Tom: On last week’s program, we were discussing what the Bible declares is the only requirement of salvation, and that is faith: “For by grace are ye saved through faith,” that’s Ephesians:2:8. And by “faith,” the Bible simply means believing what God has declared about the matter. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
So, believing…Dave, I mentioned last week that the very fact that faith is the means of our salvation, that’s an indicator that it’s God’s doing. It’s stunning in its simplicity and ability to cover every circumstance or situation of man regarding salvation, from a young child to a senior, from a rocket scientist to someone who’s retarded, from the thief on the cross to someone who’s going down in the flames of an airliner. Faith that saves a person is not obstructed by these circumstances or any situation that I can think of. So it’s not only God’s overwhelming act of love on our behalf, but the means, it seems to me, is just as astonishing, demonstrating that it is, in fact, a work of God.
Now, there are some problems here, though, that I want to get into, Dave. The Bible says that it’s only by faith—that is, faith alone, by which we are saved. But some take exception to that, noting James:2:17, which says, “Even so, faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone.” Now, are we contradicting ourselves? Or is it our understanding of one verse vs. another?
Dave: Well, there are so many verses that say it’s by faith—that we believe. And one thing that tells me is that the work has been done—nothing for me to do. I am to believe that salvation has been procured. I’m to believe who is the Savior is. I’m to believe what He did in accomplishing my salvation, and I’m to believe that He offers this to me freely, by His grace. It’s a gift. So, this is what I believe; therefore, it doesn’t really leave any room for works. So what is James talking about? Well, actually, James:2:14: “What doth it profit my brethren, though a man say he hath faith and have not works? Can faith save him?” And he goes on and he says, “Faith that hath not works is dead,” and so forth.
He’s actually talking about…verse 18: “Yea, a man may say Thou has faith and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” So, I think in part, at least, he’s talking about how do I know whether somebody is saved? God knows. And Paul, who is not in opposition to James, but in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul says that a man who doesn’t have one good work, he’s still saved if he has trusted Christ. It says his works will be tried, and if all of his works are burned up—perish—this is not purgatory; he is not being burned, it’s his works are being burned…
Tom: …or his rewards…
Dave: Right. So that a person could…I wouldn’t know he is saved, you wouldn’t know he is saved, because it’s by their works that we can examine them, as well as by their fruit. I’m not saved by my works. But I think what he’s saying is it’s the man that says he has faith but there’s nothing to evidence it. Not only nothing to evidence it, he really doesn’t have faith. In other words, we’re sitting here, Tom, in this room. Suddenly, flames start coming through the ceiling. And I say, Tom, we’d better get out of here! (I’ll make you be the dumbo this time) (both laughing) And I say, “Let’s get out!”
And you say, “Well, I don’t see the reason for that.”
And I say, “Tom! Look! Look! The flame’s coming right through the ceiling. It’s going to come down around our heads!”
“Yeah, I believe that. Sure, I can see that.” But you still sit there. Then there’s something that isn’t quite right. You’re saying that you believe, but you’re not taking the action that obviously follows from what you believe. So I think that’s what James is talking about. He’s not saying that your works are going to save you…
Tom: Or the action, in the example that you gave—even though it might save me in a physical sense, the analogy kind of breaks down there.
Dave: The action is the result of what I believe, what I understand, and if there’s none of that, then apparently I don’t believe what I say I believe.
Tom: Right. Dave, there are a lot of examples that…with regard to believing that are…that get to be a little bit confusing along this line. For example, many believed Jesus. They looked upon His works and they believed. The Bible talks over and over again about those who believed. But they didn’t believe unto salvation. Can we make a distinction about that?
Dave:Well, Tom, let’s go back to this passage that you’ve brought us to here. James 2, which is a controversial one and a difficult one. Let’s try to understand it. I think I can explain it, but…
Tom: I’m all ears, Dave.
Dave: (Chuckling) We’ll see. Let’s go back to verse 20: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Now, he goes on and he says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” Then go down to verse 25: “Likewise also, was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she had received the messengers and had sent them out another way?”
