Faith and Works
 
One of the most significant divisions in Christian theology centers on the question of faith and works in relation to soteriology, that is, the study of salvation.Put in itís simplest form, it could be stated as "Are we saved by faith alone, or faith and works?"†† Most typically, scriptural support of each position is polarized on emphasizing one of two areas of the New Testament.The ecclesiastical bodies (such as Protestant and Evangelical) in favor of sola fides (faith alone) tend to emphasize the Pauline writings on the subject, while the older sacramental churches (Catholic, Orthodox) and newer sects (Latter Day Saints, Jehovahís Witnesses) point to Jamesís epistle that addresses the issue head on, or some statements in the Gospels.
 
Defining the Words:
First of all, it must be understood that "salvation" or being "saved", is understood in the New Testament to be the equivalent of being "justified".These terms are used together in Romans 10:9,10 and Titus 3:5,6 as nearly synonymous terms, and are dynamically linked in the conversion process.Furthermore, justification is also synonymous with being made "righteous", with the same Greek word used in both instances.Below are formal Strongís definitions and etymological root, for both the verb and noun of the words in question:
 
#1344 dikaioo {dik-ah-yo'-o}
 
from 1342; TDNT - 2:211,168; v
 
AV - justify 37, be freed 1, be righteous 1, justifier 1; 40
 
1) to render righteous or such he ought to be
2) to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is
††† and wishes himself to be considered
3) to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as
††† he ought to be

#1345 dikaioma {dik-ah'-yo-mah}

 
from 1344; TDNT - 2:219,168; n n
 
AV - righteousness 4, ordinance 3, judgment 2, justification 1; 10
 
1) that which has been deemed right so as to have force of law
††† 1a) what has been established, and ordained by law, an ordinance
††† 1b) a judicial decision, sentence
††††††† 1b1) of God
††††††††††† 1b1a) either the favourable judgment by which he acquits
††††††††††††††††† man and declares them acceptable to Him
††††††††††† 1b1b) unfavourable: sentence of condemnation
2) a righteous act or deed

Due to the fact that the words are used so frequently in the passive sense (ie. believers being "made righteous" or "justified"), it is difficult to ignore the legal or forensic application of the words.The usage of the words resists the efforts of some to color the meaning into denoting an ongoing covenantal relationship.The New Testament supports the concept that when an individual comes to Christ, they are declared "righteous", in a manner not unlike a binding legal ruling of a judge who may declare a defendant "not guilty".Thus, despite the fact that the Christian walk is indeed and on-going and upward relationship with God, there is still a point of commencement where Christís righteousness, in a unique and singular way, eclipses our natural being and changes our position before God.
 
Another key word is "grace" (Gr. charis- Strongs # 5485).Grace is sometimes used to denote Godís favor, loving-kindness, and power.Many times in the New Testament, however, it is used in contradistinction to the "works of the law" and is intended to communicate Godís unmerited, undeserved favor.Thus, we see in verses such as John 1:17 where we read
 
"For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
 
Here, it is used as a polemic against the "law" as a vehicle of salvation.Frequently, it is used in the same way in Paulís writing, as we shall see.
 
 

The Possibilities

If we were to state the possible outcomes of an examination of faith and works in relation to salvation, we would conclude that there are only four possible outcomes:

 

1)     Neither faith nor works have an effect on an individualís salvation.

2)     An individual is saved by works alone.

3)     An individual is saved by faith alone.

4)     An individual is saved by a combination of faith and works.

 
In the interest of space, it is necessary to begin with the presupposition that the New Testament is authoritative on this matter.Thus statement #1, which reduces all soteriology to meaninglessness, and statement #2, which even a cursory glance of the New Testament would indict, are to be dismissed without discussion.
 
Leaving the last two possible outcomes, we will need to ask ourselves some very important questions.First of all, does any biblical text, in its plainest reading, lend support to one position or the other?And, just as importantly, does any biblical text, in its proper context exclude either position as a possible outcome?††† This is crucial since if we were to find that texts supporting each position categorically deny the possibility of the other, than we would be presented with an irreconcilable contradiction.
 

