Are good works evidence of genuine faith?

by Mike Ratliff

10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. James 3:10-12 (NASB) 

Is the following statement true or false? Do good works authenticate true faith? I know that for a growing segment of the church visible this is, for them, a loaded question that they will refuse to either address or answer, but if you pin them down, they will say “false.” However, if you are Biblically centered, that is, if you are centered on the fact that God’s Word is His Truth and it is the gift He has given to His people to be the source of His Truth for their time in this life, then the only answer you can give is “yes” because that is what the Bible clearly teaches. Let’s look at a passage, James 3:1-12, that clearly reveals this principle. 

1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. James 3:1-12 (NASB) 

In v1 we have James telling us that not many should become teachers. Why? The teachers James is talking about here are those who teach from God’s Word. These are those entrusted to impart God’s Truth to God’s people at all different levels within the Church. The reason that not many should seek to become teachers is that these I just described will be held to a stricter future judgment when they will be rewarded before Christ (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). James is not trying to discourage true teachers, but to warn prospective teachers of the role’s seriousness (Ezekiel 3:17, 18; 33:7-9; Acts 20:26, 27; Hebrews 13:17).  When I read passages like these and then look at the ministries of some in the church visible I am simply amazed at the brazen scripture twisting and outright lying coming from these men’s lips. It is as if there is no fear of God in them. What can we say? God will not put up with this forever!

In v2 James says something that is absolutely true and then gives an example of someone who does not exist. There are no perfect people. Everyone stumbles and no one is perfect in all his or her ways. Notice the analogy of the bridle though. If a man is perfect, he is able to bridle his whole body. Then James uses the examples of bits in horse’s mouths, and rudders on ships as analogies of the power of the tongue in our lives. In vv5-6 James shows us how the untamed tongue is a wicked instrument wreaking havoc in our lives.

The synopsis of vv7-12 is very clear my brethren. We cannot control the power of the tongue to cause great harm as long as we rely simply on good intentions. Also, in vv9-12 it is clear that our own words can contradict our faith. What are we to do? The power to control this is in God’s hands alone. This is why it is imperative that we learn to walk in repentance with our lives in subjection to the Lordship of Christ in all things in all our relationships. If we do not do this then we will react from the flesh when we are “wronged” or someone says or does something that is objectionable to us for some reason and we will do or say something that gives evidence of hypocrisy in our lives rather than a life that is subject to our Lord Jesus Christ.

I agree on this subject with some very good Bible teachers. They say that this illustration demonstrates the sinfulness of cursing, badgering, or belittling others. The genuine believer will not contradict his or her profession of faith by regularly resorting to these tactics in an attempt to get their way. Our Lord was very blunt with false teachers, but He told them the truth in a very straightforward manner with no ulterior motive. Paul desired for false teachers of the Gospel to be accursed, but, again, this was very straightforward with no snarkiness built in.

When we use discernment in our ministries, it is imperative that we take the high road as well. Yes, we tell the truth. Yes, we expose false teachers, but no we do not insult them. No, we do not call them names. No, we do not belittle them. You get the idea. We must leave room for the work of the Holy Spirit in these things.

Soli Deo Gloria!