The truth is in the details.
(I have no interest in giving the Devil credit for being in the details, as is often popularized in a similar phrase). When we are careful to measure the impact of words, their meanings are more likely to be recognized correctly. When we gloss over such verbiage, ignorance is quick to follow.
In our family devotional study time, we concluded a chapter in Claiming Christ on what is meant within Scripture by the phrase: “just believe” and you will be saved. According to the claims of many, the Devil is headed for heaven, because he believes that Jesus is the Son of God. Now they may not actually say it that way, but by their own claim of salvation according to their profession of belief, that Serpent has all the same details going for him.
But as our study discussed, belief as presented in Scripture requires something of believers that escapes the notice of some who are more casual with the details. Those who believe must have faith. Many bones have been dug up, abused, burned, and scattered across the fields in effigy over this titbit of truth.
“If you want it, you got it”, is about the extent of some denominational teachings to Christians on what it means to believe. They might support that idea with encouragements not to doubt that the statement is assured to apply to them. They could even go so far as to build fancy church buildings, employ popular musicians, and develop attractive youth programs to help give an air of legitimacy to their claim of see-we-got-it-right-and-all-this-attractive-stuff-is-proof-that-God-is-blessing-us.
However, such details don’t come from Scripture. The Bible declares that “wisdom is proved right by her actions”. How we demonstrate obedience to the word of God, eventually will reveal the basis of our claim of belief. The fruit of our faith will become the evidence of our confirmation. That means that biblical belief requires faith that works.
Such a statement may turn many a Calvinist over in their graves, but “works” are not the details of the Devil, they are the requirements of faith per the living word of God. Careful now. The truth is in the details, so listen carefully.
As Calvin would agree, works–those efforts by Christians to do good deeds in service towards others for the honor of God–can never earn salvation. Salvation was earned by Jesus upon the cross and is gifted to true believers who have biblical faith. They receive that gift, not because of their faith, but because of God’s sovereign grace. Their faith becomes the marker of legitimacy (and maturity and other things, but in this case, it is the proof-of-claim). In turn, as faith is to belief, so biblical obedience is to faith: works function as the marker of legitimacy for faith.
That is why Paul stated that we are saved without dependence upon personal works. It is also why James stated that faith without evidence of personal transformation into the living likeness of Jesus as shown through works is a false claim. We need to develop the ears to hear all of Scripture and not discard the details.
The combining of truth between faith and works is rightly found in the prepositions. Scripture rejects Faith-BY-works: that dishonorable teaching that believers must do certain things in order to gain salvation by their efforts. On the other hand, Faith-WITH-works is how the Bible details the truth. That means that doing what is taught by the apostles in the Bible (of whom Jesus is the chief apostle) demonstrates real belief. It is what backs up faith and shows that it is something that could only have come from God and be expressed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The preposition with, as attached to faith, does not place efforts along side faith–as if works were necessary to contribute additionally toward salvation–but rather, that it comes up under faith as the supporting evidence of faith. In terms of salvation, works reveal, they don’t earn. In terms of heavenly rewards for those who are saved, well, in that case, they result in storing 30, 60 and even 100-fold treasure in the life to come. In both cases, works are well worth paying attention to the details.
Paul taught that faith is all we have to bring to the table–that humble acceptance of Jesus’ accomplishments upon the cross for our benefit and his promise to bring us to glory. Faith is not about our effort, it is about trusting in our Lord’s effort and grace for us.
Biblical faith, however, does not exist in a vacuum absent of human participation. It must live in and operate toward the born-again transformation into the likeness of Christ, so that we may “walk as he walked”. That requires fruitful works in obedience to the Lord’s commands, as the underpinning of faith, “showing yourselves to be my disciples”.
Are you WITH me?