18 Suppose someone disagrees and says, “It is possible to have faith without doing kind deeds.” I would answer, “Prove that you have faith without doing kind deeds, and I will prove that I have faith by doing them.” 19 You surely believe there is only one God. That’s fine. Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear.
20 Does some stupid person want proof that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Well, our ancestor Abraham pleased God by putting his son Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him. 22 Now you see how Abraham’s faith and deeds worked together. He proved that his faith was real by what he did. 23 This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, “Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him.” That’s how Abraham became God’s friend.
24 You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe. 25 For example, Rahab had been a prostitute. But she pleased God when she welcomed the spies and sent them home by another way. 26 Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead! (James 2:18-26 CEV)
After reading this passage, it sharpens the definition of Faith in Jesus. James is saying that you can’t have Faith in Jesus without any actions (some form of work). I like that he talks about those who say they “believe”; but just a mental acknowledgment of God is not Faith in him. Just because a person says they know that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, that he died for the sins of the world, that he was raised on the third day, that he was born of a virgin, that he did miracles, that he is the Son of God and etcetera; this knowledge alone is not Faith in Jesus; even the demons know these things and shake with fear (v. 19).
James finally explains Faith by saying, “You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe (v. 24). Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and Faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead! (v. 26)”
8 For by grace you have been saved through Faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
There seems to be some contradiction here. At first, James is saying that Faith must be followed by works (James 2:26), but Paul is saying that being saved is through Faith and not of works (v. 9). Is Paul saying that Faith in Jesus is absent of works? Is the Bible contradicting itself? No. To think that there is a contradiction would surely mean an error in our own thinking in which we should ask God for understanding.
Verse 10 says that we are created for good works and that we should walk in them. So Paul is saying that good works is one of the purposes for being saved, but the works are not what saves us. Actually both James and Paul complement one another because God’s word is revealing two kinds of works that surround Faith in Jesus:
- Works that are done to please God, but actually don’t.
- Works that come by Faith, which pleases God.
Again, Faith in Jesus leads to obedience. Obeying God will lead to some form of work. When you obey and works are produced according to what God asks, this is called a “good work”. When a person does something that God didn’t tell them to do, regardless of how godly or spiritual it looks, to God, it’s a filthy rag; and this is called a “dead work”.
Good works come from a vine. Check out the Lord’s illustration:
1 Jesus said to his disciples: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts away every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit. But he trims clean every branch that does produce fruit, so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of what I have said to you.
4 Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me.
5 I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me. 6 If you don’t stay joined to me, you will be thrown away. You will be like dry branches that are gathered up and burned in a fire.
7 Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered (John 15:1-7 CEV).
Notice verse 5 of the branch and vine illustration: “If you stay joined to me… you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me”. What does Jesus mean by “anything”? He means anything of significance like: salvation (John 14:6 CEV); but more specifically, in this passage: the good works of obedience. In verse 7 he explains the purpose of being joined:
- to let his teachings become a part of them
- then they could pray for whatever they wanted, and their prayers would be answered
We know, from reading 1 John 3:22, earlier, that only obedient followers get their prayers answered. So Jesus was telling us to maintain a close relationship with him in order to teach us how to obey the Father. Notice this scripture:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12 NIV).
“The grace of God” refers to Jesus, who teaches us to obey our Father. We need the Son because without the Son, we cannot obey the Father; he teaches us how. Jesus tells us to stay joined for the purpose of learning how to properly obey the Father. In other words, we don’t understand how to obey the Father’s commandments. We need to allow Jesus to help us. The Son understands the Father better than we do. An example is Jesus’ fulfillment of the Ten Commandments. Jesus said:
Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning (Matt 5:17 CEV).
And here’s an example of Jesus helping us to understand the Father’s commandments regarding murder, adultery and divorce:
You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell (Matt 5:21-22 CEV).
You know the commandment which says, “Be Faithful in marriage.” But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts (Matt 5:27-28 CEV).
You have been taught that a man who divorces his wife must write out divorce papers for her. But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin. If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man’s wife (Matt 5:31-32 CEV).
