We are told by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the
gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” -Ephesians 2:8,9 (all quotations will be taken from the KJV)
But we are also told by James:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not
works? can faith save him?” -James 2:14
Here, as with many apparent contradictions in the Bible, the difficulty
disappears when we critically examine the possible meanings of the terms
(words) used. Once we know the different possible meanings of those terms, we
can examine their usage, in Scriptural context, to determine which
of the possible definitions was originally intended.
In the question of whether
salvation comes by works or faith, we first need to get a clear understanding
of what the term “faith” (and its synonym “belief”) really means. Looking up
“faith” and “belief” in an unabridged dictionary, such as
Webster’s, reveals that they both have about a half dozen possible definitions.
Further, except for the modern legal usage of the term “faith,” the two words “faith” and
“belief” are virtually
Although the words, themselves, are interchangeable,
their definitions are not. The first thing we need to do is get a clear
understanding of what differences exist between the different definitions so we
will not confuse them with each other. There
are two different definitions which we need to
understand particularly well.
First, the terms “faith” and “belief” can be
used to mean: “To hold to
be true, unwaveringly.” A non-biblical example of this kind of belief
can be found in the story of Peter Pan. In order to save Tinkerbell,
children hearing the story must convince themselves that fairies exist and shout, “I believe in
fairies.” This sort of belief
has been suggested as a model for what is required for salvation in the
Biblical sense. For our discussion we will refer to this definition of belief
as, “definition one.”
The other definition of “faith” and “belief”
that we must consider is: “To
trust in or rely on.” A non-biblical example of this definition would be
“belief” in the U.S. Dollar. In this example, the question of whether or not
Dollars exist is not an issue; a person’s level of trust in the Dollar is what
matters. A person who “believes” in the Dollar, in this sense, will probably
not be selling his Dollars to buy Swiss Francs or Japanese Yen. This sort of
belief has also been suggested as a model for what is required for salvation.
Here we will refer to this as “definition two.”
Now that we have a clear understanding of the differences between these two
definitions for “faith” or “belief,” we are ready to examine the Scriptures.
When we apply these two possible definitions to individual verses, the
surrounding context can tell us which
definition is correct. We will start with John 3:16. Correct understanding of
this verse is very important because the verse is foundational to Christianity.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him
should not perish, but have everlasting life. “ -John 3:16
As we learn from the first three verses of John, chapter
three, the speaker is Jesus and he is addressing a man named Nicodemus who came
to Him at night. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must “believe” in the Son
of God, the question of whether or not Jesus exists is never an issue.
Nicodemus is standing right in front of Jesus and can verify that for himself.
Instead, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must trust what Jesus is saying
about Himself. What is important is whether or not Nicodemus will rely on Jesus
– not whether he believes Jesus exists. Belief in the sense of "definition
two," not "definition one," is what Jesus requests here.
Next we will examine a verse from James: “Thou believest
that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”
Here we are reminded that the question of God’s existence is not an issue to
the devils. Their “belief ,“ in this sense, is
unwavering. Here James is telling us that the kind of “faith” specified by
"definition one," although good, is no more than what the devils
possess. It is not enough to usher in salvation. This is why James says:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have
not works? can faith save him?” –James 2:14
We can see from context that James is using "definition one" for
his meaning for the term “faith.” This kind of “faith” cannot save anyone.
James provides some more information in verse 18:
“Yea, a man may say,
Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith
without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by
my works.” –James 2:18
Here James reminds us that the kind of “faith” which is
required for salvation will
produce actions. Returning to our non-biblical example, a man who is
selling his Dollars to buy gold, proves, by his actions, that he does not
“believe” (definition two) in U.S. Dollars as much
as he believes in gold. James’ argument is that a man’s actions will tell us
where his trust (belief - definition two) really resides. The kind of faith which
the devils possess (definition one) can stand alone, apart from works, but the
other kind cannot.
Finally, let’s examine Paul’s statement about faith in his letter to the
“For by grace are ye
saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of
works, lest any man should boast.” –Ephesians 2:8,9
Salvation is our birth right and will come in due
course of time.
Let’s suppose that I intend to give you a Dollar; I hold it out and offer it
to you. Because you believe the Dollar has value, you reach
out your arm and take it, making it yours. Your physical action of acceptance
shows that you believe the Dollar has value; but that action is not enough work
that you could claim to have earned the Dollar. It is still my gift to you. What Paul is telling us is that
no matter how much work our faith (definition two) causes us to do, it will
never be enough to earn the gift of salvation. That is still a gift that
we can never claim to have earned.
In conclusion, are we saved by works? Certainly not.
The works, which our faith (definition two)
demands, could never pay for salvation. Are we saved by faith? Faith
(definition one) will not save us; but faith (definition two) is the means God
has chosen for delivering his free gift.
There are two different meanings for the terms "faith" and
1. The sense implied by "belief in fairies" where the individual
has never seen a fairy and must decide whether or not they exist.
2. The sense implied by "belief in the Dollar" where the question
of existence is considered settled, but the question of trust remains.
In John 3:16, where Jesus
addresses the need for "belief," the question of existence is settled
because Jesus is standing physically in front of his audience Nicodemus. This
leaves the question of "trust" for Nicodemus to consider. What James,
chapter two, is getting at is that settling
the question of existence is insufficient to save a man. Even the devils have
this kind of faith - and tremble (verse 19). Correctly settling the question of
"trust" is also necessary for salvation.
You have to do nothing for
yourself. Whatever was done, is being done and will be done is by His Grace.
Take refuge in Him alone (Gita 18:66, read more on this). Till your have an
'ego' of doing, it is very difficult to take refuge. Do
nothing for yourself, do only for others. We face favorable circumstances by
His Grace and unfavorable circumstance by His Special Grace. So stay
happy and pleased in all circumstances. The child
does not like to take a bath but the mother does not seek its opinion. She
gives it a bath and cleans it. The unfavorable circumstances
is God giving us a bath. All our desires will be fulfilled because God's
desire is our desire. Become a yes man to God and be liberated right now. Such a
person does nothing for himself. All his actions are for the welfare of others
- his actions are God's actions.
Stay happy in all circumstances. We
face favorable circumstances by His Grace and unfavorable circumstance by His
Special Grace. So stay happy and pleased in all circumstances. A mother
knows what is best for the child. Whatever is
God's will is our will. Have no separate will of your own. All our desires will
be fulfilled because God's desire is our desire. Become a yes man to God and be
liberated right now. Such a person does
nothing for himself. All his actions are for the welfare of others - his
actions are God's actions. Why should we worry
--- that is God's business now. You worry when you
think you are working, not God. Wait for the results, it may come late, or may
not come as expected. You don’t lose nothing, because
you brought nothing to this world. You are the part of mother
Nature. You might think this philosophy will make you give up effort. But this
is not true, efforts also are controlled by the Gunas
of nature, you have no control over it.