Faith? Works? Yes!

This is an article that I wrote for the May 20th edition of the Stone County Gazette.

Did you realize the Bible never says that we are saved by “faith alone”?  In all of Scripture, you will never find those words, “faith alone.”  This is what Scripture says: We are “justified by faith, apart from works” (Romans 3:28).  What that means is that we are declared and made a holy and righteous people through the faith God gives us.

Then why did Martin Luther, whom many consider the first successful “Protestant,” use the expression “faith alone”?  Luther spoke that way to oppose an error that existed in his day–an error that taught that our works contribute to our salvation instead of being a result of the faith given us.  If we don’t understand “faith alone” in that context, we are likely to misunderstand what it means.  We are likely to assume mistakenly that what we do is unimportant.

Luther used “alone” to stress that works do not cause or contribute to our salvation.  But Luther never meant for us to understand “faith alone” to mean that what we do is unimportant or that it isn’t part of the faith that God gives us to live.  Just read some of Luther’s writings and he will soon correct you of that notion.

So if the expression “faith alone” is not in the Bible, should we even use such a term?  Yes, but only if we use it properly!  If we don’t use the expression properly, it is better that we keep our mouths closed.

This is how we are to use “faith alone.”  If someone says that as long as a person is “good” he is going to heaven, then we respond that it is “faith alone” in Christ that saves.  That’s because someone’s goodness doesn’t save him.  If someone else says that all paths lead to God, then we respond that it is “faith alone” in Christ that saves.  We say what the Apostle Paul says.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  This is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not because of works, so no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But if someone else says that “as long as you believe in Jesus” that’s enough, we say, “No, it’s not!”  We then say what the Apostle Paul says immediately following Ephesians 2:8-9.  “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  We say what St. James says: “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

You see, it comes down to saying what part of God’s Word we need to speak to someone based on where he is at.  The Bible doesn’t contradict itself.  Instead, the Bible speaks differently for different circumstances.

This is how we should speak.  If someone only wants to talk about faith, then we bring up the works that a Christian is to do.  If someone only wants to talk about works or what someone does, then we bring up faith.  For faith and works always go together.  Again, faith and works always go together–with faith always preceding good works in God’s eyes.

I once heard someone say, “Those without faith speak about works.  Those without works speak about faith.”  I like that.  For it is easy to speak of one and not the other.  Yet, Christian faith speaks of both and believes and does both.

Yes, works are needed.  Again, works are needed!  They just don’t save us.  That’s what Jesus does!  Amen.


  1. The Greek word, dikiao, can mean “declare and make righteousness” but also “show to be righteous.” We see this in Romans 3:28, where justify means “declare and make righteous” and also in James 2:24, where justify means “show to be righteous.”

    In the late 1st century, we see Clement, the 4th bishop of Rome, used “justify” in both ways in his letter to the Corinthians.

    1 Clement 30:3: “Let us be justified by works and not just words.” Clement made this statement while he was encouraging the Corinthians to be humble, not boastful. Instead, he was telling them to let their praises come from God and other people.

    A bit later, Clement stated the same idea using different words. 1 Clement 38:2: “Let the wise show his wisdom not in words but in good works. The humble person should not testify for himself, but leave it to another to testify for him.”

    In Clement’s encouragement not to boast, the question was not how someone became righteous, but how someone lived out that righteousness to someone else. As in the book of James, the choice was between works and words, not works and faith. In that context, the most natural understanding is that Clement used “justify” in the Jamesian sense: “show to be righteous.”

    Yet, Clement also used “justify” in the Pauline sense. Clement also used “justify”–not to contrast between works and words–but between works and faith. 1 Clement 32:4: “So we, too, who have been called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, or through our own wisdom, understanding, piety, or any works that we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all from the beginning of time.”

    Clement tells us that we are justified by works. Yet, he also tells us that we are not justified by anything we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith. Does Clement contradict himself? No!

    Clement is using “justify” in two different ways, with two different meanings: “declare and make righteous” as in Romans 3:28, and “to show to be righteous” as in James 2:24.

    This is how both meanings come together: Our righteousness before God is by faith, apart from works, and yet we live out that righteousness by our works, not by faith alone.