What are Works of Faith?

What is the relationship between faith and works? And are we saved by faith or faith plus works? Many people are confused about these things, and it’s not hard to see why:

Paul: “We are justified by faith apart from works” (Gal. 2:16, Eph. 2:8-9)
James: “We are justified by works and not faith alone” (Jas. 2:24)

So who’s right, Paul or James? Are we justified by faith? Or faith plus works? And if works, what are the works that count?

At first glance, it seems that Paul and James are not on the same page. This has led some to say they preached different gospels.

“Paul preached grace while James preached works.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Both Paul and James understood that we are saved and made righteous by faith alone, and without regard to anything we have done. And both spoke of works that accompany faith:

Paul: “We remember your work produced by faith” (1 Th. 1:3)
James: “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:17)

We are saved by faith and not our works, but faith without works is dead and useless. So…

What are the works of faith?

The Bible has a lot to say about this subject and most of what it says can be found in the many imperative statements involving faith.

What’s an imperative statement? It’s one that sounds like an order or a command or an instruction. For example:

The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)

This statement has two imperative verbs or action words; repent (change your unbelieving mind) and believe the gospel. Repenting and believing are things you do. They are works of faith.

In the New Testament alone there are more than 200 imperative statements connected with faith. (I counted them.) Some of these statements exhort us to receive Jesus (e.g., John 5:43), heed the good news of Jesus (Rom. 10:16) and turn to God in repentance (Acts 26:20).

Other scriptures encourage us to accept the word (Mark 4:20), confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9), call on the name of the Lord (Act 2:21), eat the bread of life (John 6:50-51), be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20), submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3), and be born again (John 3:3, 7).

But the one imperative that appears far more than any other, is the instruction to believe.

Again and again we are told to believe in Jesus (John 3:15), believe that he is the Son of God (1 John 5:13), and believe that he has been raised from the dead (Rom. 10:9). In fact, this is more than an instruction – it’s a command:

This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ… (1 John 3:23)

What are we supposed to do? We are supposed to believe the good news of Jesus (Mark 1:15, 16:16). As Jesus said to the doubter:

Do not be unbelieving, but believing. (John 20:27)

The work of God

If faith is the noun – the state of being persuaded that God loves you – then believing is the verb or activity that flows from that conviction. It’s a work of faith. Indeed, believing in Jesus is the work of God:

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. (John 6:29)

We do not believe to create faith; rather, believing is the action that reveals our faith. “Having the same spirit of faith… we also believe” (2 Cor. 4:13).

Which brings us back to James.

Why did James talk about having faith plus works? Because he was speaking to religious Jews (see Jas. 1:1) who had faith in God (Jas. 2:19) but who did not believe in the One he had sent.

Like religious people everywhere, the Jews wanted to do things for God, but they didn’t do the work of God – the one thing that God requires of all of us – which is believe in Jesus.

What you believe determines everything

You may say, “Is that it? I just have to believe? That’s easy. It’s nothing at all.”

Only it’s not nothing; it’s everything.

Don’t you see? The course of your life is not determined by what you do as much as what you believe.

What you believe defines everything about you – who you marry, what you do, where you live, and how you live. Everything, really.

Believing in Jesus is so much more than a single decision or prayer. Believing in Jesus is a bit like migrating to a new country and learning a new language, only moreso. It’s like getting adopted into a new family or getting married.

Believing in Jesus is like being born again into to a brand new life.

There are 1001 things we might do for God, but all of them count for nought if we fail to do the one thing that matters; believe in Jesus.

Just as Adam lost his life through unbelief, we receive and enjoy divine life every day by believing that Jesus is risen and we are seated with him on the throne.

Image:  “The Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim

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23 Comments on What are Works of Faith?