Do you see how Jesus clarifies what the Father commands? Jesus is truly our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). He talks to God for us and interprets what God says. We must obey the commands of Jesus Christ; it is the only way to obey the Father properly. Here’s how it works:
- The Father tells us to do something
- We, in turn, ask Jesus, “What does our Father mean, and how do we do that?”
- Then Jesus says, “This is what he means, do it this way…”
This is what it means to be joined to Jesus. Jesus is our big brother, who knows Father God better than us. We must stay close to Jesus, and do as he tells us. As we obey the Son, we obey the Father; and through this process, we will produce fruit. What is this fruit? The fruit is the result of our obedience which leads to good works.
What do good works look like?
Jesus teaches us to say “No” to sin as we read in Titus 2:11-12. When we abstain from sin and live self-controlled and godly lives, this is what good works look like. Along with the help of Jesus, is another aid, the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15) who gives us the power to obey. Paul instructs us to “be filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The following passages further explain what good works will come from walking in the Spirit:
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (…)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-18, 22-25).
So we know now that a good work is the fruit produced by staying joined to Jesus and walking in the Spirit. Good works never include sin; and you will know them by love, joy, peace, self-control, etc. (Gal 5:22-23). A good work is whatever God tells you to do; and if you obey, you will please God.
Earlier, we talked about how some say, “it’s impossible to keep God’s commandments”. This is true. It is impossible, in our own flesh, for Jesus said, “You cannot do anything without me.” That means: if we try to obey the Father alone, without Jesus’ help, we will fail. But if we listen to Jesus and learn how to obey God, we will produce much fruit. The Holy Spirit gives us power to obey and overcome sin (Eph 3:20). With Jesus and the Spirit’s help, we can keep the commandments of God.
Only Perfect Fruit
If you try to obey in your own flesh, you will screw it up, because the flesh is weak. The flesh is in opposition to God. In our flesh, it may seem like we’re doing the right thing, but the works won’t be exactly as the Father would want them. Therefore, in the flesh, we cannot perform as God would want us to. But as we stay joined to Jesus, with the Spirit’s help, we are able to perform perfectly.
God doesn’t want the flawed, brown grapes from your vine. The Gardener only wants the perfect, sweet, plump, firm, colorful grapes produced through his Son, the true Vine. We have our perfect Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us for the purpose of producing perfection; two perfect people helping us achieve what the Father wants; why should God accept less than perfect results?
Can God redeem and clean up works that were rooted in a desire to obey God but were handled in the flesh? Perhaps he will. In his love and mercy, he may show us our error, and teach us how to do it right the next time. But to think that we can do anything God asks, without Jesus, is a clear sign of ignorance, pride and unbelief because Jesus said, “You cannot do anything without me”.
There are many Christians who try to obey in their flesh and fail miserably and damage others in the process. Look at ministries that started off great, only to produce “works of the flesh” (as Galatians 5:19-21 puts it) rather than fruits of the Spirit. They had the right heart in the beginning, but lacked an understanding of how to obey God. At some point, they detached themselves from the true Vine, went astray, and into the arms of their flesh; causing massive damage to themselves and others around them.
Christians must be led by Jesus through the power of the Spirit in all areas of their lives and at all times in order to effectively produce the fruit the Father wants. Then we can rightly be called “people of good works”.
Learning how to submit to our Father, abiding in Jesus and walking in the Spirit are the hardest parts of Christianity; which is why most people prefer dead works.
When Paul referred to “works” in Ephesians 2:8-9, he was talking about the works of the Law of Moses which some thought they could perform in order to receive salvation. Some also thought keeping the Mosaic Law was necessary along with Faith in Jesus (Acts 15:5), but they got it wrong and Paul corrected them:
Now we see how God does make us acceptable to him. The Law and the Prophets tell how we become acceptable, and it isn’t by obeying the Law of Moses. God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22 CEV). God gives you his Spirit and works miracles in you. But does he do this because you obey the Law of Moses or because you have heard about Christ and have faith in him? (Galatians 3:5 CEV)
James taught about the problem of Christians who said they had Faith but had no works to prove it; those people are like the Liberals. Paul taught about the opposite problem of Christians who performed works of the Mosaic Law, and thought that these pleased God and brought them salvation. When I talk about the Legalists, I’m speaking of those in Paul’s audience. Even though Legalists have dropped the Mosaic Law they’ve picked up new laws and have fallen into the same problem.
