Should faith and works be separated in salvation?

Home >  Full Study List >  Should faith and works be separated in salvation?
Question / Comment - Faith and Works (again!)

I am a minister in the Church of Christ. I'm not sure how much you know of the teachings of the Church of Christ. We are a Bible based group of God's children. We hold to the teaching that believes that faith and works go hand in hand, and should not be made separate.

I noticed in your question and answer section, under the question, "Salvation is by faith and works!", that you indicate that you believe that faith alone is enough. My major problem with this teaching is that it doesn't seem to agree with James 2: 14-26. James, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit seems to be saying that Faith and works must coexist. In verse 26 we read:

" For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

In James 2: 14-26 he seems to be saying over and over again that our works must complement our faith, otherwise we are practitioners of nothing more than dead faith. I had never given much thought to both sides of this debate. However, after reading your answer to this question, I do plan to re-examine my stance.

I would ask you about one other thing if you don't mind. I'm wondering about your belief in once saved always saved. I can't find where I read that idea last night, and if I'm reading to much into something your not saying then I am very sorry. However, I have given quite allot of thought to this subject, and I would like to get your feelings on two passages of scripture which seem to contradict the idea that we can't fall away after conversion.

The first of these passages is James 5: 16.

"16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous avails much.

This seems to indicate that there are certain sins for which we need both confession, as well as prayer. I understand that in this particular passage James had just addressed the subject of physical illness, but he also mentions obtaining forgiveness for any sins that have been committed.

The other passage that I wanted to bring to your attention is Gal 6: 1.

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted."

Again, Paul seems to be saying that those who are found to be in Christ, that is to say those who are Christians, should go to the one who has fallen away from Christ and help to restore them. Why would there be any need for restoration if there was no way one could fall away? Again, I'm trying to understand more of your view point on these topics. If this is not what you believe, then I'm very sorry for misrepresenting your opinion.

I am the type of person who enjoys discussing Christ with other Christians. I will enjoy hearing back from you on these questions that I've asked. Thanks again for your site. I pray that God will continue to bless you in all that you do.

JPN Reply

Hi, and thanks for the email. While I have certainly heard of the Church of Christ, and I have seen a church of that denomination in my home town, I must admit that I know very little about them or their beliefs. Here are a few thoughts however on what you have written above.

I once read an old wise Brethren writer say that 'there is more chance for two of the planets in our solar system, while travelling in their divinely ordained orbits, to collide than there is for two scriptures to contradict each other.' I agree with him! I have no problem with James 2:14-26 and I don't think that it negates salvation by faith alone. But it is a much debated passage and is therefore important to carefully examine what James is saying. While you hold that faith and works go hand in hand and should not be made separate, concerning faith, grace, and salvation, the Bible does often separate them. Verses that will be very familiar to you I’m sure, such as

Eph 2:8-9 'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.'

Rom 4:4-5 'Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.'

Rom 9:30-32 'What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. (See also Rom 10:1-8)

Rom 11:5 'So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.'

Gal 3:10-12 'All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”'

Titus 3:5-7 '...he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

So what then is James telling us? Is it a scripture that is going to collide with what has been written elsewhere in the New Testament, in many different books, concerning salvation? I don't think so! This is how I see it as I have written in the second study on Eternal Security.

'James is speaking about mere belief (as indicated in verse 2:19), not a true saving faith. Someone may have a belief, or head knowledge that certain facts are true without giving themselves over to that belief. I may believe that a branch would hold me, but faith is walking out on the branch. In an extreme example, even Satanists may believe that Jesus is God, but they don't have any intention of submitting themselves to Him! A true faith submits itself to that belief and this will result in action down the track as James says. Abraham is the example of this used by both Paul and James. God spoke to Abraham and said that He would make Abraham’s descendants like the stars. From a natural point of view this was impossible as Sarah was well past the point of being able to bear a child. But Abraham place his faith in what God had said and this was accredited to him as righteousness. This is the part Paul emphasizes the most. Salvation by grace, through faith and definitely not by works! James emphasizes the second part of it in that Abraham, some time later, proved the validity of his faith by his willingness to offer his son Isaac up as a sacrifice.'

