James 2:17 shares that faith without works is dead. This is true. But does this Bible passage mean what unhealthy churches say it does, in equating works with their list of things a Christian must do to be saved?
We are saved because of what Jesus did for us. If works could have saved people, then surely the law that God put into place for the Jews would have accomplished this. Yet the Bible is very vocal in that it did not.
Works, as mentioned in the book of James, are our actions. Faith without works is dead- not because works are essential to our salvation- but because if one has faith in God it will be evidenced by their actions. You can’t have real faith with nothing to show for it. However, with those actions there is no salvation made, kept or bought. They are simply a natural result of our faith in God.
Back in the early church, people wanted to add rules to be or keep saved. So the thought is nothing new. People seem to have a hard time accepting by faith that Jesus paid the price completely for their salvation. Jesus said it was finished and yet people keep wanting to add conditions to our salvation. So let’s take a look at the early church.
The second chapter of Galatians continues with Paul telling about his past. This is where he starts to show the Galatians the problem that false brothers caused with their untrue teachings.
Chapter 15 of Acts tells in more detail about what Paul shares happened in Jerusalem. I encourage you to take the time to read Acts 15. The men who came to Antioch from Judea, who were teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be saved, had caused a sharp division. This division caused the believers to send a delegation of people, including Paul & Barnabas, to Jerusalem in order to consult with the apostles and other elders.
At the meeting, some proclaimed that the Gentiles must be circumcised and made to obey the law of Moses. There is discussion and then Peter addresses them all, reminding them that God made no distinction between the Jews and Gentiles and purified the Gentile hearts by faith. He then asks why they are trying to test God by making the Gentiles do what even the Jews could not follow. Peter stated that they are saved through the grace of God.
James later shares similar thoughts and they decide to write a letter to the believers in Antioch, Syria & Cilicia that says they will not burden the Gentiles with anything more than four requirements. These are listed in verse 29 of Acts 15.
Things haven’t changed and adding to do lists to salvation is hundreds upon hundreds of years old. The problem now is that Christianity has split itself into so many different groups that there is no longer one place for people to go in order to sort out what isn’t proper teaching. We can’t send a delegation to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles. But we DO have their letters and the scriptures to help us when we at first are not sure of some teachings. Nothing has changed since the day the apostles and elders sent out that letter many years ago….we are still saved by faith through the grace of God. Anything more than that is NOT the good news!
Galatians 2:4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery (ESV)
This is a powerful illustration and shows how Paul knew what adding rules and laws to salvation would do. (Remember, he had been a Pharisee and would know all too well about added rules.) No wonder the Galatians had lost their joy (you will see this in chapter 4). They changed from freedom in Christ to being in slavery.
Slavery. That is what your faith will turn into if you make the change from following God by faith to trying to make yourself righteous by any works or trying to be saved, or stay saved, by any works.
In Romans Paul shared that we did not receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear…but that we received the Spirit of Sonship. (Romans 8:15)
And that is what rule following is all about- YOU. The focus shifts from Christ in you to what YOU do and don’t do. You turn from being justified by faith in Jesus to seeking to be justified by your actions. And no matter how much you try and how many rules you follow, not one soul will ever be justified by these deeds.
And, no, this isn’t at all about easy believism or greasy grace. It isn’t about living however you want. It is about a changed heart. A heart where God writes his laws inside us, where it isn’t about following a list of rules, but doing what we do because we love God and wish to please him.