Faith and Works
The Divine Combination
The pattern of grace through faith followed by works is revealed
clearly in the Bible, and the interconnectivity of these spiritual
principles is addressed repeatedly. King David, author of the
Psalms, urged all men to trust (have faith) in the Lord, to “do
good” (work), and then reap the benefits of combining the two
principles (Psalm 37:3). Paul, the New Testament’s primary
commentator on grace, said in his writings to the Ephesians that it
is grace, accessed through faith, that brings salvation to the souls
of men (Ephesians 2:8-10). He went on to teach that grace is
followed by good works, that is, men and women under the influence
of grace are guided unfailingly to do good works (Titus 3:7-8, 2
Corinthians 9:8-10, and 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). James wrote that
faith is made perfect through works (James 2:22, 24).
Faith without Works
While Paul wrote extensively on the unity of grace and faith, the
apostle James wrote extensively on the unity of faith and works.
Indeed, James put a sharp point on this unity, saying three times in
the same chapter that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17,
James 2:18-20 and James 2:26). Likewise, Paul in his letter to Titus
describes the useless condition of one who professes to know God,
but in his works does not demonstrate such knowledge (Titus
1:15-16). Paul calls such a person “abominable”.
In teaching the interconnectivity of grace, faith, and works, the
Lord proclaimed through Paul that a man must work out his own
salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13). By
exercising faith through works, men and women are saved through the
Atonement of Christ and can then have a significant impact on the
salvation of others (1 Timothy 4:16). Jesus told his disciples that
the only way a man could save himself was to lose himself, to expend
himself, to work in the cause of Christ (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Luke
17:33 and Matthew 16:24-25).
Love without Action
The Savior said the two great commandments were to love God and to
love one another (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31 and Luke
10:25-28). He taught that love of the Lord is more than a simple
emotion or profession of devotion: Indeed, love without loving
action is an empty abstraction or an emotional self-indulgence.
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He
said that those who keep (do works in compliance with) his
commandments will abide in his love just as he abides in his
Father’s love (John 15:10). John sternly wrote that anyone who
claims to know Christ but does not keep his commandments “is a liar”
(1 John 2:4).
Doers of the Word
God gives words to live by, and he requires obedience to those words
(Micah 6:8). God commands all men and women to be “doers of the
word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22-25). During his public
ministry Jesus relentlessly taught the principle of “doing” (Luke
3:11-14 and Mark 10:21). He said that those who “heareth these
sayings of mine, and doeth them” are wise, and those who do not do
them are foolish (Matthew 7:21-27). In the Day of Judgment the Lord
will separate the sheep (doers of the word) from the goats (hearers
only). He proclaimed that a man or woman who serves others serves
the Lord (Matthew 25:31-45).
Sacrifice as Works
To sacrifice is to deny one’s self in service of others, to lose
one’s life in order to find it, to enlarge the self by including
others in it (Mark 8:34-36, Luke 9:24, Matthew 16:25 and Luke
17:33). Peter encouraged the early Christians to “offer up spiritual
sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Charity as Works
Charity marked by selfless service given through the pure love of
Christ is greater than prophecy, understanding, and faith (1
Corinthians 13:2, 13). Paul proclaimed that those who are without
charity are “nothing.” James defined pure religion as service given
to those who are in greatest need (James 1:27).
Humility as Works
Humility is essential for spiritual progress. Peter taught the
disciples to be “clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5). James said
that with humility comes wisdom (James 3:13). Humility (or meekness)
is so important that those who possess it will not only inherit the
earth (Psalm 37:11 and Matthew 5:5), but will be exalted (Matthew
23:12 and 1 Peter 5:6).
Endurance as Works
Endurance is the willing acceptance of afflictions and persecutions.
Jesus warned his followers against being like the man who “dureth
for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of
the word, by and by he is offended” and is without fruits (Matthew
13:18-23). Jesus urged his disciples to endure to the end (Matthew
24:13 and Mark 13:13) despite persecution (John 15:20). Enduring to
the end brings great blessings (Luke 6:22 and Matthew 5:10-12, 44).
The persecuted are promised they will not be forsaken (2 Corinthians
4:8-9), and are encouraged to rejoice and take pleasure in being
persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10 and
1 Peter 4:13-14). The reward of endurance in the eternities is
beyond measure, including a “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy
4:5-8), “life everlasting” (1 Timothy 1:16), and “to be counted
worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).
Works as Examples
The Savior exhorted his disciples to let their good works shine
before men to glorify God (Matthew 5:16). The apostle Peter taught
that good works when seen by men will “glorify God in the day of
visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
Works in the Afterlife
Works follow the worker into the afterlife (Revelation 14:13).
Works and the Final Judgment
The children of God are judged on earth and in the afterlife for
their works in mortality. While salvation (immortality) is assured
through acceptance of the Atonement of Christ, the Lord records
works in the “book of life”, upon which he will judge all mankind
(Revelation 20:12-13). Paul wrote that judgments will be made
according to what each person has done (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Works and Rewards
Men and women who do good works lay up “in store for themselves” a
solid foundation for eternal life (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Rewards are
determined according to works (Psalm 62:12, Matthew 16:27,
Revelation 22:12 and 1 Peter 1:17). Those who live in and propagate
righteousness will earn a great reward (Proverbs 11:18, Psalm 18:20,
24 and Psalm 37:29), while those who render evil will be given a far
lesser, though just, reward (2 Timothy 4:14). Because good works
flow from faith and faith flows from diligently seeking the Lord,
the Lord will reward those who “diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The rewards that flow from rendering good works in the glory of God
include receiving a crown of life (James 1:12), sharing in the
Lord’s throne (Revelation 3:21), and becoming a “ruler over many
things” (Matthew 25:19-23).
The Divine Combination
Faith, works, and grace are the three legs of a spiritual platform
that must be mounted to fully praise and experience God. The
platform collapses if any of these legs is taken away. Faith is
necessary for actions to have meaning, and grace is necessary for
actions to have efficacy.
The Great Debate
There is a centuries-old debate about the matrix of faith, works,
and grace. Some see an insurmountable contradiction, expressed here
as a question: “If it is by undeserved grace that man is saved, how
can faith or works also be a necessity of salvation?” Latter-day
Saints disentangle from this either-or construct and embrace faith,
works, and grace as a perfect unity. In this unity, a new life in
Christ becomes possible, and fear of damnation is replaced with the
joy of divine labor under the protection of grace.
Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little
faith grows, works proliferate, and the purposes of God are
fulfilled. As faith and works combine, human understanding deepens.
This deepening can in time and by the grace of God culminate in pure
Faith and Works
The Bible places enormous emphasis on faith and works together. They
operate like the blades of a pair of scissors (to borrow a metaphor
from C. S. Lewis). This is why James boldly proclaimed that “faith,
if it hath not works, is dead” (James 2:17).
Jesus said, 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. And whatsoever ye
shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be
glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will
do it. If ye love me, keep my commandments (1 John 14:12-17,
Jesus preached love as an action verb. To love is to do. Love and
action are inseparable in Christ’s message. The apostle Paul said,
“…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh
to God must believe that he is . . . he is a rewarder of them that
diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Paul does not invite men to simply bask in their saved condition. He
preached seeking. Latter-day Saints are seekers: They have faith, do
good works, and trust that the grace of God through the Atonement of
Jesus Christ will erase whatever deficit may remain.
See chapter18 in The Biblical Roots of
Mormonism for a more comprehensive explanation, scriptural
references and commentary on Faith and Works
See the following Sword SeriesTM papers for summaries: