Relationship, Faith, and Works
Understanding the connection between our relationship with Jesus, our faith in Him, and our works of service can sometimes get blurred for us as Christians. Some have said that all they need is to know Jesus, to have a personal relationship with him, and nothing else matters. Some may feel that their abiding faithfulness, perhaps measured by their regular attendance, is what really counts – even though they may not feel especially close to Jesus. Still others may focus all of their energy on working on one church project after another, but never study to grow in their faith and knowledge of their Lord.
Tonight I want us to briefly look at the discussion in God’s word regarding faith, works, and our relationship with Jesus. We will have several brief readings, so feel free to follow along in your Bible. We will start in Matthew 7:21
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
This passage shows that we must give more than lip-service to Jesus – we must do God’s will. However, in verse 23, Jesus tells those who performed good works to go away from him, because he never knew them – He never had a personal relationship with them.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
In this passage in Matthew, it is evident that our service to those around us is how we serve Jesus. He is not physically here for us to comfort, dress, and feed, but we can perform these acts of service to him by serving those around us.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”a
4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
This Romans passage is not telling us that we should not work and serve, but rather it teaches us that it is our faith in God that must come first. Works are an outgrowth of our faith in God.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is uselessa? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”b and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Verse 24 is pretty clear – a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. And verse 26 tells us that faith without deeds is dead.
So how do we make sense of these passages?
It all starts with knowing Jesus and growing in our study, prayer, and our personal relationship with Jesus. We have to know him. Our faith grows from that knowledge of what Jesus has done for us, and what he continues to do for us each day. Good works without a personal relationship with Jesus are just empty acts, and they will leave us feeling just as empty – and worse, separated from Jesus. Our righteousness comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. That faith, knowledge, and love compel us to reach out to those around us to help and serve them. We know that compassionately serving those around us is actually serving Jesus.
A knowing, personal relationship with Jesus leads to…
A deep and righteous faith in Jesus which leads to…
Acts of service and kindness to those around us.
Let’s each continue to cultivate our personal relationship with Jesus. Let’s grow in our faith in God and his ability to shape us into the image of His Son. And as our faith grows, let’s serve those around us, knowing that as we do that, we are serving the one we love.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Mt 7:21). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
a Gen. 15:6; also in verse 22
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 4:1). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
a Some early manuscripts dead
b Gen. 15:6
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jas 2:20). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.