Faith is a word with many meanings. It can mean faithfulness (Matthew 24:45). It can mean absolute trust, as shown by some of the people who came to Jesus for healing (Luke 7:2-10). It can mean confident hope (Hebrews 11:1). Or, as James points out, it can even mean a hollow belief that does not result in good deeds (James 2:14-26). What does Paul mean when in Romans he speaks of saving faith?
We must be very careful to understand faith as Paul uses the word, because he ties faith so closely to salvation. It is not something we must do in order to earn salvation – if that were true, then faith would be just one more deed, and Paul clearly states that human deeds can never save us (Galatians 2:16). Instead, faith is a gift God gives us because he is saving us (Ephesians 2:8). It is God’s grace, not our faith, that saves us. In his mercy, however, when he saves us he gives us faith – a relationship with his Son that helps us become like him (Romans 8:29). Through the faith he gives us, he carries us from death into life (John 5:24).
Even in Old Testament times, grace, not deeds, was the basis of salvation. As Hebrews points out, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). God intended for his people to look beyond the animal sacrifices, but all too often they instead, put their confidence in fulfilling the requirements of the law – that is, performing the required sacrifices. When Jesus triumphed over death, he canceled the charges against us and opened the way to the Father (Colossians 2:12-15). Because God is merciful, he offers us faith. How tragic if we turn faith into a deed and try to develop it on our own! We can never come to God through our own faith, any more than his Old Testament people could come through their own sacrifices. Instead, we must accept his gracious offer with thanksgiving and allow him to plant the seed of faith within us.
What About Faith and Works in James?
James offers a larger number of similarities to the Sermon on the Mount than any other book in the New Testament. James relied heavily on Jesus’ teachings. The author of this epistle (post card) is James, also called James the Just, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). James was not a believer (John 7:3-5) until after the resurrection (Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). He became the head of the Jerusalem church and is mentioned first as a pillar of the church (Galatians 2:9).
- When your life is full of difficulties and persecutions, be glad because a reward awaits you (James 1:2, Matthew 5:10-12)
- You are to be perfect, mature, and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4, Matthew 5:48)
- Ask God, and he will answer (James 1:5; 5:15, Matthew 7:7-12)
- Those who are humble (who don’t amount to much by the world’s standards) should rejoice in their positions as those whom God loves (James 1:9, Matthew 5:3)
- Watch out for your anger because it can be dangerous (James 1;20, Matthew 5:22)
- Be merciful to others, because God is merciful to you (James 2:13, Matthew 5:7; 6:14)
- Your faith must express itself in helping others (James 2:14-16, Matthew 7:21-23)
- Blessed are the peacemakers; they sow in peace and reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17, 18, Matthew 5:9)
- You cannot serve God and money, pleasures, or evil. Friendship with the world is hatred toward God (James 4:4, Matthew 6:24)
- When we humble ourselves and realize our need for God, he will come to us and lift us up (James 4:10, Matthew 5:3, 4)
- Don’t slander or speak against others; it speaks against God’s command to love one another (James 4:11, Matthew 7:1, 2)
- Treasures on earth will only rot and fade away, so we must store up eternal treasures in heaven (James 5:2, Matthew 6:19)
- Be patient in suffering, as God’s prophets were patient (James 5:10, Matthew 5:12)
- Be honest in your speech so you can say a simple “yes” or “no” and always be trusted (James 5:12, Matthew 5:33-37)