A major misunderstanding which has had a great influence on people for many centuries is a misplaced emphasis on the place of faith, or on the place of works, in relation to our salvation. We can rightly say that faith is the first step that we must take to receive mercy or help from God. We must "believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Faith is believing, but connected with that faith must be the second step of works or action.
Works, in plain Bible terms, are simple obedience. Obedience is a result of faith. David said, "I believed, therefore have I spoken" (Psalm 116:10). Paul added, "We also believe, and therefore speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13).
God does not force salvation on anyone; thus the term "self-choice and divine aid" has been used. We ask—God gives. We choose—God saves. Jesus revealed the great truth in John 6:44, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." God exercises drawing power, and we respond by coming to Him.
As we see the love of God reaching down to us, we reach out in true faith accompanied by repentance to accept God's offer of salvation. We need to be conscious of the fact, however, that the Holy Spirit is working constantly to bring us to the place where our faith becomes strong enough so that we will reach out our hand to Jesus and say, "Save me, Lord; I perish."
God, through His Spirit, leads each sincere, seeking soul to the place where he can experience the miracle of regeneration. He makes us over anew. We are born again by His working power through the blood of Christ. We seek—God reveals and leads the way. We draw near to God—He draws near to us (James 4:8). We humble ourselves and submit to His will—He lifts us up and sets our feet upon the rock, Christ Jesus. We cast our care upon Him—He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Salvation cannot be earned or merited by the good that we do or by our self-righteous acts. Works do not have saving merit. But let us not go overboard on this point. We must obey and follow on as the Spirit of God speaks, prompts, convicts, and leads. "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31, 32).
In order to obtain mercy from God, we must arise and go to the Father, as the prodigal son did. Jesus' promise in Matthew 7:7 is, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Faith must be followed by works, or faith will not profit. Jesus' invitation is, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest? "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
Faith must move us to action, or we will never experience salvation. The thief on the cross sought the Lord while He could be found. He called upon Him while He was near. He was willing to forsake his all and return to the Lord. He repented. He found mercy and pardon from the Saviour. The dying thief's faith was expressed by the works of repentance. He did not earn or merit his salvation by works, but found it through a faith that responded to the Saviour's love. The impenitent thief sought for physical deliverance and was rejected.
Christ has made the sacrifice for sin by His own death on the cross, having accomplished salvation for us. Our part is to believe in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Then, as a response of our love for what Jesus has done for us, we want to live in obedience to Him. "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." A proper fear of God will move us to forsake sin.
The two blind men described in Matthew 9:27-31 are a good example of receiving help from God. First, they had faith to believe that Jesus could help them and restore their sight. Next, their faith was accompanied by works when they followed Jesus, crying, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." The result was that their request was granted—their eyes were opened.
James 2 is probably the most direct teaching given to show us that works must accompany faith, or our faith is useless, Verse 14 reads, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" He goes on to say that if someone is without food and clothes, the only consistent thing to do is to give him food and clothes. It would be of no value whatsoever to say, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled." In the same way unless faith is accompanied by works, it is dead. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26).
James 4:17 also brings out an important truth here. "Therefore to that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Our life and actions must be guided by our faith if we want to receive the divine blessings of God. The abundant life is experienced by those who believe and obey.
No doubt we have all heard the terms "Actions speak louder than words," and "What you do speaks so loud that I cant hear what you say." The faith-only or only-believe teaching is a lopsided, empty profession. Jesus said in Matthew 7:24, "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock." Then in verses 26 and 27 he countered, "And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon, the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and best upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fell of it." The houses that Jesus was talking about were the lives of people that stood true to God, in contrast to those whose lives were wrecked by carelessness.
In conclusion, our part is (1) to put our faith in the Lord Jesus as the only Son of God; (2) to believe that through Jesus' death and shed blood, we can have forgiveness of sins; (3) to come to Him in faith believing, acknowledging ourselves as sinners, lost and without hope; and (4) to receive the Lord Jesus, as our Saviour from sin. The promise is then to us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Next is the step of becoming a follower of Jesus. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:240. A follower here indicates doing the things that Jesus did when He lived here on the earth, and obeying the voice of His Spirit, who leads us in paths of service for our Lord. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men" (Titus 3:8).
We conclude that a saving faith is a working faith.