The Characteristics of Saving Faith



Faith without works is dead.

Lordship advocates argue that saving faith includes a lifestyle that submits totally to the one whom you believe. James has taught that faith without works is dead.

Jas 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (NIV)

(James 2:24 NIV)  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

Why does James seem to contradict Paul? James says that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. On the other hand, Paul says that we have been saved through faith alone without works (Eph 2:8-9). If we believe that the Bible is consistent in its teachings, we can only have one conclusion. That the faith spoken of by James and Paul are in fact different. Paul talks about genuine faith, which alone saves us. James talks about mere professing faith, which is phoney. Notice in Jas 2:14 that the man only “claims” to have faith but have no actions to prove it. This kind of “faith” will not save us. Someone has said, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”

To look from another angle, Paul is addressing the question “How are we saved?” and argues that faith alone is sufficient. James is addressing the question “What are the proofs that our faith is genuine?”. He is not arguing that genuine faith alone will not save. He is highlighting the symptoms of false faith.

Since Paul is dealing with the issue of how we are saved, in Romans 4, he takes us to Gen 15:6 to show that Abraham was saved by simply believing in God. Although Abraham did a good deed by obeying God’s command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, he was not declared righteous because of this good deed. God proclaimed Abraham righteous forty years before he even sacrificed Isaac. This incident is recorded in Gen 15:­6 when Abraham believed God’s promise that his offsprings shall be as many as the stars in the sky even though he was still childless at such an old age. It is this genuine faith that made God declare him righteous.

Genesis 15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

On the other hand, James is trying to show proofs that Abraham’s faith was genuine and he takes us immediately to the incident when Abraham sacrificed Isaac on the altar, 40 years after he was declared righteous by God.

Genesis 22:9-12 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. {10} Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. {11} But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. {12} “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? {22} Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? {23} And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (KJV)

Why then did James say that Abraham was justified when he offered Isaac? This can be explained by examining the meaning of the word “justify”. This word has two meanings. The most common meaning of the word is “to pronounce righteous”. Besides that, this word can also mean “proven to be right or true”. In fact, one version of the Bible translates this verse as “was not our forefather Abraham shown to be upright by his good deeds”. Look at the following.

Rom 3:3-4 3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? 4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged (ie by unbelievers). (KJV)

These verses say that though men may lie, God will be always be justified (ie proven to be true). Look at it from another version.

Rom 3:4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (NIV)

Another verse talks about God being justified (i.e. proven to be true) in the hearts of men by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

1 Tim 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (KJV)

Now we can understand why James says that Abraham is justified by works. The word “justified” here is used in the second sense of the word. In other words, Jas 2:21 could say that Abraham was justified when he offered Isaac because that action proves that he was in fact a true believer. Verse 23 says that God’s recorded statement that Abraham was saved was later demonstrated to be indeed true by Abraham’s subsequent obedience to the Lord.

Another example given by James is Rahab the harlot. When Israel was seeking to enter the promised land, they sent spies into Jericho to find out about the inhabitants. Two Hebrew spies entered the home of a prostitute named Rahab and although she was a gentile, she hid them from her countrymen when they came to look for the spies (Joshua 2).

Jas 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous (KJV, justified) for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? (NIV)

It is important to note that Rahab hid the spies because she believed in their God and she was sure that the Israelites would win the war. She hoped that they would spare her family when they attacked Jericho. Therefore, it was her genuine faith in the God of Israel that saved her. Verse 25 could say Rahab was considered righteous (ie justified) for what she did because it proves the genuineness of her faith.

Therefore, James was not trying to prove that faith alone is insufficient to save us. Rather he is saying that people who claim to have faith but do not have consistent actions to prove it will not be saved because their faith is not genuine. In the verses that follow, James tries to illustrate what he meant in verse 14.

Jas 2:15­18 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (NIV)

This is an example to show that we can “claim” to have something without actually having it. In his example, a man claims to have concern over his brother by wishing him well but the genuineness of his concern is easily seen from his actions. He did not extend any form of assistance to this brother who is in need. Thus, his words of concern for his brother is not genuine.

