Faith & Works in the Book of
A Reproduction of Chapter 5 and Appendix 1 in Salvation of the Soul by Arlen L. Chitwood
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect [brought to its goal]? (James 2:14, 20-22)
James 2:14-26 opens with two self-answering questions, and the structure of these questions in the Greek text requires that both be answered in the negative (the Greek negative, “me,” appears in the latter question [designating a “no” response], and the integrally inseparable nature of the two questions shows that the first must be answered in the same sense). The first question presents the relationship between faith and works in connection with profit, and the second question presents the relationship between faith and works in connection with salvation. These two questions could possibly be better understood by translating the verse,
“My brethren, if anyone says he has faith, but does not have works, he cannot profit, can he? Faith [apart from works] cannot save him, can it?”
A translation of this nature must be recognized or one will miss the force of these two questions, which are not only in complete keeping with the central message in the epistle of James but introduce that which is dealt with in the verses that immediately follow (vv. 15-26). And, should an individual fail to grasp this central message, he will forever be lost in a sea of misinterpretation when dealing with this epistle.
Faith and works appear together in James chapter two relative to teachings surrounding the salvation of the soul, introduced in the preceding chapter (vv. 21-25). And this is the place where numerous individuals invariably go wrong when studying the epistle. They seek to relate both faith and works to the salvation that Christians presently possess.
And, doing this, the end result is always the same:
1) A corruption of the biblical teaching concerning salvation by grace.
2) A corruption of the true message in the book of James.
The relationship between faith and works in James (or other corresponding parts of Scripture [e.g., 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Ephesians 2:8-10; Hebrews 11:4ff]) has nothing to do with the salvation that we presently possess. Eternal salvation, the present possession of every believer, is wrought by grace through faith, completely apart from works.
An unredeemed person cannot perform works to be saved, and a redeemed person cannot perform works to either stay saved or to show that he has been saved. The necessity of the complete absence of works in relation to one’s eternal salvation is just as applicable following the time one is saved as it is prior to the time one is saved. Works cannot enter in at all; else salvation would cease to be by grace through faith (Romans 11:6).
James, in his epistle, teaching a justification on the basis of works, doesn’t deal with the salvation that man presently possesses. Rather, throughout his epistle, James moves beyond the past aspect of salvation and directs the message to those who are already saved (a characteristic of all New Testament epistles). In this respect, works, as seen in James, have to do solely with those who have first been justified by grace through faith. Only then can works appear.
This is the way in which the matter is handled at any point in Scripture where faith and works are dealt with. This has to be the case because neither the unsaved nor the saved can exercise any type of works in the realm of eternal salvation. The unsaved can’t produce works in this realm (e.g., works for salvation), for they are spiritually dead; and the saved can’t produce works in this realm either (e.g., works to show that they have been saved), for works would have entered into an area where works cannot exist. From a biblical standpoint, man’s works simply cannot enter, after any manner, where eternal salvation is involved.
(Works surrounding eternal salvation can enter only as they pertain to Christ’s finished work at Calvary, or to the Spirit’s work of breathing life into the one having no life [on the basis of Christ’s finished work]. Unregenerate man, “dead in trespasses and sins” [Ephesians 2:1], cannot act in the spiritual realm. Divine intervention alone can and must occur [Ephesians 2:5].
And saved man cannot act in this realm either, for God is no longer dealing with him relative to eternal salvation. God is now dealing with him on an entirely different plane — relative to the saving of the soul, where man’s works can enter, which is the subject matter of James.)
Paul and James
A failure to understand this whole realm of biblical doctrine surrounding faith and works, as set forth in James, has, over the years, resulted in untold confusion among Christians.
Numerous Bible students who have understood that man’s justification must be by grace through faith, completely apart from works (Ephesians 2:8, 9), have been perplexed particularly by the epistle of James, for James teaches that man cannot be justified apart from works. This so perplexed Martin Luther, with his emphasis on the salvation that Christians presently possess, referencing mainly the book of Romans, that he declared the epistle of James to be “an epistle of straw,” questioning whether or not it should be included among the canonical books.
Most attempts among Bible students today to reconcile what they see as justification apart from works in the Pauline epistles with justification by works in the epistle of James revolve around the thought that “Paul deals with justification in the eyes of God, and James deals with justification in the eyes of man.” In other words, a man is saved by grace through faith, apart from works, in the eyes of God; but he performs works after he is saved, showing, in the eyes of man, the reality of his salvation.
This type of approach to works in James is used by many in an attempt to prove the reality or non-reality of one’s conversion by the presence or absence of works. “Living” faith, as opposed to “dead” faith in James (2:17, 20, 26), is often equated with what some call “saving” faith. The thought is then set forth that if a man possesses “saving [‘living’]” faith, he will evince this fact through good works in the eyes of man.
However, if a man who claims to be saved does not show evidence of his salvation via works in the eyes of man, this proves that he was never really saved in the first place. All he ever possessed was a “non-saving [‘dead’]” faith.
