Faith and Works

In most of our English translations of the Bible, the words, faith, trust and believe, are all translated from the same root word in the original Greek text. However, the common usage of these three words can be understood quite differently. Saying, “I believe in that,” doesn’t often carry the same weight as saying, “I trust in that.” Giving mental assent to something is not the same as a demonstrated reliance in it. To “believe in Jesus” and to “trust in Jesus” have the same meaning in Scripture. Many people say they “believe” in the historical Jesus, but they have never trusted in Him as the only means of salvation and eternal life. That is the point James is making when he wrote; “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder” (James 2:19). Obviously demons have demonstrated no trust in God.

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him” (vs. 14)? James is not challenging the Apostle Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith, and by faith alone. He is correcting the faulty notion that people could profess to believe something when there is no evidence in their lives to verify it. James would say to that person, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (vs. 18). Remember, people don’t always live according to what they profess, but they do live according to what they truly believe in their hearts. Everything we do is an expression of what we believe. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled [or satisfied]” (Matt. 5:6). Do you believe what Jesus said? If you believed it, what would you be doing? You would be hungering and thirsting after righteousness!

James illustrates the truth that faith in God results in good works by calling our attention to Abraham who is often referred to as the father of our faith. Paul uses Abraham as the prime example of justification by faith. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, see also Gal. 3:6). James refers to Abraham as an illustration of faith and action working together; “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar” (vs. 21)? It seems like Paul and James contradict each other until you continue with James’ argument. “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (vs. 22). In other words, you know that Abraham trusted God because of his willingness to sacrifice his only son, which never happened because God provided a scapegoat.

James did not say that good works are essential for faith or for salvation. He taught that our works are the evidence of our faith. “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (vs. 17).

Dr. Neil

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