Margin notes: Things I scribbled in the white spaces on Sept. 30. 2K9 – Faith is NOT a “work”.


notes 4“And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.” (Matthew 9:20-22, ESV)

” And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.” (Matthew 9:27-31, ESV)

Faith, is NOT a work. When this truth is lost, the preaching of a full and free offer of the Gospel, and the calling of men to faith and repentance gets lost with it. Fortunately, passages like these two give us tremendous help in untangling a knotty problem indeed.

More and more recently, I’ve encountered good, Bible believing Christians who nonetheless seem confused over telling the lost they need to trust Christ as their sin-bearer – to exercise saving faith. The problem arises out of right motives: The desire to preserve God’s sovereignty and thus His glory in salvation, and, to prevent people from thinking they have the “power” to save themsevles. Nevertheless, Peter’s admonition in Acts 2:40 remains a right exhortation: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”” (ESV) And with this, Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer’s “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” was a simple – “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”” (Acts 16:30-31, ESV). Some today, would simply not own that language or approach. The reason being, beneath the surface, they’ve either been taught or reasoned for themselves that faith is somehow a work, and if we are saved by grace and not by works, then asking or exhorting people to believe or exercise faith is somehow contradictory.

The errors here are really quite simple. There are two main ones. They stem from thinking that faith either has some power in and of itself to save, or, that faith is somehow meritorious or earns salvation.

It is clear that faith cannot be considered a work in the first place, because Scripture itself pits faith over against works. Eph. 2:8-9 states it succinctly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV) There is no question that Paul’s point is that we are saved BY grace, THROUGH faith, and NOT by works. So whatever faith is, or whatever role it plays, it is not considered a “work.”

Secondly, faith is not a work that EARNS salvation, since faith has no merit to it. There is no special merit ascribed to simply believing what is true, and commanded by God TO be believed. No one has earned anything by believing 2 + 2 = 4. It simply is what is, and believing it says nothing special about the individual. It is the same with Gospel. God has spoken it, and no one somehow earns salvation by believing what God has simply said is true and obeying as they ought to.

But in our texts today, we are met with the reality that faith has no power in and of itself. Faith is like the electrical wiring in your home. It must be present for electrical current to flow – but it generates no current on its own. It produces no power and adds no power. The wiring itself is dormant. In this sense, so is faith.

In each of the scenarios given above, this reality is brought forward. Those who appeal to Jesus for help, receive it. Their faith brought them to Him. However, even though the hemorraging woman and the two blind men HAD faith – note that apart from Christ ACTING or responding to that faith – they were still left unhealed. They had faith but it did not heal them. Christ had to heal them. The faith considered by itself wrought nothing. The healings were Jesus’ response to their faith and was not owing to any energy or power or working of the faith itself.

This distinction is vital. Faith is powerless. The power all resides in the God who honors it.

Faith isn’t a work. Faith isn’t meritorious. Faith has no power. Yet, by means of it – God works miracles and saves lost souls. We must have faith, indeed we are responsible to have faith – but it is God who acts, God alone who saves.

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4 thoughts on “Margin notes: Things I scribbled in the white spaces on Sept. 30. 2K9 – Faith is NOT a “work”.

  1. How have I missed the obvious connection so long?! Eph. 2:8-9 pretty much sums it up. If The Word says faith ain’t works, then faith ain’t works. Discussion should end there. To turn a phrase, why are we calling “unclean” what God has deemed “clean”?

  2. It would seem to end the discussion – wouldn’t it? But it doesn’t. The simple fact is – Scripture does not denominate faith a “work” in that way, and so we cannot either. Get that, and we’re back to making simple, straightfoward appeals of the Gospel. Lose it, and we’re confused as to how we’re supposed to appeal to men, and thus parse our Gospel in strange ways.

  3. You can go further and add faith is not the gift but salvation is. Faith is our volitional response to what God has said and done. We must accept and believe He is a good God, that He has spoken to us finally through His Divine Son, Jesus the Christ/Messiah, whose work on the Cross paid for our sins and brings atonement.If we keep on trusting in His person and work we are being saved now for time and eternity. His gracious gift,humbly received in faith, gives us power and purpose for the present, and hope and assurance for the future. Jesus told us about those who would not believe and entrust their lives to these truths, despite His often repeated invitation for them to come to Him. The gift of salvation is still on the table but yet they turn their backs and receive Him not.

  4. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Gordon. While I agree with everything after – I think I would still take some issue with that first sentence. While salvation itself is indeed a gift – 2 Thess. 3:2 would remind us that “not all have faith.” Heb. 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” And Rom. 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. While Eph. 2:8 is often debated as to which is the gift there – faith or the salvation, it seems more prudent exegetically to see as referring to both.

    Nonetheless, one does indeed need themselves to believe and rest in Christ. For the rest of your comment, I must say a hearty – amen!

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