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Faith or Works: Do we Need to Bear Fruit in Christ?

The question of faith vs. works is one that comes up often among Christians, yet rarely is it answered in a satisfactory way. Often, the confusion about faith vs. works is greater at the end of the discussion than it is at the beginning. Most Christians agree that faith in Christ is fundamental, but then the question is how do works figure into that, if at all?



On the question of faith vs. works, we are often told that faith is all that matters. If we have faith we are saved, and the final goal and fulfillment of Christianity is salvation. So if we are saved through faith, then why be concerned about works?

Many reason that because faith is the key to eternal life (John 3.16), then works must be irrelevant. Sermons are given every Sunday where the importance of faith is stressed, and the importance of works is deprecated. In some evangelical settings, it has even become a creed that as Christians we "don't have to do anything", or that "our works don't matter".

On the other hand, there is something that seems specious with this thinking. The bible tells us that there is great work to be done, "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest" (Luke 10.2 KJV bible).

The problem is that our natural inclination is not to work. Spiritual work requires the dedication and sacrifice of our time and efforts away from worldy pursuits. Even if we are driven by the Holy Spirit to further God's Kingdom on earth, we still have to struggle to achieve our spiritual goals at the expense of our worldy ones.

"...If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16.24-25 KJV bible). It would seem that if one refuses to work, because they are devoted to their own life, then they are being disobedient and unfaithful to Christ.

What does it mean that we are saved by faith, and not by works?

In order to understand faith vs. works, we need to understand what the bible means when it says that we are saved by faith and not by works. There are many scriptures that make clear that faith, not works, is the cornerstone of salvation.

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2.16 KJV bible). Galatians is saying that it is not through rituals or obedience to a moral code that one can become justified in the eyes of God. Rather, it is through faith in Christ as the Son of God, who died for our sins.

This is a key point where biblical Christianity departs from many other religions and traditions. It doesn't prescribe a particular set of rituals, deeds, or actions through which one can find life and peace. Rather, faith in Christ is the foundation and root through which eternal life springs, "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3.15 KJV bible).

This "justification through faith" is a distinguishing feature of Christianity. It implies that there is no inherent righteousness or purity in man through which he can earn redemption. It is only by God's grace that the slate can be wiped clean, and one can become a new creature in Christ, having a true relationship with the Lord.

Justification through faith means that there is no kind of work or struggle in the world that has the power to redeem us from our sins, or deliver us to Christ. It is not on account of our own works or righteousness that we find Christ, but the mercy of God, after which comes the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2.8-9 KJV bible), "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3.5 KJV bible).

There is a relationship that exists between faith and works.

So if faith in Christ preempts everything else in our relationship with God, then where do works fit in? Part of the confusion stems from a tendency in people's minds to separate faith from works. It is often assumed that they are unrelated; works being external actions, and faith being an internal mindset.

However, the bible tells us that there is a symbiotic relationship between faith and works. Works are a consequence and obligation of faith, and faith is sustained and perfected in works, "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (James 2.18 KJV bible).

We know that faith in Christ is the essence and foundation of eternal life, and that without faith we are estranged from the Lord. However, faith is also a process that prepares and matures us, not for our own purposes, but to be fruitful and productive in carrying out God's will, "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2nd Timothy 2.21 KJV bible).

So it is through faith that we become qualified and useful as vessels of righteousness, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2.13 KJV bible). Faith is therefore more than a mindset, but a process that results in our actions and lives being made fruitful unto God.

Therefore, if works do not follow faith, the process has been broken and frustrated in us. God's will is that our faith leads to works, but if we instead focus on our own desires, we become derelict in our service to the Lord, "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (James 1.25 KJV bible). We must resist any tendency to shrink back as forgetful hearers, but move forward as doers, bringing forth the mature fruits of faith.

Jesus describes this process in John 15, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit...Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me...Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15.1-2,4,8 KJV bible).

Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. Unless we are connected to the vine through faith, we can't bear any useful fruit. However, Jesus also tells us that the fruitless branches are taken away, so that they wither and die apart from the vine. So we must push forward in faith unto righteous works, while resisting the evil one's attempts to pull us away. Otherwise, we've allowed ourselves to become fruitless branches, to be excised by the Chief Vinedresser.

Faith is sustained and completed in works.

The book of James also speaks in detail about the inter-relationship that exists between faith and works, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" (James 2.14 KJV bible). This statement, "can faith save him?", seems to contradict a lot of other scriptures that tell us we are saved by faith, not by works.

