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Faith or Faith plus Works?

Someone asked me this question years ago: Why will God only require faith and not works for salvation? Will this not be abused? Isn’t faith dead without works?

I believe I answered him correctly but not completely. After many years of walking with God, I think I can now answer him more completely. Now I can answer him from experience, from the heart, not just intellectually.

When I read the Bible, I know that all of it is truth but I don’t understand all of it. It starts in the mind but the heart will catch up a little while after. Because there are some things you will only understand when you mature in years and experience.

Is it faith and works or faith only?

In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

From this verse, God clearly says that we are saved only by believing that what Jesus did on the cross is enough to pay for our sins. Nothing more. We cannot add or subtract to what Jesus did.

In James 2:14-17, James says:

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17

From James, it is easy to conclude that we need both faith and works to be saved.

At the onset, it might seem that James and Paul are saying different things. Paul says faith only. James is saying faith and works. Is the Bible inconsistent? No. They are actually saying the same truth. We are saved only by faith alone. But this faith is like a seed planted in the believer’s heart. This seed will bring out fruits. What kind of fruits? The fruits of saving faith is good works. This saving faith is not just a ticket to heaven, it is a life changing decision to follow Jesus’ example.

What James is saying is that if your faith is not producing good works, then your faith will not save you because it is dead. It means you did not truly believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Will this be abused?

Throughout the life of the Christian, he will still sin. He will need God’s grace daily to live out this saving faith. God’s grace is enough to forgive your past, present and future sin.

Is grace/faith a license to sin?

No. Little by little, sometimes by leaps, the believer will fall in love with God, the giver of grace. He will never be perfect here on earth. But his desire to do more good will increase and his desire for sin will become less and less.

Is this just a play of words? Is faith only and faith plus works one and the same thing?

No. Because the believer needs to understand that his works are not for paying his way to heaven. His good works is a result of the work of God in his life. This is where experience comes in. The more you live out your life for God, the more you will know that you are not enough, that you cannot pay your way to heaven. There is nothing you can do to make yourself deserving of heaven. You will always be in sore need of God’s grace!

There is a huge difference between the believer living by faith and the person who thinks he has faith and then works his way to heaven.

The believer lives in humble and grateful obedience to His Creator. He knows he is going to heaven and so much more. He is not taking pride in his salvation because he knows it is all from God’s grace. He is doing good works because Jesus is changing his heart. He will develop this increasing desire to obey his Savior and Lord. The believer will sin once in a while but he will continue to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice is enough to forgive his sins. He will bounce back to obedience because he believes that Jesus is able to change his heart. From the beginning to eternity, Jesus will sustain his faith. Jesus will finish the work he has begun in the believer’s heart. Alone, it would seem impossible, we will always despair but if we hold on to God’s grace, we will see God’s miracles working His way into our hearts.

The person who wants faith + works will carry that impossible burden to prove himself worthy of heaven. During times when he is “successful”, he would be prideful. During times when he fails, he would be in despair. He also might be deceived to believe that what he does is enough. But the Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” There is no one who is “good enough” for God. It’s not just about giving it his best shot. He needs to stop believing in himself and start believing that what Jesus did on the cross is enough. He needs to surrender his life to God.

Will you stop doing good works, knowing that you won’t be perfect anyway?

The believer will soon understand that his being saved from hell is only a part of the grand plan of God. When Jesus met him, Jesus wanted to show more of Himself to him. From the time when he first understood the gospel to the time when he will meet Jesus face to face, this time is used so that he will experience more of God’s ways and know more and more of God.

You may have more questions about faith, you can use the Contact Us form to send your questions. In God’s grace, we will try to answer your questions.