The entire concept of justification by works in the eyes of man though is fallacious from one end to the other, and so is the concept behind calling “dead” faith a “non-saving” faith (“dead” faith will be discussed later in this chapter). A man cannot show, via works, the reality of his justification by grace through faith. If he could, then justification would cease to be by grace through faith. Works, after some fashion, would have entered into an area where works cannot exist. The pure gospel of the grace of God would have been corrupted, for,
. . . if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. (Romans 11:6)
The key to a correct understanding of the epistle of James lies in recognizing that the central message of this book deals, not with the salvation that we presently possess (salvation of the spirit), but with the salvation to be revealed at the time of our Lord’s return (salvation of the soul). God does not deal with Christians today in relation to the salvation of their spirits. This is a past, completed act, never to be dealt with as an issue beyond the point of the birth from above. God deals with the regenerate solely on the basis of the fact that they have been saved, never in relation to the salvation that they presently possess.
(Note the central Old Testament type in the preceding respect — the Israelites under Moses. Following the death of the firstborn [Exodus 12:1ff], God dealt with the Israelites on an entirely different plane. God then dealt with them relative to the land set before them, not relative to that which was a past, finished matter — the prior death of the firstborn in Egypt.
And so it is with Christians under Christ in the antitype. This is more fully developed in Chapters 6, 7 of this book.)
The place that “works” occupy in James must be understood in this respect. “Works” can only appear in the realm of God’s present dealings with Christians. Consequently, they can never pertain to the salvation of the spirit; rather, they must always pertain to the salvation of the soul alone.
But going to the Pauline epistles and seeking to contrast them with James in the realm of faith and works is not the correct way to approach and explain the matter. Paul has not written about one thing and James another. Rather, both Paul and James have written about the same thing. They have both dealt with exactly the same thing, from different perspectives.
It is wrong, for example, to contrast Romans (or any of the other Pauline epistles) with James (or any of the other general epistles) and say that one (Romans) deals with the salvation that Christians presently possess and the other (James) deals with the salvation of the soul. The central message throughout all of the epistles, beginning with Romans and ending with Jude, has to do with the same thing — the salvation of the soul, not with the salvation that Christians presently possess.
Martin Luther, as most Bible students since that time, was wrong in his approach to the message of Romans in relation to the message of James. Both books deal with the same message, from two different perspectives (e.g., cf. Romans 4:3-22; James 2:14, 21-23). And a failure to understand this is where the confusion lies.
In the final analysis, Romans possibly contains the highest and most intricate form of all teachings surrounding the salvation of the soul. In this respect, rather than Romans being a book dealing with primary doctrine surrounding salvation by grace, it is, instead, a book dealing not only with the salvation of the soul but, as previously stated, possibly with the highest and most intricate form of this doctrine to be found in Scripture. In effect, Romans is a book that Christians should probably study only after they have come into a good understanding of the salvation of the soul, not a book that those proclaiming the message of salvation by grace are to reference, seeking to show individuals how to be saved (for this is not the central message of Romans).
Profit … Salvation
The key words in James 2:14 are “profit” and “save.” These two words are linked together in such a manner — not only here, but elsewhere in Scripture — that one cannot be realized apart from the other. That is, apart from an accrual of “profit,” salvation cannot be realized; or, to state the matter another way, an accrual of “profit” leads to (is for the purpose of) the realization of salvation (at a future date). And James specifically states that neither can be realized by faith alone. Works must enter and have their proper place.
One cannot profit apart from an initial investment, and one is in no position to procure the salvation of which James speaks apart from presently possessing salvation. The Greek word translated “profit” is derived from a root word which means “to increase”; and the thought of an “increase” does not enter into the picture until one has an initial supply, making an “increase,” or “profit,” possible.
The concept of “profit” is always something in addition to that which one already possesses. Initial investments, from which individuals can profit, are possessed only by the Lord’s own servants (Christians). Thus, there is no such thing as the word “profit” being used in this sense in connection with the unsaved, for they have no initial investment in this realm.
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27) provide two of the best Scriptural examples concerning “profit” on an initial investment in relation to the Lord’s servants during the present day and time. As brought out in these parables, the Lord has delivered all of His goods to all of His servants and has left them with the command, “Do business till I come” (KJV: “Occupy till I come”).
The Lord’s servants are to trade and traffic in the Lord’s business during His time of absence. Those who do so, under the leadership of the Lord, will realize “a profit” (cf. Matthew 25:16, 17, 19-23; Luke 19:15-19). By realizing a profit, an increase on the initial investment, they will save their souls. On the other hand, those who refuse to use the initial investment will not only remain profitless but they will, as a consequence, suffer “loss.” They will suffer the loss of their souls (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; 25:18, 19, 24-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26).
