James 3: 14 -- What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
We know from Scripture that we are not saved -- that is, redeemed, forgiven our sins -- we do not enter into a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ by works. This is one of the key tenets of Christianity:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not the result of works, that no one should boast. -- Eph. 2:8-9
. . . because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight . . . -- Rom. 3:20
. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. -- Rom. 3:23-24
So, obviously, James 3:14 cannot be referring to being saved or redeemed by works.
Yet, what works are James referring to? Works, certainly, after salvation. The question may be not what works, but whose works? Consider the following:
Phil. 2:12-13 --
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
John 3:21 --
But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
Eph. 2:10 --
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
John 14:10 (to whom did Jesus attribute His works?) --
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.
Rom. 15:18-19 (to whom did Paul attribute his works?) --
For I will not presume to speak anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit . . .
II Cor. 3:5 (to whom should we attribute our works?) --
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.
II Cor. 13:5 --
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith [i.e., does your faith “work”? what evidence do you have that you are in the faith?]; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you -- unless indeed you fail the test?
Ps. 37:3-7(a) –
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness [which is Christ: I Cor. 1:30] as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.
Heb. 13:20-21 –
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
If faith without works is dead, or no faith at all, what works is James talking about? Our works? The verses above indicate that they are God’s works done through us. In other words, a man says he has faith, but if there is nothing in his life which indicates that Jesus Christ is alive in him, if there is no evidence that Christ is working out His life through that man, then his proclamation of faith may be called into question. It’s not a case of our works, but of Christ’s working through a person.
Put simply, what evidence is there in your life that Christ is alive and well in you? What is there in your life that you can only attribute to the working of God? These are the works to which James refers. Even if all you have to show is a deep sense of your own inadequacy, your own sense of sin before God, while something of a negative side of the equation, is at least evidence of Christ being in you. But maturity involves moving beyond the negative side to the positive evidences of Christ’s indwelling: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control – a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.
The world is full of good works. One need not be a Christian to perform good works. But the works performed from faith are the works of God, done through the person of faith. Is there evidence of Christ working through you, that He is alive in you and that He is your life, your righteousness? If we have faith, there should be evidence of such works -- we should have a faith that works.