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Faith alone or faith and good works 


  • Does the Bible tell us to believe in faith alone apart from good works? 
  • Were Paul and James at odds with each other over good works? 
  • What are works of the Law and are they the same as good works?
  • Paul spoke of faith apart from works; was he speaking against good works? 
  • Was the Apostle Paul ever in favor of good works?
  • Was Paul contradicting himself when he spoke both for and against works?
  • Are good works necessary for justification?
  • What causes good deeds to be like filthy rags; are “good works” filthy rags? 
  • Was God, in Isaiah opposed to all works or did He favor “good works”? 
  • Did Jesus promise the kingdom to those who do works of love? 
  • Did Jesus associate “good works” with everlasting life? 
  • Are good works advocated in the Bible other than in the book of James? 

Does the Bible tell us to believe in faith alone apart from good works?  I was in a lively discussion on Facebook, with an Evangelical who believed in “faith alone” without “good works.”  I quoted a verse in the book of James that uses the word “ignoramus” to refer to people who believe in faith without good works.  Wouldn’t you know, he accused me of name calling.  I begged to differ, because I was not calling him an ignoramus; I was quoting the Apostle James who was calling him an ignoramus. “Do you want proof, you IGNORAMUS, that faith without works is useless” (Jm 2:20)?  

Were Paul and James at odds with each other over “good works”?  Why does the Bible speak for works in some places and against works in other places?  This is a question I had for many years and didn’t fully understand it.   

  • For example we have the Apostle Paul speaking against works.  For we consider that a person is justified by FAITH apart from works of the law (Rom 3:28). 

  • And we have the Apostle James speaking for works.  See how a person is justified by WORKS and not by faith alone (Jm 2:24). 

What are works of the Law and are they the same as good works?   The answer to my question was right in front of me in the context.   Paul and James were not at odds, but speaking about two very different types of works.  When Paul was writing against “works of the law, circumcision” (Rom 3:28-29), this was in direct response to the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.  Some people from Judea were insisting "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).  Peter responded, after much discussion on the issue of circumcision, by saying; "Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they." (Acts 15:10-11)?   

Not realizing the full context, many people mistakenly confuse “good works” and “works of the law.”  Jesus, James and Paul spoke for “good works” and the Apostle Paul spoke against “works of the law, circumcision”.  

Paul spoke of faith apart from works; was he speaking against good works?  When the Apostle Paul says “that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28), and lists circumcision in verse 30, he is affirming the decision that was made at the Jerusalem council.  People who use Paul’s words in Romans 3:28 to oppose good works are leaving out verse 30,  “For God is one and will justify the CIRCUMCISED on the basis of faith” (Rom 3:30), which gives us the context.  Paul is speaking against specific “works of the law” such as circumcision which has nothing to do with “good works”.   So this begs the question, why are they using Romans 3:28-30 out of context.  I believe it is because they are following a particular teaching tradition that makes no distinction between “good works” and “works of the law.”   They do not realize that they are using the Bible out of context.  

James, on the other hand was not speaking for “works of the law,” (circumcision) he was speaking for “good works” (feeding and clothing the hungry) which is entirely different.  “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  (Jm 2:15-17).  I could now believe both James and Paul because they were not at odds, but speaking of two entirely different types of works.  

Was the Apostle Paul ever in favor of good works?  Paul associated good works with Eternal Life?  Some commentators try to put James and Paul at odds with one another and will usually side with Paul and ignore James.   However, there was no disagreement between them.   In fact, not only was Paul not at odds with James, but in agreement with him on the subject of “good works.”  Paul spoke for good works just as James had done; “who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works” (Rom 2:6-7).  

Evangelicals (at least the ones I have met) do not seem to understand this.  They see all works as being the same and in so doing they are using the Bible out of context.   They do not have a Biblical problem; they have a traditional problem.  Their traditions seem to put “good works” (Rom 2:6-7) at odds with faith when in fact good works are necessary for a living faith (Jm 2:17, 26).  It is “works of the law,” circumcision (Rom 3:28-30) that is at odds with faith. 

Was Paul contradicting himself when he spoke both for and against works?  Okay, so now we know that the Apostle Paul was in agreement with James when he spoke for good works.  However, the Apostle Paul is speaking against works in one place and speaking for works in another.  This begs the question; was Paul contradicting himself?   

