Question: What is the connection between faith and good works? Is it possible to have faith but no good works? Please clarify thanks.
Answer: Those are two good questions. Let’s start with some basic definitions.
First, having faith is to be persuaded that something is true, such as believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah (cf. John 20:30-31).
By contrast, works are deeds, activities, assigned tasks, or jobs (cf. DBL Greek Lexicon). So, for example, when you choose to obey God's commandments, serve other people, and put your faith into action, you’re doing work.
You didn’t ask this next question, but let me also clarify that we’re saved by faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). You can always tell a false gospel by how it will make works a condition of spending eternity with God. Read Galatians 1–3 and Romans 3–4.
However, while our salvation does not depend on works, we should put what we believe into practice:
As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:9).
We should all be practicing Christians. And if we are, God has promised to give us heavenly rewards based on what we do (cf. 1 Cor 3:11-15). Eternal salvation and eternal rewards are two different issues.
So, to answer your first question, the connection between faith and good works is that they’re different. We believe in Christ for salvation and serve our neighbors with our works. The connection between the two is that we have a moral obligation to put our faith into action.
But to answer your second question, while acting on our faith is an obligation, it’s not guaranteed. In between our faith and our works is our free will. We should choose to act on what we believe. As James said:
But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22).
I think that practically speaking, most people do put their faith into practice—at least some of the time. But no one does it consistently, especially when it comes to obeying God in big decisions that are costly to us. However, I suppose it’s hypothetically possible that someone never puts their Christian faith into practice.
Grace believers have the very best motivation for performing our faith. Instead of serving out of doubts about our salvation, we know that God has already saved us, accepted us, forgiven us, and will never cast us out, no matter how inconsistent we are in our behavior. That good news should inspire us. The best connection between faith and good works is grace.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.