“It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” - John Calvin
Have you ever doubted whether or not you are a true Christian?
Especially while growing up, the validation of my salvation was a lingering fear in the back of my mind. Questions like "what if I get to heaven and realize I didn't do something God required me to" or, "what if my faith isn't big enough", would find its way into my young imagination, causing my thoughts to take some scary turns. Sometimes "just having faith" would seem too simple and without a closer examination of context, some verses in The Bible may seem to agree with that.
For example, how am I to think when I come into contact with a verse like James 2:24?
"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." -James 2:24
How do we know we're saved by just faith? What does that all entail?
Because according to this verse, it would appear as if I owe faith... plus works?
But then we read what Paul said in Romans 3:28,
"For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."
So which is it? Am I justified or not?
Should I be starting on an overdue "good deed streak" to clean up my sinful behavior over the years, in order to gain a salvation I thought I already had?
Are these verses a contradiction in and of themselves?
While being faced with this question, we must be careful that we don't get too ahead of ourselves. Let it be a powerful reminder that The Bible is God's word to us and that He is a God of truth and order- therefore everything in The Bible must make sense and work consistently as a whole in order for us to count on it and base our lives off it. Knowing this, it would be foolish for us to get discouraged and stop digging around at the possible reasons for these verses.
Context is Key:
Once studied, we find the connection between the two verses harmonious. While appearing at first to work against each other, the authors each point to two crucial aspects of regeneration: the root and the fruit.
In Romans, Paul speaks of the root- the means by which we are saved. We are saved by Faith alone, through Christ alone, without any credit bestowed to ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9). My Justification is in God's complete control. And by faith, righteousness is declared in my life through what Jesus did on the cross. Through faith in Jesus Christ, I am saved.
And by works, that righteousness is demonstrated.
"Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." -James 2:21–26
Rather than have works be the basis of my salvation, it is the evidence of it. If one is genuinely saved, there will be evidence in their life.
You cannot have a relationship with Christ and have Him living within you, and live in this world for yourself and for the content of the world. It’s is not possible. Any type of faith that results in an unchanged life is a false declaration. In other words, it's dead faith. Dead faith is only intellectual- one might have all the knowledge of the doctrines of salvation, but had never personally given their life to Jesus. Faith in Christ brings life (John 3:16), and life produces fruit. Dead faith produces an illusion and false promises of eternal life, which is extremely dangerous and something we must be aware of, while also making others aware.
Unfortunately, many people today fit the description given in Titus:
"They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work."
- Titus 1:16
Let us be on guard for this deception. It is far more dangerous for someone to think they are actively walking with Christ when their life bears no fruit of it than for someone to be living a life not knowing Christ.
Dynamic faith is saving faith. This affects our whole being: we grow intellectually through studying The Word of God, and as an overflow of our heart, we act upon it. Our faith is demonstrated by our works. Just like if I profess to be compassionate, and act opposite to my confession, what good is the statement in which I have made? It's worthless- not binding to anything and without true conviction.
Let us examine our own hearts by considering these questions-
-Do I actively seek to share The Gospel with people? Or am I ashamed of it?
- Have I truly repented of my sins, or do I secretly love them and don't want to let them go? Have I given God complete control over my life?
- Do I wholeheartedly believe in The Gospel? That Jesus died for me and rose from the dead? Do I live in this truth?
- Do the people around me know I am a Christian? Has there been a change in my life?
Not faith plus works, but faith that works.