The concept of “profit” in the epistle of James turns on the thought of works in connection with faith: “faith without works is dead” (2:17, 20, 26), and there can be no profit in connection with “a dead” faith. In order for profit to accrue, there must be a living, active faith.
“Dead” faith in the epistle of James has nothing to do with either unsaved man or with the salvation that saved man presently possesses. The thought that “dead” faith is a non-saving faith possessed by unsaved man is completely erroneous.
There is no such thing as a non-saving faith in relation to the unsaved. Faith either exists or it doesn’t exist. In the case of unsaved individuals (all unsaved individuals), faith does not exist; and in the case of saved individuals (all saved individuals), faith exists, and this faith will continue to exist forever.
Faith, even though “dead,” is still there. Faith, possessed by all Christians, cannot pass out of existence. Scripture specifically states that “faith, hope, charity [love]” continue to abide after other things (e.g., tongues) have passed out of existence (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Faith can be very active, or it can be weak, anemic, and even dead; but faith is still there, and a weak, anemic, or dead faith can be revived — made to live — and become very active.
The very fact that faith in James chapter two is “dead” bears evidence concerning another fact: This faith must, at one time, have existed in a “living” state. The analogy in James 2:26 is sufficient to demonstrate this truth:
For as the body without the spirit [Greek: pneuma, ‘breath’ in this context] is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
A body that is void of “breath” is dead, and faith that is void of “works” is also dead. Both were at one time living. The departure of “breath” is connected with death in the body, and the departure of “works” is connected with death in faith.
In order for life to be restored to either a dead body or a dead faith, there must be a reversal of the process that produced death — “breath” must be restored to the body (Luke 8:55), and “works” must be restored to faith (James 2:17-26). However, for works to be restored to faith, there must first be the impartation of “breath,” as in the resuscitation of the body.
The breath of God — the Neshamah, the Theopneustos, the living Word of God — must flow into man’s saved human spirit, providing sustenance for the spiritual man. Then, by the action of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as He takes the Word, turning the Water to Wine, the spiritual man is caused to move about; and works that ensue from this movement of the spiritual man is that which is seen in James chapter two — works connected with (emanating out of) a living, active faith.
Thus, in actuality, life is restored to both a dead body and a dead faith through the same means — “breath.” This is in keeping with the law of first mention concerning life in relation to man in Genesis 2:7. “The breath of life” must always be the factor when life in relation to man is involved (ref. Chapter 3 in this book).
In this respect, a “dead” faith is inseparably connected with a non-reception of “the implanted Word,” the Neshamah (which, if received, would ultimately result in a “living” faith, producing works).
The word “dead” appears in the English version (KJV) in connection with faith in James 2:17, 20, 26; but in a number of the older Greek manuscripts the word for “barren” or “fruitless,” rather than the word for “dead,” appears in verse twenty.
In these manuscripts, one would read, “. . . faith without works is barren?” (Although most scholars prefer the older manuscript rendering, its validity need not be debated. The same truth is taught elsewhere in Scripture [cf. 2 Peter 1:5-8].) “Barren” faith (v. 20) is equated with “dead” faith (vv. 17, 26), and the inverse of this would be true concerning “living” faith (i.e., “fruitful,” not “barren,” would be associated with “living”).
In this respect, fruit-bearing is the result of works, and barrenness is the result of no works, inseparably connected with and emanating out of “a living” faith or “a dead, barren” faith respectively.
Thus, “dead” faith in James chapter two can only refer to faith possessed by the redeemed alone. Fruit-bearing is in view (allowing for the saved alone to be in view); and works — resulting in fruitfulness, emanating from a “living” faith — must be present to realize a profit on the initial investment, ultimately resulting in the salvation of the soul.
Faith … Works
When James speaks of works in connection with faith, exactly what type works does he have in mind? What type of works must Christians perform in order for them to be seen possessing a “living” rather than a “dead” faith?
If one remains within the text of the epistle of James itself, such questions can be easily resolved. James provides two examples drawn from Old Testament history concerning exactly what he has in mind; and, from these two examples, Christians can ascertain the type of works that are to be performed today, resulting in fruit-bearing.
James’ first example is derived from Genesis chapter twenty-two:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (v. 21)
Then, James’ second example is derived from Joshua chapter two:
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? (v. 25)
Abraham was justified by works by one act, and Rahab was justified by works by another, entirely separate, different act. These two examples stand in almost stark contrast to one another, by divine design, for a purpose. The actions of Abraham, the father of the faithful, offering the supreme sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, constitute one example; and the actions of Rahab, a harlot, providing lodging for two Jewish spies in Jericho, constitute the other example.
Insofar as justification by works is concerned, no distinction is drawn between their individual actions. Note the word “Likewise [Greek: homoios, ‘in like manner’]” (v. 25) that James used to compare Rahab’s justification with Abraham’s justification. Both were equally justified by works.
