From the Pulpit: Not of works

Eph 2: 8-10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”

Often times, when you talk to people and ask them the question: “Why do you think you will go to heaven?” They reply with some sort of variation of, “I’m a good person” or, “I go to church regularly and pray”, etc. They are depending on their works and not their relationship with Christ. They have indeed replaced a relationship with religion. The Bible is clear regarding this question but they are in a grievous error!

Romans 3:10 proclaims there is “not even one who seeks good”. Romans 3: 23 proclaims that, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” That is one sin being enough to send a person to Hell!

Let’s review the scriptural context:

Rom. 3:28-30, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”

Rom. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,”

Rom. 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

Rom. 9:30, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.”

Rom. 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Rom. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

Gal. 2:16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

Gal. 2:21, I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

Gal. 3:5-6, “Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Gal. 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”

Phil. 3:9, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Again, Law is contrasted with faith repeatedly and we are told that we are not justified by works in any way. Therefore, we are made right with God by faith, not by faith and our works; hence, faith alone.

Let’s suppose that I intend to give you a dollar; I hold it out and offer it to you. Because you believe the Dollar has value, you reach out your arm and take it, making it yours. Your physical action of acceptance shows that you believe the Dollar has value; but that action is not enough work that you could claim to have earned the Dollar. It is still my gift to you. What Paul is telling us is that no matter how much work our faith (definition two) causes us to do, it will never be enough to earn the gift of salvation. That is still a gift that we can never claim to have earned.

Not by Faith Alone

James 2:24:”You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”

There is no contradiction. Here is the issue clarified by observing Eph. 2: 10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”

Don’t get the cart before the horse! Good works mean nothing unless we have that saving faith of a relationship with Christ Jesus! All you need to do is look at the context.

James chapter 2 has 26 verses: Verses 1-7 instruct us not to show favoritism. Verses 8-13 are comments on the Law. Verses 14-26 are about the relationship between faith and works.

James begins this section by using the example of someone who says he has faith but has no works, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”

In other words, James is addressing the issue of a dead faith, a faith that is nothing more than a verbal pronouncement, a public confession of the mind, and is not heart-felt. It is empty of life and action.

He begins with the negative and demonstrates what an empty faith is (verses 15-17, words without actions). Then he shows that type of faith isn’t any different from the faith of demons (verse 19).

Not Contradiction but Compliment

Finally, he gives examples of living faith that has words followed by actions. Works follow true faith and demonstrate that faith to our fellow man, but not to God. James writes of Abraham and Rahab as examples of people who demonstrated their faith by their deeds.

In brief, James is examining two kinds of faith: one that leads to godly works and one that does not. One is true, and the other is false. One is dead, the other alive; hence, “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:20). These verses are not a contradiction but a compliment of the Eph. 2: 8-10!

Also, notice that James actually quotes the same verse that Paul quotes in Rom. 4:3 amongst a host of verses dealing with justification by faith. James 2:23 says, “and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.'”

If James was trying to teach a contradictory doctrine of faith and works than the other New Testament writers, then he would not have used Abraham as an example. Therefore, we can see that justification is by faith alone and that James was talking about false faith, not real faith when he said we are not justified by faith alone.

Are you truly in a relationship with Christ or are you depending on your good works and religion to get you to heaven? Maybe this is the day that you ask God to clarify reveal to you what or who you depend on? Do you have the faith of a saint or the belief that leads to an eternity in Hell?

(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)