Is Believing in God Enough?
Many people say faith alone is needed to have salvation. While I understand that all the works in the world will not save you without faith in Christ, what am I to make of James’ “faith without works is dead?” Are good works the “fruit” of true faith?
You are correct in saying that “works” will not save you. Paul writes in Ephesians 2: 8—10 these words:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (“bold” is mine)
This, and other passages, certainly makes it clear that we are saved by faith alone, but it also states that we are His “workmanship” (often translated: His work-of-art) created in Christ Jesus for good works. You ask in your question if good works are the “fruit” of truth faith? Although that might be a way of putting it, I would rather say that good works are the “result” of our faith. Good works should be a response to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
James’ epistle has always been considered a very practical approach to our faith. He still affirms that we are saved by faith alone, but if works are not coming in response to our faith, it is a dead faith. It is important to understand that James and Paul are not in conflict with each other. The difference between Paul and James is that they begin at different times in the Christian life. Paul begins at the very beginning of the Christian life insisting that no one can ever win or earn the forgiveness of God—the initial step must come only from the initiative of God.
James begins with the professing Christian, the one who already claims to have been forgiven and believes that he is in a right relationship with God. As a result, that person’s faith should respond in good works.
Paul affirms the importance of good deeds:
2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of
Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Jesus said in Matthew 5: 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.”
As William Barclay put it: “The fact that Christianity must be ethically demonstrated is an essential part of the Christian faith throughout the whole New Testament.” The same is true for us today. As I stated earlier, our faith is to respond in good works in gratitude for what Christ did for us on the cross.