The key to the matter lies in the fact that both Abraham and Rahab acted by faith. Both occupy a position among the faithful in Hebrews chapter eleven, where these same two incidents are recorded (Hebrews 11:17-19, 31). To act by faith, one must act in accordance with the revelation of God. Acting “by faith” is simply believing that which God has to say about the matter and governing one’s life accordingly.
In the case of Abraham, God instructed him to offer his son as a burnt offering upon a particular mountain in the land of Moriah. Abraham believed God, acted accordingly, and, through this act, he was justified by works.
In the case of Rahab, God had revealed certain things concerning the nation of Israel. She knew what had previously happened to the Egyptians, the kings of the Amorites, and possibly far more. She also knew that God had given the land in which she dwelled to the children of Israel, and she knew that they were about to take possession of this land. Knowing the revelation of God concerning these matters, she acted accordingly. She hid the spies, helped them escape from Jericho, and, by so doing, she was justified by works.
Both Abraham and Rahab acted in accordance with the revelation of God concerning that which they were to do in two separate matters. Abraham was called upon to do one thing, and he was faithful to his calling. Rahab was called upon to do something entirely different, and she, “likewise [‘in like manner’],” was faithful to her calling. By “faithfulness” to that which God had called them to do, both, in an equal respect, were justified by works.
Thus, the answer is provided concerning the type of works that James has in mind. Works in James chapter two, brought over into the lives of Christians today, are simply those works that God has called individual Christians to do. God has always called individuals to do different things at different times (e.g., Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, etc.), and those whom He calls are to be faithful in the task/tasks whereunto they have been called.
Justification by works in James is wrought by being faithful to one’s individual calling — works emanating out of faithfulness. This, of course, presupposes that the person has acted in accordance with James 1:21 — “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word . . . .” James 1:22 then instructs Christians to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only,” which is something that cannot be accomplished apart from acting in accordance with the preceding verse.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 provides an example of this same type of faithfulness to one’s calling. In this parable, each servant was entrusted with an amount “according to his own ability” — one five talents, one two talents, and another one talent. “Talents” are a monetary unit of exchange, an initial investment to be used by the recipient to gain an increase, a profit. The servant with five talents was expected to use all five; the servant with two talents was expected to use both, but he was not called upon to use more than the two; the servant with one talent was expected to use that talent, but he was not called upon to use more than the one talent.
The servants possessing the five and two talents were faithful to their individual callings, and each received identical commendations upon their Lord’s return. The servant with the one talent, however, was unfaithful to his calling and received punishment rather than commendation. Had he been faithful in his area of responsibility, he would have received the identical commendation experienced by the other two servants.
The entire thought turns on the fact that rewards will be passed out or punishment will be meted out commensurate with an individual’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the task/tasks God has called that individual to do.
The Goal of Faith
“Faith” is made mature, brought to full development, reaches its goal through works (James 2:22). The relationship between faith and works rests on this principle; and if one understands the revelation of God at this point, he will never again experience trouble in the realm of faith and works.
The Greek word translated “perfect” in James 2:22 is teleioo, which refers to “the goal,” “consummation,” “full development,” “end” of that which is in view. In this case, “faith” is in view; and works constitute the vehicle through which faith is brought to full development, with a goal in view at the termination of this development.
“The goal” of faith is spelled out in no uncertain terms in 1 Peter 1:9: “receiving the end [Greek: telos] of your faith -- the salvation of your souls.” The Greek word telos, translated “end” in 1 Peter 1:9, is the root form of the work teleioo, translated “perfect” in James 2:22. “Faith” is brought to maturity, full development, through works, for one great purpose — in order that the one possessing this faith might, in the coming day, realize the salvation of his soul and occupy a position as a joint-heir with Christ in His kingdom.
All Christians have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10), and God has outlined the works that He wants each of us to do. As individuals in Christ follow the leadership of the Lord in their respective callings, performing these works, their faith is, “day by day,” progressively being brought to full development. This is not something that occurs over a short period of time, but, rather, something that occurs over the entirety of the pilgrim walk.
This is something that occurs in conjunction with the metamorphosis and the filling of the Spirit. The Neshamah, the Word of God flowing into man’s saved human spirit, progressively (through the action of the indwelling Holy Spirit) produces the metamorphosis and the filling of the Spirit. At the same time, works emanating from this entire process, inseparably associated with faithfulness, progressively bring “faith” to its full development, to its goal (ref. Chapters 2, 3 in this book). All of these things are working together in the lives of Christians in order to produce Spirit-filled, mature Christians who will realize the purpose for their salvation — the goal of their calling, the goal of faith, the salvation of their souls.
All “judgment” will be on the basis of works, and all “rewards” or “punitive actions” emanating from judgment must, likewise, be on the basis of works. The coming judgment of the saints — the time, place, purpose, and outcome — is a major subject of Scripture, and this is an area in which all Christians who have been saved for any length of time at all should be quite knowledgeable. One’s failure to properly understand this area of study can invariably be traced directly back to his failure to understand the correct relationship between faith and works.