However, the faith being described here is not the living faith of salvation, but empty faith. This is because living faith cannot be separated from works, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2.26 KJV bible). Faith cannot survive apart from works, and it is only when faith is combined with works that it can mature and prosper.

So not only does faith push us toward works, but faith itself is sustained and completed in those works, leading unto salvation, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" (James 2.21-22 KJV bible).

Abraham's deed was an act of absolute faith in God, because he knew that God could even raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11.19). So Abraham was justified by his actions, because his actions were an embodiment of his faith. When given a choice between obeying God in faith, or not, Abraham acted on faith. So in Abraham's righteous deeds, which were wrought in faith, his faith was fulfilled.

So we see the deeper relationship that exists between faith and works. Faith is what connects us to the true vine, Jesus Christ. It is through our connection with him that we are able to bring forth righteous fruits, or works, unto God. God then prunes the branches that are fruitful, which strengthens them and allows them to bring forth even more fruit. The unfruitful branches are removed from the vine and left to wither.

Therefore, as faith is fundamental to our relationship with Christ, works are necessary to sustain and strengthen that relationship. So works are an undeniable part of salvation, and an obligation in Christ, who alone is our redeemer, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1st Corinthians 15.58 KJV bible).

Comments: (10)
Topic: Faith vs. Works
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John
Doug, If any form of "works" is needed (before or after a "faith confession") then you are back to salvation by works!...because you will never know if you are saved ... or if you have done enough works to "prove" your salvation was "genuine". You have strayed, (believe it or not) back into believing works for salvation... whether to attain it (the salvation) or to verify it (the salvation). Ask yourself how many works must be done AFTER a faith confession is made in order to "prove" that your salvation is real. One a year?... one a month?... one a day?... how will you ever be sure you have done the right amount (or even the right TYPE) of good works to please God?

A man buys a diamond ring for his wife. As big as your eye!! He tells her it is because he loves her and that it is a gift. It is all paid for and he gives it to her out of love. A year later he comes back to his wife and says, 'Y'know honey, last year I gave you that ring, but you have not shown any gratitude at all for it. You haven't slept with me, nor have you cleaned the house enough, nor have you performed any wifely duties the way I thought you would have (or should have), therefore I'm taking my GIFT back from you... I find you undeserving of the GIFT.

(How many women out there would find this man's actions admirable?

I guess you have to decide for yourself whether the man did right by his expectations of his gift.
It is my understanding that salvation is a gift of God through Christ by Grace. There is nothing we can do to earn it nor is there anything we can do to separate us from it (the love of God through Christ).
Works, (it is my understanding) are for discipleship. growing, rewards in heaven and favor in this life... not for payment for the GIFT of salvation.

Thank you for your time with me. God's blessing on you,
In Christ, John
26th August 2010 4:09pm
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Doug Buckley
Hi John, a fair question,
The bible tells us that works are required, but this does not mean, nor does it imply, salvation by works. This is because works do not have the power to save, only faith does.

If someone is drafted and becomes a soldier, then they have certain obligations and duties to fulfill as a soldier. They don't become a soldier through work, but because they are faithful to the cause they do their particular job, whether great or small. Maybe they go above and beyond, or maybe they don't.

However, if they refuse to take commands, then they will be gotten rid of, not because their works would be so great, but because they are unfaithful.

"Doth he [the master] thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17.9-10 KJV bible). See also Matthew 21.28-31.

Likewise, if one confesses faith and does not serve God, then what does their confession of faith amount to, besides hypocrisy?

I think salvation is a gift in the sense that we are not really deserving of it. It is so much greater than what we could afford with works. The favor of it is truly unmerited.

However, there are strings attached, we can think of it more that he has given us an engagement ring, and we need to take care not to damage it, misplace it, pawn it, or lose it in the garbage. God bless.
27th August 2010 1:11pm
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Dominic
Was just browsing through websites and fell here and I found it a great read... I'd have to agree with Doug here...

Luke 6:37 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

Given, someone who is a believer, and would not FORGIVE his enemies, he will still not be FORGIVEN by the Father... Would his Faith still grant him Salvation? Jesus was clear when he said We will not be forgiven if we dont forgive. That is Works.
15th September 2010 4:29am
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John
Whoa guys,
I think you had better re-think your positions. It seems to me you are advocating God forgiving us based on whether or not we forgive others (works)? Where is Jesus in this? Has His salvivic work been abdicated? Does your position also include lusting, or anger, or weakness of obedience? Did Christ die for the sins I can't overcome.... or only for the sins I can? Speaking of forgiveness, does that forgiveness have to occur immediately? Can I be upset with someone for a while and then later (maybe a month or or year or a few years) see I need to forgive ... and forgive that person then (out of a desire to obey, rather than earn salvation)? And if I don't, have I lost my salvation for my unforgiveness? Suppose I forgive 3 people but I can't forgive the fourth, am I considered unworthy and condemned? Have the 3 I forgave not counted?

