“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)
“Show me your faith without the works and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18-19)
Modern church teachings have, over the past decades, moved progressively towards segregating the concepts of faith and works, increasingly exalting faith as all that is needed to please Jesus and increasingly decrying works as legalistic and pharisaical. Were our faith and deeds ever meant to be segregated, and do our works really not matter to God? If they do matter, then why? How do works serve us and how can they trap us? These are the points I wish to address here.
Beginning with the first question, we find the following passages, among many others, in the Scriptures:
- Ephesians 2:8-9, perhaps the most popular verses used by those who declare faith is all we need, is followed by verse 10 above which puts verses 8-9 in context, and within the proper context the truth comes out.
- James also speaks to this topic when he says, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”
- Jesus, the man who more than anyone else had a reason to proclaim He was the righteous, pure, holy and true Messiah sent from God said the following when asked by His disciples if He was the Messiah or they should keep looking? “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11).
- We read this from 1 John 2, “By this we know that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
- Finally, though I could site many more verses, five of the messages to the seven churches begin with the words, “I know your deeds,” and the others, while not saying those specific words, begin with a summary of their deeds which, in fact, implies the same thing. Not one begins with, “I know your faith.”
In answer to the second question, how is it the first comment from Jesus to His churches is, “I know your deeds?” If works aren’t important to God, why are they the matter of first importance to Jesus when declaring His judgement upon His churches? Why doesn’t He say, “I know of your faith” if faith was all that matters to Him? Ditto “Your prayers” or “Your preaching?” Likewise, why does Isaiah say, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…who announces salvation” (Isa. 57)? Not “the preaching” or “the prayers.” No, it’s “the feet” that must be moving to do good works, walking while others sit.
Moving on in Revelations, when those books are opened that we all want so desperately to be written down in, what will the litmus test be so as to answer that all-important question? Will it be our faith alone? Once again Jesus is completely consistent in this, “And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them. And they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds” (Rev. 20). Finally, Jesus says in Revelations 22, “And behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work…Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life.”
To the contrary, Jesus says to those who proclaimed faith with their mouths without it showing up in their deeds, “Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and yet do not do what I say” (Luke 6)? and, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness, for I never knew you” (Matt. 7)! Oh yes, my friends, works matter very much to God. So much, in fact, that it will be upon His works done through us our very entrance into heaven shall be judged, and only upon that. For you see, the Bible makes it clear men can proclaim “with word and with tongue” faith and be counterfeits, but they cannot display the works of God “in deed and in truth (1 John 3)” and be counterfeits in either faith or works. When Jesus stood before the religious leaders who were seeking to destroy Him, He said, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me, but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works” (John 10). Jesus was saying though people may not believe our words, no one can argue with good works because it is they who, above all, verify the claims we make concerning our faith. Why are works so important to God? Simply because they are the truest evidence of a genuine relationship with Jesus that cannot be counterfeited or hidden.
Connecting the dots of two passages Paul writes gives us the reason why faith and works are inseparably connected: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2), and, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion. For woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9)! The truth is anyone who has received Christ—truly received and believed in his heart, and has the Holy Spirit Christ both sent and commands (John 16:12-15) dwelling in Him MUST do, as a direct result of faith, what Jesus did!
Paul said, simply, “The life I now live is no longer my own, but it belongs to and is one with Jesus whose Spirit indwells me. Therefore, I cannot but preach and do the works of God, because I am no longer the one driving the bus! I MUST do what He did because I have died and it’s no longer I who is in charge. It’s Him doing them in me!” I hate to put it so bluntly, but John did: the man who says he knows God, but can state in any way faith and works can be segregated, does not know God at all. If “Christ in him, the hope of glory” has not evolved to the point where good works are being manifested, then Christ is not in Him, for the power of the Holy Spirit is not a passive thing but dynamic and transformative, and the evidence of that transformation is good works. To know God is to do His works, not works we are duty bound to do but His works we MUST do.
Works are of great importance to God and do indeed go hand in hand with faith, but as with all wonderful things that come from God the enemy will take them, twist, them, and turn them against us if we aren’t ever vigilant to watch over our souls. Works, even good ones, are no exception. In Revelations 2, we see Jesus had much encouraging to say to the church at Ephesus. He complimented them on their discernment and even their perseverance, which is the process that leads toward the perfection Jesus told us we are to strive for [see my blog The Pursuit of Perfection at TheawakenedChristianMan.org.]. All great attributes, yes?
Ah, but then He admonishes them quite severely for losing their first love. This was not just a mere slap on the hand. No, Jesus tells them if they don’t remember from where they have fallen, repent, and do “the deeds they did at first” He will take away their crown! We can try to counterfeit our deeds, but Jesus knows the Real McCoy, because He is the Real McCoy, and knows instantly those deeds He’s done through us and those we do under our own power. This trap is one the true disciples of Christ need to watch for because it snares those who at one time were genuinely serving Jesus with good works, and typically still are, yet something has changed. Something has turned them from truly good works to the kind of works the modern church so decries. They’ve become works without heart, and even good ones without love involved are “nothing,” as Paul would say.
These are the sort of works Isaiah speaks of when he says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64). Key word here is our, for indeed our righteous deeds done through our inspiration or power cannot help but be stained with the sins of worldliness and flesh. Ah, but since Christ’s dying on the cross and then sending His Spirit to indwell, empower, and inspire us to do His good works, that has all changed! He has now made it possible for us to abide in Him and He in us, and no longer live to do our righteous deeds but for Him who lives in us to do His through us! It is at the moment we lose our first love those deeds, even the ones that may have begun righteously, are taken from Him and become ours—once righteous and clean, but now fleshly and filthy.
Faith and works are one in Christ Jesus now, as they were when He walked this earth. He has simply handed the mantle to us and it will be upon those good works, oh so important to God and the evidence of a deep and abiding relationship with Christ, we will be judged. But heed well, O disciple, the lesson we all must learn at one time or another that just as faith without works is dead, so also works without love are dead. And this is not a solitary battle we fight, but a daily battle to remain “in Him, bearing fruit that remains” and not untracked by the roaring lion who lives daily to prowl about our lives seeking that next crack in our armor. He never sleeps and never slumbers, and so neither can we lest we lose our first love and those good works become but filthy rags.