"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." EPH 2:8-9
"Faith without works is dead" JAMES 2:26
For years i wrestled with the question... "If salvation is a free gift given to us by God- do I need to do anything at all in order to be saved?"
I wanted to be a real Christian, but I felt that I wasn't. Overcoming sin seemed so hard... so eventually- I just decided to give up and stop trying to overcome it. Sin and repentance seemed like a daily frustrating process which led me to feel as though I was fake and wearing a mask almost each and every Sunday at Church. I didn't like the feeling of being fake. I wanted to be real before myself, before others and most importantly, before God. Eventually I had decided to just stop going to church altogether (worst thing I could have done) because of the hypocrisy that I felt within myself.
Many people have struggled with these very same issues and questions at some point in their lives. The failure to overcome leads to confusion and frustration about this free gift that had seemed so amazingly difficult to obtain. After all- we are called as Christians to "Be holy as He is holy." 1 John 3:5-6 says "But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him."
So which is right- are men and women justified by works or is salvation a free gift? Is the Bible contradicting itself between these two passages? Lets take a step back and examine these individual verses within the framework of their full context of which they are written:
FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD - James chapter 2
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was 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.24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Analysis: The book of James was most likely written in AD 49 while Paul later wrote Ephesians in AD 60. The author of the book of James is showing us that believing in the Lord Jesus without works is impossible. While works justify the believer's faith, we will be reminded later on by Paul in the book of Ephesians that these works are prepared for us beforehand that we should walk in them. He also reminds that we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works." James is simply saying here that faith and works go hand in hand.
SAVED BY GRACE NOT BY WORKS- Ephesians chapter 2:
"4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
Analysis: The author, the apostle Paul, states in verse 5 that when we "were" sinners (much like Romans 5:8- past tense) the actions of Christ on the cross enable us to be made alive in Christ. This conversion from sinner to saint occurs at the point of repentance (turning away from sin) and putting trust in Christ resurrection for salvation. Paul is reminding us here that we do not deserve salvation. Salvation is a gift (His Holy Spirit) given to us (the former sinner) and that through this free gift we are empowered to overcome sin and perform good works. This power is not our own, but is from above. Pauls reminds us of this so that we do not boast about our own power and become prideful. It is not our own power- it is God's power. Notice here that Paul calls faith a "gift" here, but he does not call it a "free gift."
In Conclusion: In Luke 18 we have the story of the rich young ruler approaching Jesus and he asks Jesus "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replies- ""Why do you call me good?" No one is good--except God alone." This story sheds light on many things. First we have Jesus not taking credit for his works. He gives all of the glory to the Father. Jesus then talks to the young man about the ten commandments. The young man replies, "I have kept them all." Jesus then responds "you still lack one thing. Go and sell all that you own and give to the poor. Then come and follow Me." Jesus challenged the young man with a series of actions or works to gain eternal life.
Luke 18: 24 And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”
27 But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”
29 So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,
30 who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
The work of the cross is this- that we are to enter in to it. We are called to take up our cross daily and follow Him. As we yield ourselves to Him, He gives us the peace in our minds and the strength we need to follow Him. It is truly a gift that is not of ourselves! Salvation is not a free gift, but rather was a very costly one. It cost God the father His Son. It was a costly gift for Him, but a free gift to us. While sin can be somewhat pleasurable for a season- it's gratification is never enduring and only leads to emptiness, depression and eternal death. When we truly see the goodness of Christ on the cross... what desire will we have for sin any longer? Sin becomes rubbish and insanity! We accept His gift of salvation through repentance. We do this when we truly recognize His goodness and His love for us. We only love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and He first chose us "in Him" before the foundation of the world (EPH 1:4)... Jesus is the WAY, the Truth and the Life!