The faith and works debate has raged for millennia among Christians. For many, the concept that God would accept anyone as righteous without any effort at all on their part is the pinnacle of absurdity. Men must be held accountable for their unrighteous actions and to give them a get-out-of-jail-free card is seen as unjust.
Yet Paul tells us in Romans that God has revealed a righteousness that is apart from doing any deeds required by the law.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Romans 3:28
…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2:16
It actually is very difficult to believe. It’s even scandalous. But ever since the Protestant Reformation, many Christians have upheld this precious doctrine with cries of Sola Fide or Faith Alone.
Yet even among these stalwarts of justification by faith alone there are some doubts.
If a man proclaims faith in the blood of Christ for his justification, but his life is a mess of sin, selfishness and fleshly living, will God really overlook all of those things?
Emboldened by the teachings of James in the second chapter of his epistle, they say:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? James 2:14
And again from James:
…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17
Yes, that is the solution. We need to proclaim a faith that is not dead. We need to proclaim a living faith. Faith without works is not sufficient. We need a faith that does good works.
No. NO. NO! A thousand times NO!
What we’ve done is just shuffled our pathetic works around. Instead of earning our righteousness through good works, we are now proving our faith as genuine through our works. We are now looking to our own good works to prove we stand righteous instead of just trusting in the blood of Christ.
A genuine faith is one that believes that Christ’s blood is sufficient to make you righteous. That’s it. You don’t have to muster up as much authenticity as you can. Adding works to your faith is just an insidious way to add a measure of trust in your own good works.
Here is what Paul says in Romans:
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, Romans 4:5
According to the verse above, God justifies the ungodly through a faith that does not work. That is the kind of faith that God wants, a faith that DOES. NOT. WORK. God doesn’t need you to prove how genuine your faith is by how holy you live. He needs you to trust in his blood shed for you and stop looking at yourself.
Does that make you nervous? How can you know if you are really saved if you can’t look to the good works in your life as some sort of evidence?
You know what? Your life is a mess. You lose your temper. You give in to filthy thoughts. You succumb to temptations regularly. You tend to be lazy and thoughtless and rude and selfish. Some of you nurse a disgusting porn habit or justify watching “soft” porn television. Some of you have broken marriages because your selfish pride keeps you from humbling yourself. Some harbor bitterness towards blacks or whites or some other race. And that’s not the worst of it. So what does that prove? It proves you’re lousy at producing works of righteousness, just like the Bible says. So why don’t you just give up trying to prove what a genuine Christian you are and instead start glorying in how thoroughly sufficient and effective the blood of Christ is. That’s where 100% of your faith needs to go, trusting in the all-sufficient gift of the grace of God.
And when you put all of your faith in the grace of God, living by that faith day by day, you’ll find yourself being transformed to be more like Him and bearing fruit that you never thought possible.
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Galatians 2:21
(I know some of you are thinking “what do we do with those verses in James then?” Don’t worry, we’ll get there eventually and you’ll never look at the book of James the same way again.)