This past weekend, several people asked me questions about the nature of faith and works. I was asked, “If we are saved by faith and not by works, then why did you talk so much about our need to do good works?”
Ephesians 2 speaks to us about the relationship between our faith and our works. What follow is the 2nd part of our 3 part series of blog posts to answer the question, “Is my profession of faith real?”
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
And if you will get these verses correct, you will never get skewed. You will never get confused.
Do you remember your high school English? Do you know what a preposition is? There are three key prepositions here. If we will keep them straight, we will keep our theology straight. To keep the faith-and-works relationship biblically correct, remember 3 prepositions:
These three prepositions are: by, through, and for. Let’s say them: “by, through, for.” Say them one more time: “by, through, for.”
We are saved by grace through faith for good works.
This is what James is saying. If we have real faith, it is going to be for good works. We are not saved by good works. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.
You cannot save yourself. Good works, a little or a lot, don’t save. They don’t help save. You could no more save yourself by good works than if you were drowning could reach up with your hand, take yourself by the hair, and lift yourself out of the water.
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone but the grace that saves through faith never stays alone. We are not saved by faith and works; but we are saved by a faith that works.
Is this a Paul vs. James issue? No! James is not pitting works against faith. Paul isn’t pitting faith against works. They are both fighting against a professed faith that is false.
Are we saved by our works? No. Are you crystal clear on this teaching? It’s His works apart from your works that saves you. But once you have been saved, then the proof of that salvation is good works. Faith alone saves. But the faith that saves is not alone.
Let me guess what some Type A’s among us are thinking: “Give me the list, Rick, and I will start checking things off. Just tell me what to do. Or, better yet, I’ll just make my own ‘to do’ list. If good works are what God is looking for, I’ll get ‘er done.”
Here’s the problem with that thinking. It’s not flowing from faith; it’s flowing from the flesh. Doing more and trying harder is fleshly self-effort. And, as G. K. Chesterton said,
“Anything done in the flesh will fail miserably… or it will succeed even more miserably.”
We often fail miserably in doing good deeds in the flesh because we just don’t have enough gas in our tanks on our own. Other times, through sheer determination, we succeed in doing good, but then we are filled with pride. And that’s a miserable success.