  1. He made it so simple for us, but we tend to prefer a 4 point sermon on what I need to do.

  2. I want to believe that James meant works = belief in Jesus; but what about the verses that come before?
    “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
    ‭‭James‬ ‭2:14-17‬

    • Hi William. I hope you can appreciate that we are not saved by our acts of charity. James is simply making a comparison. Just as talk without deeds is empty talk, so too faith without deeds is empty faith.

      Remember, James is speaking to a Jewish audience (see Jas. 1:1). They had faith in God (Jas. 2:19), but their faith was not a saving faith (Jas. 2:14) because it was not accompanied by the work of God, which is believing in the One he sent (John 6:29). James illustrates his point by talking about the saving faith of Abraham. The Jews thought they were special because they were Abraham’s descendants. But Jesus said if they really were children of Abraham, then they would act like Abraham (John 8:39-40). What did Abraham do that the Jews refused to do? He believed God and he trusted in the Son that was offered. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

      I expand on these points in my Grace Commentary.

  3. Salvation is of the Lord. We are not working to be saved, we are working because we have been saved by grace through faith. It is not of works, but unto good works. Fake faith is double dead religious hypocrisy full of dead works and filthy rags. Salvation IS the ETERNAL GIFT of God.

  4. Paul, you are a great blessing to the world. Thanks for spilling over into our lives with your writings. Your last sentence says it all!!!

    The good news is that we have not been abandoned. That our Father is not the Great and Powerful Oz to be feared and appeased. (That is the grand illusion from the evil one working behind the curtain) That our salvation from our delusional darkness of sin and death has been accomplished. Faith is saying, “Yes. Thank you. And Amen.” to what Jesus has done.

    If an orphaned child living in filth and poverty, who’s resolved to selling their body as a slave to get by, gets the news one day that “You have a family that has been searching and scouring the far country to find you. You have a home, a full bank account in your name, family members that can’t wait to lavish you with their love and affection.” That child has a choice in how they will respond to that news. And so it is with us. Jesus has come to the far country to find us and accomplish our adoption. And he did! We can say, “No thanks” forever if we wish. But that would just be stupid, wouldn’t it? Dead faith would be saying that’s nice, and believing it, but not engaging in any way with this new reality that has been announced to us and just continuing on in the same life, whether it be due to pride, guilt and shame, some since of religious duty to make it on your own, or whatever. Jesus will not force us or act like our will doesn’t matter. It does! He has too much respect for us to drag us kicking and screaming to the marriage alter. He’s after our willing participation. The cross is showing us the lengths the Father, Son and Spirit will go to in order to find a way into our hearts and win us over.

  5. Pam Osthoff // August 18, 2021 at 3:04 pm // Reply

    Very clear teaching. Thank you for using your gift in this way.

  6. My excellent brother Paul whom I absolutely love and will always have a debt of gratitude for being the first person to ever preach the gospel of the grace of God to me while I sat in a windowless room, pounding away at useless data, desperate to know what would happen to me when I die. And then I read “Out of the Jungle”, and tears of joy streamed down my face while my office mate looked on in hilarious wonder. I may never meet you in this lifetime but I can assure you I will be bear-hugging you in heaven. That aside, whenever you exegeted James, it always felt forced. It always felt like you were trying to make it say something it wasn’t. And I understand why I truly do. Jesus paid it all and we are clearly saved thru faith in Him apart from any works as was so clearly demonstrated by the thief on the cross, so why is James saying we are justified by works??? After many years post conversion, the answer has finally dawned on me by the grace of God and I’m honored to share it with you. James is talking about a DIFFERENT kind of justification. Think of the book of James as a discipleship book and think of the Gospel of John as an evangelistic book. The latter for everlasting life, never to come into judgement, and the former for maturing in Christ…

    • Hi Joe, thanks for the thrilling feedback. I agree that when I first wrote about James ten years ago I was not as clear as I could be. Writing for the Grace Commentary has helped me sharpen what I was trying to say, but your comment suggests I am not there yet.

