Faith and Good Works


Includes: Justification of the Believer.  A Merciful Act of God, Interaction of Faith and Good Works, Verification in Scripture, Faith and Good Works are Bound together, Good Works in the Realm of God’s Grace and Faith and Works.


Justification of the Believer


By its very nature and destiny, the Gospel of Christ sustains eternal movement in the world. It is divine grace that is the power which promotes and strengthens this eternal move­ment, and leads the human being into the Christian realm. Both the Gospel and Grace of God are bestowed in the heart of the human being and in the Church by Jesus Christ. These divine gifts work for the regeneration and sanctification of church members. Salvation of man comes by reconciliation of sinful man with God through the sacrificial Cross. This divine act is the center of the Gospel of Christ. This rebirth of the human being is described by Apostle Paul: "Those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30). Three steps which Paul said should be taken by the believer are: calling in repentance, justification or sanctification and the glory of God.


Calling is attained through the Gospel of Christ with which the power of divine Grace is linked. Justification by which sins are forgiven and one's sanctification are bestowed on the person as the source of one's "newness of life," which in itself is the basis for justification and salvation. Christ the Redeemer grants both of these attributes in response to one's faithfulness. The believer who becomes an active and respon­sible member of the Church presupposes the moral application and voluntary acceptance of God's redemption. Conse­quently, the principle basis for the believer's justification in Scripture is "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6).


In His compassion for the human being, God is the Author of justification for the believer's salvation through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Justification, meaning to be made just, is the energy of God's grace which works the real change in the person. As such, this divine grace erases sins and the feeling of guilt, and stimulates as new life in righteousness. God's justification is man's salvation. Justification, then, is the energy of God's grace which regenerates the sinful man by erasing his sin and guilt (absolution of sins), and originating a new life in righteousness, which is man's sanctification. "Grace, in general, is the manifestation of God's love and favor to man, and, in particular, it means the saving power of God by which He appropriates to each person the redemptive accomplishment by Christ for all, giving birth to as well as cultivating the life in Christ and preparing the eternal life" (Androustos, Dogmatics, 174).




Justification is a merciful act of God for it paves the way for divine grace to sanctify fallen man in righteousness. The individual's faith is the channel through which this grace of sanctification is transmitted as an immutable conviction of obedience to God's Will. Belief is the acceptance of the redemptive works and truths of Christ and His Gospel through one's boundless devotion and dedication. Faith is not merely a power of the intellect, but a treasury of moral feelings for devotion, an outcome of one's love for God. Consequently, faith is a result of man's will.


The Christian faith in God is not a faith in an unknown God, a faith in a manmade God of a philosopher or scientist, nor a faith of an uninterested Christian. Faith, in general, is not one of the many elements attributed to so-called Christian civilization; nor is it expressed in a prescribed set of symbols. On the contrary, faith as taught and lived by Christ springs forth from the person who sincerely needs guidance to understand God's Will. It is a faith revealed in the knowledge and message of the Scriptures. The individual inspired by such a faith has a hope of salvation in Christ based on crea­tion and revelation. Scripture is a noble means to guide the believer to reach the God it describes.


The person of faith has the tendency to worship and love God through prayers and ceremonies and the meaning of feasts and fasts. Almsgiving to the "least" in material and spiritual assistance comes with Christian dignity and love with an intent to eliminate poverty for all time. Such faith reflects a sincere dedication to God's Will, putting that faith into love. This is epitomized by Christ saying, "You shall love the Lord your God . . . this is the first and great com­mandment. And second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Mi. 22:37-40).


The heart of Christian love is the inspiration to do good works. This love is always substantiated in the sacrifice of one's material and spiritual riches. It works above and beyond one's duty to laws of the state and society. Christian love is expressed with dignity, humbleness and deep brotherly affection toward others, especially the "least." Christian love and good works are achieved through the power of God's grace, which is invoked by the God-fearing believer, who is merely a steward of the riches of Christ. Both faith and love expressed in good works are verified in a vivid hope of salvation. They are enriched in praises of and prayers to God, the invocation of God's grace and deep faith in love toward oneself and one's neighbor.




Neither faith nor works of love can function without the other. They are sides of the same coin, together producing a new result in essence and value. For a better understanding of their elements, faith and good works of love can be analyzed separately. These elements sustain interaction between faith and good works, especially in stating their Christian meaning and application. If faith and works are viewed as separate, without correlation, this stems from false presuppositions, limited knowledge of Scripture and of everyday experience, or with hypocrisy, prejudice and superstition. There is a tendency in this mistaken approach to stress the one at the ex­pense of the other through misinterpretation and misunderstanding. The relationship between faith and good works is tied to justification, which is the divine act of God for man's salvation. Subordination of one does not mean re­jection or indifference toward the other, but indicates which of the two takes the leading role.