Whatever Doug and Dominic say the those Scriptures mean, they CANNOT mean that salvation is based on whether I work good for it.... or is that what they are saying they mean? I guess Christ's work on the Cross means nothing unless I do something (forgive) to earn it? So much for the Gospel.

I guess we'd better make absolutely sure we never sin, and if we do, we had better hope our Lord doesn't take us during the time our anger, or pride or sinful nature has not had enough time to be enlightened by the Spirit or we may find ourselves condemned.

How about we trust that our God will look upon our sinfulness in light of His Son's work and accept us because of His work, not ours?
God bless, John
15th September 2010 3:17pm
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Dominic
Brother, Luke 6:37... That was Jesus, himself, teaching us what to do and required us to do... I certainly didn't base it on any other interpretation because the verse supports itself. If Jesus taught us that, then I should believe Him. Shouldn't others as well?

We all believe the scripture is infallible and it wouldn't contradict itself. However, our interpretations of the scripture will and can always mislead us.

Ephesians 2:8-9 "For it is by God's Grace that you have been saved through FAITH. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it." We are saved by God's Grace through FAITH. And not by our own efforts. AMEN. Through God's Grace, we were able to believe and have Faith in Him.

Ephesians 2:10 "God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a LIFE OF GOOD DEEDS, which he has already prepared for us TO DO." But its also through God's Grace that we can do WORKS (ex. FORGIVE) that God has prepared for us TO DO... (Not separating it from FAITH).

Where is Jesus in this? Has His salvific work been abdicated? --- His death gave us the Grace that helps us FORGIVE, the Grace to overcome LUST, the Grace to overcome ANGER, and the Grace to OBEY...

All these (Forgiving, Lust, Anger, Obedience, etc.) by our own efforts, we won't be able to accomplish, without Jesus' death on the Cross.
God bless!
16th September 2010 2:18pm
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John
Dominic, The position you put forth originally was not SHOULD we forgive (or that we have the ability to do so by His grace), but rather that if we fail to forgive we are condemned. If your answer is "yes" (according to Luke 6:37) then I'm afraid you ARE putting forth a contradiction. The only alternative your position allows for is for us to live in "sinless perfection" in order for our Father not to condemn us.

If I refuse to forgive, then God will condemn me. If I forgive each and every time, then God will forgive me (your position). So did Christ die for the sins that I have overcome? If you think that than that is nonsense because it is an absolute absurdity to die for sin that was never committed.

Like I indicated in my other post, if I forgive 3 out of 4, will I be condemned for the one I didn't do? How many sins that I commit will not be covered by Christ's atonement? Am I to walk, as Luther did, in constant fear that I have not confessed all and every little and minute sin I've committed in thought, word, deed, and neglect?

I also have a bit of a problem with your remark: "His [Christ's] death gave us the Grace that helps us FORGIVE, the Grace to overcome LUST, the Grace to overcome ANGER, and the Grace to OBEY..."

His death was for atonement (forgiveness of sins) offered up for us by a life that fulfilled all the WORKS required by us in God's Law... it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to recognize His WORK and lead us to recognize the things in our lives that need confession and change. But the Holy Spirit's indwelling will NOT prevent me from EVER committing sin again (unforgiveness included)...not according to Romans 6 & 7 anyway.

I am a sinner. I sin repeatedly and consistantly. I depend on Christ's blood to cleanse me when I confess. John says that if you say you have no sin, you make, not only yourself, but God out to be a liar.

Good works have NOTHING to do with salvation. If they did then Christ died in vain, and if anyone claims they do, they are promoting a contradiction.

Good Works should be a sign of the believer, Good Works should be done. Good Works, however, (although you have the power through God's GRACE to perform them), are not the prerequisite for salvation.

Perhaps Luke 6:37 could be referring to God not forgiving us the chastisement in this life that unforgiveness can bring our way? I don't know. But if you stick to "perfection in doing" as a way of forgiveness from the Father, you are running smack into contradiction.

