What if Faith Does Not Guarantee Works?

I’ve re-thought this entire issue and want to propose that “Faith Guarantees Works” is only valid as a hypothetical construct.  In other words, I don’t think practically we can look at anyone’s works and tell anything about their own eternal destiny.  I’ll walk through the logic and the scripture, but what do you think?  Why is it important to hold onto this theological assumption?  What happens if works isn’t connected to faith?  Where is the harm?  What could be the good?

Fred Lybrand

18 thoughts on “What if Faith Does Not Guarantee Works?”

  1. Basic logic tells us that even if ‘A’ guarantees ‘B’, that does not require that the presence or reality of ‘B’ must guarantee ‘A’.

    For example, the reality of intelligent design requires that there be a designer, namely God. However the opposite of that is not necessarily true in that the reality and the presence of God and his creative abilities does not require that there be a creation.

    So to say that faith guarantees works does not mean that we must conclude that works guarantees faith. You are right in saying that by merely observing someones external actions we cannot say anything about their eternal destiny.

    So this then begs the question what does James mean when he says, “I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” (2:18)?

  2. Nice…Frankly, I don’t think James is saying, “I will show you my faith…”

    I think it is clearly the diatribe who is making that statement!


  3. Fred, David, et. al. in FG

    In reply to the question “What if faith does not guarantee works?” I would say that this in fact is the starting premise of the whole book of James! Faith was not at all producing the works that should have been evident among people of faith, and that is precisely our problem today among people of faith.

    The thematic verses, 1:2-4, make it clear that the immediate objective of trials is to challenge our faith to produce works might make us “whole” and “perfect.” But “whole” and “perfect” in what measure? It is the “commodity” of the righteousness of God. The larger objective of works of faith in James is that as children of God we might vindicate our birth as His “firstfruits” (1:18)—“friends of God” who display His righteousness to the world (1:19-20, cf. 2:23).

    To this end, the most exemplary works of righteousness are those that are rooted in God’s heart of compassion and longsuffering for His people (Ex 34:6). And what are the main “trials” we face that are meant to elicit these works of compassion and longsuffering? Invariably (look at the entire NT epistolary corpus), this entails the grueling challenge of loving those who are “hard-to-love” within the body of Christ. This is epitomized by the teaching on manifested righteousness in Matt 5 and 1 John 2:29-3:18, as well as Christ’s repeated injunction that others will know who we are by our love for one another (cf. John 13:35).

    I contend that the “goal” of works in 2:14-26 as it relates to faith is no different than in 1:2-4: It is that “faith is perfected [or brought to completion] by works” (2:22) as we face trials. While God was among “the twelve tribes scattered” intent on purifying His people in the “commodity” of righteousness for His name’s sake, the most important works—those that display the righteousness of God—were sorely lacking, just as they were lacking among the Israelites for most of their prior history.

    Thus, the message of 2:14-26 is addressed to a people who were not demonstrating the mercy and compassion to others that should be manifested among the people of God who were birthed by Him through by grace through faith (1:17-18). If they claimed to have faith, they should be demonstrating their faith by “doing” the righteousness of God in their interaction with one another (1:19-20). If, as you claim “I don’t think practically we can look at anyone’s works and tell anything about their own eternal destiny,” how in the world could you see that “a man is justified by works” (2:24)??? How could Abraham be “called a friend of God” by those who observed his works (2:23)???

    Consequently, however we view the controversial 2:18, it is incongruent with James’ argument to claim that he was not advocating a disposition of “I will show you my faith by my works.” While it is ridiculous to claim from 2:14-26 that “faith guarantees works” (in fact the passage argues the converse—“works make faith visible and bring faith to completion”), I think it is a mistake to shrink from the obvious communicative intent of the passage out of fear that Lordship people will abuse it: James is clearly seeking to humiliate people who are assumed to be “family” and claim to have faith but have little or nothing to show for it! They should precisely be showing their faith by works!

    Along these lines, IMO, one all-too-evident problem within the FG movement at the present time is that we, of all people in the Body, are so stuck on “protecting” faith alone in Christ alone from any “contamination” by works (lest we “facilitate” incursions by errant Reformed and Lordship theologies) that we are shooting each other over “the right formula for salvation” rather than “provoking one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). So, we in FG—who argue most vociferously against works as a “marker” of salvation—are the very ones to whom James’ message is most appropriately addressed.

    In response to Christ’s work of atonement, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation precisely by becoming the (visible) righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:17-21). If we don’t make more progress in taking seriously James’ injunctions in the way we treat each other, being reconciled to one another, our only “completing” or “perfecting” will be our total marginalization from the larger Body of Christ.

