“A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:15-16).
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14,17)
Have you ever struggled with these passages of scripture regarding works? On one hand Paul seems to say that works are unnecessary for our salvation. Yet, James, the brother of Jesus, seems to say the opposite. What is going on here? How should we understand these passages?
Notice what kind of works these men talk about. Paul talks about the, “Works of the Law” whereas James talks about good works. The two are not the same. The book of Galatians features Paul instructing the Galatians about not depending upon the works of the Mosaic Law to save them. But James is telling his audience that good works are a sign of genuine salvation. Not works of the Mosaic Law, but doing good works to others, like feeding the poor (James 2:15-16).
Yet, we should not forget that even good works will not earn us salvation. In the end, it is only God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, that can bring us salvation. Our faith in Christ is the evidence that we don’t need the works of the law. And our good works are evidence that our faith in Christ is rightly placed.
In what do you put your faith?
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
Do you feel that your Christian heritage or culture helps earn you a place in heaven? Think carefully about that then confess your feelings to God. Ask him to reorient your thinking on faith and works. Also, can you point to works you’ve done that demonstrate your faith? If not, what will you do to change this?