Grace through Faith? Or Grace through Faith AND Works? : What the Bible Teaches

faith worksI recently was sharing a verse from Romans on Facebook about the Grace of God demonstrated even in the Old Testament and it got some positive replies. One of the replies was from my sister-in-law, who is LDS, and equally as passionate about her religious views as I am. She shared that she believed the bible teaches Faith and Works and cited two verses to support her claims. However, I think that when we take in the context of these verses and the verses from the other books in the bible, that this is not quite so. While works are often proof of faith, I don’t think the bible teaches that it works at earning Grace when paired with faith. Here are my reasons.

First of all I think there is no confusion that there are ridiculous amounts of verses that clearly say Grace comes through faith alone. I will not take too much time commenting on them as they speak for themselves. Take the time to read the context in these but here they are:

Paul clarifies that God has always deemed righteousness by faith and not by works in  Romans 4:2-3/13-15:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness […] It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”

Here Paul goes on to explain, our good works are not what saved us. We were saved FOR our the ability to do good works. Therefore, Good works is the product of being saved. It is not what saves us  in Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

He goes on to elaborate on why works cannot save us and how he is able to even complete good works in the first place due to his faith in Galatians 2:20-21:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” 

Many people want to add “and works” to the equation for salvation because of fear that people who have faith will run around living ungodly lives all the while claiming they are covered in grace. But Paul clarifies again in Romans 6:1:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you no know that all of us who have been baptizes into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

sinner-saved-by-graceTrue faith means the old person has died and the saved person now lives. Our baptism into Christ’s family has made us new creations. Once we have the spirit of God within us, we can now truly do good works as all good we do will be rooted in Him and pointing to him. So how does Christ prepare us for Good works? Because when we truly have faith and a relationship with the one who saved us, God’s spirit within us will supernaturally lead us to follow him and want to please him and no longer have only our natural flesh to direct our path. Again, if you were saved from damnation, wouldn’t your inclination be to want to follow and love and know the one who saved you? Especially if you recognized your need of being saved? Grace through Faith does not give believers permission to live disgusting lives. In fact it is only through faith in Christ that we are even capable of doing good works in his eyes. But don’t other places in the bible say otherwise? there are two that may seem to at first glance. But God does not contradict himself. With further inspection we can see how these verses help believers no if they are really saved. Many people often use the words of James to claim it is faith and works that gives us salvation and eternal life in  James 2: 18-19 :

” Show me your faith without your[a] works, and I will show you my faith by my[b] works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?[c]”

I love this verse. It clearly explains what is real faith. Simply believing there is a God is not a saving faith. Think about it. How many people do we know believe in God? Plenty. Especially in the States. But most of them live their lives like they are atheists. James compares that belief to the belief the demons have. What is the difference between demon’s belief in God and the saving faith of one of his Children? When we read the rest of the bible we see this–The demons believe there is a God. They believe he is the creator of the universe. They believe he is powerful. When we read the gospels, we learn that they believe Jesus is the savior. But they don’t love God. They don’t trust in his goodness and his grace. They don’t worship him or have a relationship with him. They continue to work with Satan in an attempt to overthrow God’s plans for humans. They are in rebellion against him. This faith is what James calls dead faith. True faith in God and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for that matter will naturally manifest itself in trust, in reverence, in a relationship whereby the believer lives what they believe. If they believe Jesus is the savior, and have faith that he saved them, they will live their life like they needed to be saved; in thankfulness, wanting to follow and serve their Lord and Savior. We can see this when we study the etymology of the Greek used in the original words of James. The word he used “pistis” is derived from “peithō” which is a primary VERB. Real faith will manifest itself in action. The verb means “to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing to believe; to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person; to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with; to trust, have confidence, be confident.”

faith isIt works like this…If I truly loved my husband, I wouldn’t have to remind myself to love him AND be nice to him. If I truly love him, that will naturally show itself in being nice. I could surely act nice and not love him, but it wouldn’t be authentic. Anyone can fake it. But its the heart that makes it true. Another way of looking at is by an illustration my husband likes to use: If I truly believe with all my heart that it is going to be pouring rain tomorrow. Then I will bring an umbrella and dress accordingly. If I don’t, I’d have to question whether I truly believed it or not.” Real Faith does not need to ADD Works. We will want to follow God. Will we be perfect at it? No way. But we will show fruit. We will show change in our life and continuous change as we continue in our walk and relationship with him. When we stop believing or stop loving him in action by praying and reading his word (Because if you believed you were saved from death by your Savior, you will naturally want to know him and talk with him) then you will start to revert back to your old ways. You will stop growing. We need Christ to grow in our perfection. This is called Sanctification. True believers will show fruit. Some more than others depending on where they started and how long they have been connected to the Vine (Christ).

