Ask the average Christian how to receive salvation and it’s likely their response will have something to do with a confession of faith – a proclamation regularly wrapped in the emotion of an altar call, generally at the end of a church service, emphasized on the heaviest attended days of Easter and Christmas, in repeat-after-me style, with heads bowed so as not to deter those prone to wavering at the slightest hint of the spotlight. If sincerely expressed, it’s an admirable moment. A moment of surrender, fondly remembered by the countless people who have experienced it. It’s the beginning of something new, a turning point. A public statement to follow Jesus and turn from an admitted life of sin. It is verbal confirmation of a decision of the heart. And it’s not something only experienced in churches. Many a confession of faith have been declared in prison cells, dingy roadside motel rooms, behind locked bedroom doors, and anywhere else the opportunity presented itself.
But is that all it takes? Mere words? Is that how the greatest gift ever bestowed upon humanity is received? Is it really that simple?
Is expressing faith, even publicly, enough to ensure salvation? Or is there more to it than that?
James 2:14-26 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James in his Epistle makes the implication clear, one cannot have faith without works. It’s not enough to profess belief in God – for even the demons believe that there is one God, and that doesn’t seem to be working out too well for them. Yes, confession is a start, but no matter how earnestly proclaimed, it is only a desire until it is expressed through our works (actions). Good works precisely. Works that match the precepts of Scripture.
Don’t be mistaken, though, this is not a proclamation that works have the power to save. Far from it. But our words don’t have that power either. There is nothing we can do to EARN salvation. No specific actions, no specific words. If there was and we said or did them then we would have a right to boast about saving ourselves. This is not about that. This is about acceptance. Acceptance of a free gift. Faith and works operating together. They are the mechanism through which we receive.
Interestingly enough, our faith (words) and works (actions) working together mirrors the process through which salvation was accomplished. It was first prophesied (words) that a Savior would be born, and that the Savior would die and be raised from the dead, paying the price we were indebted to pay. It was not until later on that those prophecies were fulfilled through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus (all moments of action). Without their fulfillment the prophesies would have just been words. Empty promises. Incomplete. But that wasn’t the case. Thankfully, for humanity’s sake, they were fulfilled. And those that came before and after the resurrection can be justified by faith that is alive and not dead.
But what about grace? How does it fit in? Oftentimes the importance of our works is overshadowed by the message of grace. Grace covers many things – our ignorance towards what God truly expects from us, our propensity to give in to temptation, and our inability to be perfect, but it is not a license of unaccountability. Grace should not deteriorate the responsibility of acting out our faith. What are we if we are not accountable to our actions? We are to be a light for others to see. A light that shines brightly to compel others to leave the darkness.
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This is the great responsibility of the believer, that our actions match what we say. That our faith be manifested through our works. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
To be more than words.