Reconciling Works And Faith

We hear a lot today about faith and works. Most common is the idea that man is saved simply on the basis of faith. I heard one Baptist preacher in McAlester, Oklahoma, make the statement, in his radio program, that we should not listen to what James said, because James was legalistic in his justification for salvation by faith alone.
Yet when we look at all the evidence, there is no conflict between faith and works. One does not rule out the other, when both are properly understood. Look first at Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NAS95). This passage does not say that we are saved by faith only, nor does any other passage teach that. Neither does this passage rule out our salvation resulting from our doing the works of God – works that He commands. It simply says that we cannot save ourselves, that our works cannot save us. In other words, we cannot earn salvation by how good we are or by how much we do.
The teaching of Romans 4:4-5 also shows that we cannot work our way to heaven, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,” (NAS95). This “work” deals with that of merit, or work that earns something. We cannot earn salvation (Luke 17:10); it is “the gift of God” (Romans 6:23). Another kind of work is that found in Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (NAS95). One reason the works of the law of Moses cannot save us is that the law of Moses was, “taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). But aside from works of merit and works of the law, there is another kind of work.
There is quite a list of hero’s of faith in Hebrews 11. “By faith Abel offered to God…By faith Enoch was taken away…By faith Noah…prepared an ark…By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called….” (Hebrews 11:4-8). Through the end of the chapter the pattern repeats itself; people heard the will of god, they believed God and they did what He told them. Did they work? Yes! Did God reward them for their work? Certainly! But they were doing God’s work, by faith. And without exception, God rewarded their “work of faith.” James writes of this principle when he says, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14-17 NAS95). Only faith which works can obtain the favor and blessings of God.
A great example is found in the life of Abraham. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS…Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God” (NAS95). Were “works” involved in Abraham’s being right with God? The Bible plainly says so! But it was the work of God and His work was the means by which his (Abraham) faith was made perfect. That same principle must be true with us. We cannot be saved by our works, for we cannot earn salvation. We cannot be saved by works of the law, for that law is nailed to the cross. But we can be justified by works of faith, just as Abraham was.
The basis of the judgment, distasteful as it is to some, is going to be “works.” “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS” (Matthew 16:27 NAS95). Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NAS95). That is the reason God makes it abundantly clear, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24 NAS95).