1) Basis for Judgment — Works
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by [in] fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
The time of this judgment will be at the end of the present dispensation; the place of this judgment will be in the heavens; the purpose for this judgment will be to “test each one’s [Christian’s] work, of what sort it is”; and the outcome of this judgment will be that some Christians will be shown to possess works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones” (resulting in their receiving “a reward”), while other Christians will be shown to possess works comparable to “wood, hay, straw” (resulting in their suffering “loss”).
The Christians’ judgment will occur before the judgment seat of Christ in the heavens following the removal of the Church from the earth; and this judgment will occur before the Tribulation begins on earth.
(There will be an interval of time, of apparent short duration, between the removal of the Church and the beginning of Daniel’s Seventieth Week [Revelation 1:11-6:1]. The ratifying of the covenant between the man of sin and Israel marks the beginning of this period, not the removal of the Church. And in the chronology of events seen in Revelation chapters one through five, events surrounding the judgment seat of Christ [among certain revealed events that both precede and follow those of the judgment seat] will occur preceding the Tribulation, which is seen beginning in Revelation chapter six.
Refer to the author’s book, The Time of the End, Chapters 6-10 for a discussion of the chronology of these events between the removal of the Church and the beginning of the Tribulation.)
Christians will be judged on the basis of their works in view of whether these works did or did not bring one’s “faith” to its goal — the salvation of his soul. Works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones” will be shown to have brought faith to its proper goal; works comparable to “wood, hay, straw,” however, will be shown to have failed to bring faith to its proper goal. Those Christians shown to be in possession of works that brought faith to its proper goal will receive a “reward” (v. 14), but those Christians shown to be in possession of works that failed to bring faith to its proper goal will suffer “loss” (v. 15).
The word “loss” in 1 Corinthians 3:15 is from the same Greek word translated “lose” in Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36, “be cast away” in Luke 9:25, and “I have suffered the loss” in Philippians 3:8. The thought behind the use of this word in these passages is to “forfeit” something already in one’s possession.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke this loss is seen as the forfeiture of one’s soul. And this is exactly what is in view in 1 Corinthians 3:15. This is the only thing that could be in view, for the one who suffers loss will have no rewards to forfeit. He will be left with his life (soul) alone; his works will all be burned. And, in the light of related Scripture, an individual suffering loss at the judgment seat of Christ will experience the loss of his soul.
2) Basis for Recompense — Works
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward [recompense] each according to his works. (Matthew 16:27)
This is the same thought set forth in 1 Corinthians 3:14, 15 concerning Christians before the judgment seat of Christ. All events at the judgment seat will be based on works, with “rewards” or “losses” emanating from the trial of one’s works: “the fire will test each one’s work . . . .”
In Hebrews chapter eleven the reception of future rewards, promises are clearly taught to be on the basis of faith, with no mention of works. The relationship, of course, is that works emanate from one’s faithfulness to his calling; and works bring one’s faith to the goal of his calling. In this respect, understanding the proper relationship between faith and works, rewards can be said to emanate from works in one place and faith in another.
There is no conflict at all.
We have been saved to produce “good works” resulting in fruit-bearing, with a purpose and goal in view. Happy are those Christians who understand this purpose and goal, governing their lives accordingly, looking out ahead to the day when “. . . He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (Hebrews 10:37b).
(For additional information on this subject, refer to the appendix in this book, “Faith and Works.”— which follows.)
Justification by Faith, Justification by Works
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? . . .
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:14, 20-24).
James 2:14-26 has been an enigma over the years for many individuals studying the salvation message in Scripture. But that should not be the case at all, unless a person tries to see the salvation that we presently possess — the salvation dealt with in Ephesians 2:8, 9 — as the salvation or justification being dealt with in James.
Faith and works in relation to salvation or justification in James is completely consistent with and perfectly in line with the overall salvation message taught elsewhere in Scripture. James is dealing with the salvation of the soul (James 1:21), not with the salvation that we presently possess; and, unlike the absence of works in connection with man in the salvation that we presently possess, works are presented after a different fashion in Scriptures dealing with the salvation of the soul, for man now appears in an active rather than a passive sense in the matter.
In James 2:14, two self-answering questions are asked. The negative used in the Greek text (me) necessitates that the two questions be understood in a “no” respect. A proper translation of the verse into English, with the Greek negative me in view, would read along these lines:
My Brethren, though a man say he has faith, but does not have works, he cannot profit, can he? Faith [i.e., faith apart from works] cannot save him, can it?
And further down in the chapter, comments and examples are given concerning faith and works in relation to salvation. In verse twenty-one, Abraham is seen as having been justified by works when he had offered his son on the altar, as seen in Genesis 22:1ff. And, calling attention to Genesis 1 5:6, it is further stated in verse twenty-three that Abraham, at this same time, acted by faith; and God reckoned Abraham’s faithfulness to him for righteousness.
