Faith is important, as the book of Hebrews tells us, because without faith it is impossible to please God. It goes on to explain that if we want to have any part in the salvation God offers, then we must believe that God is and that He rewards those who seek Him. However, this paradoxical little saying, “Faith alone saves; faith if it is alone never saves”, also reaffirms the words of James: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”
We must have faith, but faith is more than just expressing a fact or a feeling. The important thing to realize is that faith in God produces works. Our virtuous life or acts of kindness won’t earn us salvation because salvation is the gift of God, and nothing we could ever do would be good enough to earn it. Nevertheless, without works, our faith is dead, according to James.
So the saying is true. Faith does save but if faith is all alone it is dead. Our faith needs be so strong that we eagerly serve our God with trembling and fear, working for our salvation, which means we work. However, the work we do is simply demonstrating how much faith we have in God, and it is not paying for our salvation.
There are two extremes that we want to avoid. One extreme is to say that we do not need to do anything at all, that Jesus did all that needs to be done. We may think that once we say that Jesus is our savior, then presto! we are saved! The book of Hebrews tells us that we must diligently seek God, and James makes it clear that works of faith are required. Paul warns that the reward of eternal life requires a lifetime of patient continuance in well doing.
At the other extreme there is a belief that we must work really hard in order to earn a place in the Kingdom, and that enough hard work can raise our score so that we qualify as being righteous. This point of view is also wrong. Paul tells us that there is none righteous, not one. Jesus criticized a ruler of the Jews for calling Jesus himself good because no man is good; only God is.
The truth lies somewhere between these two extremely wrong positions. Jesus tells us that if we love him then we should keep his commandments. Keeping his commandments does involve us doing things. It is no use saying we love Jesus and then sitting back and doing nothing, because then our words are idle chatter. If we truly have faith, and love our Lord, then that will cause us to want to follow him and obey him. Following him denotes action. We cannot follow anyone sitting down. So we all need to be up on our feet doing what we believe Jesus would want us to do.
Jesus gives us only one picture of the judgment seat, which is where each of us is going to be when we stand before him at his return. He describes those whom he accepts as those who did kindnesses for others. The description makes it clear that saying we love Jesus involves being busy working to help others. The righteous were commended for visiting, feeding, clothing and caring for some of God’s other children. The unrighteous were rejected for not doing those things.
The cattle on a thousand hills all belong to God, so what can we give Him? We show our love for Him by caring for one another. Jesus cared for little children; he cared for those who were blind, deaf and lame. We do not have the power to heal, but we certainly can help those who need help. We also want to share our hope with those who have no hope and are unaware that they are outside the realm of God’s merciful provision of a hope for eternal life.
Just a kind word spoken to those grieving can make a world of difference in their lives. We do not need to look very far to find work we can do for the Lord. There are folks battling cancer, or facing job loss and financial ruin, or weighed down by the demands of daily living. Listening sympathetically as well as giving more tangible support when needed eases their burden and helps give them the balance they need to cope. Looking at our journey through the wilderness of life as God’s training ground for the kingdom and sharing that view with those facing troublous times can help to put it all into perspective, and give them the courage to keep their faith and prayerfully persevere.
We won’t be saved by our works, but we certainly will not be saved without them. Let us then resolve that we will say with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me.” And then, let us be up and doing with joy the acts of kindness that show that we love God and His Son. Our faith will drive us to do what we can for our Lord and, while it might be called work, we do the work with joy knowing that God has blessed us by allowing us to serve Him.
Robert J. Lloyd