      I’m have to respectfully disagree with the view that there are different kinds of justification. The word justification means made right with God. You are either justified or you need to be. There are no levels to this thing. You are either alive, saved, righteous, and in the kingdom, or you need to be.

      As I say above, James was preaching to Jews who had faith in God but they did not do the work of God, which is to believe in the one he sent (John 6:29). James encourages his Jewish audience to “receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). He writes about turning “a sinner from the error of his ways” and how to “save his soul from death” (Jas. 5:20). He plainly says he is speaking of the faith that saves (Jas. 2:14). If anything, James’s letter is more evangelistic than any of the church epistles written by Paul.

  7. Brother, I need to ask your permission for something. My personal website is… Would it be ok if I posted “Out of the Jungle” to it as long as I gave you proper attribution?

    • I would prefer that you didn’t, but you are welcome to post a link to where people can get it, either on Kindle for a token charge or here for free when they subscribe. Thank you for asking.

  8. gracethroughfaith783 // August 19, 2021 at 10:11 am // Reply

    Hi Paul. Absolutely loved this article. You always have a way of changing perspectives!

    Have you ever written anything around some of the violence we see in the old testament in God’s name? Like Joshua for example? I’ve heard many different perspectives but would be intrigued to know yours as I know you would approach it in a healthy way.

    Thank you and keep up the grace work!

    Jack

  9. YES the only work He gave us to do is to believe In Gods son Jesus and to labour to enter into His rest-1all that He achieved for us all at the cross and thank you Paul for rightly dividing His word that He asked us to to know who He was speaking to and why and even this work of believing in Him and labouring to enter into His rest He does not expect us to do this on our own,trying to and striving for it He also gives us His ability and faith to do this or rather to receive His faith and ability to believe and receive Him by turning to His Holy Spirit to empower us, it’s about being like or taking the position of a dependant,helpless child looking to their parents in complete reliance and trust for them to provide,care for,love,supply and protect, Etc, easier said than done for lots of reasons but God knows,understands our hesitant struggle of total trusting childlike abandonment and is there to help us even if it may take time to trust Him , He gets it,us.

  10. Lynda Little // August 19, 2021 at 10:50 am // Reply

    This was so wonderful, a rhema word for me! Thank you so much!

  11. Hello Paul. Maybe Paul and James just disagreed and that would be ok. Disagreeing is by no means a contradiction of the word. James was the apostle to the Jews and Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles but still your explanation seems more like the right one here and I do believe you have shed a much needed brighter light on to this issue”> Thank You,

    • Hi Ron, thanks for your comment. It is sometimes said that Paul and James preached different gospels. There are two problems with this: (1) there is no evidence for it, and (2) if it were true, the Bible is not trustworthy (see Gal. 1:8). Either all scripture is inspired and useful for training in righteousness or none of it is (2 Tim. 3:16). God is not the author of confusion.

    • Ron, Paul is right. There is one gospel only that saves, not two. Revelations 14:6 calls it the Everlasting Gospel. Ephesians 2:9 clearly states why it has to be a free Gift from God and not based on our works at all, “lest any man should boast”. There’s just absolutely no way James could be advocating a salvation by works position. I would simply advise you to pray and ask God how James’ words can be correctly understood. God bless.

  12. Exactly Paul, we are all still trying to make and turn ABBA God into us from our earthly perspective using our own understanding whether we are aware or not rather than letting Him lift us up to where He is and where His thoughts are, this is a spiritual,supernatural matter and it takes a not of this world spirit,intellect to do that – His Holy Spirit to raise us up to where He is, only He can enlighten us to Gods truth,word and resurrect our deadened minds, dead works beliefs,habit,attitude to live His life, way of His grace. We need to be infused, spiritually enabled,enlightened by Holy Spirit only all the time. He is the only reliable,trustworthy source not us to enlighten,reveal,teach,open up ,explain( as we just cannot grasp any of this by ourselves at all ) . Jesus gave us His reassurance of Gods help to us Holy Spirit in John chapter 14,then 15,then 16 . As God said this is my beloved son, HEAR HIM. Jesus is telling us something here we need to listen.He has given us His Holy Spirit to help us I need we all need to trust this more and more especially as the world is getting darker

  13. I’ve been chewing on the idea of “works of faith” since reading this article. James and Paul were both impacted up close and personal by the mystery of the incarnate Christ and were writing about the same thing in their own individual way. It helps me sometimes to back up and see the books of the bible as letters from real people expressing thoughts rather than a text book or tech manual from God.

