Faith Without Works is Dead
Miscellaneous Sermons & Articles, September 2002
A strange doctrine has arisen within Christendom, and which has become increasingly dominant since the Reformation, which is that somehow faith and works (deeds) are two separate things "and never the twain shall meet". In the course of the debate on this apparent disparity over the centuries, different collections of scriptures ('Pauline' and 'Jacobite') have been amassed and been pitted against one another as though they were at civil war with one another. "We are saved by grace", says Paul, and "faith without works is dead", says James. Luther hated James's letter so much that with derision he called it the "straw gospel" and wished it deleted from the canon. And I wonder how many others would like to "delete" scriptures that contradict their own pet doctrines of salvation?
A kind of "compromise" position has been arrived at by many evangelicals which basically says that we are saved by grace alone and that our good deeds are the fruit of that salvation. And there is indeed a great truth in this. We have been teaching this doctrine at NCCG for years. But I would like to suggest that there is another dimension to the faith vs. works debate that is not connected so much with any apparent disparity between these two but with the realisation that there are different types of work and different types of faith.
All doctrines and principles of the faith are directly or indirectly "saving". Many disagree with that position. They claim that there are "primary" doctrines and "secondary" doctrines and that so long as we focus on the "primary" ones we may, if we so choose, display carelessness or indifference to the "secondary" ones. Needless to say this is not remotely a teaching of Yah'shua (Jesus) at all. He made perfectly clear that every principle of the Gospel was saving and that the Torah was so important in its detail that not one jot of tittle of it would pass away until the conclusion of the present system of things (Mt.5:18). Instead of deriding or minimising doctrines and practices which the majority of the Christian world scorns, He made it very plain that they were so important that we should attend to them with the same kind of detail as the Pharisees of His day were known of show, and more, but without religious hypocrisy. In short, He demanded that we be attentive to every detail of the Torah in a way that would put even the Pharisees to shame.
There are a little over 600 mitzvot of commandments in Yahweh's Holy Law or Torah all of which are important. The Bible teaches, however, that we can either obey them in righteousness or hypocrisy. Obedience which is justified and blessed means that that it must be done with a right heart and spirit, not pretentiously. And to illustrate the way we are made "righteous ones" (or tzadikim) in His sight He divided the mitzvot into three categories to illustrate the way in which we should always approach them. And to do that we need first of all to have the revelation that "God is love" (1 Jn.4:8,16) and "Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Messiah" (Mt.16:16; Jn.11:27). Without that revelation the mitzvot will always appear cold and sterile and our obedience to them will be more a matter of compulsion than heartfelt desire.
The diagram above illustrates the hierarchy or structure between grace and works. The initiating revelation to us is always grace - the undeserved loving kindness of Yahweh our Father in Heaven. He reveals to us that He loves us no matter what we do but cannot - because He is a righteous God - justify us or circumvent the Law of Justice if we continue to walk in lawlessness. This is the Word of Yah'shua (Jesus) too who said: "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt.23:28, NKJV). Please notice that Yah'shua (Jesus) was not condemning Law (Torah) but lawlessness occasioned by a disharmony between outside works and inside grace. The fault of the Pharisees - for which they were denounced as "vipers" and "hypocrites" was not the fact that they were Torah-observant but because they lacked grace, mercy and love which gives Torah its real meaning.
As we look at the pyramid, then, we understand not so much that there is any controversy over obedience to the Torah (for there was none) but the way in which it was approached. In actual fact, what the Pharisees were omitting was not so much love and grace but omitting the LAWS on love and grace! That was what made them "law-less", for they were breaking those "primary" laws which give meaning to all the "secondary" ones. Love is a LAW.
As we read the sayings of Yah'shua (Jesus) we at length come to understand that His mission was not so much to give a "new Torah" but to make sure that the Torah was being approached in the right way. Thus He criticised those who went through elaborate ceremonies not because the ceremonies were wrong but because they had become vacated of the principle factor of life, love. He came not to abrogate or do away with Torah but to bring it to completion - and there is nothing that can really ever complete Yahweh's revelation except the self-revelation of His love.
For this reason Yah'shua (Jesus) summarises the Torah and nivi'im (prophets) in the "Golden Rule" which says that we shall first of all love Yahweh our Elohim with our whole being and strength (Dt.6:5), and second, love our neighbour as ourself (Lev.19:18), both of which were first of all stated in Torah and which Yah'shua (Jesus) merely repeated (Mt.22:37-40; Mk.12:29-34; Lk.10:25-27)!
In another place Yah'shua (Jesus) explains that the same eternal life that comes from obeying these Two Great Commandments comes also from obeying the Decalogue or Ten Commandments:
"Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?" Yah'shua (Jesus) said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honour your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' " The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Yah'shua (Jesus) said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Matt.19:16-22, NKJV).
The reason that obedience to the Ten Commandments gives eternal life is because they are an expansion of the original dual-category. They are the explanation of what it truly is to love Yahweh and to love your neighbour. Loving either is not a matter of simply having bursting feelings in your bosom but in treating them in a loving way. We love God by honouring His Name (Yahweh), by rejecting other gods, by not being idolatrous, by observing His Sabbath properly, etc.. We love our neighbour by being true to his and our own marriage covenants, by not stealing, by not coveting something which isn't ours. The Ten Commandments are an Exposition on Love.