Key Bible Verses:

 

1.††††††† Romans 1:17:††† For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
 
 
This was a key text of the Reformation, and quoted in defense of the doctrine of "sola fides" during the 16th century.†† However, many realize that the verse Paul is citing, Habbakuk 2:4, could likewise be understood as "the just shall live by his faithfulness" or "fidelity", which would argue against sola fides.Thus, this verse is inconclusive.
 
2.†††††† Romans 3:20:†† Thereforebythe deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justifiedin his sight : forby the law [is] the knowledge of sin.
 
The word for "deeds" here (Gr. "Ergon", Strongís #2041) is mostly commonly translated "works".This verse would argue against Ďworks" being an agent in our salvation.†† The "law" in this case, of course is the Mosaic Law.†† There are a number of groups that have tried to make the case that the "deeds of the law" being discussed are the ceremonial aspects of the OT law, however, Paul mentions that it is through this "law" that there is "knowledge of sin", thus it is clear that the commandments are what he had in mind.†† The only weakness in this text is that it does not directly and succinctly tell us the relationship of faith to works.
 
 
3.†††††† Romans 3:23:††† For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;†† 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:25 Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
 
Although "works" are not specifically mentioned, this text begins with the presumption that everyone, by virtue of their personal sin, has nothing of merit by which they might claim a right to Godís glory or goodness.†† We are all sinners.Yet, we are "justified freely" by Godís grace.†† Faith is the sole agent in effecting our salvation, by trusting the sufficiency of Christís blood as a propitiation for our sins.
 
 
4.†††††† Romans 3:28:†† Thereforewe conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
 
This verse Martin Luther took the liberty of translating as "justified by faith alone", which earned him the ire of the Roman Catholic theologians.Although it must be acknowledged that his novel addition was out of the bounds of sound hermeneutics, it still must be asked, is the idea that Martin Luther put forth outside the meaning of the text?To answer this, we can simply raise the query as to what, in addition to faith, could justify a man?†† One could fill in the blank to the point of absurdity.†† Yearly trips to Mecca?Not likely.Self-flagellation?Probably not.How aboutgood works?That would seem like the only possibility, pursuant to the current debate.However, that is the only thing (if we equate Ďdeeds of the law" with "good works") that is explicitly excluded by the verse.Thus, Lutherís insertion of"alone" is bad translating, but nevertheless, may very well be accurate as far as clarifying the meaning of the text.
 
 
 
5.††††††† Romans 4:2:†† For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God.†† 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.†† 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.†† 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
 
This section of text ties in the relationship of works to faith and grace.Moreover, it clearly pits works against grace as two mutually exclusive systems.†† If one deems that they are "earning" their salvation, then that is not grace.Verse six very explicitly says that this is an imputed "righteousness without works".This it is exclusionary with respects to the possibility of works adding to oneís salvation or righteousness.†† It must also be noted that here the "works" in no ways can be equated with the ceremonial law of Moses, since Abraham pre-dates Moses by hundreds of years.
 
The fact that "grace" and "works" are incompatible is further outlined in Romans 11:5.††††
 
6.Romans 11:5.Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.6 And if by grace, then [is it] no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if [it be] of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
 
If salvation is by grace, than it cannot be by works.That grace is apprehended simply by belief, apart from works.If Ďworks" are involved in that salvific economy, then if is no longer grace.††† Paul goes so far to say in the previous chapter that it was the inability of Israel to see that salvation was by grace, through faith, that has prevented them from attaining Godís righteousness.He says in Romans 9:30:
 
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.†† 32 Wherefore? Because [they sought it] not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;†† 33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.†† (Chapter 10:1) Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.†† 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
 
Again, faith is contrasted with the "works of the law".If Paul had it in mind to teach that salvation was by"faith and works", this would have been a good opportunity to say so.Instead, he says that natural Israel has fallen away for the singular reason that they sought (by works) to merit their own righteousness, which, in Godís estimation, is refusal to submit to his righteousness that is by faith.††
 
Moving on to Paulís epistle to the Galatians, we see the same themes.†† The circumstances of this epistle are somewhat different, however, than the epistle to the Romans.In this case, Paul has spent a significant time with them preaching the Gospel, and apparently after his departure, other teachers had arrived on the scene and taught contrary doctrines, namely that one had to follow the Mosaic law in order to remain "saved".††† Thus, the erroneous teaching that Paul was addressing was the teaching that faith was not sufficient, but instead, needed obedience to the "law" in order to justify the believer.††††† He says in Galatians2:16:
 
