By Not Known

The Christian faith has many puzzles that seem to raise ‘either / or’ questions. Is God three or one? Was Jesus divine or human? Is the Bible divine or human? Does God rule everything or are we responsible? Do we need faith or works? Many of these puzzles have ‘both / and’ answers. However, we need great care in the order and the balance of the ‘both / and’.

Let’s look at faith and works. Reformed Protestant Christians, such as we Presbyterians, stand on the truth that we are saved by God’s grace which is received by our faith. Starting with Abraham, we say that God’s righteousness is credited to our account through faith (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-5). Jesus’ simple statement that your faith has saved you (eg Lke 7:50) is thus expanded and generalised into the teaching that we know as ‘grace alone, faith alone’ (eg Rom 3:21-26; Eph 2:1-9). Thus we have no boast in our salvation and all the credit belongs to God.

At first glance the ‘faith or works’ question seems to be decisively answered in favour of faith. Let’s take a second glance. What kind of faith are we talking about?

Abraham’s faith worked. Because he trusted God, Abraham left home and headed for a foreign land (Gen 12:4). The same trust led him to Mt Moriah to surrender his son’s life (Gen 22). Abraham’s periodic moments of disobedience to God (eg Gen 12:10-13; 1:1-2; 20:1-2) are really failures of faith. Because he did not trust God, he acted in his way rather than God’s way.

Faith works or it is not faith. Every act of obedience to God is an act of faith in God. Every act of disobedience to God is a denial of faith. Obedience is part of faith and faith is the necessary parent of obedience. We are indeed saved by grace through faith as God’s gift, but the necessary purpose of this is the good works that God made us for (Eph 2:8-10).

The ‘both / and’ of faith and works is a key relationship. If we separate them and favour faith, we easily breed a useless and unproductive faith that is all talk and no walk. If we separate them and favour works, we are in the impossible position of trying to be right with God by what we do and are independent of his grace in Jesus.

Let’s challenge each other that faith works. Let’s affirm that we are only saved by God’s grace in Jesus which we receive by faith alone. But let’s also affirm that the faith that saves is faith that works. Let’s stir one another up to such a faith, for this is the faith that saves and which fulfils God’s purposes.

David Burke