Saving Faith Works
Read James 2:14 (ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
Why is James questioning the salvation of someone who says they have faith but not works? How is faith with works different from legalism?
One of the most profound stories of transformation after coming to Christ is the life of the apostle Paul. He wasn’t just a nonbeliever, he was a persecutor of believers. In Acts 7:58 - 8:3, we see that he was present at the stoning of a Christian deacon, Stephen, and approved of the unlawful execution. He traveled around searching for Christians to drag out of their homes and toss into prison. In Acts 9:1, it says that he was still “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and was seeking permission from the high priest to go on missions to surrounding towns to hunt for Christians to arrest.
But the rest of chapter 9 details his miraculous encounter with the risen Lord on one such mission and his conversion to Christianity. In verse 19, he is with the disciples proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. The disciples were amazed and yet uncertain, afraid even. How were they supposed to know if he had really converted? What if it was all just a trick? In the end, Barnabas vouched for him, but it also took time for the disciples to believe that Paul had really changed. He couldn’t just proclaim Christianity. His actions needed to match his words, otherwise, he wasn’t really in the faith. His works and his transformed life were the evidence that proved to the disciples that his faith was genuine.
In today’s verse, James wrote that works are the evidence of a genuine saving faith in Christ. In essence, he asked, what’s the point of claiming to be a Christian if you don’t act like one? If you don’t act like a Christian, are you even saved?
Imagine if Paul had appeared to the disciples claiming to have encountered Jesus but continued to live in opposition to the faith? You can bet the disciples would have called his claims a ruse! Instead, Paul encounter Jesus and become a new man.
Likewise, when we place our faith in Christ, we become new creations full of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes about this transformation in Ephesians 4:17-32. He told the Ephesian believers not to walk like the Gentiles but to live out the way they were taught in Christ. He told them to take off the old self and put on the new self, to be renewed, to put off the behaviors that don’t honor God, and instead, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32).
Sometimes, I think people view coming to Jesus as just accepting a get out of hell free card. They want the free pass, but they don’t want the life transformation. They still love their sin and want to continue in it. Which should then raise the question—if they still love their sin, are they really repentant? If they aren’t being transformed and renewed daily by the Holy Spirit, do they even have the Holy Spirit?
Friends, when we have true saving faith in Jesus Christ, we won’t be perfect but we’ll want to be. Our sin will grieve us and we’ll be repentant when we fail. We will want to honor and glorify the Lord, even as we struggle daily with the temptation and pull of sin. But for those of us in Christ, even if the process is slow, we are being sanctified. We are being changed. Remember, a saving faith is a faith that works itself out in real life. Saving faith is a faith that works.
Lord, I confess that even though I have assurance of my salvation, I still struggle with sin. But I don’t want to. Please keep working in my life so that my faith will continue to be worked out in my life. I want to be sanctified. Please keep making me more like You. Make my faith a faith that works. Amen.