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When Faith and Works Combine

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 1:5

Faith in Christ and obedience to Christ cannot be separated. If He is truly our Lord, we will gladly and consistently obey Him. Indeed, obedience to Him is a measure of our faith in Him.


Over my years of ministry, many people have asked me the same questions:

  • Is it possible for somebody to be a Christian who refuses to live like a Christian? 
  • Is it possible to have saving faith without evidencing a spiritual walk?
  • Is a person really a Christian if that person doesn’t pray, read the Bible, and go to church?
  • If somebody says he got saved years ago, but now in his later years says he has no desire to follow Christ, is he truly saved?

These questions all boil down to one primary question: Does genuine faith have anything to do with good works?

Frankly, any honest discussion about the gospel of Christ sooner or later has to deal with the relationship between faith and works.

As we sail back into Romans chapter 1, the apostle Paul writes something that sounds rather out of place. It is this phrase, “the obedience of faith.” Now if this phrase seems unfamiliar, it is because it appears only one other time in the entire New Testament—in the last chapter of the book of Romans.

Well, here is the first of those two appearances of this phrase—Romans 1:5:

Through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

We are going to deal more with the subject of grace when we get to verse 7, but what I want to point out here is that Paul clearly says the purpose of his mission as an apostle is to “bring about the obedience of faith … among the nations.”

And that opens the door to asking these kinds of questions. Are faith and obedience inseparable? Can genuine faith exist without obedience?

In order to answer these questions, we need to understand the nature of biblical, saving faith. Paul will write to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), so we need to define this saving faith. And I want to begin defining saving faith by noting what it is not.

First, faith is not mental agreement with things that are true. If salvation is simply believing the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and that He rose from the dead, then every demon is a believer. James wrote, “You believe that God is one [or that there is one true God]; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

Beloved, the demons are not doubting the resurrection of Christ or the validity of His work on the cross. They know He is God in the flesh and that heaven and hell are real. But there are no demons on their way to heaven—even though they believe all of that. Saving faith is not simply believing what is historically true. 

Second, saving faith is not temporary assurance in trials. Several years ago, I read of a survey in which more than half the people polled said they believed in God. However, only a fraction of them believed the Bible had any authority over their lives or morals.

Many people have a vague idea of God, based on some good fortune they have experienced. People tell me, “When I lost my job, I prayed and got another one. That let me know I was okay with God”; or, “When my child got sick, I prayed that God would heal her, and she got well.” Others talk about some dream they had, some miracle, some near-death experience, or some rescue from danger and then conclude, “I know God is in my life.”

Here is the problem: Their faith has to do with their lives on earth and nothing to do with how to get to heaven.

Their sin is not an issue for them. They want nothing to do with repentance and trust in the cross of Christ. They want assurance of heaven and their sinful lives at the same time. They want to choose for themselves what is right or wrong and yet believe God will smile on them and open the doors of heaven. Their version of “faith” has nothing to do with a change in life.

John wrote this:

It is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God. (1 John 3:10)

Now that doesn’t mean true believers do not sin. The key word John uses here is “practice.” It is one thing to practice righteous living and sometimes fail. It is another thing to not care about God’s moral and ethical standards of righteousness and keep on practicing a lifestyle of sin.

That is not saving faith. And it is not your job to give them a pat on the back or some kind of assurance; your job is to warn them that their hope is false—that they do not have true saving faith.

Saving faith is not merely believing in things that are true, and it is not some temporary feeling of assurance about life on earth.

Now, on the positive side, what is saving faith? Simply put, saving faith is repentance and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for personal forgiveness and eternal life.

Paul tells us more in Ephesians 2:

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. (verses 8-9)

So, salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. However, genuine faith works. We are saved by faith alone; but saving faith is never alone. In other words, salvation produces a desire for obedience and good works. The lack of obedience and desire for godly living is evidence of false faith and not genuine belief in Christ.

Let me say it this way: Good works are not the condition for salvation but the consequence of salvation. That means you do not do good works so you can go to heaven, but because you are going to heaven. Good works are gifts of gratitude we give to our Savior.

You might remember that when Paul was saved on that Damascus road, he immediately asked Jesus, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). True faith produces obedience; it is the action of faith.

Paul’s apostolic ministry is to bring about genuine faith in Christ and “obedience of faith.” And he mentions here in verse 5 that his ministry is unlimited—it is to the nations. The Greek word for “nations” here is often translated “Gentiles.” That is amazing, because Paul was once a proud Pharisee, and Pharisees did not care about Gentiles!

But Paul now sees his ministry as extending to everyone. He must tell everyone—Gentile and Jew alike—so that all may come to faith in Christ and to grateful obedience to Him.

A man told me some time ago over a bowl of soup that he hardly touched, “Stephen I’ve been so convicted of my lack of passion for God. I was not living for Him at the job and before my family. I became deeply convicted of it and went home after work and confessed my lack of faithfulness to the Lord. I wanted to make a complete break from compromise and sin.” This man told me he and his wife began to go through their house and throw things away. Books, movies, music—anything that did not contribute to holy living. He said, “We were up until 3:00 a.m. cleaning everything out.” Then with tears in his eyes, he said to me, “I was tired of playing games. I wanted to be real for God.”

That my friends, is the obedience of faith.

There is an old hymn that combines these two elements of faith and obedience.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.[1]

[1] John H. Sammis, “Trust and Obey.”

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