Most mornings driving to work I listen to Adrian Rogers on the radio. This morning his topic was a compare and contrast of faith and works from Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." and James 2. Pastor Rogers wanted to assure us that these two passages are not contradictory. He is correct. His basis for this was pointing out a key to understanding. This key, he claimed, was that Ephesians 2:8-9 speaks of our justification before God (faith) while James 2 speaks of our justification before men (works). To support this claim, we must ask two questions. Why and why?
Why must I be justified before God? That's easy. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Justification cost His blood. That is God's eternal explanation found in Romans 5:9, "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."
Pastor Rogers went on to claim rightly that our faith, our justification, our salvation is indeed based alone on the grace of God - NOT OF WORKS. For how could any man account of his works and declare them sufficient such that he knows he is saved? And what man would accept not knowing, but merely hoping his works were enough, only to find out after death (too late!) that his works were insufficient? What rational man would take on such a religion?
The second question is where we get into trouble. Why must I be justified before men? Pastor Rogers went right to the Scriptures for this one. He pinged Romans 4:2-3, "Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." and James 2:23-24, "And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Somehow at this point Pastor Rogers drew the conclusion that Abraham's works justified him before man. Let's examine that claim.
Genesis 15 offers God's Word about Romans 4:2-3. Genesis 22 (30 years later) offers God's Word about James 2:23-24. Two things jump out immediately as we go back to those two passages in Genesis. First, who was there? If Abraham's works justified his faith before men, then who was there to account for it? Nobody. Nobody was there but Abraham, Isaac, and God. Second, what was God's response?
Genesis 22:12, "And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me." God then goes on to declare His blessings to Abraham. But the point here is that Abraham's work of offering Isaac elicited a response from God, not man.
Our faithful works before God are for that very purpose - to obtain His response. What response is that? Justification.
Other Bible teachers have explained the difference between the two key texts of this post this way: Ephesians 2:8-9 speaks of our saving faith while James 2 speaks of our living faith. That's the way I have always heard it until this morning.
But before you start to see Pastor Rogers' point and argue, think about these last two facts from his broadcast. He went on to say that there are many people in his congregation and listening to his broadcast who are not saved. They think they are. But they don't know it. He said (and you've heard this illustration hundreds of times) they have missed salvation by eighteen inches. They know the truth in their heads but they have never asked Jesus into their hearts.
Stop right there. That's works! No one can claim salvation by grace alone and then also say that we must "ask Jesus into our heart". By implication that means if we do not ask Him, then we are not saved. That is works.
Second, at the end of the broadcast, his assistant Chris announces a typical benediction, "If you've never prayed to receive Jesus as your Savior...."
Stop right there. That's works too! No one can claim salvation by grace alone and then also say that we must "pray to receive Jesus". By implication that means if we do not pray, then we are not saved. That is works.
These are unBiblical myths propagated by the church today. They leave sinners in hell and many saints confused and out of their daily right in heaven.
Faith without works is dead. Does that mean we lose our salvation? God forbid! It simply means we are asleep. "Awake unto righteousness and sin not," saith the Lord in I Corinthians 15:34. Our works are for the good pleasure of God as we demonstrate our faith. We believe His revealed Word and will and we do it. There is no greater joy on earth or heaven than this.