This leads me to another verse that people often misunderstand as proving it is Faith AND Works that gives us salvation and eternal life.  Its the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:20-22:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits.21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”

Many people think this shows that doing the will of the father is what is needs to be added to faith in order to be saved because of this verse. But if they read the context, a few verses earlier Jesus says the following:

 ” 16“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”

We are incapable of even producing good fruit without being deemed good. And how are we deemed good? By our faith in Christ! Christ’s blood covers our sins so that we are washed white as snow. We are made righteous by our faith. He even further illustrates this in John 15:1-4 when Jesus says these words:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

So does he say we produce fruit in order to have a chance to be grafted in the vine? Nope. We are already grafted in beforehand. So if it is faith alone that saves us and there are plenty of so-called Christians out there claiming to believe. How then do we know if we are truly saved people? Paul explains how to do so in 2 Corinthians 13:5-7:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

fruits-of-the-spirit-LOVELooking at our fruit helps us know whether we have real faith. And if we don’t , we can really determine if we have that faith or not. This happened to me when I was 28 years old. I had called myself a Christian for years until a situation arose where I had to look at my life. And I saw that I did not live like I did. I prayed only when I was in need of something and never read the bible. I was selfish, living in sexual sin, and when my live-in-boyfriend asked me questions about God, I had no answers for him because I didn’t even Know God. I felt God calling me to him and decided to try going to church again (after 13 years!). I heard the gospel message again and rededicated my life to the Lord. I felt the Spirit of God within me for the first time in my life and it changed me. I started reading the bible, worshiping him, tithing, and even moved out of my boyfriend’s house and stopped sleeping with him. He broke up with me and I still clung to Christ. I wanted to please him in all I did no matter how hard. Anyone who reads this blog can look at all my posts prior to January 6th, 2008 and will see some of my life before being saved. Mind you , it was a mommy blog then, so it was not anything crazy, but you will see I had a boyfriend of 6 years who I lived with and even had a child with. But I had to chose him or God. I chose God. That is the power of Christ!!! I boast in him and him alone. No way was that me. Now It is 7 years later. I am married to a sinner saved by grace who loves the lord and grows everyday in him. We have 4 beautiful children. And while I still battle with my flesh, it is my heart to still please God because I love him. And I continually show growth in my life year after year since I was saved, becoming more Christ-like. I am far from perfection but I trust that Christ will finish the good work he began in me that January 6th, 2008 when I am transformed and given my new body. I am a living testament to the power of a loving God who gives grace to sinners for loving him.

But what if we don’t get the chance to produce works from our faith? Are we really saved? The bible shows us that the answer is yes. It is faith alone! Look at the thief on the cross? He did nothing more than proclaim Christ as King and asked Jesus to save him. Christ declared he would be in paradise with Him. God knows our hearts. He knows if it is saving faith or not. And by that, I believe that had that thief not died on that Cross, he would have been living life a changed man in the early church age.

Another reason, it cannot be faith and works is because we still sin after being saved! Don’t believe me? John points out in  1 John 1:8-10:

“”If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

The thing is, just like the thief on the cross, we all still sin and deserve death. That is why we need a Savior! Confessing our sins is a verbal act stemmed in the saving faith in a Savior. If we recognize we are sinners, we recognize our need for a savior; if we recognize our need for a savior, we recognize the severity of our wrongs and in love for our God, we would confess those to him and apologize, asking him to save us because we know we cannot save ourselves. If his Word is in us, we will confess our sins and be continually cleansed so that we can continue to be good trees and produce good fruit if time allows. And this will be at a pace set by God. Some people show drastic change right away; some slowly change over time. Regardless, we show the fruit of our salvation stemmed in our saving faith in him by our works. And these works will not reap salvation, but rewards.