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
 
Paul considered this injection of "works" into the simple Gospel a perversion of the truth and regarded anyone who taught such false doctrine "accursed" (Galatians 1:8).†† If works were effectual in justifying the sinner, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21).†† It must be noted that Paul here is not refuting the "works alone" viewpoint (possibility #2).His audience, in this case, were all believers in Jesus Christ, and no one was apparently denying the Lordship of Christ as a spiritual reality.The heretical teaching that so angered Paul was the addition of works as a contingency for salvation, and as a ground for justification.If salvation wasnít freely given, then the grace of God was "frustrated" and essentially annulled.
 
"Grace", understood as the unmerited favor of God, was a non-negotiable aspect of the Gospel that Paul preached.It is interesting that today, "grace" is interpreted by most to be dependent upon oneís behavior.For example, when the Tele-evangelist scandals hit in the 1980ís, many newspapers and magazines spoke of each ministerís "fall from grace".†† That phrase is used in the book of Galatians, however, with a vastly different meaning.In Galatians 5:4, Paul is again contrasting the heretical teaching of salvation by faith and works (the law), versus his teaching on grace.He says:
 
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
 
The phrase "fallen from grace" is not saying that the Galatians had been overcome by some moral fault.He is saying that they have fallen from the TEACHING OF GRACE.Their ethical standards were probably just as high as ever.However, they were mistakenly under the impression that their good works were helping achieve for themselves a position before God that God had said was only granted as a gift, not as an obligation on His part.
 
It is this principle of debt and obligation that ultimately is at the heart of the whole question of faith and works.As we saw in Romans 4:4, the principle of"grace" cannot co-exist with the concept of merit.They are mutually exclusive.†† One cannot put God in a debtorís position with respect to salvation.(The verse "who has lent to the Lord, that He should repay him- Job 41:11, Romans 11:35-††† comes to mind).†† Moreover, if works could add to out justification, then we all would have grounds for boasting of the salvation that we each had personally achieved.†† Works are excluded from effecting our salvation.Rather, they are a fruit of our relationship with God, instead of the causal agent of our relationship with God.As it is written in Ephesians 2:8:
 
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
 
It should also be noted that the "works" which we are told do not contribute to salvation, cannot be in anyway equated with the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law.The Ephesians were gentile, through and through, as the context of the letter clearly shows.Unequivocally, Paul is declaring that our own works do not contribute to our salvation.†† Not 50% faith and 50% works.It is plain and simply "not of works".Salvation is a gift.
One of the last well-known citations of Paulís on the subject is from the last pastoral epistle Titus.Again, the role of works is denied, and salvation is hung only on Godís mercy and grace.
 
Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior;†† 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
 
Few other statements could be more precise, included justification and righteousness, grace and mercy, all finding their being in the Godhead, while completely negating any noble role for ourselves and our personal merits in this economy.
 

Logical and Biblical Objections

The most common objection to the Gospel of Grace, sola fides, is the skepticism that the natural mind has to"something for nothing" deals.There must be a catch.Itís too simple.And of course, the "that-means-that-someone-could-be-a-sinner-their-whole-life-and-repent-on-their-deathbed-and-be-saved-" scenarios.†† Jesus didnít seem too hesitant to receive the thief on the cross (the thief being literally a bandit, or by contemporary standards, a professional mugger) into everlasting habitations.†† Perhaps someone should have objected to that.†† As for the offer for salvation as a free gift, one must keep in mind that "free" is not to be equated with "cheap".†† It is free for us, however, it cost God everything.†† The human heartís response to this free offer of salvation is meant to be endless gratitude and worship.†† For the individual who has heard the Gospel of grace, and understands it, there seems no other choice other than to resign ourselves to the mercy of God, and commit our way to serving Christ.††
 
But, as some might object, does this mean that an individual merely have to assent to believing that Jesus died for their sins, and perhaps, repeat the "sinnerís prayer" and then forever bank on their professed faith as an eternal "free ticket" to heaven?Unfortunately, this mindset has been fostered by some in the evangelical community.†† The confession of the Lordship of Christ, (as in Romans 10:9,10) presupposes that the believer really is making Christ the Lord of their life. Too many have been led to believe in a quasi-magical idea of a formula thatan individual just repeats certain words about belief in Christ, then they are "saved".†† This mental assent is not "faith" in the biblical sense.It might be called a Ď"said" faith, which is the object of Jamesí discourse on faith and works.Below, in an extended quote, is James 2:14-26.This is perhaps the "silver bullet" that the opponents of sola fides utilize against this teaching.
 
