Faith or Works?

Posted on 03/13/2011 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

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TRANSCRIPT: (does not contain everything found in the audio above)

*** listen to the audio for introduction and prayer ***

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He is worthy, and we proclaim
The name of Jesus
     is far above every other name
He is holy and we declare
His glory fills the earth
     and there's rejoicing everywhere

He is mighty, and sovereign over all
He's coming for who's ready
     when they hear the trumpet call
He is Jesus, the ruler over all
And every soul in worship
     to the King will fall

Holy, holy is the King who reigns
The Son of God,
     heaven and earth proclaims
In joy we bring to you our offering

(In spirit and - in truth we sing)
(And so to you - our lives we bring)
(As a li - ving offering)


You are holy
    great and worthy
All creation is
    full of Your glory
Angels prostrate
    fall - and with one voice proclaim

Glory and Majesty to
    Whom for all eternity reigns! (He reigns!)
    (Him for all eternity)

To Him who sits on the throne
Glory and honor and praise
    forever and ever

And to the Lamb who was slain
And set us free from the grave
    and those who know Him are free

*** listen to the audio for the message introduction ***

Today, I'd like for us to talk about a sometimes controversial subject. It should actually be a topic not of controversy, but one that takes us to the Scriptures for us to accept what it already says. But, then, that describes most if not all of the highly controversial topics in the Church today.

And the title of today's message is, "Faith or Works?"

I recently was approached by a Catholic who said one of the things that separates him from heretics like me is that he and the "true Church" teaches salvation by both faith AND works, while we protestants believe Luther's crazy, heretical, and new-fangled ideas such as salvation by faith alone.

I've talked with other people who swing in the other direction, and suppose that works aren't needed at all for someone to be a Christian -- all they need to do is believe.

So today, for the next few minutes, let's open up the Word of God and see for ourselves what the Bible says about these things.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) says this:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast

If the Bible stopped right here, we'd have a pretty easy case. But then we read passages just as the one found in James chapter two, and a can of worms pops open.

James 2:18-26 (NKJV)

18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe, and tremble!
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God.
24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

So first we are told that we are saved by grace through faith, and it's not by works, lest any one should boast; then we are told that we are justified by works, and not by faith alone.

Is this a contradiction? If not, then what do these passages mean?

First, let's consider that these two passages aren't talking about the same thing.

Let's go back to our first passage, in Ephesians chapter two, and let's back up a few verses and read starting with verse four:

Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

So first of all, we were spiritually dead, and we were dead in our sins. Then, by God's grace through faith in Jesus, God made us alive -- we were saved. It wasn't by our works that we were saved, but by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Then it goes on to say that we were created in Christ Jesus for a purpose, and that purpose is for good works that God prepared that we should walk in them.

So we were saved by grace through faith apart from any works; and we were made a brand new creation so that we could do the good works that God prepared for us to do.

And this shows us something very important, something that we really need to grasp and take to heart, and that something is this:

Works are not the cause of Salvation, but are the only appropriate response.

Without works, faith is dead. In other words, if there are no good works, there is no living faith. If someone says a sinner's prayer, then goes right back to their old way of living as though nothing changed, then chances are pretty good nothing did.

You see, when we have a living faith in Jesus, that faith grabs hold of God's grace, and we are "born again." When we are born again, we are "re-created" in Christ for good works. His Spirit lives inside us, and that Spirit moves us to change, and to start doing things that please God.

Just like if a baby is born who doesn't cry or move we can suspect it might not be living, so if a person is born again and doesn't change from their worldly ways, we can suspect they might really still be spiritually dead.

Now, this isn't the same as saying we have to suddenly be perfect or we're not really saved. And just as surely as temptations will come, so we will sometimes fall to those temptations; but we WILL change. And we will not be able to continue in our sins without a growing conviction.

If you want to increase your good works, strengthen your faith, and the works will follow.

So we see that our faith and our good works are intimately related. A lack of one is evidence of a lack of the other.

I'd like for us to consider one more piece of this puzzle before we close today, and it is found in Romans 10:17 which says, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

Now the wording here is important. This doesn't say "faith comes by hearing the word," but "hearing comes by the word," and then "faith comes by that hearing." And since a living faith produces good works and is part of our justification before God, this is an important verse to understand.

After all, just hearing the word of God isn't enough, because true hearing comes only after the word of God comes. What does that mean?

Well, let's break it down.

These following four points are four ways in which we should read, hear, and study the word of God...

1. Without preconceptions

2. While rewriting present and future attitudes and actions

3. With humility

4. With the aim and desire to know God more intimately and to please Him more

This is called integration -- taking the Word of God in and making it a part of us. If you are rejecting God's word in any way, whether you're holding on to your preconceived ideas about what it says, or you are passively rejecting it by not obeying it in every area of your life, or you are holding on to pride, or you are not seeking to please God and have a closer walk with Him; if any of these apply, then you are keeping God's word out of parts of your life, and your hearing is dull, and therefore your faith is weak, no matter what your pride says.

A lack of faith is more than just a small spiritual setback; in fact, it can be deadly.

A lack of faith makes us vulnerable to backsliding; and a lack of hearing makes us vulnerable to deception.

You see, a weak faith is also weak in its fruit, which is good works. Good works includes an active relationship with God, and a heart that seeks to do only that which pleases Him. Without those things, or when those things grow weak, we start to backslide.

Next, if our spiritual ears are weak, it's only our pride or our ignorance, or a combination of the two, that causes us to believe we can hear the voice of God and tell it apart from the voice of the false shepherd. And so we become open to deception, and the enemy can eventually lead us even farther away, leaving us even weaker than before.

