How Are We Saved: Faith + Works?

Is it wrong for a  Protestant church to have a Creed that  says something to the effect that we are  saved by faith evidenced by works or  Abraham was saved by faith demonstrated  by works?

No, that’s I would say,  that the biblical view is that we are  saved through faith alone – that’s the instrument that joins us to  Jesus – but saving faith is never  alone;  it always has works. If it is truly  saving faith, it will produce works  because it’s a divine faith given by God  that’s real. 

Abraham  believed God and it was credited to him  as righteousness. (Romans 4:3) God credits  to us righteousness apart from works of  law but then  he asked the question in Romans 4 – When  was Abraham justified by faith? Was it  before circumcision or after  circumcision? Before. Was his  faith and justification before the law  or after the law? Before. He was  justified by faith before circumcision,  before Isaac on the altar and before the  law given by Moses. That’s Paul’s whole  argument, his entire summary of  justification is ultimately Abraham – his  faith before circumcision, before Isaac,  before the law.

When you open your  Bible  to James 2:10 “Whosoever shall keep the  whole law and stumble in one point, he’s  guilty of all of it.” But then he  goes on to say Abraham, was he not justified by works? Are Paul and James fighting? Then you recognize if you read James too  that they’re not even in the same  discussion. In Romans chapter  4, Paul argues about our  justification this way: Abraham, when was  he justified? Through faith before  circumcision, before Isaac, before the law. That’s when he was justified through  faith apart from any work of law, before  circumcision, nothing. Before God he was  counted righteous. That’s his entire  argument of justification in Abraham. He’s the central figure. When did  it take place? Paul says through faith  before circumcision, before Isaac, before  the law.

Now you  run over to James and James is wisdom  literature – it’s how you live. He talks  about someone’s tongue and how it’s like  this ship, its rudder. He talks  about the tongue, the mouth and what we speak  and how it destroys and it blesses. And  then in James chapter 2, he asked the  question. James 2:14 What  good is it my brothers if someone SAYS he has faith but does not have works. What’s the point there? It’s the  PROFESSION. Someone says he has faith but  he does not have works. Can that  faith  save him? We’re talking about  kinds of faith here. Notice Paul’s  discussion in Romans 4 is about how a  person is justified before God.  James’ discussion is about what kind of  faith saves. And he says “Can a faith that  is a mere profession (but not a real  possession) save? And his answer is “of  course not.” And he goes on, he says: 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? (James 2:15-16) It means you’re lying, you didn’t mean it because you didn’t provide anything. He says profession is one thing but if there’s  not something following it, you don’t  know that it’s real. So he says “Also faith by itself, if it does not have  works, is dead.” (James 2:17) The question here is not whether  we are saved through faith alone or  through faith plus works, it’s the question of  whether dead faith saves or living faith  saves. He says faith by itself, if it  does not have works, is dead. 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. 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? (James 2:18-21) However, Paul uses  the words “justification through faith  apart from works of law” and here James  is saying “wasn’t Abraham justified by  works in the offering of a son on the  altar”. Are they contradicting each other? Absolutely  not, they are not even in the same conversation. Paul says “Abraham believed God and it was  credited to him as righteousness” before circumcision before Isaac, before the law. About 20 years before Isaac. In James’ discussion, he says about Abraham “Wasn’t he  justified by his works when he offered  up Isaac on the altar?” They’re not  even at the same point of Abraham’s life  in the discussion. James is talking about Abraham’s faith  vindicating him. The word “justified” in  the Greek can be used in about seven  different ways. It can be used to  describe “being declared righteous before  God through faith.” It can also be used to  describe vindication. I give you an  example. Jesus, when he was accused of  being a drunkard, said “Wisdom is justified by her  children.” Is Jesus teaching that wisdom  is declared righteous by God by her  children? No, “wisdom is justified by her  children” means “if you  want to know what Godly wisdom is, look  what it produces.” It’ll vindicate what you’re saying, what  you’re doing. And so James is using it in  exactly the same way. He says “You  want to know how Abraham’s  faith was true faith, living  faith? He offered up Isaac on the altar. That’s how you know his faith was living  and not dead.” If a church doesn’t have a statement of  belief that says that true faith is  always accompanied by works, then that  church does understand the gospel. All  the confessions of the Christian Church  from beginning until now agree that  something fundamentally changes within  us when we’re saved. You go from death to  life, your hearts change from stone to  flesh, you’re indwelled by the Spirit of  God. If there are no good works, there was no real faith to begin. Repent and believe the gospel. Make  sure that your faith is real, contemplate  your sin and the holiness of God and  turn from your sin to Christ and cast  yourself only on him to believe in him. And if you are in Christ and alive from  the dead, good works follow. 

Ephesians 2:8-9  By grace are you saved through faith and  that not of yourselves, it is a gift of  God, not according to works, lest any man  should boast.

But it is not done. Ephesians 2:10  says “for we are his workmanship created  in Christ Jesus to do good works, which  God has already prepared beforehand that  we would walk in them.”

One of the things  we need to talk about more today in the  Christian Church, what needs to be heard  often is George Whitfield’s preaching of the  gospel – the message of  repentance and faith and salvation only  in Christ and faith alone and the  absolute necessity of the new birth. He taught that if you don’t have a new  life, you don’t have any faith. Is that  saying that Christians are going to be  sinless and perfect? No. It means you’re  going to be at war with your sin until  Jesus brings you home.