The Great Salvation Debate: Works or Faith

I recently got into a debate on Twitter about Salvation.  The problem with Twitter however, is that it is difficult to express yourself in 140 characters or less, and Salvation is a big controversy even amongst Christians.  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that we must work for our Salvation.[1]  From my many readings and discussions, I have gathered that many “Christians” believe that to be true as well, at least to some degree.  Someone that I was recently debating with directed me to the book of James, quoting chapter 2, “faith without works is dead.”  This statement is made in verse 17 and again in verse 26.  What we are missing though, is everything in between, which will give a very important entity needed when reading and studying scripture, the context.

Now, let’s start back at verse 14, of James chapter 2. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).  Basically, what James is saying here is, there should be evidence of the faith you claim to have.  “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20).  James goes on to say, in verse 18, “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.”  This again reiterates that works is the evidence of faith, and that faith precedes any works that may be incurred.

Verse 19-26, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

So, faith precedes works. When Abraham offered his son Isaac, it wasn’t for fear of losing his Salvation, it was merely a display of his faith that was already in him.  Abraham was already declared righteous before God, and because of his great faith, he was willing to demonstrate that faith in obedience.  The faith that we have, if Christ is in us, will compel us to do good works.  If Christ is not in us, then we are still in the flesh and we are spiritually dead.  This is made clear in Romans.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8)

The first sentence in this passage is astounding.  “There is no condemnation for those in Christ.”  Our debt has been paid, there is no penalty for our sin.  We cannot do anything to lose the Salvation gift that we have received from our wonderful Savior, that is what it means to be saved!  No one can snatch us from His hand (John 10:26-30). We have been set free and we are no longer walking in sinful flesh, but are now walking in the Spirit!  We cannot please God with our own works, but in Him we have life and peace.  Salvation is a free gift, you can’t lose it and you don’t have to work for it.

Now someone is going to say, “Doesn’t that just give people a free pass to sin?”  Paul faced that very same criticism from his audience.  “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).  A true Christian desires to be free from sin, not to sin freely.[2]

[1] John Ankerberg and John Weldon, “The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge: A Christian Perspective” (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989, 1990) p. 10, cited in Fritz Ridenour, “So What’s the Difference?” (Ventura, CA: Regal Books from Gospel Light, 1967, 1979, 2001) p. 128.

[2] Author unknown

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