William MacDonald in his commentary ‘The Believers Bible Commentary’ is very good on these passages in James. He writes:

‘There are two keys which greatly help us in the understanding of this verse (James 2:14). First of all, James does not say ‘What does it profit … though a man has faith…’ Rather he says ‘What does it profit…. if a man says he has faith.’ In other words, it is not a question of a man who truly has faith, and yet is not saved. James is  describing the man who has nothing but a profession of faith. He says he has faith, but there is nothing about his life that indicates it. The second helpful key is brought out in the NASB. There, the verse closes with the question “Can that faith save him?” In other words, can that kind of faith save? He is talking about a say-so faith that is not backed up by good works. Such a faith is worthless. It is all words, and nothing else.’

My note: This would be similar to those that Paul talks about in 1 Tim 1:16 where he says 'They profess that they know God; but by their works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.'

MacDonald goes on to say concerning verse 17 ‘A faith without works is not a real faith at all. It is only a matter of words. James is not saying that we are saved by faith plus works. To hold such a view would be to dishonor the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we were saved by faith plus works, then there would be two saviors – Jesus and ourselves. What James is emphasizing is that we are not saved by a faith of words only, but by the kind of faith which results in good works. In other words, works are not the root of salvation but the fruit; they are not the cause but the effect.

I fully agree with this. So for me, it comes down to this - Works are the result of a genuine salvation, not the means of obtaining it. A genuine salvation will manifest itself in a changed life and whatever 'good works' God has planned for that person. But those very works play no part whatsoever in that person's salvation which is a free gift from God, by grace alone, to all who would believe and accept this gift.

Eternal Security?

Now concerning whether salvation is eternal or temporal… you certainly haven’t misrepresented me on this issue. I definitely do believe in the eternal security of God’s salvation. I am fully confident that of all those that the Father gives to Jesus, Jesus will lose none, but will raise them all up on the last day… just as He said.
My confidence is in His ability, not mine or any other man's for that matter.

So concerning the two verses that you mentioned (James 5:16 and Gal 6:1)... I agree with you that both of these passages are talking about those in leadership restoring a believer who has sinned in some way, back into fellowship. However, I can’t see anything in either of these passages that suggests that the person who has sinned has lost their salvation. There is no doubt that there are times as Christians that we fall. We still sin against God, and we still hurt each other through our wrong actions and attitudes. For the Christian there are times of discipline from both God and man. Even a man after God’s own heart, King David, was certainly not immune from this. He knew what it was like to fall into sin and be out of fellowship with God. But that didn't break his eternal relationship with God. Knowing his own weakness at times, David could still write:

Psalm 37:23-25 ‘The steps of a good man are established by the Lord; And he delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. I have been young, and now am old; Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken.”

I have written more concerning ‘backsliding’ and ‘falling away’ in the second study on eternal security.

So let me now ask you a couple of questions so that I understand what you believe a little better. If you think that the person in James 5:16 and Gal 6:1 has lost their salvation because of their sin, do you believe that a person can be ‘born again’ again multiple times throughout their life? At what point in this process do you think that the one who has promised to never leave or forsake the true believer (Heb 13:5) will leave and forsake this believer, and take His precious Holy Spirit away from him? (Ok, that’s obviously a loaded question and I’m being naughty! You may have to forgive me!) And if you teach those in your care that salvation, and righteousness before God, is by both faith and works (I'm not saying that you do this... I wasn't sure... It just seems to the the natural conclusion if faith and works are inseparable) how do the people in your church have any assurance of their salvation or know where they stand with God at all? I for one wouldn't want to be in that position!

One last question if you don’t mind. I would like to hear your thoughts on this passage.

Heb 10:14 ‘By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.’

I think we both understand that as Christians, there is a process of ‘being made holy’ that will carry on till the day we arrive in His very presence. But I would like to hear what you believe it means that Christians have (past tense) been ‘made perfect forever’ and how that relates to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

It is good that we can openly discuss these matters. We are both called by Jesus to 'feed my sheep'. Therefore it is important that we are feeding them with the truth.

May God bless, and all the best.