    We all have a built-in internal longing to engage in life and participate with creation, others, and God in a way that IS NOT based in shame or fear. At its core, I think that is what the way of faith is referring to (through Jesus, of course). And it is certainly what Jesus demonstrated. It is the way of life we were designed for, yet it is foreign to our minds because the only way that the world and religion know and offer, and have taught us, is only fear and shame based works. We are surrounded by the messages of the world and religion saying “here’s the right things to say and here’s the right things to do” and off we go to slave our life away. However we may define “works of faith”, I think a non-negotiable has to be that there are no elements of shame or fear present. And what remains will be us caught up in the “works” that are a living expression of the love shared between Jesus and his Father.

  14. Shawn Sanseverino // August 31, 2021 at 2:32 pm // Reply

    Paul,

    Thank you for your commitment to delivering NC centered content. I have been on the most exciting journey over the last 6 years. I have been in full time Pastoral ministry for 23 years. I feel like over the last 6 years I have finally come to understand Grace and the New Covenant in contrast to the Old. I lived the first 15 years of my ministry mixing OC and NC. You have been a big part of my journey and I wanted to simply say, thank you. My life feels completely transformed by Jesus. I come from an Assembly of God denomination and many of the things I have learned would be considered out of balance. I have been told to, “be careful” of who you listen to, so to say the least, I keep much of what I am learning close to my chest for the first several years. However, these last two years as I am called upon to teach, nearly every scripture I have to support, working hard for God, being moral, leading by example along with many other things. I have found I’ve been teaching so much scripture out of context for a long time. Thank God for his help and his revelation, he is helping me to share his Good News with others. It’s surprising that so many people in my stream are so afraid of radical grace. They think it will always lead to sloppy living. I could go one an on as I am sure you are very aware of what I have experienced over the last several years in my understanding of Jesus. Keep on doing what you do my brother!

    FYI: I purchased your kids book, “Big House” and ready it to my 10 year old daughter and she love dit. Do you happen to have other kid resources or recommendations?

    Thanks in advanced,

    Shawn Sanseverino

    >

    • Hi Shawn. Thanks for sharing your story. Many of us have been on a similar journey and I am sure other readers will be encouraged by it too. I’m glad to hear your daughter enjoyed The Big House. I am working on something now which my kids are enjoying and which your daughter may like. Expect an announcement closer to Christmas. I also recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible.

  15. Yes what Shaun shared is helpful to read , “ the struggle” to believe and witness about Gods good news and grace- Jesus Christ ,Him crucified and risen from the dead and how God sees us now approved of accepted by Him in the beloved Jesus,just as He is at Gods right hand so are we in this world, is hard and attracts a lot of resistance,opposition,suspisciousness,fear and hate just as much as it did for apostles in acts however it is precisely due to this intense reaction to Gods Grace as to why we all need to carry on sticking close to His Holy Spirit and His leading to witness about the truth of Him and His grace as this opposition is not happening because we are wrong but because we are right and the devil feels threatened because the more we uncover,expose Gods grace the more the devil and his lies and deception are exposed ,he is the only one that does not want us to discover who God really is and how He really sees us now, the righteousness of God in Christ as the more we realise this the less power he has !!!.As God declared when He saw the darkness LET THERE BE LIGHT we need to keep praying this in Jesus’ beautiful name

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