Faith leads to works; but works, by themselves, don’t equal Faith, because those works did not start with obedience to God’s Word. Faith must be the root. When works are not done in Faith, they are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). And dead works is sin (Romans 14:23).
How Dead Works Work
Dead works are the good deeds performed by men to appease their consciences. This is how it happens:
- God commands a man to do something.
- The man’s conscience is notified, by the Spirit, that he should obey.
- The man doesn’t want to obey and will not obey.
- While the Spirit is easily silenced, (by simply ignoring him) the conscience is not.
- So the man appeases his conscience by doing something he feels is good.
- Instead of obeying God, the man obeys his own set of rules and good deeds.
- And the man’s conscience is settled by the good deeds he performs rather than what he was suppose to do.
Christians create long lists of rules and laws that look “spiritual” or “godly” but are not what God commanded them to do. These works may even be rooted in the Bible, but biblical commands should be understood and obeyed according to Jesus Christ (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Dead works begin to mask as good works and become a measurement of “faithfulness”, while God sits in the background shaking his head with disappointment. Then these men have the audacity to tell the flock that having Faith in Jesus is following their list of rules and good deeds. The Word says:
“… It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans.” You disobey God’s commands in order to obey what humans have taught. You are good at rejecting God’s commands so that you can follow your own teachings! (Matt 15:7-9 CEV)
Jesus was saying exactly what leaders in churches do today. Dead works vary from denomination to denomination. Some groups (Legalists) don’t want to obey God by giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting the streets and making disciples. They’d rather stay inside the four walls and spend four hours praying in tongues and getting “deep into Bible study” while souls die daily in their community. While Bible study and prayer are good things, these “hyper-spiritual” Christians have ignored what God also wants them to do; so they silence the Holy Spirit and appease their conscience by replacing God’s instructions with their own list of works they are more comfortable with. After a while, they stop hearing from God because the Holy Spirit stops talking; and why should he speak? They aren’t going to listen anyway. At the end of the day, the pastor pats himself on the back and says, “How faithful we are, for ‘pressing into God’; God is pleased with us.”
Another group (Liberals) prides themselves in doing the “good work of Jesus” by giving to the needy and passing out bibles. But God also told their pastor to preach repentance and truth. There is so much immorality and lack of love in this church that one would have to think twice about whether these people are really Christians. But because the pastor wants to be liked, he continues to preach “seeker-friendly” messages and avoids the real Word of God; which would probably anger most of his paying members. God told him to do something that he wasn’t comfortable with, so he chose to do something else instead. At the end of the day, the pastor pats himself on the back and says, “How faithful we are for giving to the needy and passing out bibles; God is pleased with us”. Passing out bibles and giving to people is great, but the Father is also concerned and deeply grieved about the immorality and lack of love within his own Church; one of the very things he had his Son die for in the first place.
Just because your pastor says that serving as an usher, or in the media and sound department, or the children′s or dance ministry; being on the event committee, participating in the women′s and men′s ministry, or the mimes ministry; paying your tithes and attending church on time is showing your Faith in God, it doesn’t mean your pastor is right. He’s wrong. These things do not qualify as Faith in Jesus.
There’s nothing wrong with being a choir member, or an usher; being a Christian rapper, managing the church’s finances, helping out at the church picnic, or church clean-up day; being a consultant on the “leadership” team and so forth; but simply doing these things is not showing your Faith in God, these are merely works; dead works. Don’t think you please God just because you work so hard in your church.
People will insist again, “These works are necessary because my pastor said so; and I’m submitting to my pastor”, but I DON’T CARE what your pastor said, I’m more concerned with what Jesus says. Did Jesus tell you to do these things? If so, you show your Faith, if not; these are dead works. Faith leads to works; but works, by themselves, do not equal Faith because they did not start with obedience to God’s commands.
