The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith. It is just as the Scriptures say, "The people God accepts because of their faith will live."
-- Romans 1:17
It's been a controversy among Christ-followers for nearly 2,000 years. In fact, some might argue that it's been a factor over the centuries in dividing Christianity into multiple denominations. So what is this thing that's caused so much conflict among a people called to love one another?
It's the roles of faith and works in the life of Believers. On one hand, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that salvation is a free gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ. Let's consider one of Paul's most famous passages from the Book of Romans:
"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved."
That's simple enough. But what should we do with this Scripture from James, the brother of Jesus:
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
James' point seems to be that without doing good works, our faith is worthless. But is it our faith that brings us into God's Kingdom--or do we need to work for it...and for how long?
Maybe these messages from Paul and James aren't so mixed after all. On multiple occasions, Jesus' miracles revealed the incredible power of faith in those who sought Him. For example, we read in Luke 7 that a Roman soldier's faith actually "amazed" the Son of God.
"I tell you," Jesus explained to the crowd of followers, "I have not found such great faith even in Israel."
So it really is through our faith in Jesus and His work on the cross that we're saved from the punishment we all deserve. Otherwise--if it were all about works--it might be possible to somehow earn our way to God's acceptance. That's unrealistic...but it's not to say that works don't play a crucial role in the lives of Christ-followers. In fact, the tangible ways that we live our new lives help to prove that we're a changed people through our faith in Jesus.
What we have isn't really a contest of faith versus works. Instead, both must be evident in the life of every Christ-follower. Rather than being saved BY our own good works, our faith in Jesus leads us to being saved FOR doing good works. The author of the Old Testament book Micah puts it this way:
"And what does the LORD require of you? "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
It takes faith to believe God's promises and obey His commands. After all, demonstrating a life of justice, mercy and humility is a tall order that we can never accomplish on our own--particularly when we face the struggles and circumstances of everyday life. And it's the tough times that cause the so-called "fans" of Jesus to fall away to leave only His true followers--the ones with real living faith. And how can we live faith-filled lives that bear fruit for our Father's kingdom?
"With man this is impossible," explains Jesus. "But with God all things are possible."