The same account, Abraham offering his son, is referenced in Hebrews 11:17. And in this verse, faith to a saving of the soul, as in James, is inferred from the way this chapter is introduced in the last two verses of the previous chapter.
Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul [lit. ‘but of faith to a saving of the soul’]. (Hebrews 10:38, 39)
With these two verses leading into and introducing chapter eleven, providing the subject matter, each reference to “faith” in the chapter should be understood in line with these verses, as faith to a saving of the soul. This chapter, as James 2:14-26, has to do with present and future aspects of salvation, not with the past aspect. And this chapter, exactly as in James, has to do with faith and works in relation to this salvation. And, as in James, so in Hebrews — the actions of individuals in relation to the salvation of the soul are seen.
Actually, in Scripture, there is no such thing as salvation apart from works, whether past, present, or future aspects of salvation. As well, in Scripture, there is no such thing as salvation apart from grace and faith. The wording in Ephesians 2:8, “by grace . . . through faith,” would apply not only to the past aspect of salvation, as seen in this verse, but to present and future aspects of salvation as well — the salvation of the soul (ref. the author’s book, Salvation of the Soul).
(Both “grace” and “faith” are seen in relation to the salvation of the soul in 1 Peter 1:9:
Receiving the end [‘goal’] of your faith — the salvation of your souls.
“Grace” in relation to the salvation of the soul in v. 9 is seen in vv. 2, 10, 13; and “faith” in relation to the salvation of the soul is seen in vv. 5, 7-9.)
The salvation that we presently possess is wrought through divine works — the Spirit breathing life into the one having no life — and is based on a finished, divine work, the finished work of God’s Son. Unsaved man is spiritually dead and cannot function in the spiritual realm. He can do no more than allow God to do a work on his behalf.
But, once man has passed “from death to life,” coming into possession of spiritual life, he can then be active in the spiritual realm. And, as the ruined earth was able to bring forth in Genesis chapter one after the Spirit of God had moved upon the face of the waters, God had spoken, and light had come into existence (vv. 2b, 3 , 11 ), ruined man, as well, is able to bring forth following a divine work on his behalf (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Once man possesses spiritual life and is able to function in the spiritual realm, as in Hebrews chapter eleven or James chapter two, he, as the earth in Genesis 1:11, can bring forth. But faith must precede and be inseparably connected with man bringing forth, producing works. And to understand how this all comes together, a principle from the Old Testament must be understood first.
An Old Testament Principle
To understand the proper relationship between faith and works in the lives of the people of God, one must understand a principle set forth a number of places in the Old Testament. And this principle is presented in a dual sense in Genesis chapters eighteen and nineteen.
1) Genesis 18, 19
Genesis chapter eighteen begins with the Lord, accompanied by two angels, appearing to Abraham in the plains of Mamre. The Lord had come down to personally see if the report that He had heard about the things happening in Sodom and Gomorrah was true (vv. 20, 21).
(The Lord, in His omniscience, didn’t need to come down in this manner, for He already knew. But this is simply the manner in which Scripture, at times, presents matters of this nature.)
But, though the Lord said, “I will go down,” He remained with Abraham while the two angels accompanying Him went on down into the Jordan plain, into Sodom (vv. 21, 22).
In that respect, did the Lord go down into the Jordan plain, as He said that He would? Or did the two angels alone go down into the plain?
To address these questions, note something very similar, presented after a different fashion, in chapter nineteen. The two angels, having seen first-hand that which was happening in Sodom, told Lot to take his family and leave the city. Sodom, along with three other cities of the plain (Deuteronomy 29:23), was about to be destroyed.
For we [the two angels] will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it. (Genesis 19:13)
Further down in the chapter, after Lot and his family had lingered in the city, the two angels took them by their hands and led them outside the city (vv. 15, 16). Once this had been done, and Lot and his family were subsequently safe in Zoar, a nearby city that was spared (vv. 17-23),
Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. (Genesis 19:24)
Who destroyed the cities of the plain? First the angels said that they would destroy Sodom (with the other three cities not mentioned at this point), and they further stated that the Lord had sent them to destroy Sodom. But, at the time of the destruction, the Lord is seen destroying Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other two cities (cf. Deuteronomy 29:23).
Did the angels bring about this destruction, as they said they would do? Or did the Lord bring about this destruction, as the text goes on to state?
The principle seen in these two chapters has to do with angels acting under God’s fixed laws, with their actions being seen as the actions of the One who established these laws. Thus, matters can be stated either way, as seen in the chapter — the two angels going down into Sodom is also seen as the Lord going down into Sodom, or the two angels destroying the cities of the plain is also seen as the Lord destroying the cities of the plain.
God governs the universe through angels in this manner. Angels, placed by the Lord in regal positions throughout the universe, govern the universe under fixed laws. And, through so doing, their actions are seen as the Lord’s actions.