Thank you, Blessings to you also, John
17th September 2010 10:11am
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Doug Buckley
Was looking over this discussion, and here's a good metaphor to describe being saved by faith, but also the possibility of falling away on account of works.

Suppose a rich man lets someone move into one of his multi-million dollar mansions, and says "the only work you have to do is water the garden, mow the lawn, trim the bushes, and maintain the place. If you do these things I will sign over the deed when I return."

Did the man staying there earn this house by works? Of course not, because his works don't amount to much of anything in light of the value of the mansion.

If the wealthy man returns in 20 years and the doors are hanging off the hinges, the place is gutted and burned and trashed, he's gonna be mad, and throw the person out in the street. Who could fault him? He gave so much and asked relatively little.

Is he a false giver? No, because his Word to us makes perfectly clear that we we must complete the course. Just like it says in James, "faith without works is dead", the works are required to maintain faith in Christ.

This is exactly what Matthew 25 is talking about. The Lord calls him a "servant", and just like the other servants he got the same gift or talent. The problem is that he didn't think there were any strings attached, and clearly there are,

"Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury" (Matthew 25.27 KJV bible).

This is why Paul speaks of self discipline to complete the journey of faith, saying that it is required, "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible...But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a CASTAWAY" (1st Corinthians 9.25,27 KJV bible).

Also notice what it says in 1st John about IF we walk, "But IF we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1st John 1.7 KJV bible). I'm not saying that there is some roller coaster of salvation here, but that it is possible for us to fall off the path, especially if we don't serve him in works.

I may not have convinced anyone here, but perhaps addressed some of the concerns raised about faith, works, and falling away. At least we know exactly what we're agreeing to disagree on. God Bless.
8th October 2010 5:04am
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Dakota
Hi, I agree with what the bible says. The bible says in James 2:18 "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. then James 2:20 says But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

What this verse and Doug is trying to say is that when someone has true faith, there going to produce good works, and the good works is the result of the true faith of the believer. True faith is not the result of good works but good works is the outcome of true faith. When a unsaved person gets truly saved, (he or she) becomes a new creature, sing a new song, and old things are pass and new things come.

For an example say this unsaved woman that listens to satanic music, didnt never go to church but just really hated the thougt of even going, and wore dresses clear up to her bottom, but then one day she gets saved and she starts listing to Gospel music, starts going to church, starts wareing modest clotheing exceptable to God. Is by her listening to Gospel music, or going to church, or wareing modest clothing what saved her????????? NO what saved her is her excepting Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour and then her being saved is what produced the change in her.
If she of said ya I beleive in Jesus Christ but yet she listening satanic music, not going church five years later and there was never a change in her obvisously she didnt get right with God or there would of been a change. The bible says people will twist scripture to there on self destruction. Alot of people just want to make excuses and call there selves christians but yet live like the devil and the bible says if u love God then you will keep his commandments.

As christians we have to be obedient according to God word and you will if you are truly saved not saying that a christian is never going to mess up and sin be christians do sin but thats why Jesus died on that cross so we can repent but we still have to repent for our sin and we cant hate our neigbor and go to heaven, the bible says that very clearly. God will not forgive us of our sins if we cant forgive our neighbor or whoever we have hate for.
17th October 2011 2:09pm
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Adrian
Hi Doug, I have only just come across your site and have read the string of comments written on the subject of faith and works. You have done well to bring the others back to what God says in His Word, comparing Scripture with Scripture rather than stating what you think.

In Revelation 2:4-5 (KJV) we read how the saints at Ephesus left their first love. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded them "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." It is not only possible for those who have fallen to repent, but it is the Lord's command for them to repent.

Many people are confused about Heb 6:4-6 as it appears to contradict other Scriptures. This Scripture immediately follows the six foundational principles of the doctrine of Christ and is related to those principles. (Hebrews 6:1-2). These foundational principles cannot be laid again once they have been laid. Foundations are laid once. We must then go on unto perfection, or spiritual maturity, whereby we are able to teach others. (Hebrews 5:12;6:1).

Paul is telling the saints that once they have laid the foundation it is impossible for them to lay it again. It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. That is, it is impossible to lay the foundation of the doctrine of Christ (referred to in verse 1) again. They cannot get saved again. If they have fallen away, they cannot accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for their past sins a second time and get saved. They have to confess the sins they have committed in their backslidden state and be restored to the joy of their salvation. This passage cannot be referring to the unsaved. They cannot fall away because they are already away.
Yours in His service, Adrian
9th June 2013 5:50pm
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2nd January 2017 1:16am
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