Well, now, in both of these instances, we have a specific situation where you couldn’t claim to believe without doing something. It’s not that it was their faith that saved them—this was essential—but what they said they believed required. In other words, if Rahab really believed that their God is the true God and that these are the servants of the true God, then she’s going to be on their side. Now she could have said that, and believed, and had faith that saved without being put in the position where she had to do that. I hope people are following me.
In other words, you can believe and you’re saved. And if you don’t happen to be put in a position where you must back that up, in other words, the works are not what saves you—the works are proving that your faith was genuine. This is what James is saying. For example, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that He died for my sins upon the Cross.
And then, well, somebody says, “Why are you so fearful? You’re afraid to die,” or whatever.
“Well, I’m really not sure.” Well, then maybe I didn’t really believe. I think this is what James is saying. He ‘s not saying that your works save you but that your works, if you face a situation where the works have to back up what you profess to believe, that would be an indication of whether your faith is real or not. It’s not whether you had enough works to save you—it doesn’t say that. But whether the works indicate that your faith is genuine. You can say that you believe when you don’t really believe.
Tom: Dave, you know, again, this is kind of difficult. I mean, the scripture talks about the faith of a child, trust, you turn to Jesus, you trust in Him, but we know that faith also has content—there are things to believe, you don’t just believe to believe—you believe in Him, the object of your faith, who He is, what He’s done—but somebody would ask the question: “But how strongly do you have to believe?” I mean, we all have doubts from time to time. In other words, can you quantify it or qualify it?
Dave: Well, Paul and Silas said to the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” I think that he demonstrated his belief by the way he treated them thereafter. He washed their wounds and he released them from jail—well, of course, the doors had already been blown open by the earthquake, but what he subsequently did indicated…now only God knows the heart, and it’s possible that a person could be afraid; they could be in a situation....There are some people who are timid. They’re afraid to witness for the Lord. Jesus said, “You deny me before men, I’ll deny you before my Father which is in heaven.” I don’t think He’s being harsh with us. God knows the heart, and that’s what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 3. All their works are burned, but He still knew that they really had faith in Him. Our works demonstrate our faith. Our works don’t save. But our works demonstrate the reality of the saving faith.
So, if I really believe that eternity is forever, time is very short, I would—you would think that I would be living for eternity rather than for time. That the choices that I make would indicate…so, I can’t…I don’t know a person’s heart, but a person that claims that they love Jesus, but they don’t indicate by their life that they have any love for Him—they seem, in fact, to love the world, they have no love for the people of God, they don’t love God’s Word—now, I cannot look into their heart, and I cannot say that they’re not really saved, but that’s what James is talking about. He says, “You say you have faith. Well, show me your faith by your works!” That’s what I would have to see, and I look at the person, and I say, “I question whether they really love the Lord at all.”
Tom: So that’s for the benefit of the person who claims to be a believer himself as well as the fellowship of believers. Certainly not for God. God looks upon the heart, and God knows.
Dave: It can also help me as well, you know?
Tom: That’s what I’m saying —the believer himself.
Dave: Not…yeah, but others looking at me would say, “Well, I wonder…I don’t know whether this guy really…” Well, you hear it all the time. “He made a profession of faith, but we don’t see any evidence.” Now that doesn’t mean that the evidence is going to save him. But the evidence would be of whether or not his faith is real. This is what James is talking about. He’s not saying that works save, because there are too many other scriptures, and furthermore, we know that good works cannot save us. Never does it say how many good works, never does it say what kind of good works—in other words, if works were going to save me, then there would be some standard, and God would have laid it out, and there would be some way that I would know whether I had measured up to this standard. Furthermore, from a matter of justice—and we discussed this in detail before—you know that keeping the law perfectly tomorrow can’t make up for having broken the law in the past. So, there are just many ways—the Bible comes right out and says, “It’s not by works of righteousness that we’ve done but according to his mercy he saved us.”
So I’m going to have to understand James in the context of what the whole Bible says.