Saved by grace or by works?

A bit confused by two some what conflicting bible verse. Ephesian 2: 8-9 , For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. or James 2;14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If I understand correctly if you have faith you should be doing works but works alone doesn’t save you? If you need works then what are works? Simply being nice to someone or evangelizing on a street corner or being a missionary in the 3rd world? I have heard preachers and evangelist say that if you do not bring people to Christ then you are not soil number 4. I have baptized a few people and told my testimony with the gospel to others but fearing that I’m not doing enough to be saved. Can anyone please clarify works over grace? Thank you

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My understanding is that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our works. No matter how many works we do, they will never be enough. The works we do are the out-flowing of our changed nature. They do not save us. When I was saved over forty years ago, I stopped cursing and using God’s name in vain. That didn’t save me, but it showed that God was now active in my life.

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@Alweiche Great question :slight_smile: I’ve linked a great sermon from Louis Giglio on this exact question and a sermon by Tim Keller on what it means to be justified by faith. A simple analogy that Jesus used to make this point is that of a branch that bears fruit. If we are truly saved (attached to the vine of Jesus Christ) we will bear fruit (love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). The works are an inevitable result of our connection to Jesus the vine (fruit); not the way we become connected to the vine in the first place (grace through faith).

Another important point: the number of people we lead to Christ is not directly connected to whether or not we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit. We should share our faith and love others in Jesus’ name, but God’s works in our life are about living in obedience to Him; not necessarily that we become Billy Graham. Not all Christians have the same gift - we are not all teachers or evangelists (1 Cor 12).

Some points from Giglio’s sermon:

  • James is not disagreeing with Paul, but with a distortion of Paul’s teaching where false teachers claimed you could continue to sin because of grace
  • Paul and James both had to respond to people who tried to take advantage of God’s grace by continuing to live in sin (Romans 6 - shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid!, James 2 which you quoted)
  • God gave you a new life through grace - as a result you walk in newness of life.
  • I don’t trust God and then do works to make sure God stays happy with me, I trust God and that trust will manifest itself in a new life. That work is not an addition to my faith - it is an expression of it.
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Hello @Alweiche

Very great question!
Let me share with you a little slice of answer here.

First, it is true that Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are been saved by grace through faith. The atonement of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection is perfect to save and redeem us from our sins. And all we have to do is to put our faith in Him to be saved, there is no amount of works that we can add to save us. It’s all about the finished work of Jesus.

However, I see that the conflict you have in understanding is what James 2:14 says.
Now, we have to put the verse in context, the danger here is we take what James said and interpret it as doctrinal verse about our salvation in Christ. In its context, James was not referring to our salvation in Christ that we have to add it up with our works, indeed, James was pointing out that if we claim to have faith, but it does not result to good works, then James asked us the question “what good is that?” (James 2:16)

I encourage you to read James 2:13-17 to understand it in context, to take it further read also verse 18-26. Again, I will illustrate what James is point out on our salvation:

WRONG: Faith + Good Works = Salvation
BIBLICAL: Faith = Salvation, leads to good work

That’s why the book of James is popularly known to its verse, “Faith without work is dead” (James 2:17) It is not we add up our salvation with good works, but our faith in Christ does not have to be stock in belief, but to live it out.

I hope these answers help.

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Thank you very much. You have helped to better understand grace, faith and works.

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Yes your answer has helped. Thank you

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Amen to all that has been said above.

James Orr, a revival historian, has said, “The evidence of the new birth is the new life.”

A faith that doesn’t change your life, won’t change your afterlife.

A faith that doesn’t change your direction, won’t change your destination.

Faith inevitably brings forth some measure of fruit. It may be 30 fold, 60 or 100 fold - it just won’t be zero!

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In an explanation of the verse in James 2:14, there is a quote (commonly attributed to Martin Luther) which I found very useful:
“Man is saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”

It is by faith alone that a person is saved; it is an act of God’s grace and no amount of works (things we do or do not do) can help us in this. However, truly saving faith is something that leads to and expresses itself in good works. It is not merely an intellectual acceptance or an emotional event. This is what James is trying to explain here. The context is that there were many who spoke words of ‘faith’ but did not lift a finger to help those in need and James was rebuking this kind of false (dead) faith that is in word only and not accompanied by and expressed in good works.

Since you have mentioned Ephesians, here is another verse from the same epistle about good works.

Eph 2:10 - For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

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“Can faith save him?”

To really get into the nitty gritty here, you have to look at the Greek. The “Can” here is used in the SINGULAR meaning an association that faith is not to be used as a WORK. The ESV translates this as “Can that faith save him?” This is appropriate given the nature of the word δύναμαι; dunamai, which is used as a way of saying here in this verse, “If you simply SAY you believe in Christ, can that save you alone?” He is alluding to Matthew 7:21 and the sheep and the goats.

James is emphasizing what has already been said. That works are necessary for salvation only as far as a process of sanctification is concerned and NOT that works themselves will actually be able to save anything about you. It is that if you are saved, you will HAVE works, not that works will save you. James is speaking as a mature Christian here and not to or about Christians who are still nursing on milk. It is the meat that if we are saved, then it should be demonstrated in some way. So it is by Grace through Faith, but by that Grace we come to know Jesus and as such want to DO something about it. It’s something Paul brings up in 1Th. 5:12-23 as well in that, this is a pretty healthy church Paul is talking to so he encourages them in what they ought to do as a result of their faith and not that their works are the thing that actually save them. We know it’s a healthy church because of how Paul talks about them and admonishes them saying they have suffered persecution and as such he wants to encourage the things they are already getting “right” and to spur them on to more and more good works as they are a mature church and can handle correction because they are already suffering much worse than that by the hands of those persecuting them. That’s the difference.

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I think this particular passage tells it very well what James actually means.

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

So James here is making an association between simply hearing and hearing and doing as a result of hearing. Some people can get this really messed up, but it’s fairly obvious that James is talking about how the crowds who followed Jesus followed Jesus only for what Jesus did for them and not because Jesus was “the bread of life” (in reference to John 6). Jesus said it is harder to actually follow him than simply acknowledging Jesus, but that this acknowledgement must lead to something. If not, you do not have sincere faith, but a shadow of what faith actually is. I would also point out the faith chapter in Hebrews who these men DID things based on their FAITH and it wasn’t just “empty words” for them to simply acknowledge God, but that they were called to DO something as a result of their faith.

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Great book just released on this topic:

Root & Fruit: Harmonizing Paul and James on Justification by Joel Beeke and Steven J. Lawson

Hope this helps!

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@Alweiche You have received some very succinct answers and very helpful for me, too.