This is an argument I have never understood. It’s quite plain to see in scripture the importance of both. Let’s read:
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Notice where it says that even devils believe and tremble. Satan and his demons have faith that God exists because they know God exists. But Satan’s downfall is his lack of works. He does not follow the laws of God.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
This tells us that we are not saved by works because it is all too easy for us to boast or seek human praise for what we have done. I hear people all the time tell others how much they have donated to their church or charity. I hear them tell others how they help the poor and needy or how they have prayed for so & so. These people may have faith but they are seeking salvation through their good works. These people are seekers of human praise. When you seek out the praise of others isn’t that like putting yourself before God? Shame on you. Even I have heard myself a time or two tell someone of the good deeds I have done. I try not to but sometimes it just happens. When others challenge my faith because they have not seen what I have done I feel the need to point out that yes, I do good deeds and this is what I have done. I want to prove something to them about myself. Then I feel ashamed and that good deed meant nothing. Why? I’ll tell you why…..
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Do your works in silence so that your faith might shine upon those whom you have helped because you never know who God has brought before you. Through you He works to save the lost. How will it glorify God to the lost if you take credit for what you have done?
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
The Jewish people do many works by the law of God but they do not have faith in Christ. You can do all the works and good deeds you want but without faith in Christ they mean nothing.
If you do good works and have not faith in Christ, they mean nothing. If you have faith in Christ and do not do good works what good is your faith? You are no better a believer than Satan for even he believes and does not do good works. With faith in Christ you will do good works without seeking man’s praise and awe. It is a natural doing without the desire for glory. Unconditional love that seeks nothing in return.
If faith is dead without works but we are not saved by works, how important are works?
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
We will all be judged according not only to our works but how we did them. Believers and non-believers alike shall be judged according to their works. I’d say that makes works pretty important. But first you must have faith or else those works are worthless.
We are saved by GRACE through FAITH in Christ and our WORKS justify our faith. You can not have one without the other.