A good study of the New Testament helps us to see there is a role for works and a role for faith. Without faith as the underlying foundation in place, the role for works would be useless. The significance of this point is found in relationship to the apostle Paul, James, and many in the denominational world.
Paul, in the context of his letter to Rome, argued that man is justified by faith apart from works (Romans 3:28). In this con-text, it is important to know exactly what Paul had in mind with the word works. It seems that some in the denominational world, reacting to Catholic teachings with regard to works, insert the word alone after faith, thereby giving us the unbiblical doctrine of salvation by faith alone.
One can turn the pages of the New Testament forward from Matthew to Revelation, start again and do the same, and not find anywhere where it is taught by the Lord (or any who represent Him) that man is saved by faith alone. What he will find, however, is that man is saved by faith apart from works (as Paul declared); the word works as used by Paul in Romans is associated with the Law of Moses. In other words, Paul is making clear that justification is by faith apart from the works of the Law of Moses.
In comparison with what Paul said, James said that man’s works bring about God’s declaration of “righteous” (James 2:22-23). The word “works” as used by James (2:14-26) is not the same as the way Paul uses it.
How do we balance the two ideas? To begin, we see there is a difference between the two men in how the word works is used. Let us not misunderstand what Paul had in mind when he said what he did in Romans. If one would be pleasing to God, under the old covenant, then faithful obedience to the Law of Moses was paramount (crucial). Without the foundation of faith in place, obedience to anything the Lord said would not actually be obedience at all, but a mere doing, acting, or complying with some outward requirement, not properly brought about as a result of loving God. This in no way pleases the Lord!
Note how these two ideas play a crucial role in one’s salvation. In Genesis 15, the Lord declared Abraham righteous as a result of his faith (Genesis 15:6), and in Genesis 22:12, the Lord said with regard to Abraham’s work (and faith) “now I know…” The idea is this: faith has a starting point, but obedience to the Lord’s will and deeds (works) of charity bring that faith to a completion, a goal. Thus, when the Scripture says that Abraham was justified by his works, it was in relation to doing the Lord’s will.
When you hear (or read) of a denominational teaching like justified by faith alone, you can be sure that it is not from Scripture, but one’s personal theology (opinion). Yet, the Scriptures teach that, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). One can’t go wrong doing such things as this. RT