Separating faith and good works is alien to the true meaning of Scripture and the early Church. Differences arose in the Western Church over the separation of faith from good works. It did not however abolish faith as the main means for salvation, but placed the emphasis on good works. This em­phasis was placed by uneducated ecclesiastical leaders who in­terpreted good works as the only means for salvation. The Reformed Church did not abolish the value of good works, but emphasized faith as the only means of salvation. However, it did not reject the value of good works as fruits of faith. Whatever the emphasis of the various interpretations, the fact remains that there is a close relationship between justification and sanctification. This is expressed in various ways, as in the close relationship between faith, love and good works, and the observance of the commandments. Whatever the expression is for this relationship, it includes man's justification by "faith working through love."




The union between faith and good works is verified in Scripture and in the teaching of the Church. God's gift of justification as a fruit of the living faith is united and ac­tivated in good works. This is the belief of the Church as aptly expressed in the Confession of Dositheos (a Confession adopted by a synod in Jerusalem in the 17th century, presided over by Patriarch Dositheos). It declares: "We believe that no one is saved without faith. We call, indeed, faith, that most correct opinion, which lives in us, concerning God and the divine, which (faith) is wrought through love and express­ed in the divine commandments; such faith and love justifies us in Christ; without it, it is impossible to please God! Here is shown the innate union between faith and good works of love upon which justification depends, and which promises everlasting life.


There are many passages in Scripture referring to justifica­tion on which everlasting life depends. Some Scriptural passage place the emphasis on faith, some on good works, some on both. Following are a few examples: Apostle Paul presents justification as the fruit of faith: "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace" (Rom. 5:2, KJV); also; "And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God" (Jn. 17:3; cf: Mk. 16:16). Apostle John, on the other hand, stresses the fruits of love: "He that loves not his brother abides in death" (1 Jn. 3:14, KJV), and "He who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 Jn. 4:7), and "He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn. 4:16). Following are two passages in Scripture that refer to the conditions of justification and everlasting life with different emphasis:


Apostle James states in his epistle truths for the practical things in life related to justification: "A man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Ja. 2:24). Paul stresses faith, saying: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). The initial impression from James' passage is that justification from good works is the leading concept in faith. However, this passage should be viewed in relation to other passages in this same epistle. Then one comes to the conclusion that this epistle deals with Christian life in relation to practical deeds. This passage appears independent from faith, with justification depending mainly on good works of love. But when the epistle is viewed as a whole, other passages suggest faith as the main instrument for religious life.


As an example, in the same epistle, James says: "The testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (1:3). He stresses the unity of faith and works: "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:17). Again he stresses: "For the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God" (1 :20), and, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (2:26).


For Apostle Paul, faith and good works are substantiated in an innate bond with each other as means of justification by God for everlasting life. He refers to "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6), but does not exclude the importance and need for good works. In his epistle to the Romans and Gala-tians, Paul stresses faith to persuade readers either to believe in the true God or to strengthen their own faith. In Romans, Paul writes: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom. 3:28). Elsewhere he writes: "A man is not justified by works of. the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16; cf. 3:11). In this passage Paul appears to be partial to faith only.


In other passages on faith and love, he appears to con­tradict himself. Apostle Paul would appear to say faith and good works oppose each other, if some of his writings are accepted separately, out of context of his teachings as a whole. He teaches that if a Christian does not accept love in good works along with faith and sincere prayer to God, an injustice is done to those who speak of love. Paul's evaluation of love and charity, leaves no doubt that he acknowledges the link between love and good works and faith as a means of justification. Paul refers to the correlation of faith and good works: "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2). The question is: does Paul in this verse deny faith in its grandeur as a means of salvation? Does he say charity is the only instrument for one's justification. Indeed not.




Can there be faith without good works? There are those who stress the one, and ignore the other. Paul was aware that there were some people who separated faith from good works. Therefore, he bluntly reprimands those who hold such a partial faith, who "speak in the tongues of men and of angels" and suppose themselves to be justified. Paul admonishes them that they are not, saying instead they are as "noisy gongs or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). He declares that even if someone has great faith, he is not able to be justified by faith alone. Once again, the correlation be­tween faith and good works is the answer.


Furthermore, the experience of the Christian should be cultivated in a God-pleasing life, with faith as a moral value. This acceptance of the meaning of faith is shown in the state­ment: "Without faith it is impossible to please him (God)" (Heb. 11:6). Here faith is a great factor in the promise of God and hope for its fulfillment. The faith that pleases God bears an inclination of the individual toward the Savior. It is from this faith that good works spring forth as fruits of well-nourished roots, as natural outlets of an overflowing source. Such good works cannot be forces separate from the life-giving faith which provides its power and essence. Without doubt, the origin and destiny of good works are to be found in the realm of true faith.


