternal salvation is not accompanied by works, then that very real faith is a dead (useless) faith. Note that the person is not dead. His faith is dead. The person is born-again and has eternal life, but his faith has become ineffective…

    I will leave it at that and let you consider how this changes the apparent conflict between James and Ephesians, but I would like to add that one of the most important things I learned that has helped me understand the Scriptures better is the different ways the word “save” is used in the Bible. It is used of (a) eternal salvation at the moment of faith in Christ – a salvation that believers do not need to do anything to maintain since it can never be lost, (b) day-by-day salvation from the power of sin which believers need to be encouraged to take advantage of (as in James), and (c) ultimate salvation from the very presence of sin which takes place when we are removed from our earthly bodies through physical death or the Rapture (as in 1 Pet 1:5). There is a fourth way it is used as well. Sometimes we are saved from the difficult circumstances of life. David often used the word “save” this way when he was talking about being saved from his enemies. Knowing that this word is used in so many different ways has helped me greatly in understanding God’s word. I hope it helps you as well…

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

  2. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    I absolutely respect your position on this. There is one other passage I would like you to consider, though. In 1 Cor 3:10-15 we read…

    “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 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.”

    Paul s describing the Judgment Seat of Christ here and makes a comparison here between one whose work “remains” versus one whose work “is burned up”. In doing so, it is implied that the second person has no work remaining. All of his work was wood, hay and straw and there was nothing left after it was tested by God’s fire. Yet, Paul says that this second person is saved, yet so as through fire. This is indeed salvation in the sense of eternal life (only believers go to the Judgment Seat of Christ – unbelievers go to the Great White Throne). This second person has done no work in his life that has resulted in gold, silver or precious stones and yet he is saved and will spend all of eternity with God. For me, that is the perfect picture of grace. This second person is completely undeserving of salvation, even according to their actions after being saved, and yet God saves them anyway because they have trusted in the One who did all of the work of salvation – Jesus Christ…

    This passage in 1 Cor 3, when combined with others, has convinced me that there will be believers in heaven who have done zero good deeds worthy of reward. God made a change in them for sure. He is faithful. But some of these believers never responded by doing any good works of any kind. They returned to their vomit (2 Pet 2:22) and lived just like unbelievers. Others of these believers actually got quite “busy” for the Lord during their lives, but they never actually did the good works which God had prepared for them to do (Eph 2:10). In either case, it is all wood, hay and straw that burns away when tested by God’s fire. Just more food for thought… :)

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

  3. Pastor Cliff Beveridge

    I love the exchange as well. And I love you in the Lord, Steve. Your ministry has an impact you will probably never fully understand this side of glory. If, at some point, you have 6 hours to kill and are interested in a detailed study on 2nd Peter 2:22, check out…

    In particular, lessons #63-68 deal with 2nd Peter 2:20-22. Having done a verse-by-verse study on that book I know for certain that 2nd Peter 2:22 is talking about true believers who have received eternal life and will go to heaven when they die. It is actually pretty neat the way the Holy Spirit moved Peter to write that passage so you can know he is talking about believers…

    Pastor Cliff Beveridge

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