TWFW: To Work or not to Work? That is the Question.

Note: Today’s WFW was rather interesting… I had written this post a while back, saved it on my computer, and forgot about it (never published it, either). All day yesterday, I had been thinking of what I could post today, but nothing seemed to come to mind or jump out at me in the Scriptures. Then, I was searching for something “non-WFW-related” in my computer archives, when I came across this would-be post. I began reading and editing it before I actually realized that it is again about faith! ;) I once read a good, apologetics book, which had some great information in it; however, in an effort to sort out an apparent contradiction, the author mixed up the truth of God's Word with his ideology when he briefly mentioned the difference between James' and Paul's interpretation of faith and works. He said that James was talking about justification before men, and Paul was talking about justification before God. At first glance, it may seem probable, but anyone who reads James carefully should see that he wasn't talking about justification before men. So what did James mean? Some maintain that James is speaking of salvation by works. This is based on James 2:18, which reads,
But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'
However, it has long been the view of Christians that works won't get you to heaven; you can't earn your way into heaven, because Paul says that salvation is "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (see Ephesians 2:8-10). So there seems to be a contradiction, because James says that salvation is by works, and Paul says that it is "by grace through faith" (Eph 2:8), so we don't need works. Many Christians are divided in this issue, since James seems to be at variance with Paul. To remedy this, some Christians have come up with the following conclusion: James is speaking of justification before men (by works), and Paul is speaking of justification before God. Seems simple enough, but let's examine James more closely. Was James really speaking of being justified before men? James mentions "faith and works" numerous times in his epistle, but nowhere in his letter does he say, "This is to justify yourselves before men." Instead, he uses faith and works as an illustration to show that we prove our love for Christ when we do what he commands us to do. As Jesus said, "By their fruits you shall know them," and "Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds, and praise your Father in Heaven." And Paul states in Ephesians 2:8-10, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that we should walk [live] in them. Throughout the Bible, it is abundantly clear what these "good works" are, and those are the "works" that James is speaking of. Now, before we continue, let me clarify one thing - and this is where many people miss it - when Paul says "not of works," many will jump in and say, "See! He said that we don't have to work to be saved. All we have to do is believe," and then they will point to some passage in Scripture that mentions faith only as a requirement for salvation (For example, I actually saw one person use John 6:29 were Jesus says, "This is the work of God, that you believe on Me whom He has sent."). But that is not what Paul meant at all! While it is true that we do have to believe in order to be saved, that is only one part of the whole process of salvation. Paul is referring to the things that people do to try to earn points with God and get into heaven; that is the "not of works" part; it is not of our works, otherwise we could say, "Look what I did, everyone!" It is His works; notice that it says "created in Christ Jesus for good works." So we can see that James is speaking of the same thing as Paul. James 2:14 says,
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
and a few verses later (verse 17) he says,
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But even after hearing all this, some people are still stuck, not understanding why Paul says that is a free gift and not of works, so let me give an example: Suppose I wanted to do something nice for you, so I went to the store, bought you a nice gift and wrapped it in beautiful, shiny paper. Then I came to your house and held out my hands, saying, "I have a gift for you." You say, "A free gift, for me?" "Yes," I answer. At this point, I am still holding out my hands. It is your decision whether or not you will take it. What will you DO? In other words, it requires an action from you, reaching out your hands and taking what I've given you. If you didn't take it, one would have to wonder if you really trusted me or not - do you think there is danger inside the box? Now, suppose the gift is a stuffed teddy bear, and you say, "Oh, thank you, so much! It's beautiful!" You have one of two reactions after I leave: either you are so embarrassed by this teddy bear (you don't like teddy bears, or some other excuse) that you go and hide it, or you are so delighted with it that you want to go and display it in a lofty spot where everyone can see it. That bear is like Christ's free gift; we can either take it and hide it, or we can show that we love Him by doing something special with it. As for faith, if you went and hide it, no one would know that you really loved God if you hide it deep down inside of you, but never let it come out in actions. To put it another way, if I said to you, "Meet me here at such and such a time," you would be there if you trusted me -- you would arrive at the destination at the right time, because you believed that I would keep my word and be there also. In other words, you had to do something to show that you believed me -- you had to get in your car and drive to the destination and be there on time. If you didn't show up (under normal circumstances), would you really have trusted me? Of course not! James continues (2:22-23),
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God.
Looking at this passage, you will notice that Abraham's work was believing in God -- faith enough to go out and DO SOMETHING, which was to sacrifice his own son. (And this is where the Scripture which the once-saved-always-saved person was using to justify his stance comes into play: "This is the work of God: That you believe on Him whom He sent." It makes perfect sense when you consider that Abraham's work was believing by doing. So even then, this OSAS person is just misinterpreting the Scripture; because it actually is true, but not in the way in which he meant it.) James' point is this: if we were to continue living like the world, how would anyone know that we believe in Jesus? (Remember, we are "in the world, not of it.") There would be no difference between the world and us. It would be pointless to say that we believe in Jesus while we do nothing that He says. Our works (those things, which are found in the Bible, that we do to sanctify ourselves) prove to God that we really believe in Him, and, in turn, the faith and works together justify us before God. And ultimately, God is the one we are trying to please, not men. In other words, "actions speak louder than words," as the saying goes. That is what James 2:18 is saying: "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'" In other words, "I will show you my faith [in God] by what I do." For instance, when you love or really admire someone, you say, "What can I do for you?" Put God in the “someone” slot. Now, suppose God answers, "Do this" -- the very thing you've been avoiding, for one reason or another. If you don't do it, do you really love God? If you really love God, you'll do what He says. See, doing is a part of faith. A friend once said, "Faith starts things; there are no actions without it," and then she went on to make the analogy of a motor: a motor starts the machine; without a motor, the machine won't start. However, why would you even need to start the motor, if you have no intention of using the machine? If you start the motor of a car and then don't go anywhere, what good is the motor to you? If you find this hard to believe, compare James 2:18 with the next two verses (19-20),
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Here, James says that the demons believe that there is one God, but they don't obey Him --- You can believe that there is only one God, but not do what He says, and in that case, your faith is dead. It is strange that Christians, of all people, would take James as saying something totally different than what he meant. He is, after all, the same man who said (James 4:4),
Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Does that sound like James is trying to tell us that this will justify us in the world's eyes? I don't think so. He even goes so far as to remind the recipients of his letter (5:9) that "The Judge is standing at the door!" Why would he say that if he were talking about justification before men? I believe that the main reason that people come up with this kind of "reconciliation" of supposed "contradictions," is because they just want an excuse to live in sin. Some will use this as an excuse to not do anything for God, because they maintain that once you are saved, you don't have to do anything more; no works involved, faith only! But as we have touched on, there is more to it than that. What will you do?
1Thessalonians 2:4 But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.


