Faith and Works
"The just shall live by his faith." (Hab. 2:40
"Faith without works is dead." (James 2:20)
There are many key words in the Scriptures that hold a great deal of meaning to the Christian. In one of Paul's great passages he gives his attention to three of these: faith, hope, and charity, (or divine love.) There are other Bible words full of meaning, such as grace, peace, kindness, gentleness, hospitality, courtesy, and works. Any one of these would surely furnish enough spiritual content to furnish blessing and illumination.
Take, for instance, that word hospitality. It appears only four times in the Bible, three times in the writings of St. Paul, and once in Peter's first epistle. Let us notice quickly their message to Christians of all ages. In Romans 12:13 Paul encourages us to be "given to hospitality." Two other versions say to "practice hospitality." In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul exhorts his son in the Gospel that a bishop must be "given to hospitality," or as two other versions have it, be "hospitable." Peter phrases his admonition in this way: "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." [or "grumbling," in another version] (1 Peter 4:9)
Right now, however, I am thinking about the two words found in our topic: faith and works. Recently I have heard speakers who sounded as if they considered "works" to be an evil word. One man seemed to feel that if anyone gave favorable attention toworks, his religion was false. Does such an attitude do justice to the Word of God, the Bible?
First, let us look at that wonderful word, faith. How many times does it appear in the Old Testament? Would you be shocked if I mentioned some such figure as one hundred, or even fifty, as being too large? The correct number is exactly twice, and one of these is found in our passage in Habakkuk. A related word, believe, is found fewer than thirty times in the Old Testament. These two words are found almost five hundred times in the New Testament, and we shall consider some of them.
In the 7th chapter of Luke we find a long and remarkable account of a woman who was a great sinner. She came into the house of a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dine with him. The uninvited woman had brought with her an alabaster box of ointment. Weeping, she began to wash the feet of Jesus with her tears and wipe them with her hair. She kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
What did Jesus say about her? "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven." (v. 47) Then He added, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." What a marvelous story!
St. Paul said a great deal about faith. One of the best known verses is Ephesians 2:8: "By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Can we expect to be saved by working our fingers to the bone? No. Works by themselves will not bring salvation. If the element of faith is lacking there will be no forgiveness.
St. Paul adds something interesting to this important matter of faith and works. He reminds the Thessalonians [Chapter 3, verse 10] of something he had commanded them [a strong term] when he was with them earlier, "that if any would not work, neither should he eat." Is that too strong medicine for some to swallow today?
A favorite verse of many is found early in Christ's Sermon on the Mount, shortly after the Beatitudes: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) In another passage Christ makes it plain that if we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments. One version states it in just that way: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Another version phrases it just a little differently: "If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15) Is it not clear that we must be obedient to Christ, and seek faithfully to follow His commands, if we are to be recognized by Him and the Father as His followers?
In Hebrews 11 we have a catalog of Old Testament heroes, and heroines, who exercised faith in God. None of them, however, stopped at that point. All of them exercised their faith in a positive way, just as you and I must do, if we are to make the race to heaven. The very first of these was Abel, who was slain by his brother, Cain. Abraham was a notable one on the list, and Moses another, and there were women as well as men. Not all were well known. Some suffered terrible persecution, were beaten, stoned, or "slain with the sword," yet they kept their faith in God. All of them "obtained a good report through faith."
Abel had faith in God, and gave a more acceptable sacrifice than his brother, Cain. Noah had faith in God, and although there was no water for miles around that would float a large boat or ship, he obeyed God's instructions, and superintended, no doubt for many years, the doubting carpenters that he hired to build the ark. Abraham had faith in God, and by faith went to a land he knew nothing about. Moses had faith in God, and after enjoying all the privileges, opportunities, and pleasures of Egypt as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, turned his back on all of them and "chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season."
Our minds always turn to James as we think along these lines. He is the one, early on in his epistle to the Church at large, encouraging Christians to renewed faith and patience, and to ask for wisdom. How were they to do this? They were "to ask in faith, nothing wavering." (1:6) A little later he comes out squarely with the absolute necessity of adding works to our faith. He had mentioned the "royal law." Doesn't that have a wonderful sound? He cites it from Leviticus 19:18: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
If we love our neighbour, and it is possible to do something for him, will we not do so? James comes down strongly on that point, making clear in verse after verse, that "faith without works is dead." (2:26) Works without faith will not get us to heaven. Neither will faith without works. They are an inseparable team that must work together.
Christ Himself felt the urgency of doing the work that His Father had sent Him to do. If we are His followers, can we afford to be any less concerned with doing the work He has called on us to do? Notice what Christ had to say when He and His disciples saw a man blind from birth. "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." (John 9:4)
In our Cross and Crown hymnal, and in many other hymnals, I have noticed, there is a great hymn. I trust that you are familiar with it.
Work, for the Night Is ComingAn elderly Scotsman, a long-time Christian, eager to let his light shine for the Lord, had a little boat available for hire. A passenger once noted that the two oars had words carved on them. On one oar the word was faith; on the other oar the word was works. The passenger was curious as to the reason for these words on the oars, and the eager Christian was ready to explain. First he pulled on one oar, and the little boat went around in circles. Then he pulled on the other oar, and the boat went around in circles, in the other direction. After that the old man skillfully pulled on both oars at once, and the vessel sped over the water. Then he explained to the man: "You see, that is the way it is in the Christian life. Dead works without faith are useless, and 'faith without works is dead' also, getting you nowhere. But faith and works pulling together make for safety, progress, and blessing."