Author: Ron Graham
Faith and Works
—Paul cannot contradict
The relationship between faith and works has for centuries exercised scholarly minds. Some have concluded that salvation is by faith alone, and works (or deeds) contribute nothing to salvation.
1 Paul Cannot Contradict Moses or David
In this lesson’s three parts, we will examine the relationship between faith and works, particularly Paul's statement, "A man is justified by faith without works" (Romans 3:28 4:6). What does Paul mean by "faith without works"?
Our approach will be to compare what Paul says with what other Bible writers say. We believe Paul cannot contradict them, because the Bible cannot contradict itself. If we interpret the term "faith without works" in such a way that it harmonises with the rest of the Bible, our interpretation is more likely to be correct.
Paul quotes from Moses, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as justification" (Romans 4:3 Genesis 15:6). But Moses also records that God gave Abraham another reason for the blessing: "...because you have obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:18).
Abraham believed (had faith) and by that faith Abraham obeyed (had works). "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed" (Hebrews 11:8). If Abraham had not obeyed by faith, he would not have been justified by faith. Paul knew this.
Paul quotes David who speaks of the blessedness of the man whom God justifies "without works of law" (Romans 4:6-7 Psalms 32:1-2). Yet David loved God’s law and stressed obedience to it (Psalms 119:1-8,17-18, Psalms 103:7,17-18).
David never suggested that forgiveness would be granted to those who neglected the law-covenant God had given them. When Paul speaks of "faith without works of law" (Romans 3:28) he certainly does not mean faith that neglects to obey God’s law. By "faith without works" Paul does not mean a disobedient faith.
2Paul Cannot Contradict James
James also speaks of "faith without works" and, like Paul, uses —the example of Abraham's justification by faith. James says that "Abraham was justified by works... Faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect" (James 2:21-22).
So James sees that the faith that justifies is a working faith. He says the same thing in two other verses: "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). "A man is justified by works and not by faith only" (James 2;24).
Observe that these comments follow on from his exhortation to "so speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12).
Works Need Faith
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) so we would be without justification if we had to rely solely upon our works.
Since we are without works of law sufficient to justify ourselves, we must have faith in Christ and seek justification through him. Boasting of our own righteousness is excluded, but law is not (Romans 3:27).
When we interpret Paul's "justified by faith apart from works of law", we must be careful not to make Paul contradict James's, "justified by works and not by faith alone."
Works Accompany Faith
You can't be saved by faith alone or by works alone. Paul and James agree on the need for obedience of faith (Romans 1:5). James says faith needs works. Paul says works need faith. No contradiction.
Both James and Paul conceive of faith and works as two things, each separate and apart from each other, each independent of the other, but they do not think that either should be “alone” —absent from the other or excluding the other.
Apart but not Alone
A railway track has two rails. Each rail is of necessity “apart” from the other yet neither rail is “alone”. There is no need to get confused by subtle semantics here. The matter is simple. Manifestly, one rail is separate and apart from the other, yet it is together with the other —no contradiction. It's that simple. And so is the relationship between faith and obedience.
3 Paul Cannot Contradict Himself
Paul regarded his own ministry in these terms: "Through Christ we have received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5). He repeats this: "My gospel... according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all nations to obedience of faith" (Romans 16:25-26).
This expression "obedience of faith" is by no means equivalent to, or in harmony with, the expression "faith alone". The words "obedience of faith" are Paul's. The words "faith only" are not.
The Need for Deeds
There is no doubt in Paul's mind that the obedience is as necessary to salvation as the faith is
Notice, for example, Paul’s emphasis on works in Romans chapter two.
Works in Romans 2
- We will be judged by our "deeds" (v6).
- Gaining eternal life involves "continuance in doing good" (v7).
- God’s wrath is upon "those who do not obey the truth" (v8).
- Tribulation will come upon "the one who does evil" (v9).
- Glory will come upon those who "work what is good" (v10).
These statements are consistent with what Paul says about justification by faith. We must be careful not to make Paul contradict himself.
Obedience in Harmony With Faith and Grace
Paul teaches that justification is by grace (Romans 3:24), faith (Romans 5:1), blood (Romans 5:9). Then he asks, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!" (Romans 6:1-2). Paul thanked God that the Romans had "obeyed from the heart" (Romans 6:17).
Paul sees no conflict between grace, faith, and obedience. So he exhorts, "Present your members" (the parts of your fleshly body) "as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13,19). To what extent? "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).
When faith makes your body a living sacrifice, then faith is working with your works. A faith which does less will not justify you.
The Main Point
The main point in this lesson is to show that, whilst it is true that one is justified by faith, it is certainly not true that one is saved by faith alone. The faith which saves is a working and obedient faith.
At the beginning and at the end of Paul's letter to the Romans, there are two "archways" with the same inscription. By the first we are enlightened as we enter into his letter, and by the other we are reminded as we leave it. The inscription is, "OBEDIENCE OF FAITH" (Romans 1:5, 16:26).
The Roman Christians were examples. "Not lagging in diligence" (Romans 12:11). Their "faith was spoken of throughout the world" (Romans 1:8). Their "obedience had become known to all" (Romans 16:19).