Faith without works can save?
On the quest to find Bible support for the idea that we can be saved without works, it is not uncommon to make a comparison with the thief on the cross. The saying goes: He did not do any work, and since he could be saved without works, then so can we!
But is this so certain? Is it really safe to make a comparison with a person who in a figurative sense is on his deathbed with only moments left to live? He could not very well step down from the cross to do ”work”. Still, the thief actually did some good works despite his predicament. He confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well as confessing his sins, and he rebuked the other thief due to his unfair judgment concerning Jesus. His words were likely heard by others since he must have shouted to the other thief who was crucified on the other side of Jesus – and we do have his words recorded by the gospel writers.
Luke 23:39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
The thief died ”during old testament time”, but repentance and righteousness were required for salvation also during past times. Since Jesus informed the thief that he would end up in Paradise, we can be certain of that it was due to his repentance, his new heart and his faith in Jesus and his kingdom. Ezekiel says: ”REPENT, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin”. This did not only apply for Israel, but for everyone. We can also read:”But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall NOT DIE”.
Ez. 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. —5 But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, — 9 Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God. —20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall NOT DIE.22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that HE HATH DONE he shall live.23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?26 When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.29 Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. REPENT, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.
Naturally the thief did not have lots of time to show his brand new life style (apart from the good fruit that he had already shown) but that is because he was nailed to a cross and had no chance. He was on his death bed, and it happens from time to time that people are converted on their death beds (not applicable for those who die suddenly). God knows our hearts, and he i also knows what we are able/not able to accomplish due to time limits, shortcomings or other restrictions.
Who is worthy to be a disciple of Jesus?
Jesus says that if we want to follow him, we must bear our cross. This cross is not light as a feather, but it means that we must be faithful to him. If we love him, we obey his commandments.
Matt. 10:38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
Luke 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Matt. 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.15If ye love me, keep my commandments.
We are often told that we are saved by faith alone, but the Bible says the opposite:
Ja. 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and NOT by faith only.
Even demons believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah (Luke 4:41) and the holy son of God (Matt. 8:29, Mark 1:24), but they are not saved. Some might comment that demons cannot be saved per se since they are not human beings, but while this is true this is not the point that James is making. He is making the case that faith without works is dead, and since even demons believe that Jesus is everything he claims to be (the son of God, the Messiah, able to perform miracles, etc) then having faith in all this does not necessarily save us. Only if faith is combined with repentance, a new heart and good works. Again, if we love Jesus we follow him and show good fruit. We treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves.
Ja. 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.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.19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Compare with the sheep and the goats (or the parable of the 10 maids in the same chapter, who were all waiting for the bridge groom). None of the sheep and the goats had any problems believing in Jesus, but they were separated based on their work/fruit, or lack thereof:
Matt. 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
God is love and we are not offered only one single chance to do right, but neither should we fool ourselves and start believing that we can serve two Masters and still be saved. We must carry our cross.