    (See further: http://rosesreasonings.blogspot.com/2009/03/whats-grace-got-to-do-with-it.html#links)

  4. I don’t think practically we can look at anyone’s works and tell anything about their own eternal destiny.

    I would agree that human beings cannot tell from a positive good works standpoint. However, from a negative standpoint, I think we sometimes can tell. For example: I saw movie last night that had a pimp who abused and assaulted his workers and yet claimed to be a Christian! I think such a person would be deluded and not indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

  5. Man,

    I really like the way you guys are thinking! I think you’re going to find my book (2 weeks) a really fresh change for the conversation!

    …Or…it could be a heresy!



  6. Wayne,

    Let me tweak a bit…as to the negative ‘works’. I think you are right, except my understanding of John 15 tells me that ‘lack of fruit’ shows clearly a person is not abiding / walking with Christ. I makes sense that I can tell one’s spiritual life stinks because spiritual life is connected to ‘works’. I can’t tell about one’s salvation, because it is not connected to works (FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE).

    Again, since salvation and sanctification are separate things (basically as Jim is saying)…the conversation and conclusions get muddled when they’re comingled.



  7. Fred,
    No doubt it is difficult and fortunately we do not have to make the calls on who is justified and who is not. We do know from Jesus and N.T. writers that there are hypocrits who claim to be saved but are not.

  8. Hi Fred, sorry I haven’t around here.

    James is a tough text to work through. The Spirit is having him convey a lot of information in very little space. We may not be talking the volume that is Romans, but the short little letter from James packs a big punch.

    James 2 is particularly tough because of the assumptions we ALL bring with us.

    I believe that Scripture is perfectly clear, God cannot lie. Therefore any interpretation of James that makes God out to be a liar is clearly false.

    Justification (to Eternal Salvation) is not of works at all, else Romans 4 is clearly false… therefore the assumption that Justification (to Eternal Salvation) is by faith + works is false.

    However, we really do each show our faith to each other by our works. We are justified before men, by our works. James is talking about how we act. He’s also talking about our faith being “perfected” like Abraham’s was. It was 40 years between Abraham being accounted righteous and his great faithful work with his son. His work showed his faith to us, it was the perfecting of his faith because it had him truly living it out. However, his faith was “real” and “effectual” and saving prior to his work and would have been even if he had died prior to his great faithful work.

    We can look at Abraham’s work and see his faith, but his faith was existent without it. Therefore the lack of that work would not indicate that he didn’t have faith.

    We are justified before men through our works, but before God through our faith.

    Nothing new here I know… just wanted to participate. 🙂


  9. Hey Kev,

    Good thoughts, though I’m not sure we really do (at least always) show our faith by our works…again, I don’t think James is the one saying that, but rather his opponent…

    For example, how could we ever be hypocrites if this is hard and fast. A hypocrite looks one way, but is really another!



    1. I think we “can” show our faith by our works, but I don’t think this is always the case. Otherwise the questions in James 2 don’t make sense. It’s obvious that we are to view each other as we consider who to fellowship with, who to allow to sit at the Lord’s Table, who can be an Elder…. we can’t do that by viewing the person’s salvation, or their heart. We can only see their faith demonstrated in their works.

      This doesn’t mean that a Christian will always have visible works. Clearly we’re told that some at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be saved “as though by fire” because all their works will burn.



    During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther took it upon himself to change the understanding of the Bible around to fit his own particular theology.

    Not only did he throw out seven complete books of the Old Testament and parts of two other books, he also implied that Christians are saved by faith alone, because of Romans 3:28, which states “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”, rather than the way it was taught for over 1100 years.

    He even inserted the word “alone” into Romans 3:28 when he translated it. One has to wonder about the wisdom of changing the interpretation of the divinely inspired Word of God to fit your own theology, especially after 11 centuries.

    The only time you actually do see the words faith and alone together in a sentence is in James 2:24, where James says, “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”. (James 2:24)

  11. Davo,

    I’m not exactly sure where you are coming from, but you have a few claims that would need to be substantiated…especially the 11 centuries notion about what exactly what was taught.

    Nonetheless, anyone can be accused of fitting the text to his theology…so, the real question is where does the idea of ‘faith alone’ come from—and—where does the idea that faith + works is necessary for salvation?



    P.S. Let’s take alone out of Rom 3:28—

    “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28, ESV)

    Seems pretty clear that Faith – Works = Faith (alone)

  12. Then of course there is Romans 4:1-8 Ephesians 2..

    Genesis 15 – Abram was assured of God’s promise and this was accounted as righteousness

    Further back we see Adam believe God’s promise of Gen 3:15 in that he called his wife Eve because she is the mother of all living. Immediately after that we have what is widely accepted as the first animal sacrifice – though the Text doesn’t actually tell us that is what it was.

    There is no works involved in any salvation message of the Bible.


  13. I’ve ordered it myself Fred. When I get through it I’ll surely post about it.

    I can’t wait to find out if you’re a hero or… hehehe


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