Are We Saved by Faith or Works?

Many Christians have been perplexed by what they are sometimes told is a contradiction in the Bible in regards to "faith" and "works."  This is often seen occurring between the book of Ephesians and the book of James:

Eph 2:8-10
8    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, that no one should boast.

James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.

First off, keep in mind that James, who was Jewish, was writing originally to only JEWISH Christians who were part of the 12 tribes of Israel:

James 1:1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.

Jews have always been hung up with the belief that they must do some kind of WORKS in order to attain favor from God.  Thus, James, is addressing the Jewish Christians in terminology they understood.  Jesus did the same thing, when He was asked by a Jew about what WORK they could do to be saved:

John 6:26-29

26    Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.
27    "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, {even} God, has set His seal."
28    They said therefore to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"
29    Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

Clearly, the "work" we are to do that leads to us being justified, attaining righteousness, and receiving eternal life, is by believing upon Jesus Christ. 

Many Christians miss reading the fuller context of Ephesians chapter 2, which explains how the "works" James talks about comes into play in verse 10:

Eph 2:8-10
8    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, that no one 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.

The "good works" that we do start only by faith in Jesus Christ.This faith causes us to become a "new creation" (Gal 6:15), which now makes us able to walk in "good works",  not in order to earn righteousness and justification that leads to salvation, but in order to function the way God designed us to as new creatures, who were already freed from the slavery of sin (Rom 6:17). 

With that in mind, James is not teaching anything different than what Jesus did, or what we find in the book of Ephesians.  Check the bigger context of James chapter 2, to see that James sees faith as not merely being some trivial holding to a NON-COMMITTAL belief that even demons hold to, but involves a TRUST in God that somewhere along the way, includes some kind of ACTION that overtly confirms faith in God:

James 2:18-24
18    But someone may {well} say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
19    You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20    But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
21    Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
22    You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
23    and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God.
24    You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.

It is important to note that according to the Bible, God "reckoned" to Abraham "as righteousness" also BEFORE Isaac was even BORN!  See this here:

Gen 15:1-6
1    After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great."
2    And Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"
3    And Abram said, "Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."
4    Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir."
5    And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
6    Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

In verse 6, It is CLEAR that the faith of Abraham in God imputed righteousness in him.  At this point, Abraham is SAVED!  However, there is yet another point where the Bible states Abraham's "faith was perfected", in a "work" that God asked him to do:

Gen 22:10-12
10    And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
11    But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
12    And he said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

Please note that righteousness was not reckoned to Abraham at this point, since it occurred many YEARS earlier, before Isaac was even born.  However, Abraham's faith was TESTED and made more perfect by God through Abraham's obedience by doing this "work" of going through the preparation of sacrificing Isaac to God.  This sacrifice was clearly a picture of what God the Father would do later with Jesus, on the SAME HILL many years later, to provide payment for all the sins of mankind.

The Bible is consistent therefore, in how it teaches that only FAITH in Jesus Christ saves us, not by our WORKS, but that our "works" AFTER we have faith in Jesus Christ, work to serve God, and PERFECT our faith in Him.

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