Quick thoughts on Works vs. Faith

The balance between grace and discipline – or justification by faith and works – is a New Testament tension. Usually, those who emphasize grace point to Paul’s letters. Paul emphasized grace through faith over works-based salvation. This fact is evident especially in Galatians and Romans because there was pressure from some Jewish groups to adhere to the jot and tittle of the Levitical law. Paul also combated many pagan beliefs that emphasized works-based faith to appease pagan gods.

On the other hand, James points out that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If we have true faith, then there will be good works necessarily accompanying our faith. Some would pit Paul against James and exacerbate a conflict that, in my opinion, is not there. When looked at closely, James and Paul are complementary – not contradictory. James would say that the faith which justifies us cannot be based on works – but is evidenced by works. Paul would echo that saving faith is evidenced by the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). What good is our faith if deeds do not evidence it? Similarly, what good are our deeds if we have no faith?

There is danger on either side. To the one end, we have hyper-grace, which does away with any holiness, sanctification, or moral adherence to scriptural principles. On the other extreme is a legalistic framework of earning salvation. Both ultimately lead to what Francis Schaeffer calls “dipping below the line of despair.” Only through complete faith in Jesus are we justified before God and one we are justified; the Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins to work in us to produce fruit and sanctification.

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