To see the converse of this, note Satan’s actions at the time of his fall. Satan had been placed over the earth, as the earth’s ruler. But the day came when he stepped outside the fixed laws under which he ruled and, on his own, sought to occupy a higher regal position than the one in which God had placed him. His actions thus ceased to be God’s actions and were being his own. And this resulted in his fall and subsequent judgment (cf. Isaiah 1 4:12-17; Daniel 4:17, 25).
2) Numbers 13, 14; Joshua 6-8
This same principle is seen again in the account of the Israelites under Moses at Kadesh-Barnea, and again thirty-eight years later under Joshua after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River.
The Israelites, in both instances, were to go into the land and slay or drive out every single inhabitant (Deuteronomy 7:1ff). The Israelites, going into the land with this goal in view, were to “diligently keep the commandments of the Lord . . . His testimonies, and His statutes” (Deuteronomy 6:17). And they were to go into the land believing that God would do that which He had stated that He would do:
And the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you.
But the LORD your God will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed.
And He will deliver their kings into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven; no one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. (Deuteronomy 7:22-24).
God had commanded His people to go in and take the land, and He had told them what He would do as they entered the land to take it. Going into the land, they were to act completely by faith, believing God (cf. Hebrews 11:29, 30). And remaining in the realm of faith, their actions would be the Lord’s actions.
Though the Israelites would be slaying the enemy, acting within the realm of faith, the Lord would be slaying the enemy. The Lord would be going ahead of them and delivering the enemy into their hands. It is the same picture, seen from a different perspective, as the angels acting under fixed laws in Genesis chapters eighteen and nineteen.
Under Moses at Kadesh-Barnea though, failure rather than success is seen. Twelve spies had been sent into the land to spy out the land. After forty days and nights they brought back a report concerning the land and the people therein — a land flowing with milk and honey, inhabited by a strong people, some of gigantic stature.
Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, then rendered a positive statement concerning entering the land, with Caleb calming the people and exhorting them, saying,
Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.
But the other ten followed with a negative and false statement concerning entering the land. They said,
We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. (Numbers 13:31b).
The people believed the false statement of the ten spies, began to murmur against Moses, and sought to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4). And, as a result, in the words of Hebrews 6:4-6 (which, drawn from the account in Numbers 13, 14, has to do with Christians doing exactly the same thing in the antitype relatively to the heavenly land of their calling and its inhabitants [Satan and his angels]), the Israelites fell away at Kadesh-Barnea; and it was then impossible “to renew them again to repentance [to a change of mind].”
At this point in the account, the Israelites committed a sin referred to in Numbers 15:30 as a presumptuous sin and in Hebrews 10:26 as a sin for which there was no sacrifice, with nothing but judgment then awaiting the nation. And, because of the particular nature of this sin, God wasn’t going to repent; that is, God wasn’t going to change His mind (this is the “repentance” also referred to in the antitype, in Hebrews 6:6).
The very next day, the generation of Israelites under Moses repented, changed their minds, and sought to enter the land and defeat the enemy. But God didn’t repent, didn’t change His mind. God couldn’t change His mind and, at the same time, remain true to His Word.
God was no longer among them with respect to their entering and taking the land. God would no longer go before them and deliver the enemy into their hands. And, as a result, the Israelites attempting to enter the land the next day and overthrow a stronger enemy were themselves overthrown and driven back. Their actions were their own, not the Lord’s (Numbers 1 4:40-45). And their actions were performed separate from faith, for they went forth contrary to that which God had told them. Thus, defeat, not victory, could only have been their lot.
As a result of that which occurred at Kadesh-Barnea, over the next thirty-eight years the entire generation of Israelites twenty years old and above, save Caleb and Joshua, died in the wilderness, outside the land.
Then, once these years had passed and those in the previous generation had died, Joshua, about to lead the second generation of Israelites into the land, sent two spies into the land ahead of the nation. And upon their return, they said to Joshua, “Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us” (Joshua 2:24b).
The Israelites this time, unlike the previous generation under Moses, believed God and prepared to enter the land and trust the Lord to deliver the enemy into their hands. After crossing the Jordan River, the first battle involved the destruction of Jericho. And the Israelites, believing God, experienced victory.
The next battle involved the destruction of Ai. The city was not deemed large enough to require the entire Israeli army, so only about three thousand men were sent to take and destroy Ai. But, unlike the battle of Jericho, the Israelites were soundly defeated and driven back, with a number being slain (Joshua 7:1-5).
Joshua, seeking the Lord’s face concerning the reason for this defeat, was told by the Lord, “Israel has sinned . . . .” Then, seeking that referred to by the Lord, Joshua found an Israelite (Achan) who had kept forbidden spoils from the previous destruction of Jericho. There was sin, unfaithfulness, in the camp. The matter was taken care of, and then the inhabitants of Ai could be defeated, with the Lord delivering the city into the Israelites’ hands (Joshua 7:6ff).
