Many have struggled with the question of what constitutes genuine faith. This often has a lot to do with the subject of faith and good works. Is faith only real when good works are present? Does it only exist when we are doing something?
Some would have you believe that the only real proof of the faith’s existence is when it can be clearly observed. Others would have you believe that faith only works when it is physically doing something and then, and only then, can it be verified as authentic faith that is alive and not dead. Only by outward observation can faith’s existence be isolated, evaluated and justified. Its existence is justified by “faith plus works” or its authenticity can’t be verified at all.
This is a distortion of the complete Biblical teaching on faith and has caused many individuals and denominations to stray into legalism and performance-oriented Christianity. Let’s make this perfectly clear: Works can indeed show the existence of faith in an individual’s life but it can also simply reveal a “works mentality”, “legalism” or a “good works religion”. Good works is no guarantee that faith is even operating beneath the surface. If Faith Without Works Is Dead, Then Works Can Live Without Faith. Real faith isn’t dependent upon visible works to be authentic or authentic. You can have works without faith and you can have faith without outward works. You can also have real faith that works both inwardly and outwardly. Real faith always works whether it is obvious or invisible to the naked eye. Furthermore, works are not a fail‑safe indication that real faith is even present. The Jews proved that with their religion of good works. It didn’t save a single person apart from corresponding faith and it will never save a single sinner or Christian apart from faith either – not before salvation or after. When James said, “YOU SEE BRETHREN that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24) he was talking about someone looking for a clear verification that a man’s profession of faith was the “real deal”. If you’re “looking to see” if faith is real you can often do so by outwardly observing whether one just “talks the talk” or “walks the walk.” So, while James comments that real faith shows itself through works is true, it is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning what determines the real faith. In fact, I can think of no other passage in the bible that has caused so much confusion and contributed so much fuel for legalism and performance-oriented religion when taken by itself out of context with the rest of what the Bible has to say about authentic faith than this verse from James. In light of many other scriptures concerning the nature of faith, James’s word is not the last word and needs to be balanced by the whole counsel of God or it will easily be taken out of context and create false teaching. We are told countless times by Paul that we are justified by faith and that the “Just shall live by faith”. (Romans 1:17) Paul is talking about the simple resident faith in the believer’s heart which is working each day. He stresses that we were saved apart from works; we live each moment in Him through faith, and will be received into heaven, not because of what we have done to “prove our faith” but by faith apart from anything we could ever have hoped to achieve without any conditional “Ifs”, “Ands” or “Buts” to go with it!
Paul tells us that “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) This was done before he did anything outwardly that could have proven the authenticity of his faith. His faith did not suddenly become validated only at the point in time when he had some outward response like offering up Isaac as a sacrifice in response to God’s will. It was validated before, during and after the actual act of faith. Our faith doesn’t lie dead or dormant when it is not physically manifesting itself through some outward work. It doesn’t suddenly become authentic only when the switch is activated and we start pumping out works.
It is active, in the quiet solitude of one’s heart when trusting in God’s word, when standing upon His promises, when maintaining one’s Christian integrity while being publicly martyred or when laying alone, completely paralyzed, in an iron‑lung. Real faith really works. If it is real it cannot do otherwise. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Real faith doesn’t have to be external to be working. It doesn’t have to be observed to be genuine. Often, it is this quiet, unobserved faith birthed by the word of God in the privacy of one’s heart that keeps us trusting in him apart from any external evidence whatsoever.
This is the “real faith” that works. This is the faith that God ultimately looks for and sees even if we never see it! This daily continuum of faith which dwells quietly in the privacy of a believer’s heart represents the vast majority of our faith and simply cannot be seen by the naked eye. It doesn’t depend upon the eyes of men in order to be valid or be a “faith that works.” It may not be visible to the eyes of men who judge the outward appearance but it is perfectly clear in the eyes of God who sees the heart.