The “Work of Faith,” 1 Thessalonians 1:3

There’s a lot of discussion among Christians about the nature and place of faith and works.  Some folks, in saying that we’re saved by “faith alone,” take that to mean that there is no place for works at all in our salvation.  Any attempt to include works is viewed as “legalism.”  As long as one “believes in Jesus,” that’s all that’s necessary.

On the other hand, there are those who say that we must have “works” in addition to faith.  These folks tend to have a long list of do’s and don’ts which must be followed.  Or they will add baptism or communion or keeping the Sabbath or tongues or a lot of other things mentioned in Scripture as necessary to our being saved.

Adding to the difficulty of understanding all this is the fact that there are different “kinds” of faith.  There is, for example, a “doctrinal” faith, which is just an intellectual agreement with a particular statement of faith or Catechism.  There is an “historical” faith, which believes in the “facts” of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  There is a “religious” faith, which simply agrees with the practices of a particular religion – which may or may not have anything to do with Scripture.  There is a “natural” faith, which expects the car to start when you turn the key in the ignition or push the “start” button, or for a chair to hold you when you sit down.  I heard a lot about this kind of faith in my days in Fundamentalism.  There is even, if you will, a “devilish” faith, James 2:19, in that even demons believe in one God.  I may do a post one day on “the orthodoxy of demons.”  It’s an interesting study in the New Testament.  (Though I don’t recommend spending a lot of time thinking about demons.  I think that’s where people can get into trouble, thinking about Satan instead of our Lord.  Such people tend to see demons everywhere and in everything, but Scripture says that Satan is a defeated foe and can only do those things which God gives him permission to do, especially with God’s children, cf. Job 1.  But that’s another whole different subject.)

The difficulty is that none of these “kinds” of faith is “saving” faith, which comes only from God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Paul clearly taught us what “saving faith” is when he wrote to the Galatians that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.  He wrote something very similar just a few verses later when he wrote, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but a new creation, Galatians 6:15.  The latter – “a new creation” – can only be known through “faith working through love.”  You see, “natural faith” works through or because of religion or necessity or habit or ritual or even fear.  The faith which comes from God works through and for the love of God.  The faith which comes from God is an active, living faith, not just a one-time “agreement” with some religious proposition – or even a life-long such agreement.

This is the whole argument of James, who was not disagreeing with Paul.  After all, James wrote first.  He argues that faith can only be seen by what it does.  If there is no such evidence, then there is no saving faith, James 2:26.  Dead faith cannot come from the living God.  It only comes from spiritually dead people.

It’s not a matter of “faith and….”  It’s all about a “faith which….”