  1. I'm so glad you were snooping through your files and found this! It's a good examination of the topic.

    It reminds me (what a surprise!) of a message I shared at church a couple years ago about the wise man and the foolish man. (Matthew 7:24-27)

    People often think the difference between the two is faith, but it's not. Both the wise man and the foolish man heard the words of Jesus, maybe even believed His words. The only difference between the two is that the wise man acted upon those words, and the foolish one did not.

    Does this sound at all familiar? :)

    Here's the link if you want to read the whole thing:

    Thanks for posting!

  2. Curious update: I'm reading a book called "More Grain for the Famine" by James Jacob Prasch, a messianic believer. In a message called "Hope for the Hopeless," he says this:

    "The Hebrew and Greek words are interesting; the word for 'faith' in Greek is 'pistes' or 'piston,' and in Hebrew 'emunah.' In both languages, this is not only the word for 'faith,' but also for 'faithfulness.' 'The righteous shall live by faith' - 'The righteous shall live by faithfulness.' 'Without faith it is impossible to please God' - 'Without faithfulness it is impossible to please God.' Hebrews 11:6 We are saved by grace through faith, and also through faithfulness - beginning, of course, with the faithfulness of Jesus."

    If true, this puts a different spin on a whole bunch of verses. I checked Vine's, and pistis is translated as faithfulness in at least 3 NT verses. I'll check it out further when I have more time, but it's interesting, eh?

  3. So true-- James and Paul are not contradicting each other. I think Christians who say that reveal their ignorance about the Scriptures being God-breathed; God would not contradict Himself. The Scripture is there for a REASON and just because theologists can't understand it does NOT mean it's a contradiction of the Bible!

    Ah, rant finished. OK, where was I?

    Oh yeah, your point, hee hee. A good one! I'm looking forward to your continuation...

  4. Miss Szymanski, Your post (WFW) is so inspiring! Glad I stopped by to read it! Keep up the "God" work!

  5. Im glad i read this, very informative...tnx

  6. Try also once saved always saved? by James Jacob Prasch (moriel ministry)...Very interesting


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