Faith IN Works, or Faith THAT Works?

[CLICK HERE to listen to this week’s lesson]

[CLICK HERE to get the PowerPoint]


John 3:16.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 [emphasis mine]

“All you have to do to be saved is believe. All you have to do is acknowledge that Jesus existed – that He lived, died, and rose again, and you’ll be saved.”

I’ve heard that message a lot. I remember listening to the radio as I was driving in Tampa a few years ago, and the broadcaster (his name escapes me) said, “If you have ever believed in God – even if it was just for a split second – you will be saved even if you don’t believe in Him now! 2 Timothy 2:13 says that if we are faithless God will remain faithful, and John 3:16 says …”

I was a brand new Christian at the time. As soon as I got home, I looked up the Scripture the guy on the radio quoted, and was a little confused as to why he hadn’t quoted the verses immediately preceding it … check it out:

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:11-13 [emphasis mine]

Yikes – what that guy was saying verse 13 meant didn’t mesh at all with verse 12, yet he was sharing his version of the message with thousands of listeners. I wonder how many bought it?

Martin Luther

I presented a lesson this past week on faith that works from James 1:21-25 and 2:14-26 (see also Hebrews 11; Matthew 7:21-29; John 14:15-24, 15:10; 2 John 1:6; Revelation 20:12)- something that broadcaster apparently hadn’t thought about much.

Did you know that Reformation leader Martin Luther hated the book of James? He called it an epistle of straw because he thought it contained a message of works-based salvation. In other words, Martin Luther thought the New Testament epistle of James taught people they had to earn their salvation – that they had to be ‘good enough’ for God to love them.

Luther did a whole lot of good for Christianity in general, but he completely missed the ball when it came to the book of James. That’s because Luther didn’t have the best understanding of what faith in Jesus really is.

So let’s ask the questions:

What is faith? Is faith simply a mental belief? Am I really saved if I mentally believe in God, mentally believe that Jesus is His Son, but neglect to follow His teachings? Do I really have faith if I refuse to obey?

I share what I think in the lesson – what do you think?

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8 thoughts on “Faith IN Works, or Faith THAT Works?

  1. Dusty Chris says:

    Faith=Trust for me. Its not just a mental thing, it comes with following that which you trust. You can’t have faith in something and not follow it…not take the steps that faith demands.

    Romans 10 says we have to confess with our mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ which is more than just a though. If we truely have faith, there’s going to be a whole lot of talking going on…talking about what Jesus has done.

    Great blog. Thanks for writing.

  2. Loved the picture (and contrast) of the psycho and the surgeon!

    Sounds like you’re moving toward the same conclusion I’ve been approaching for years: that the gracefaithworks sandwich is nothing without all of the ingredients!

  3. Terry says:

    I had a discussion with a co-worker recently about faith and works. She was confused because her church emphasized good works while some of her friends emphasized faith alone. I pointed out that people are saved by faith and do not do anything that can earn their salvation. Then I showed her from James 2 that the kind of faith that saves is a faith that produces works. In that passage, I pointed out that demons have an intellectual faith in God (and it’s even a faith that produces emotions–fear). However, it’s not the kind of faith that God is wanting. He wants us to trust him to the point that we will take action based on that faith and based on a love for God and people. His goal is to change us through faith in himself. It can certainly be a confusing concept, but I think the apostle Paul said it best when he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:3…I think. My Bible is in another room, so I’m going by memory. If that’s not right, the verse is somewhere in Galatians.) 🙂

  4. Terry says:

    My mistake. It was Galatians 5:6.

  5. WesWoodell says:

    Dusty – I believe trust is something that’s oft overlooked as well. I believe faith includes mental belief in Jesus, trust in Jesus, and obedience to Jesus. All go together in my opinion.

    Keith – “Faith becomes fact when we act.” I like that! I read the posts there – great stuff as usual – thanks for sharing 🙂 And I stole that illustration from my friend Robert Cox – I’m not sure who he stole it from :p

    Terry – you’re right – faith vs. works can be made to be confusing, but it’s silly to me that so many teach that our actions don’t really matter.

  6. toethumbs says:

    I used to go to a Baptist church, and I remember some people also taking issue with the book of Acts. I was thinking, but shouldn’t Acts match up with all the letters that cams out of it (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, etc.)?

    I mean, that’s if a person knew what Acts was about. To me, to doubt the validity to a book of the Bible means to lack faith on one of the most foundational points: That the Bible is the authority of God.

    Do you think that if somebody followed Jesus in person and wrote a book that also included their own opinion, they really believed? They would have been like Simon the Sorcerer, or Ananias and Sapphira, all of which were firmly addressed in some way. If one or more of these books weren’t true, don’t you think God would have done something?

    Oh, but we know better.

    • WesWoodell says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’m curious what you mean by this: “Do you think that if somebody followed Jesus in person and wrote a book that also included their own opinion, they really believed? They would have been like Simon the Sorcerer, or Ananias and Sapphira, all of which were firmly addressed in some way.”

      Can you explain that a bit more?

  7. Vince says:

    Interesting topic. Faith without any works is certianly no faith at all. I think that was James’ point. Luther was a very sharp cookie that suffered from attacks of both “Justification by works” and flatulence, which ultimately amount to the same thing, a smelly situation. Originally thought of Ephesians 2:10 in response to this however, Phillipians 2:13 seems a fitting statement. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”

    I also agree with Dusty in that, with saving faith given at the new birth, there will be lots of talking about Jesus that simply cannot be stopped 🙂

    ~Vince

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