So it's vitally important that we know how to strengthen our faith; and as we just read, our faith grows when we can hear, and our hearing grows by the word of God. And the word of God is able to work in our lives when we read, hear, and study it in the four ways I just mentioned. So let's conclude today's message by expounding on those four things.

1. Without preconceptions

All too often, we approach God's word thinking we already have certain things all figured out. Since we're convinced we already know what God means, we read that meaning into verses that might even contradict what we believe.

For an easier example, let's consider the mystic who believes when Jesus says, "In my Father's house are many mansions," he's talking about reincarnation. Now, most of us would laugh at that idea, but how many much more subtle things have WE gotten wrong? I mean, the only reason some have read the Bible and have seen things like that, is because they had the preconception that reincarnation is true, and so they read it in places that say nothing about it, and became blind to places that say things such as "it is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment."

Too many denominations to count have arisen because people believed parts of the Bible meant something which which other people disagreed. And so they surrounded themselves with followers who saw things the same way they did, and a denomination was formed. Of course those who embrace that denomination, whichever one they cling to, believe that everyone who disagrees with their pet doctrines is just plain wrong. After all, if THEY believe it, then it HAS to be right. I mean, nobody is quite as intelligent or as spiritual as you and the people you call your church family, and anyone who disagrees with you and them MUST be less spiritual.

But can you see the pride in that? Now I'm not saying we should be some sort of Christian agnostic; there are things we need to get right, and things from Scripture by which we need to live, and therefore of which we need to be confident. But when we read the Bible, we need to be open to what it's saying, instead of thinking we already know; and if we read something that seems to clash with our doctrine, we should be willing to dig deeper with eyes wide open, accepting that we just might be wrong.

So we should approach the word of God without preconceptions.

2. While rewriting present and future attitudes and actions

By this, I mean we should be mindful of how everything we read relates to our own life. And yes, I did say "our OWN," not so-and-so who "really needs to hear this," because they are SO out of line.

Sure, God might lead you to gently, lovingly, and humbly point out a passage of Scripture to someone who is going astray. But first and foremost, when you read the word of God, God is speaking to YOU. And, unless you're perfect, there are things in your life, whether attitudes, thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, habits, or actions, that don't line up perfectly with Scripture.

So as you read, mentally apply what you read to any areas of your life that need to change. See your actions, attitudes, and so-on, change to line up with God's word. Make the decision right then and there that you no longer do those things like you used to, but, with the power of the Holy Spirit, you choose to obey God.

3. With humility

This links back with #1, without thinking you already have it all figured out, and #2, having a teachable and obedient heart that realizes YOU need to change, not everybody else.

Consider the Pharisees. They prayed on the street corner so everyone would see them praying, or they put on a pained expression so everyone would know they were fasting, and thereby everyone would know how highly spiritual they were.

And sometimes we want everyone to know just how spiritual we are, too. But that's just because our eyes are on us instead of on God. And that results in our hearing our own voice as though it is God's, and not hearing God's voice at all.

From the position of pride and self-focus, some people think they are excused from obeying certain things the Bible says. Others think the Bible can't literally mean what it says, but has some other hidden meaning that only they can decode.

Still others completely miss the correction that's meant for their lives, because they see themselves as above reproach.

But without a break in your pride, you will not be able to clearly hear the voice of God, and your faith will be weak, no matter how strong your pride tells you it is.

4. With the aim and desire to know God more intimately and to please Him more

How can we know God? By approaching Him with a heart that seeks to please Him, obey Him, and love Him. And this ties back in with the other three things. After all, it's not about us, it's all about Him.

HE has it all figured out, while all the rest of us are looking through a glass dimly.

HIS plans and purposes for our lives are what really matters, not our own desires and tendencies.

As Hebrews 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

If God rewards someone, that reward will blow away anything they could come up with themselves. If we really believe this, then we will seek God's reward instead of rewards from others or the rewards we could give ourselves. And we will seek Him diligently, knowing that will make that reward sure.

And with such an attitude filling our hearts, we will see things in the Scriptures that blow us away, that fill us with joy, that strike us with conviction, that cause us to overflow with love for God and for others, and that cause our faith, and its resulting good works, to grow strong.

So make it a top priority to first of all read the Bible every day, and then to read it with these four things in mind. And learning and living by the following verse will most certainly help, because this verse sums up the things I've just said;

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Those are the only three things God requires of you: to do what's right, to be full of mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Memorize that verse, and think about it throughout your day. And when you start lining up your thoughts, attitudes, priorities, words, and actions with those three things, your faith will grow, and you will find yourself walking and talking every day with God.

Let's stand to our feet as we close today's service with prayer.

Lord God, thank you so much for your word, and for speaking to us through it by your Holy Spirit. We ask that the seeds of your word would go into fertile soil, and that we would not allow to enemy to steal it away or the business of our lives to choke it out. Change us, Lord. And make us just a little bit more like you.

This altar is open, and you are invited to get out of your seat and come gather at the front, and just surrender yourself to God and let him do a work in you today.

If you don't know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, just surrender your life to him right now. Turn away from your life of sin, ask God to forgive you, and agree to follow him. And he will wash your sins away and will make you a brand new creation.

If you would like someone to talk or pray with you, you can instant message me or Mariposa or anyone else on the staff or ministry team. Whenever you need to leave, you're dismissed, and I hope you'll all join us in a few minutes in the Fellowship Room to your left for a time of fellowship.

Come, and let's seek the Lord together.