Updated: Dec 6, 2021
I grew up in a church where I always got the impression that good works got you to heaven. In my mind I could see a big scale in heaven and God would put my good works on one side and all the bad things on the other and if the good side outweighed the bad, I was in. Of course, I now know that isn’t true and in fact our good works have nothing to do with us getting into heaven. There is only one way to the Father in heaven and that’s Jesus (John 14:6). Romans 10:9 confirms this, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
As I moved through my walk with the Lord, I kept hearing about faith. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we can’t please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6), and the righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38).
As I gained a solid understanding of faith, I started hearing that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26) and this didn’t make sense (I was still transforming my carnal mind) to me. If we were saved by faith, not by works, then how could my faith be dead, if I didn’t do any good works? This took a while for me to embrace and since either you are struggling or have struggled with this same thing or perhaps you will encounter someone who is, I want to take some time, in this blog post to study James 2:14-26:
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”
The first thing I began understanding was that there is a difference between belief and faith. You can believe that a chair will hold your weight, if you sit in it, but it’s not faith until you test your belief by actually sitting in the chair. Faith takes belief and moves it into action.
In my life, after I believed in Jesus as my Savior and started making Him Lord over the various parts of my life, I noticed that things started to change. First, I didn’t swear anymore. Now, I was never very foul mouthed, but there were times, particularly if I was angry, where some choice words would fly out of my mouth. However, my belief began to move into faith through the action of not swearing. I also started controlled my anger, another example of belief to faith. Eventually, this expanded, as I moved from believing that Jesus could heal people to praying for people to be healed (and seeing it happen).
What James is saying is that if your faith is real, it will result in actions or good works. It’s easy to say that you have faith in healing and a lot harder to walk up to a person who clearly needs healing and pray for them (or even pray for yourself). Faith without works is really just belief and James calls that dead faith.
James uses Abraham as an example of faith and works. God counted Abraham righteous because of his faith, but then his faith was made complete by his actions – God told Abraham to leave his home and family and he did, God told him to take his son Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him and Abraham obeyed. Fortunately, Abraham didn’t have to go through with the sacrifice.
If you have true faith in Jesus, then you will do the things that Jesus did and even greater (John 14:12). Otherwise, you are walking around with dead faith. It doesn’t mean that you won’t go to heaven when you die, but it does mean that you aren’t fulfilling your God-given purpose here on earth. Jesus said to go and preach the gospel and make disciples. Are you doing that? Is your faith alive or dead?