"So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
If you grew up a Jehovah's Witness, you had this scripture memorized at an early age. It was the supreme go to scripture that validated your existence at five meetings a week and countless hours going door to door -Works are what God requires, and without them, your faith is dead, and you are dead. I will quote them on this from a recent article in the Watchtower (March 1st, 2014) based up James 2:17: "Everlasting life in peaceful, pleasant conditions, without the threat of illness, war, famine, or death, would surely open the door to endless happiness and blessings. Whether you will receive those blessings depends entirely on you. The question that remains really is, What are you doing for God?" The more appropriate question should be, 'What is God doing through you?' When we analyze where the works of God come from, and how they are manifested in our Christian walk, we can easily identify how destructive this view is. The fact is, if you are trying to work your way into the Kingdom, you will not be there. The Bible answers this for us in what is the most comprehensive plan of action for our lives in Christ Jesus. The Gospel is so simple when it's cornerstone is faith in Christ Jesus, and not our own effort in the flesh. It all, and always, comes back to Jesus.
John 6:28-29 is the very scripture that lead me to believe as I do now. It was the key - it is the nemesis of those who go to scriptures like James 2:17 in an effort to elevate their religion of works as the Pharisees did. It reads "Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”. Note that he answered them singularly when asked a question in plurality. All of the works God requires can be accomplished by one work alone. Faith. Now, let's jump to this very issue that was in progress during Paul's ministry. This account is a pivotal moment in Christianity, and its lesson effected the growth and spread of the true Gospel right down to our day. In Galatians 2:4-5, we read "...because some false brothers had infiltrated or ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give into them for a moment so that the truth of the Gospel might remain with you" What was at issue here? Works. Peter and Barnabas themselves had been led to believe that Jesus ransom was not enough, and that obedience to the Law was still necessary for salvation to the Gentiles, converting them to Christ through Judaism and its law code. Paul states in verse 11 "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong". Paul told then that they "were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel". What is the truth of the Gospel? This brings us to a scripture that nails down the entire bible to me. If I had to share just one scripture with someone who was curious about the power of true faith, it would be Paul's retort to those who were trying to manifest faith by works. We read in verse 20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me".
If we believe in Jesus Christ, we have died with Him, so that He may live in us -this is being 'Born Again'. Spiritually, this is to be taken literally. It is not of our own doing. When we are doing the work of our Lord and making his light of truth shine onto the path of others, it is Christ in us. It is the work of The Spirit and not our own will. It is the will of God that we work, because it is him working his will through us by means of our faith. Just read Philippians 2:13 "for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." The power of the Gospel and the will of God is manifested through us, and not by us, by the Holy Spirit. We can never work hard enough to be considered right in the eyes of the one with whom we render an account. We can only have the kind of faith that is willing die in the flesh, acknowledge that we are useless without Jesus Christ, and then allow him to develop us into vessels for his purpose. Nobody is good enough to make themselves better in the eyes of our Lord. He does that for us and through us so that his will is accomplished. When we have true faith, we abandon the notion that our works reflect the strength of our faith - our works reflect the will of our God. We exist so that others may believe. When we awake each day, our purpose is His purpose - we no longer have the will to do our will, because his will is to live within us and through us so that others may believe with the kind of faith that is reciprocal, and this will always come back to having faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith without works is dead. So too, is the belief that we can work enough to be considered faithful. The true Gospel will always lead us closer to faith, and further from fiction. It will rest on the idea that we must die in order to live, and believe that there was one who died so that we may have life. It all, and will always, come back to Jesus Christ.