“Faith or Deeds?” – James 2:1-10, 14-18
15 th Sunday After Pentecost – September 2 / 9, 2018
(**Pentecost 16 Readings)
Need a volunteer
“Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” – Confirmation Retreat Question on the place of good works.
1. The Question of Deeds
The question of Deeds – stumbling block for Christians of all eras. 1 st century; Luther’s time
(popes and edicts, buy masses / candles, indulgences, give alms to the poor); our era (attitude out
there – still gotta do good deeds to be acceptable to God – no free lunch).
a. Do good works to be saved
It is a question that has been debated for centuries in the Christian Church – Are good works
necessary? Is it important that we do good works to appease and please God? Do good works
contribute to our salvation?
Some who would argue in favour of good works point to Bible verses that say things like:
“The time is coming when those in the tombs will come out – those who have done good to the
resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
“Come inherit the kingdom… for you gave me food and drink, you welcomed me, you clothed
me, you visited me.”
“Work heartily, as for the Lord… knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as
“The Son of Man will repay each person according to what he has done.”
On the basis of passages such as these, some people, some churches still today advocate that we
are saved, at least in part, by our good works. So, they encourage – no, they require people to do
Please, please, do not get the wrong idea – good works do not save us. We definitely need to read
other passages of Scripture to get the full picture… stay tuned…
b. Don’t have to do good works… we are saved!
On the other hand, there are some that say we don’t have to do good works, because we’re saved
by Jesus! Since our good deeds don’t contribute to our salvation we don’t have to do them. Such
people say that either we can be self-centered and reclusive and never do anything for anyone
OR that we can sin indiscriminately because we are already saved.
The letter of Jude addresses this when it mentions those who change the grace of God into a
license for immorality. Such people assume that salvation by grace gives them the right to sin
without restraint because God in His grace will freely forgive all their sins OR because their sin
only serves to highlight and magnify the grace and forgiveness of God.
2. Donut lives
I love donuts – chocolate dip, maple dip, double chocolate, Boston Cream… but Boston Cream
isn’t really a donut because it doesn’t have a hole in the middle. I even love the holes – the
TimBits. Every day as I drive past Tim Horton’s on the way to the church I have to practice self-
discipline, but when donuts or TimBits appear in the office from time to time they also
mysteriously disappear into my stomach!
James writes that we have donut lives… because those lives have holes in them. We donut do
what God requires. James points to inadequacies in the living out of our Christian faith.
Love your neighbor as yourself… but we donut, we can’t, not 100% of the time, not 100% love.
Showing favouritism – we donut treat people the same; we treat the well-dressed man or woman
with special attention, while we ignore the person with holes in their jeans or a shaggy beard.
Stumble at one point of the law… we donut keep it; James says we break ALL of it.
Wish a poor person well, but donut help them.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we donut measure up to God’s standards (or even
human standards for that matter) for living in family, in community, in church. We do live donut
lives, with holes in them here and there.
That means if we were to count on our good deeds for salvation our salvation garments – like
these jeans – would be hole-y because we aren’t holy. And although hole-y jeans may be
fashionable these days, hole-y salvation garments are neither fashionable nor effective at getting
us to heaven.
3. Ladder to heaven
Trouble is… if even part of our salvation rests on our good deeds, how do we know if we’ve
done enough? Ladder to heaven – if 99% is up to God and even 1% is up to us – uncertainty,
leads to despair (Luther).
Snakes and ladders with Eli – illustrations are all about good works and bad deeds (meant to
teach vices and their consequences, virtues and their rewards). Imagine a game with snakes on
the entire top row… no way to get to square 100 – heaven!
God made sure that wouldn’t happen – Jesus did everything… EVERYTHING necessary for our
salvation – 100%, nothing left for us to do to get to heaven. It’s kind of like a game board with
ladders at many squares that all lead directly to square 100. That means that no matter how far
along the game of life we are, no matter how many snakes we have encountered that have set us
back in life because of our vices and sins, at that place in life where we put our full trust / faith in
Jesus, we are immediately transported to square 100 – not to heaven itself, but our eternity need
never be in jeopardy again because we are standing on the firm foundation of faith in Jesus.
4. Saved by Faith
Despite the Bible passages that seem to indicate that we are saved by our good works, by what
we do, when we read so many other passages from the Bible it is VERY CLEAR that we are
saved only by the blood of Jesus and it’s by faith in Him that we receive the free gift of eternal
life. That was 100% completed when Jesus died on the cross – Grace, Forgiveness, Love,
Redemption, Justification, Holiness, Cleansing, Adoption, Inheritance… they are ALL wrapped
up on our behalf in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
So listen to some of these “saved by faith” passages:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and BELIEVE in your heart that God raised
Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“By grace you have been saved through FAITH.”
“God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever BELIEVES in Him should have
And this one is clear and makes a distinction between faith and works: “We hold that one is
justified – that means forgiven and implies saved – one is justified by faith apart from the works
of the law.”
Good works do not save us. It is only by the blood of Jesus and by faith in Him that we receive
the free gift of eternal life.
5. Faith Produces Works
So, then, what is the place of good works? Can faith without deeds save you? James says “no,
faith without works is dead.” Jesus agreed when He said, “That’s like a tree without fruit.” In
fact, Jesus condemned and withered a fig tree that wasn’t producing fruit.
Martin Luther: “A man is justified (made right with God) by faith alone, but not by a faith that is
alone.” In other words… genuine faith will produce good deeds.
Oh, and that “By grace you have been saved through faith” verse from Ephesians 2 continues by
saying that “we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
Faith isn’t the end of our story with Jesus, it’s really the beginning. Once Jesus has taken us up to
square 100 – by His grace, and through our faith – then it’s like we start a new game, with day
after day of opportunity to do good deeds, to love others as a response to God’s grace and love
for us in Jesus. There’s nothing left for us to do to get to heaven, but there’s LOTS left for us to
do on earth because we’re going to heaven:
Show love to ALL our neighbours.
Treat everyone equally.
Confess our sin when we break God’s law at even one small point.
Care for those in physical need, not just with words (“keep warm and well fed”), but with deeds /
In Luke 14, Jesus gave a different perspective on good works. He gave the example of inviting
people for lunch or dinner – invite those who can’t invite you back, otherwise your guests will
just invite you back and it becomes a business transaction (kind of like an office Christmas gift
exchange, which is really more an exchange than a gift).
James shares that he will show you his faith by the things he does. Salvation and good works are
much like breathing. If we breathe in the Lord’s love and goodness and grace, we will quite
naturally exhale as we respond with works that give evidence that our faith is real. As we receive
reassurance today that our salvation rests fully on Christ’s work, it is good for us to focus our
lives tomorrow on how we can love our neighbor – what James calls the royal law of love “Love
your neighbor as yourself.”
Faith or Deeds is not the question, but Faith and Deeds is the answer!! Faith in Christ for our
salvation, deeds to point others to Christ, Christ in us, Christ for them, for their salvation.
Matthew 5:16 says it well…
May the Holy Spirit help us to rightly understand the relationship between faith and deeds.