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Faith is Not a Work

Posted by Matt Postiff October 21, 2019 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology  Bible Texts 

Twice recently I have heard about those who teach that faith is a work. One variation is simply that: faith is a work, and so we cannot encourage or exhort people to believe. The second variation is: faith is the first work a person does after regeneration.

But is faith really a work? Most Christians rightly balk at that statement because the Bible clearly contrasts faith with works. Note these Bible passages that demonstrate the contrast: Romans 3:27, 4:5, 9:32; Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 3:5; Hebrews 6:1, 11:33; James 2:14-26.

There are several passages that connect faith with works in the sense that faith produces work. This is how we should understand 1 Thessalonians 1:3 which speaks of the “work of faith.” This phrase does not mean “the work which is faith” as if faith is a genitive of apposition. Rather, it means “the work which is produced by faith,” where the genitive “faith” is a genitive of production or producer. The same is true concerning the “work of faith” in 2 Thess. 1:11.

James 2:14-26 speaks of living faith that produces good works. This shows that faith and works are integrally related to one another. But it is obvious that they are in different categories.

Paul offers an extended passage in his explanation of the gospel in Romans 4:1-6 which teaches very carefully the distinction between faith and works. In it, he argues that Abraham was not justified by works, but that he was justified by faith. Obviously faith and works are of different sorts. Works are associated with debt; faith is associated with grace. Righteousness is accounted to someone apart from works (4:6). Therefore, since righteousness is accounted to those who believe (4:3, 5), belief cannot possibly be a work.

Jesus once responded to the question, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" (John 6:28). It is evident to me that his answer set faith against works when he replied, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). You don't work the works of God to be saved—instead, you believe in Christ.

Furthermore, I believe that faith is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 can be understood this way. God grants repentance unto life (Acts 11:18), and he also gives His people to believe in Christ (Philippians 1:29). If faith indeed is a gift, it cannot be a work.

Faith is “exercised” by the person who is being saved. There can be no doubt or argument about that. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith in Christ, it is impossible to be saved. We are commanded to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” You might wonder how a dead-in-transgressions sinner can believe. That is a difficult question, mostly resolved by the fact that salvation is a miracle. But what you cannot do is think that the person’s faith is a work that merits God’s grace.

I conclude that whatever faith is and however you might describe it, it is not a work.


Article at The Gospel Coalition "Why is Faith Not a Work?"

Part 2 can be found here.

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