What [doth it] profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?†† 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be [ye] warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what [doth it] profit?17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.†† 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.†† 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.†† 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent [them] out another way?†† 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
 
Keep in mind, as established in the beginning, that there are really only two viable outcomes in this biblical study.Either salvation is by faith alone, or it is by faith and works.†† The Pauline texts unequivocally exclude works from being a causal agent in the NT economy of salvation.The plain reading of this section of text would seem to say otherwise, which could lock the issue in an irreconcilable contradiction.†††† However, taking a closer look at the text, we can make a few observations:
 
1)     The question James raises touches on a hypothetical individual who "says" they have faith (verse 14);Not even necessarily an actual believer.The question is can such a faith save an individual.

 

2)     In verse 17, the absence of works means the faith is "dead", that is, not even a vital faith to begin with.

3)     Again in verse 20, works demonstrate that "faith" is alive.

4)     Verse 23, James acknowledges that Abraham "believed God" and that belief was imputed to him as righteousness, again reaffirming that it is faith that is the active agent, not works.

5)     Lastly in verse 26, the conclusion James reaches is that faith without works is dead.
 
When you realize that the entire discourse of James here is calling into question whether a workless faith can rightly be called Ďfaith" at all, one can see how cleanly it fits into the Pauline teachings on faith and grace.After all, if sola fides was not the apostolic understanding, then the question of "can faith save him" is one that would never had been asked.Rather, James rightly points out that a workless faith is "dead" and not a saving faith to begin with.†† Thus, those with a professed faith, who by their works, show no evidence that they truly have faith, are presumed not to have a saving faith.†† The active agent in salvation in this text is faith, and works should follow that faith.†† Sola Fides is actually upheld, rather than challenged.
 
In addition to this text from James, those who argue against "faith alone" also cite several texts from the Gospels, particularly places where Jesus encourages seekers to follow the commandments.At the risk of sounding hyper-dispensational, it must be pointed out that any Pre-Calvary text must be qualified for itís context.We could not expect to have Jesus telling people that they would be saved if they put their faith in the "finished work of the Cross" when Christ had not yet been crucified.Even then, Jesus did offer allusions to his listeners that pointed them towards the necessity of receiving salvation as a gift, and the impossibility of our works playing a role in that.†† Matthew 19:16-26 is one such text that is used by many to support works as playing a role in our salvation.However, if we read on, a different meaning comes out.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,†† 19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.†† 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.†† 23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
If we were to stop right there (as most "faith and works" churches do in their lectionary readings), we could conclude that if one were to follow the commandments all of our lives, and give away all of our money, and follow Jesus, then we might have a chance at being saved.†† Were that the case, then we could bet on the fact that precious few, if anyone, is going to go to heaven.†† The standard being presented is absolute perfection.Fortunately, Jesus did not stop there.††† He had twelve disciples around him; men who had lived profane, less-than-squeaky-clean lives.†† The rich ruler who Jesus just turned away represented every dimension of life that they could never achieve.He was ethically superior, socially superior, and financially superior.Yet Jesus gave him little hope of salvation.††
 
 
25 When his disciples heard [it], they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?26 But Jesus beheld [them], and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
 
And with that one sentence, Jesus answered all the pharisaical opinions as to how good one had to be to earn salvation.The short answer is "You canít.Ever.But God can accomplish it".†† The "man-ward" side of salvation can never "earn" it.No matter how good a person is.There is always "one thing that you lack".†† However, God, in Christ on Calvary, achieved the reconciliation that no effort of man could ever do.
 
††

Conclusion

Summing up the biblical teaching on faith and works, it is clear that salvation comes apart or independently from one's works. it must be said that salvation by faith alone (sola fides) in no ways supports antinomianism, or lax morals,