St. James describes a faith that is not justified, indicating that one's belief in one God is not sufficient, because it can be shared by demons: "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder" (2:19). This partial faith apart from love and good works is an object of the intellect only, and not what Paul calls justifying faith. He describes faith as coming from the spirit of sonship and love, which depends upon the Savior. Apostle Paul recognizes that good works can pave the way for the believer to accept faith in its fullness. Spiritual qualities such as repentance, hope and love live and move in the living faith, and are fruits of good works.


Apostle Paul, however, opposes the idea of good works that do not serve the preparation or wholeness of faith. He says they are "works of the law" which merely deal with common enterprises among men, which while they may not be evil in nature, are to be found outside the realm of God's grace. They are works which are done by sinners too (cf. Lk. 6:32f), These "works of the law" relate to observances of the Mosaic Law of ethical standards. According to Paul, in­dispensable good works are those which derive from God's grace. St. Paul himself once experienced Mosaic obser­vances by striving to apply them, but he found that a mistake to apply the ordinances of the law in order to be justified; that works of self-righteousness are not the works of justification. They can cause one to assume God owes him a reward. On the other hand, the person who labors inspired by faith in God achieves good works through God's grace and receives justification from God as a gift, rather than a reward. Such good works of grace presupposes two impor­tant elements: 1) that these good works be performed with humbleness and obedience; 2) that the acceptance of faith is a moral work, a natural consequence of one's deep and sincere faith.




It is clear that good works stemming from grace is the teaching of Scripture, especially the New Testament, and are either the fruits of sound faith or witness to the power of faith. The merit of justification from good works separate from faith is questionable. It depends on the intention and at­titude of the doer. If good works are done for the sake of ego, appearance, or mandatory obligatory duties, but not a result of vivid faith, then these are not "good works" (cf. Mt. 6:lf).


Good works done in the realm of God's grace may not have justification as a goal, for good works emerge through the power of divine grace, as fruits of faith. There are not good works done beyond one's duty as a Christian. For Christ says: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done only what was our duty' " (Lk. 17:10). Good works are accepted by God as worthy of receiving justification through His compas­sionate mercy, for each is rewarded according to works: "For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then we will repay every man for what he has done" (Mt. 16:27), and, "He will render to every man according to his works" (Rom. 2:6). Good works are indispensable fruits of faith not of their own merit, but only because God Himself ordained these good works as contributing to justification. It is confirmed in Scripture that he who does good works has treasures in heaven, with these references to the communion of everlasting life: "reward" (Mt. 5:12), "recompensation" (Heb. 10:35), "reward" (Mt. 6:4), "reward of the inheritance" (Col. 3:24), "prize" (1 Cor. 9:24), "crown of righteousness" (2 Tim. 4:8).


Good works — fruits of faith and God's compassion — never exceed the duty of any faithful person. Moreover, good works are not to be considered the source of so-called abun­dant, meritorious rewards, which some Western churches claim to be more than enough for salvation. This is a misguided belief that a saint or company of saints can possess an abundance of merits from good works which could be transferred to another person of lesser good works merit, and that the head of a church can supposedly administer the distribution of this abundance. This claim is falsely inter­preted from Matthew 19:21. Here Christ states the insuf­ficiency and incompleteness of the fulfillment of the law, so it cannot be used to support the transfer of an abundance of meritorious works. The verse does not indicate that one can be rewarded with an abundance of good works transferred from others.


The act of performing good works has a personal effect on one's destiny, but only through the blessings and mercy of God. Good works in themselves cannot save one; salvation is worked by the grace of God. This also applies to the saints; they are saints because of their faith and their good works stimulated by God's grace and mercy, not because they per­formed more than enough meritorious works for their own salvation. The claim that saints intercede for us and are con­tinuously beseeching Christ does not mean they are distributing an abundance of works, nor that they left this abundance to a church leader. This claim of transferring the abundance of good works from the saints to others cannot be verified by Scripture nor by Sacred Tradition. The claim that a church is a depository of the abundance of Christ Himself is without foundation. It is a false, misused doctrine which can become an instrument for exploitation of the believers. This claim by the Western churches broadens the separation of the Christian Church.




The question of faith and good works in relation to justification has significant influence on Christian thought. This doctrine of faith and good works can best be understood in the light of the Gospel and God's grace. Despite emphasis on either faith or good works, the essence of this doctrine


should be clear to all Christians. This is vital, because all that God has designed in the past and for the future for faithful Christians depends on it. Consequently, it should affect the very center of one's Christian feelings and thoughts.


Justification of a person by faith and good works of love is God's merciful act. It can be compared to a vast reservoir of clear water in the midst of a drought; it depends on the faithful one to prepare a channel to carry the water to the dry area and convert it into a green pasture. It is a privilege for a faithful person to have the Gospel and God's grace leading him or her to a steadfastness in the faith which produces good works of love. One's own effort and prayers notwith­standing, one's redemption comes from God Himself, Who "is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (I Cor. 1:30).


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