Ever since the days of the Reformation, there has been a strong emphasis on teaching that salvation is by faith. Given the unhealthy stress placed on works at the time, this was a normal reaction. What is needed is a healthy, and accurate, view of the relationship between faith and works if we are to be spiritually healthy and balanced. When James, the Lord’s brother, wrote his letter, the Spirit inspired him to address the subject this way:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:17-20 NASB)

There is no contradiction here with the message the apostle Paul would later give to the church at Ephesus. Read carefully what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

He is saying, correctly, that our salvation does not come from our performance, or from working our way to God. No one can will ever be able to say that God owes them salvation. But also notice what Paul goes on to say in verse 10.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

We were created in Christ when we are born again, for the uprise of good works. Do you see the order here? The works don’t cause faith and salvation; the faith and salvation produce the works! Furthermore, God has it planned that way.

God always connects a truth to believe with a command to obey. While “faith” and “obedience” can be defined as separate terms, they are inseparable as realities. To put it succinctly, real faith, works!
That being said, faith has to come first. We can have works without having faith (i.e. dead works), but we cannot have faith without works. Build your faith and the works will follow. It is a trap to suppose that we can reverse the polarity of our spiritual power by putting works as a higher priority than cultivating intimacy with God and strengthening our faith.

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5, 6)

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