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  What's the Relationship Between Faith and Works?

This week our question looks at the relationship between "works" and "faith." Our writer has a loved one involved in the Jehovah's Witnesses, a sincerely dedicated group who have a works-based faith. He says, "These people really in their heart believe in Jesus Christ, but one thing I do not understand is that they have so many rules to abide by. If that was my God it seems he has too many rules and that I wouldn't be able to keep them so I'd simply drop the belief."

The question of faith and works (living by the rules) has been hotly contested throughout the centuries-and even while the New Testament was being written. The Bible clearly states in a number of passages that faith is the basis for salvation. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly states that a faith that doesn't produce good works is a dead faith.

A common assertion is that Jesus came to "fulfill the law," that is, to eliminate all the many and varied rules of the Old Testament. Indeed, Paul wrote that if Christians choose to live by the Old Testament laws that their faith was pointless (Galatians 5). And Jesus himself said that all the laws and rules could be wrapped up into the two commands of loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22.37-40), suggesting that if we live by these two commands no other rules apply. But probably the most damning of the writings about "keeping the rules" is Paul's words to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-not because of works, lest any one should boast" (Ephesians 2.-9).

So, according to the Bible, it's all about faith.

Or is it?

The Bible is also pretty specific that faith is meant to produce good works. Jesus taught that his followers were to tithe (Luke 20.25), make disciples (Matthew 28.19), feed the hungry, visit the sick and the imprisoned, clothe the poor, and house the homeless (Matthew 25.41-43), and to give away our possessions to support the poor (Mark 10.21-23). And these are just a few of the "rules" Jesus made. And lest one think the early church negated his words, John writes in his first letter about those who don't follow Jesus' commandments, "He who says 'I know him' but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2.4) and James writes, "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder" (James 2.17-19).

So, we're saved by faith, not by doing good things. But without doing good things we don't really have faith. Which is it?

The answer is "yes." Salvation, being saved, getting into heaven, life everlasting, and all of that comes by faith/belief alone. Jesus was clear about that and the early church affirmed it in the many letters of the New Testament as well as subsequent writings through the centuries. So, if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, you're heaven bound. Period.

On the other hand, those who have "faith" but don't keep the explicit teachings of Jesus are, as James put it, no better the devil himself. And, by the way, as John put it above, we're called to keep all the teachings of Jesus, not just the ones that are convenient, else the truth isn't in us.

Faith and works is a two pronged fork. You might be able to eat without one or the other, but it's really hard to get food into your mouth-or love into your heart-that way.

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