Ephesians 2: 8-10
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
James 2: 14-19
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
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. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
As a young Christian, in my teens, I remember we would often have guest speakers visit our youth group to share their ‘testimony’. The general pattern I noticed was that the more deplorable their lifestyle and more despicable their behaviour before coming the faith, the more exciting and dramatic was their testimony. We sat in rapt attention as they recounted their days in the paramilitaries, stealing and murdering while dealing drugs, then ending up in jail where one day they ‘saw the light and asked Jesus into their hearts.’ That would be the end of the story! It was as if their Christian story began and ended at their conversion. Quite honestly, to my teenage mind, their pre-Christian life sounded a bit more of an adventure than following Jesus.
That was never the way the life of faith was meant to be. Yes, of course Jesus saved us from sin, death, eternal separation from God and so much more. We would never dispute that and are incredibly thankful for it. However, the day we said ‘yes’ to Jesus is not the end of the story - it’s the beginning of a brand new story. The new birth makes me a new creation who is empowered to live a new life and to begin to write a different story, a better story, over my family, workplace, college and every other place in my community. We were saved from sin – but we were also delivered to live out the dreams and desires God has for our culture and city. His dream is that everything, everywhere would be filled with all that He is and all that He has.
Paul makes this clear when he states we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Our good works will never make us righteous before God. However, Paul immediately goes on to speak about us being God’s workmanship, created to do good works. In the Apostle’s mind, the two things are inseparable. Salvation by grace and faith in Christ will always be followed by and expressed through good works. It’s not either/or – it’s both/and.
We see this expressed in different ways throughout the New Testament. Jesus said: “‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21) Speaking about the genuineness of faith, He said: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6: 43) James made it clear: “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2: 18)
The work of Jesus in our lives is not primarily to get us into heaven – it is that we would join Him in bringing heaven down to earth. After all, He did teach us to pray: “May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6: 10)