Paul explains this in  1 Corinthians 3: 13-15:

” But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”

Here we learn that at the “Bema” Seat Judgment (Google it or stay tuned for an upcoming blog on the subject), Lack of valuable works will not send us to hell. But instead, Christians lose rewards. Even Christ himself mentions this in Matthew 16:27:

“For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done.”

But we will be saved from the wrath of the Great White Throne Judgment John mentions in Rev 20:11-15:

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Here, those with saving faith will have no sins on record because their slate was wiped clean by Christ. Their names will be written in a separate book.

jesusThank God in his grace that where I have fallen short, Christ has covered. Even David knew of this Grace when he prophesies in Psalm 103: 11-13 :

 11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. 12As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.…”

In the end, if it took faith and works, then I’d still be relying on my works to finish where Christ left off. I’d be living my life trying to earn my salvation still and therefore trusting in my works to get me there. I’d be living in fear of messing up and not in joy of being set free. How many lies would I have to tell before I lied one too many and lost my salvation? How many good deeds would I need to do to make it? If you dishonored your parents 10 times but gave to the poor 20 times, would that get you into heaven? What if I never dishonored my parents but I never gave to the poor either? When we got to heaven, if we even could, we could boast in our works, and sympathize with the other believers who just didn’t do quite enough to actually be saved by their savior. See, by salvation being made by faith and works, it really just makes it by works. And it makes Christ’s death null and futile. Rewards come from works, but not salvation. It is through faith alone that leads to salvation. And when we stumble and fall, sinning, as we all do, we can trust that Christ has saved us. Because we have his word that promises his children that he has cast our sins “as far as the east is from the west.”

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3 thoughts on “Grace through Faith? Or Grace through Faith AND Works? : What the Bible Teaches

  1. Hi Theresa. You are a wordsmith no doubt. I want to add my perspective to the LDS account of what we mean by faith and works if I may… I am not an eloquent writer by any means so please forgive me if this is confusing (this will be full of grammatical errors as well). You’ve made many of these points already, but it sounds like you might misunderstand the LDS point of view. For me and my limited understanding, faith and works go hand in hand. Faith, as you say, incites works… but faith also increases with works… works being service to our fellow man, repentance, reading scriptures, praying, charity, obedience to God’s commandments (and whatever else may increase our faith). Yes, we WANT to do good works when we have faith. Likewise If we do not increase our faith through those works, it becomes weak. What happens when hard things occur in our lives and our faith is weak? We might blame God for our troubles and give up on our faith in Him instead of practicing the work thereby turning to Him, praying and reading scriptures and after the hardship finding our faith has been strengthened because we used good works to lean on Him. God wants us to be prepared to meet Him, as He tells us in the parable of the Ten Virgins. The oil in their lamps represents their faith, those who were “foolish” did not do the “work” and were not prepared to keep their lamps filled as they waited to meet the bridegroom (Jesus). The 5 who were “wise” were prepared and couldn’t give the faith (oil) they had come prepared with to the “foolish”. The foolish virgins were there waiting, this shows they had some semblance of faith but were not prepared and it all “burned” out. They didn’t think they needed anymore oil than they had brought. Likewise when strife or turmoil comes into our lives how prepared are we to keep our faith in Christ? Would we be like Job? If you’ve never practiced good works, you might find yourself fumbling and not know how to keep the faith. Works helps our faith for our time here on earth. Many people have this incorrect perspective that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe we can “earn our way into heaven”. We DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. I WANT to do works BECAUSE I love God and doing that work helps me understand and love Him MORE. I know that the Grace of God cannot be earned… it is given to us lovingly and freely to all who want it. If symbolically we needed 10 heavenly made gold coins to be in the presence of God, Grace provides all 10 coins, but for this metaphor’s sake let’s say one person somehow did earn 1 coin and another earned 8, Grace gives the 9 to the one and the 2 to the other because all 10 have already been paid for, this is to point out that one: we cannot earn our way. and two: it’s not a competition of good works, those who have faith are happy for all who partake of His Grace… those who have faith are saved thanks to the Grace of God on high, which is available to all thanks to the atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That faith that strengthens through works… (Please do not take my metaphor of gold coins to mean that I think I can in any way shape or form buy my way into heaven, I was attempting to explain my view of Grace). I believe that God’s prophets wrote about faith and works so that we understand how they work together… while understanding that it is indeed through faith and not measured by our works (which could never be enough anyway). Hope this made sense.