But that is not all. You cannot govern a people or present a system of ethics by merely conveying ten general principles, which is why Yahweh created a third level which expands on all ten original categories. These are all the Mitzvot or commandments. They tell us specifically about marriage relationships, correct worship. These commandments - every one of them, from the smallest detail - explains the heavenly declarative that "Eloah (God) is love". Without that revelation we would never know what "love" was. By zooming in on the three levels and carefully inspecting them, we soon discover what godly love is as opposed to the human version which is distorted by the sinful nature we inherit from Adam.
There is no way that you obey the least of the commandments unless you are first of all infused by a love for the Creator, and at the same time you cannot love the Creator unless you are obeying His commandments! The first love is a heart-love, and the second love is a practical love manifested in works or deeds. The one is not without the other. This principle we in NCCG call "divine synergism" and this I will now explain.
There is no way that a person can be saved who does not have any contact with Yahweh whatsoever and who simply latches onto a commandment and obeys it. To do so is better than to not be obedient at all - thus a man who does not know Yahweh who chooses not to steal, is that not better for others than were he to still not know Yahweh and continue to steal? Of course that is true. This man may be said to be obeying the letter of the Torah but not the spirit. He is doing what he should be doing even if his heart is still disconnected from the source of this love (for it is a loving thing to do not to steal from your neighbour). He is obeying the second part of the "Golden Rule" without obeying the first. And do not many pagans do this? Would you prefer that they did not until they observed the first part? What about the reverse? Would it be better to connect to Yahweh and disobey the rule to steal?
It is better to obey the first part first because in doing so one becomes animated by the life principle, which is Yahweh. That life principle brings life to the soul, and with life, happiness, peace and contentment. But what would you say of the person who said: "I love Yahweh my Elohim with my might strength of soul" and proves it by showing a great emotional outburst of passion for Yahweh, yet who at the same time commits adultery and robs his neighbour? What would you then say of the "passion" this man had in his soul?
If you cannot answer this question honestly then you are living in a false spirit and a delusion. For if you say that you love Yahweh and yet disobey His Mitzvot or commandments, you are, in fact, condemning yourself, because the commandments define what true love is. It doesn't matter a particle whether you have there warm gushing feelings in your soul but are breaking one of the commandments - for you declare yourself to be walking in sin in the light of the noon day. And it was that that the Pharisees were condemned for.
If obeying the commandments is a fruit of salvation, then what does that say about your salvation? It says - if you are walking in rebellion against them - that you not only don't truly love Yahweh but that the salvation of your soul is in jeopardy no matter how "good" or "peaceful" you feel inside. For every true principle, there is a counterfeit principle. A person can feel joy and ecstasy whilst committing adultery with another man's wife in his bed but he is still condemned, for his works are the evidence that he is a child of perdition.
What say you then of the relationship between faith and works? If your faith claims to be in Yahweh and yet you exercise faith, and practice the things which are forbidden by Torah, then your faith is in a false god and not Yahweh-Elohim or His Son Yah'shua (Jesus). And if that is so, what is required is a mighty repentance. It means that you "knew" a god who was not the true Yahweh-Elohim. You believed in a counterfeit deity.
"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5:19-20, NKJV).
"'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'" (Matt.25:40-41, NKJV).
"'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me'" (Matt.25:45-46, NKJV).
Does anyone dare, in the light of this principle, to treat the "least" as "secondary"? What you may think or declare to be unimportant, the Messiah directly contradicts you and says that the way you treat these "least" things is the same way you ultimately treat Him.
A man wrote to me yesterday boasting of an adulterous relationship he was living, and how he was happy with his wife who was doing the same thing, as though the one sin cancelled out the other. When I wrote back to him and said that he stood condemned by the Almighty, he retorted angrily that I could "keep" my Almighty. And yet is this man any different from a professing believer who scorns Torah and refuses to obey it because, he claims, he is walking a "higher law of love"? I think we know the answer to that question.
Faith and works are as inseparably connected as love and Torah, because each defines the other by throwing a mirror reflection back. It is the lawless or Torah-less ones that Yah'shua (Jesus) says He will send into hell when they come professing how faithful and wonderful they were:
"The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matt.13:41-43, NKJV).
We are justified by faith which leads to obedience. If our faith leads to lawlessness, will we be saved? No! Never! Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself says it: YOU WILL BE CAST OUT.
Remember when you read Paul to first read Christ, for Paul cannot be understood apart from Him. And when you read Christ, remember to first read Yahweh and His Torah. The great errors of the churches have been caused by turning things upside down, the favourite method of hell. Yah'shua (Jesus) always deferred to His Father Yahweh, obeying Him in all things.
True faith without true works is most definitely dead. All other combinations are defective and destructive: false faith and true works - true faith and false works - false faith and false works. These are ultimately misnomers.
My appeal is that everyone return to the basics of truth and to set them in context. Without it all "revelation" is false because it will be tainted, remembering that Satan taints and defiles everything that he touches. I meet so many people who come to me with new "revelations on love" that are Torah-less - they are lawless and therefore false, no matter how good they may feel, no matter how comforting they may seem. And lawlessness hates law with a passion! It will deliberately blind itself so as not to face it. And those who follow it become blind guides to a chain of other blinded ones.
The bottom line is: do you believe Word of God? Do you make excuses not to believe it by accusing those who expound it clearly as merely giving their "personal opinions"? If you are caught in a dangerous delusion, a fatal lie, break out of it and be free!
This page was created on 2 October 2002
Last updated on 2 October 2002
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