Yesterday one of my friends, raising the question whether we are saved by faith or by works, wrote that if it were possible for us to be able to keep the Lord’s commandments we wouldn’t have needed Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the commandments completely for us. People, who hold this or similar view usually refer to Galatians 2:16 and this brings up a legitimate question as to what is the role of faith and works in the mystery of human salvation. How are we saved?
Faith is Necessary
Here are at least two examples in which our Lord tells those whom he heals “you faith has made you well.” We see these words when he heals the woman who had blood issues in Mark 5:34 and the the blind beggar in Mark 10:52. Our Lord ties personal faith in him to the efficacy of healing. But there is one very important aspect here. It’s not the faith alone that heals, but in the case of the woman we read “power had gone out from him (Mark 5:30). In line with this, we read in the Gospels that the Lord sometimes healed people not because of their faith but because he had compassion on them (Mark 1:34, 3:5). The conclusion here is while faith is demanded by God and and it’s role is very significant, there is something else too: the Divine Power. The Divine Grace is higher than our faith.
The Devil Has Faith Too and It’s Not Enough for Salvation
If you say “only having faith is enough for salvation,” this is not the teaching of the New Testament. This is actually a dangerous teaching because as a result, people can believe in God and “follow their own desires” (Jude 1:16) and do whatever they want. The Devil has faith too. If you only believe, then know that he has talked to God and knows that God exist. But how does it benefit for him if he continues to do his evil works?
“If You Love Me, Keep My Commands” (John 14:15)
Many people say keeping the commandments is difficult and comfort themselves that “faith alone is enough.” Trying to keep the commandments of God alone is impossible, but possible with the Grace of God. This is why the “Light came to the world” (John 3:19), either you accept the light with your faith and allow it to clean your heart and you do not oppose it by following your own will, or you love the darkness more. But many people say they accept the light and they say we love the right. But our Lord Jesus gave a clear definition of what that acceptance is and what is the love of God. It is very clear. “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21).
Jesus Unites Faith and works
Thus, we see that our Lord Jesus Christ also demanded good works to accompany our faith. In fact, he gave us a clear “homework” in Matthew 5:48, commanding to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And he said this during the Sermon on The Mountain which is filled with clear instructions to do good works. Will anyone be perfect by just keeping the faith and doing whatever he wants with the hope that keeping the commandments is difficult and faith is enough.
Along with faith Jesus did demand good works. Consider the story of the rich and the kingdom of God in Luke 18:18-30. A man come to Jesus and asked “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Did Jesus say no no, you are asking the wrong question? Did he say keeping the commandments is difficult just have faith and it’s good enough for you to inherit the eternal life? Instead, our Lord pointed to the commandments and said something even more difficult to do: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).
Look at Matthew chapters 5-7, which we call the Sermon on the Mountain. This sermon contains the teachings and commandments, which Jesus wanted the Christian believers to learn and live by. Let’s mention some. “Do not bear false witness . . . Love your enemies . . . Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness . . . Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mat 5:33, 44; 6:33; 7:1).
If you rely only on faith you risk losing the eternal salvation. Remember the warning of our Lord: “On that day many will call out to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons in your name?’ And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mat 7:21-23).
Back To St. Paul and Gal. 2:16
St. Paul is clearly making a distinction between the works of “Jewish Law” and ethical moral law of Jesus Christ. Also Jesus clearly states that he “didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17). “Anyone who studies Galatians carefully will note the apostle is referring to the Jewish religious practices of circumcision, dietary laws, and festivals (Gal 2:2-5, 12; 4:9; 5:1-6, 12; 6:12-15),” explains Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos. Ethical works, most clearly, have their required place in our salvation. Here is the striking expression St. Paul used in the same letter “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).
You can’t be egoistic, proud, unforgiving, slave to your passions and hope you will inherit the Kingdom of God if you are not even working on these things throughout your life.
Faith Without Works Is Dead
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (James 2:14) You are not saved by works, but by faith-in-action you accept the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is necessary for your salvation.
Faith with Works Is Acceptance of Grace
Think of it this way. You come to faith and meet the Light of Jesus. You accept it in your heart, by believing and repenting. The word Metanoia, which is used in the place of Repentance, literally means change of mind. Our faith is a lifetime work. Our Lord urged us not to “labor for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).
Faithful in Little Will Be Faithful in Much
Yes, keeping the commandment is difficult. The winning is war is not easy. It requires effort. But we have the help of the Holy Spirit. The grace of God is our help. We have a wonderful and very important message from our Lord: “faithful in little will be faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows and becomes a big plant (Mark 4:30-32) and you have that mustard seed planted in you. Today you can’t lift 200 pounds of weight, but can lift probably 5-10 pounds of weight. If you practice constantly with a good coach, you can get to the point where you can lift 200 pounds and even go beyond.
Keeping the commandment is like this. Strive to keep them. Earnestly desire to keep the commandments and the most excellent way, St. Paul shows us, is love. Jesus Christ, the Son of God is your coach. The Holy Spirit has the Grace you need, in order to do this. Thank God, our heavenly Father, for providing this Salvation for us.
Grace and peace to you.