The Bible is clear that genuine faith is always accompanied by good works.

Jas 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (NIV)

1 Jn 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. (NIV)

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

This is another verse that teaches that true faith will always result in acts of love.

The way to salvation is faith even before the incarnation of Jesus

The religion of Abraham was a submission to the love and promises of God by faith alone.

 That led to his unhesitating obedience to God even to his endurance of the extreme trial of a loving father. He was willing to slaughter his own beloved son in sacrifice to God.

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

 Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-5, RSV)

What happens to those who have never heard?
(This is covered in our Study on Tough Questions)

Those who leave their faith will not be saved.

Certain verses in the Bible talk about people who have lost their salvation. These people are those who have stopped believing and not simply a true believer who has sinned.

2 Pet 2:1­2, 20­21 1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. (NIV)

These verses describe more than simply disobeying God’s commands to do good. These people followed the doctrines of false prophets who even deny the existence of God (vs 1 & 2). They therefore describe people who have fallen out of their faith.

Heb 10:26-­29 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (NIV)

Many have interpreted verses 26 and 27 to be referring to Christians who sin their way out of God’s grace. Actually the sins described are actually those of denying Jesus Christ and His redeeming death as can be seen from verse 29. Therefore, this verse describes people who have lost their faith. Verse 26 also says refers to people who sin after they have “received the knowledge of the truth.”

Jude 4,10,11 4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. 10 Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals– these are the very things that destroy them. 11 Woe to them! (NIV)

I believe that these verses are not talking about true believers. These men merely joined in the company of Christians. The fact that they were not believers is clear: These men even deny Jesus Christ (verse 4). Therefore, these are probably men who take advantage of the free nature of salvation to indulge in sin, but they have not truly believed in Jesus.

Jas 5:19­20 19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (NIV)

This verse could be talking about eternal death. However, eternal death is not the result of simply disobeying God’s commands. Verse 19 is clear that this sinner has wandered away from the truth. In other words, he has stopped believing in the right things. That is why the consequence of his action is eternal death.

Our spiritual position is different from our daily practice

1 Cor 6:9­11 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (NIV)

Some people point out from these verses that those who commit those sins described will not inherit the kingdom of God (vs 9 and 10). But it is important to read what the rest of the verses have to say. Paul told the Corinthian Church that some of them used to fit those categories of sinners but not any more. Why? Because they were washed, sanctified and justified through Jesus Christ (vs 11). In other words, in Jesus there are no sinners. Although a Christian may continue to sin, he is considered a righteous person in God’s sight. This is because our spiritual position is different from our daily practice.

The best illustration to show the difference between position and practice is in God’s response to the Israelites. In Numbers 23:21, God said that He “has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel”. How could that be? Since Israel’s exodus from Egypt, they have not stopped sinning against God. They complained to God when they reached the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10­12), when the water was bitter (Exodus 15:23­26), when there was a shortage of food (Exodus 16:1­13) and when they had no water (Exodus 17:1­7). God could react this way towards the Israelites because their spiritual position and their daily practice was different. We may continue to sin after becoming a Christian but God sees in us only the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)

Romans 3:22 (NIV) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. 

YouTube Videos

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If we have genuine faith, that Jesus suffered and died for us, we will not be able to live life the same way. Genuine faith is more than just head knowledge; it impacts our life. This song by Avalon – Everything to me (YouTube) ​describes this so well.

I grew up in Sunday school, I memorized the Golden Rule
And how Jesus came to set the sinner free
I know the story inside out, and I can tell you all about the path that led Him up to Calvary
But ask me why He loves me, and I don’t know what to say
But I’ll never be the same because He changed my life when He became…

(CHORUS)
Everything to me (everything to me)
He’s more than a story (more than a story)
More than words on a page of history
He is the air that I breathe (the air that I breathe), the water I thirst for (water I thirst for)
And the ground beneath my feet
Oh He’s everything, everything to me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Post