Dead works block growth and fulfillment. God has given you spiritual gifts and talents (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11-13); but you can’t be used by God because you’re too busy serving the church facility. This is why some Christians feel so empty, even though they are plugged-in to so many ministries; dead works bring no real or lasting fulfillment. God has so much in store for you as an individual; you have so many gifts and talents. You are unique. You are his vessel and he wants to use you his way. I hate to see Christians become drones in the “church factory”. Church has become a systematic, organized institution that requires maintenance and workers; then it lies to these non-paid “employees” by telling them that they have Faith in God by working and keeping this system going.
Everything you do must be done through the leading of God! We all need to chill-out, take a break, and reconsider whether Jesus really told us to do these things. Were you really led by the Spirit? If we can be honest, we can admit that most of what we do is by tradition and not by the Spirit. And sadly, as you look at your church today, it is evident that we are led by the flesh:
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
God is not pleased with these dead works. Once again: Christians must be led by Jesus through the power of the Spirit in all areas of their lives and at all times in order to effectively produce the fruit the Father wants. This means: constant prayers like, “What do you want me to do today, Jesus? How do you want me to do that, Jesus?” Once we begin to be led by God, we will find that the majority of what we do is not even necessary.
Maybe God doesn’t want your church to evangelize and distribute Bibles until all of you build a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe God doesn’t want the choir to sing three songs, preceded with the weekly announcements, then prayer, and finally, an hour long sermon. Maybe God doesn’t want to be boxed into your church’s schedule. Maybe God wants everyone to weep and mourn for the state of our city and to repent of our sins.
Maybe God doesn’t think you’re a good person just because of your humanitarian efforts in Africa. Maybe he would like you to respect and love your neighbors in your own backyard first. Maybe God will only look at you as “good” if you walked in his Holy Spirit and stayed joined to his spotless Son.
Maybe God doesn’t want the pastor to preach anymore sermons until he begins to love his wife and raise his children (who need him the most), and then, preach only the Word of God as he was commanded to in the first place. Maybe God wants every member to apologize to other members they’ve mistreated.
Maybe God isn’t interested in growing the membership; maybe God wants mature Christians. Maybe God didn’t call you to the spiritual office of Pastor, but rather an Evangelist. Maybe God doesn’t want the congregation to go on a “Daniel Fast”; maybe he wants them to “hold-fast” to the teachings of Jesus, and quit listening to doctrines of demons.
Maybe God would loooove you to give to your neighbor, across the street, the one with the three kids and no husband, instead of to your multi-leveled cathedral. Maybe God doesn’t want you to start “your ministry” just yet, maybe he wants you to learn love, obedience and humility (you arrogant egomaniac), then you would stop discouraging people from coming to Christ because of your not-so-Christ-like character. While some of these activities are great and seem godly, when done outside of the leading of God (outside of Faith) and in the flesh, they are dead works.
22 Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it. 23 If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror 24 and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. 25 But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget (James 1:22-25 CEV).
Christians have not been listening to the Holy Spirit or the Word of God. They may preach it, they may hear God, but they aren’t really obeying him. But then they turn around and say, “We’re being faithful; we’re followers of Christ, and we love Jesus”. This is complete crap! And God knows it. Christians have engaged in dead works for so long, and then they wonder why the Body of Christ is so ineffective in their communities. These are not works of Faith but rather dead works. Dead works are powerless, they make matters worse, and we have to stop doing these things!
Dead works may fool the doer and most of the viewers but not the all knowing, all present, all powerful God of all. In the Bible, dead works are referred to as filthy rags. Filthy rags were the undergarments women wore during their menstrual periods. Maybe God doesn’t like the fact that you keep leaving him nasty maxi-pads. Maybe God is angry. Maybe you should stop pissing him off. Maybe, if you obey God, he would bless you in everything you do (James 1:24 CEV).
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of Faith toward God (Heb 6:1).
Faith and repentance from dead works are elementary things, says the Word of God. Let’s understand that our works, if not backed by Faith, are dead and unacceptable to God; if we can get this, we can move on to the more complex things of Christ and to perfection.
So here’s how Faith works:
- I believe in God
- He tells me to do something
- I ask Jesus how to do it and get power from the Spirit
- And so I do what God commands me to do
- What I do for God is a good work
- I am producing the fruit the Father wants
- God is pleased, I have Faith in Jesus Christ