Thus, as long as the Israelites went forth in the realm of faith, the Lord gave the victory. The battle was the Lord’s. It could be said that the Israelites destroyed Jericho and Ai, along with their inhabitants; and it could also be said that the Lord destroyed these two cities, along with their inhabitants.
3) 1 Samuel 17
This same principle is seen again in the account of David slaying Goliath.
David was an unproven “youth” in battle (probably in his late teens), going up against “a man of war from his youth.” This man of war, Goliath, was the Philistine army’s champion and stood between nine and ten feet tall (1 Samuel 17:4, 33).
Goliath, to meet David, came out with full armor, carrying a spear and a sword, with a shield-bearer moving with him. The coat on his armor alone weighed about one hundred twenty-five pounds and the head of the spear weighed about fifteen pounds (1 Samuel 17:5-7, 41ff).
On the other hand, David refused to wear armor as he went forth, for “he had not proved” himself in battle. He went forth to meet Goliath without armor or a shield-bearer and with only a sling and five smooth stones that he had picked up in a nearby brook and placed in his bag (1 Samuel 17:39, 40).
He though would need no armor or shield-bearer and would need only one of the five stones. And the reason is seen within David’s words to this gigantic champion of the Philistine army:
You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’S, and He will give you into our hands. (1 Samuel 17:45b-47)
David went forth by faith. He went forth believing God, knowing that God would remain true to His Word and deliver the Philistine into his hands.
Acting apart from the Lord, David would have been powerless. He would have easily been defeated and slain by the Philistine. But, acting by faith, David could only be victorious; acting by faith, David easily defeated the Philistine champion.
David slew Goliath. But it could also be said that the Lord slew Goliath. It is the same principle seen in the actions of the two angels in Genesis chapters eighteen and nineteen. Acting under fixed laws, the actions of these angels were seen as the Lord’s actions; and acting by faith, David’s actions were seen as the Lord’s actions.
Thus, comparing these accounts in Genesis, Numbers, Joshua, and 1 Samuel, acting by faith can only be seen as acting under a fixed divine law that cannot change.
From Faith to Faith
“Faith” is simply believing that which God has to say about a matter. And, in the realm of faith and works, acting by faith is not acting in a realm where one seeks to go out to do a work for the Lord. Rather, acting by faith is completely stepping aside from one’s own self and allowing the Lord to do a work through the one exercising faith. And the work done through the one exercising faith will be the Lord’s work; it will be a work emanating out of faith and performed in the spiritual realm, completely apart from the man of flesh.
The Christians’ works tried at the judgment seat will fall into two categories, described by “gold, silver, precious stones” and “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:12ff).
The former works (described by “gold, silver, precious stones”) will emanate out of faith and will be works that the Lord performed through the individual. These works will endure the testing through fire, for they will be the Lord’s works.
The latter works (described by “wood, hay, straw”), on the other hand, will be those performed separate from faith, by the individual himself, through the energy of the flesh. The Lord will have had nothing to do with them, and they will be burned by the fire.
The Christian life is one where two things must be operable throughout: “grace” and “faith.” “Grace” can be defined as that which God is able to do entirely apart from human intervention. And “faith,” as previously stated, is simply believing that which God has to say about a matter.
If one moves outside the realm of “grace,” he moves outside the realm where God can be active in his life, for God always acts in the realm of grace; and if one moves outside the realm of “faith,” he moves outside the realm where he can be acceptable to God, or where God can be pleased with his actions (Hebrews 11:6).
As previously shown, both “grace” and “faith” are seen operable not only in the salvation that we presently possess (Ephesians 2:8, 9) but also in the salvation of the soul, the present and future aspects of salvation (1 Peter 1 :2ff). Thus, it should be a simple matter to see and understand that “grace” and “faith” must always be operable at any point in the overall salvation message — past, present, or future. Man has been saved by grace through faith; man is being saved by grace through faith; and man is about to be saved by grace through faith.
But, since man’s works cannot enter into the realm where God’s grace exists, how can grace and works co-exist in connection with the saving of the soul in James 2:14ff? Note Romans 11:6:
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
It is man’s works that cannot enter (Ephesians 2:8), not God’s works. And God’s works must always enter into the matter. Note salvation by grace that we presently possess. This salvation is a divine work (the Spirit moving, God speaking, light coming into existence), which is based on another divine work — Christ’s finished work at Calvary. And since a continuing work of grace is also involved in the continuing aspect of salvation (the salvation of the soul), God’s works, not those of man, must likewise be seen throughout.
Romans 4:1-4 clearly reveals that works emanating from the flesh, from man (vv. 1, 2) cannot enter into the realm of either “faith” (v. 3) or “grace” (v. 4). The works must be God’s works being performed through an individual exercising “faith,” as in James 2:21-24 and Hebrews 11:17. And since they are God’s works, “grace” can enter into the matter; and since they are works being done through man, “judgment” on the basis of works can occur.
The entire matter surrounding faith and works is that simple to understand.