We know that we are saved by the grace of God through our faith in Christ Jesus alone and in His finished work (Eph. 2:8-9). Our good works can never save us, only faith in the One who obeyed God perfectly can. By the works of the law we understand that no one will be justified in God’s sight (Rom. 3:20). The question then, is what type of faith saves someone? What is true faith in Christ? James tells us that the type of faith that saves is the type that has good deeds or actions as its fruit and evidence. He tells us that faith that is by itself (just a mental ascent or agreement that “I believe in Christ”), without the accompanying deeds of love and obedience, is “dead” or not a saving faith. In other words, when we really believe in Christ we are transformed and become people of good works. In fact, this is how we are recognized as Christians. I can say that I have faith, but I can show you that I have faith by my good works. Good works are the evidence of true faith.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:14-24)
“A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”:
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. (Heb. 11:4)
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (Heb. 11:7)
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Heb. 11:8)
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. (Heb. 11:17)
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Heb. 11:24-25)
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. (Heb. 11:20)
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Heb. 11:31)
Faith is always tied to obedience. True faith is proven by obedience:
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Heb. 11:16-19)
“We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:22-24)
When we repent and confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us and forgets our sin (1 John 1:9). On the other hand, we can’t rely on the things of our past to keep us in good standing with God. He demands that we continue to walk in righteousness. The picture here is how the Israelites’ could not rely on yesterday’s manna. It would rot. Only their “daily bread” or the “fresh manna’ was edible.
“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.
25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. 29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezek. 18:24-32)
So, the type of faith that saves is demonstrated by the fruit of good works in our lives. We may have periods of being “fruitless” but because our faith is genuine and the seed of the gospel in us produces godly fruit, the pattern of fruit bearing will continue to be evident throughout our Christian walk.
We can’t rely on yesterdays harvest!
But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” (Heb. 3:6-11)