  • Paul says “works” of the law are not necessary.  “For we consider that a person is justified by FAITH apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28).
  • On the other hand Paul speaks for and ties good “works” into eternal life.  “who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works” (Rom 2:6-7). 

In Romans 2:6-7, Paul speaks for “good works” and promises eternal life to those who do.  And then in Romans 3:28, he says that “works of the law” are not necessary for justification by faith.  Please notice that Paul includes circumcision in verse 30.   “God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rm 3:29).   The specific “work of the Law” that Paul was referring to is circumcision.  Paul is not contradicting himself because he is using the word “works” in two different ways, “good works” and “works of the Law, circumcision.”   

Are good works necessary for justification?  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?  See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (Jm 2:24)?   James ties Good works to justification and salvation just as Jesus and the Apostle Paul did. 

Are “good deeds” that are like polluted rags the same as “good works.”  One Evangelical who cites Isaiah 64 as definitive proof that good works are just filthy rags and makes this statement, “It doesn’t matter if GOOD WORKS are meaning, just plane works or works of the law they are all like polluted.”  This person is not acknowledging that the word works is used in a variety of different ways depending on the context.  

Isaiah says, “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind (Is 64: 4-5).”   The people had to be doing something good in order for their deeds to be called “good deeds.”  And so what were these good deeds and why did God see them as polluted rags?  

In Isaiah 66 they were sacrificing animals (a lamb) and in Isaiah 58 they were fasting.  Their good deeds (fasting) that are like filthy rags would ordinarily be good; however, God was angry with them anyway.  Why? “Because they did what was evil in my sight, and chose what gave me displeasure” (Is 65:5). Their works are evil works, and deeds of violence come from their hands” (Is 59:7). Their good deeds were like filthy rags because they were doing evil works and deeds of violence, not because they were doing “good works.”  

When God was speaking in Isaiah, was He opposed to all works or did He favor good works? So when some people try to associate “good works” with good deeds that are like polluted rags, they are failing the context.  Not only did God in Isaiah speak against “evil works, but overtly spoke for “good works.” “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own” (Is 58:6-7).  The point is this, the good deeds (fasting), that are like filthy rags, in Isaiah are not “good works” and secondly, God was for good works and opposed to evil works.  

Did Jesus promise the kingdom to those who do works of love? Jesus also spoke for works and even tied good works into inheriting the Kingdom.  "Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me' (Mt 25:34-36).  

Did Jesus advocate “good works” and associate it with everlasting life?  Jesus said that those who do not do good works in love will end up in ETERNAL FIRE. Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me'  (Mt 25:41-43).   Jesus also said, “And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Mt 25:46).  Interesting Jesus ties eternal punishment and eternal life directly into good works and how we treat others. 

I had a lengthy discussion with a person who joined one of the many Evangelical churches.  His new Evangelical tradition told him that “good works” had nothing to do with justification.  What was needed, according to him, was “faith alone.”  I took him to the book of James because James 2 talks about both justification and salvation in relation to “good works”.  

  • James poses a rhetorical question which is actually a statement.  No, that faith cannot save him. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day…” (Jm 2:14-15). 
  • There are some today who claim “faith alone” and try to demonstrate their faith without works; however, they are at odds with their Bible; “indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works.  Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (Jm 2:18). 
  • In order to have a complete faith, works are part of the whole. “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works” (Jm 2:22).
  • There are some who claim that we are justified by “faith alone”; however, the Bible and James tells us we are justified “by works and not by faith alone” (Jm 2:24). 
  • James has a strong message for those who speak for “faith alone” while negating “good works.”  Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? (Jm 2:20).   

Are good works advocated in the Bible other than in the book of James?  I wouldn’t let him out of the book of James because James is so explicit about the need for “good works” as a part of justification.  Finally, in total exasperation, he challenged me to show him, “where works are advocated any place in the Bible other than in the book of James.”   I was so glad he asked.  

  • God, in Isaiah, spoke for “good works” (Isaiah 58:6-7). 
  • Paul spoke for “good works” and ties them into eternal life (Romans 2:6-7).  
  • Jesus spoke for works and ties “good works” into the KINGDOM of HEAVEN and ETERNAL LIFE, “inherit the kingdom prepared for you…but the righteous to eternal life” (Mathew 25:33-46).  

There are many who follow the non-Biblical tradition of "Faith Alone"; however, the Bible says, "Not by faith alone"  (Jm  2:24).   Should we follow man-made tradition that is contradictory to the Bible or should we follow the Bible?