In Christian theologies, there is often a tension between faith and works, and the relationship between the two is often misunderstood. Ephesians 2:8-10 says:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The core of Christianity is that we cannot save ourselves, that it is God who saves us. And that is what the beginning of this passage clearly states. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in that grace and the work of Christ on the cross. Why? So that we cannot boast and so that God gets the glory for this miraculous work in us.
The the last sentence of this passage talks about the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Which brings up the question do we have to do these works to be saved? James wrote that faith without works is dead and cannot save us.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17.
But what about the thief on the cross? He had faith in Jesus but had no opportunity to do any good deeds? Yet Jesus told him that he would be in paradise with Jesus that day. By his faith alone he was saved.
And what of the invalid who has no strength or resources to help another? If such a person puts their faith in Jesus, but has no opportunity to do what we might consider good deeds, should not their faith alone save them, just as it did the thief?
As I understand it, if a person has a saving faith in Jesus that faith will produce a change of heart, and that change of heart will motivate them to treat others differently. It will motivate them, when the opportunity is presented to them, to help others. The good deeds that are produced by this change of heart may be as small as a kind word to a stranger or as big as funding and building a homeless shelter in a place of great need.
James says that faith without deeds is dead. Such faith does not die because it is not accompanied by good deeds – It was never alive to begin with if it doesn’t change the heart.
1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Faith is important, but love in action is greater because it is the product of a saving faith and an abiding hope in God. May all three abound in your life today and always.