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  2. Thanks Diana for sharing! You make some excellent points and I want to respond to them.

    Is Mormonism a works based faith? I feel especially qualified to answer this question because my husband was a Mormon for 30 years. His family is especially active and many have held leadership positions at BYU (ie Hugh Nibley, Reid Nibley).

    When referring to works, we are talking about whether or not the things we do on Earth get us into heaven.

    But what is heaven? Mormons believe in three levels of heaven and then outer darkness.

    what is salvation? Mormons believe that salvation refers to a universal resurrection. They believe that exaltation achieves the highest levels of heaven (celestial kingdom).

    Here are some quotes from some respected Mormon leaders and prophets that prove this :

    “All men are saved by grace alone without any act on their part, meaning they are resurrected” (Bruce McConkie, What Mormons Think of Christ”, LDS tract, p.28).

    Spencer W. Kimball states: “however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pg. 207); “Each command we obey sends us another rung up the ladder to perfected manhood and toward godhood; and every law disobeyed is a sliding toward the bottom where man merges into the brute world” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pg. 153); “living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation…trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentence when one merely tries to abandon sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.164-165, 354-3)

    Christians on the other hand believe as the bible alone teaches: there is one heaven. There is one hell. There are no levels. There are no inbetweens. Salvation refers to the saving of a person from person. A saved person is a sinful human who puts their faith in Christ alone. When this saved person dies, they will be “Present with The Lord”. They do not have to reach a highest heaven through works to achieve this.

    So we can conclude that we use the same word but each religion (Mormonism and Christianity) has a different meaning behind it. So while both hold that salvation is a free gift by faith, the definition of salvation is different.
    Christians believe salvation is eternal life in heaven.Mormons believe salvation is resurrection But exaltation is the ultimate goal and so there is still work to be done in order to obtain access to the highest heaven. The ultimate goal for Christians is salvation. That gives them direct access to God for all eternity in the one and only heaven where he resides. No work to be done.

    When referring to the Christian meaning of salvation even Dr. Parsons from BYU says “Therefore, acting alone, the grace of Christ is not sufficient for salvation. The works of man — the ordinances of salvation, the deeds of service and acts of charity and mercy — are necessary for salvation…,” (By Grace Are We Saved: The necessity of God’s grace in addition to man’s good works, 1989 ed., p. 70).
    So when you share with me your response, it sounds similar to mine, but in actuality it is different. That’s the problem. On face value, the book of mormon often reads very similarly to the bible’s gospel. But when we interpret it with the words from the other Mormon scriptures, words from Mormon prophets, etc….we learn that in actuality it teaches something quite different.

    As for the virgins and the oil, I don’t think the bible ever says the oil represents their faith. That is an interpretation backed by Mormon theology. If one reads the parable using bible-only theology, it means instead that that they had saving faith vs unsaving faith. Plenty of people are false believers. Those who begin to believe perhaps but change their mind later or were just pretending. I personally think those at Got Questions Minsitry explain it very well– The five virgins who have the extra oil represent the truly born again who are looking with eagerness to the coming of Christ. They have saving faith and have determined that, whatever occurs, be it lengthy time or adverse circumstances, when Jesus returns, they will be looking with eagerness. The five virgins without the oil represent false believers who enjoy the benefits of the Christian community without true love for Christ. They are more concerned about the party than about longing to see the bridegroom. Their hope is that their association with true believers (“give us some of your oil” of verse 8) will bring them into the kingdom at the end. This, of course, is never the case. One person’s faith in Jesus cannot save another. The “Lord, lord” and “I do not know you” of verses 11 and 12 fit very well with Jesus’ condemnation of the false believers of Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

    So as we can see, there are plenty of people who will “doing” all sorts of things that look Christian. But according to the bible, unless they KNOW Christ—have a personal relationship with him, they are not actually doing the will of the Father. All good works in God’s eyes are rooted in a saving relationship with Christ Jesus.

    I know not all Mormons believe the same things, depending on how deep they go in their own theology lessons, whether they are temple approved, etc. I’m not sure where your beliefs fit with the ones I quoted from your scriptures and prophets above, but I hope my explanation at least gives you something to think about and decide for yourself where you stand in your own faith. Love you, ol’ friend. 

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  3. Pingback: FAQ: What does the Catholic Church teach about “Works Righteousness”? | Brother Priests

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