Well it is time to keep moving forward with my book. It is a little rough as I have not had time to double back and check it thanks to being sick. Still, I wanted to put it out so people could read it and ask questions, that way I can continue to upgrade and edit it before I put it into a final form. I really want this book to speak into people’s lives and convict them so I want to make sure it is as easily understood as possible. Before I dive into any of God’s commands I choose to focus on the issue of works and on faith and how to please God as you continue in a relationship with Him. It may be a bit deep at times, but I kept it fairy short. Please let me know what you think and enjoy!
Chances are you have heard about the debate between works and faith. If you have not do not feel bad, you really have not missed anything important. This debate is primarily a misunderstanding. The debate is over salvation. There are many who know salvation is by faith alone. However, there are passages that talk about faith and works. The problem is that people have taken it to mean works are required for salvation. In response, some who know it is by faith have gone to an extreme to combat it and will not even talk about works. My goal in this chapter is show how faith and works play into a relationship with God. At the back of this book are several tables with verses. I will not use every verse as we talk about faith and works, but the table is there to show you every reference I found organized by the subject it talks about. It also has a table for Romans, Galatians, and a small part of James as these are the three major books that talk about faith and works.
Let us first establish what has often been said, that faith is the basis of salvation not works. Romans 3:27-31 talks about works and faith (the works it mentions are connected to the law of Moses seen in the book of Exodus and Leviticus). He shows through a long argument throughout the first eleven chapters that we are justified by faith not works. It is summed up in Romans 3:28 “For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” There is no argument about the basis of salvation, but there comes another part to Paul’s argument.
Starting in chapter 12 Paul transitions using the word therefore. Now anytime you see the word therefore you have to ask ‘what is it there for?’ I will try not to get too technical, but in this case therefore serves as a connector and transition from the first eleven chapters to the last five chapters. Paul first makes His argument for faith over the works of the law, but then finishes the argument talking about the huge grace God has shown us. Then he uses the word therefore. From there he goes into the second focus of the book, telling people how they should act and behave as children of God. What he is saying is literally ‘since we are saved by faith and have been given this astounding grace from God then it needs to impact us and change us, pushing us to do what we should.’ Now, I am not going to cover what he tells us to do here, as that will be addressed later. Right now, just follow the argument. Paul says that in faith we believe in God and He gives salvation, and that because of that grace we should be changed and desire to behave as God wants us to.
Romans is not the only place this is seen. Galatians is another book that deals largely with faith and works. After arguing for his authority in the first chapter and a half, Paul presents an argument nearly identical to the one in Romans. Again, he points out the law (and works) cannot save a person and that due to our own inability to follow the law we are condemned by it. However, God died and justified us by faith. The main point can be summarized by Galatians 3:2 “I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Now, like Romans after he finishes his argument for faith he moves on to a secondary point. Paul points out the freedom of Christ and then asks the Galatians what has stopped them from obeying the truth. From there he uses another transitioning statement, ‘I say then,’ and then goes on to list behaviors and practices that they should be doing. This functions the same way as the therefore in Romans, connecting the first and second half of the letter. Again, he says, ‘We are saved by faith through God’s grace and as a result we ought to behave as He asks us to.’ Again, we have the logical result. Saving faith ought to change our lives in such a way that we desire to live as God wants us to.
This attitude of living a life that is worthy of the saving grace God has given us is an element that not only occurs in Galatians and Romans, but appears in six other letters of Paul. In fact, Paul tells his readers to walk worthy of the gospel they were called by in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Ephesians 4:17-5:5, Colossians 1:9-10, Philippians 1:27-28, 1 Thessalonians 1:11-12, and Titus 3:1-7. What is the point of bring all these up? Simple, to show you that Paul, the biggest advocate of faith and grace, nearly always put a second argument in those same letters about how that grace and faith ought to push us to do good works. He did not divorce faith from good works, only pointed out that it is not the works that save us. He was concerned with Christians works as it showed their trust in the gospel. Likewise, we cannot afford to separate the two, but must remember that works are not the cause of salvation.
Now we move into the book of James. Most people seem to think James is at odds with Romans and Galatians, but the truth is that it only adds to the point. James argument can be summed up in James 2:17, “In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” People take these verses to mean that you are saved by works not faith, or works and faith. However, this is not the case. James makes his point clear in 2:19 when he says “You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.” James is saying that if you have ‘faith,’ and yet your life has not changed from it, it is a dead faith. The point he makes is that if you truly have faith in God, in a real relationship with God, then it must change your life. Works are the evidence that you truly have faith. If your ‘faith’ does not impact your life, then what good is it?
This is likewise confirmed in other books of the New Testament. 1 John 2:3 reads, “This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands.” Similarly 5:2 says, “This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands.” In case you think this is just John then look at the words of Jesus. Matthew 7:15-20 reads:
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging
wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or
figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree
produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce
good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the
fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.”
How do you know if a teacher or leader is truly of God? By their fruit, or as we now call it, works. The point is still true for all believers. If you look at the chart in the back, you can see the many verses that say the same thing. Jesus evens says “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. The one who doesn’t love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me.” Faith is what brings salvation, but can you truly say you have faith if you do not desire to follow God’s words?
Now you see the issue that lay at the heart of these passages, love for God. The point of faith is not just to say you believe there is a God in control, but to be in relationship with Him. Jesus died on the cross not only to bring forgiveness, but to restore our relationship with God. Everything we strive to do must be done in that light, remembering it is a relationship. If we love God we will do what He wants us to do. God asks us to do these things because He desires to see us grow and thrive. He wants to see us desiring good and doing the things that please Him. When we seek our own ends, we are left bankrupt, feeling hollow and unsatisfied, but in following God we have His peace and satisfaction. We show our love and faith through obedience to God.
Now, if we have accepted this then we must do as God asks. Will we fail from time to time? Yes, but that is to be expected. However, we are not to continue in sin. If you continue in sin without concern, then you are showing an unrepentant heart. This just means that you show you do not love God. On the other hand, if you stumble, but ask forgiveness and continue to pursue God and deny sin. This is the attitude of repentance. If you are repentant of sin God is faithful to forgive and will strengthen you to stand against temptation. The only time it becomes a problem is when you stop trying to fight.
I hope that this chapter has given you a better picture of the Christian life and its focus on loving God. If you have, you will likely do what God desires of you. But how do you learn what God desires of you? That is what I will address in the rest of this book. I want everyone to see the commands of God and strive to obey them, but I am only human. I may miss something in scripture. I encourage you to read this book and apply it, but I also encourage you to read the Bible for yourself. To know God, you must know and apply His word. To apply His word, you must read it. Spend time every day reading God’s word and seeking to apply it, and pray to God each day for the strength to carry it out. The two most effective things you can do is to read your Bible and pray daily.