Last week, we discussed the issue many Christians have with either faith or works, finding it necessary to choose one over the other. We also looked at God’s true desires and what He is really looking for in either situation. We determined that, as James says, neither one can exist without the other. Today, I hope to provide greater clarity into just why that is.
THE MEANING OF FAITH AND WORKS
So, to the point: why both faith and works? If faith is the saving part, why are works essential to the Christian life? Think of it this way: If I tell someone I love them, they won’t believe me unless I prove it. If I say that to them, then proceeded to never talk to them, spend time with them, or even message them, they’d start to doubt my words! My words are saying one thing and my actions another. Tell me something: Is it possible for a husband to truly love his wife and never show it, even in small ways? Is not her lack of loving actions proof of a lack of a loving heart?
It is the same with God. He doesn’t want idle words spoken to Him about how great He is when everything we do tells Him we don’t really believe it. If we truly loved Him, wouldn’t we obey what He commanded? Wouldn’t our desire for Him overflow into action? If we truly loved Him as much as we say we do, wouldn’t we be compelled to serve Him as best as we could, not because we had to but because we wanted to?
In saying all this, I must present a warning. We won’t get it right all the time. As I said before, we don’t have to. Our salvation isn’t dependent on our performance. We must never fall on the pitfall of depending on our works to get us into Heaven when time after time God tells us He wants our heart. That being said, take a look at this warning Jesus gives in Matthew:
A GOOD TREE BEARS GOOD FRUIT
“15Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’
23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” – Matthew 7:15-23
I want you to notice the analogy Christ uses here: a fruit tree. I think He chose this particular analogy for a reason. Tell me, does a fruit tree bear fruit immediately after it is planted? Does it bear the same amount of fruit every year? No, of course not! It takes several years for a tree to mature enough to even begin bearing fruit, and once it does, it’s yield depends on many factors that cause it to fluctuate year after year.
This is why I love the analogy He chose. We’re not judged on how much fruit we bear or even how long it takes us to bear fruit, we are only asked to bear good fruit. If we bear bad fruit, it is because the tree is bad. Why is that? It is because the quality of the tree is determined by the quality of the fruit it produces. As I said, that fruit doesn’t have to be produced continually, and surely there are a few rotten fruits on every good tree, but still, a good tree will produce good fruit or it is not good.
DON’T GET OBSESSIVE
With all this talk about works and bearing fruit, it is easy to get obsessive. After all, it is easier to perform a physical thing properly than to have our hearts in the right place. Outward is far easier than inward. Never forget that this isn’t want saves us, it is merely the result of our faith. If a man dies moments after accepting Christ, never even having the opportunity to do something good, will he go to Hell? Of course not! While good works are the evidence of our faith, that doesn’t mean we all have to perform at least one thing classified as ‘good’ to go to Heaven. It is the proof, not the saving grace itself. We aren’t required to keep a certain ratio of works to time saved. God’s grace doesn’t work that way because it’s just that: Grace.
So, in conclusion to this brief discussion of a highly disputed topic, every true Christian will do works with what opportunities they have, but not in order to earn salvation. Salvation through God’s Grace comes through faith in Christ, works are merely the evidence of our love and devotion to Him. This frees us from both pressure to perform and the snare of laziness that comes with a free gift.
Live like you value the grace that you’ve been given.