Importance of works

James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, has something basic to teach about this matter. “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.(James 2:14-17) Jesus made this point in his final words of teaching to his disciples before he was arrested and crucified. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has love me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.(John 15:4-10) The specfic point that Jesus made to his disciples and to those who would seek to live in a saving relationship with him and the Father was that it would be necessary for them to “bear much fruit(vs. 8) from their works of obedient service in response to the Lord’s “commandments.(vs. 10) Paul emphasizes the importance of obedient works as he commented on the obedience of Jesus to accept his cross (Phil. 2:8) in his teachings to the Philippians in these words: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in may absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.(Phillipians 2:12-13)

Examples of faithful works and selfish works

Jesus in a couple of his final teaching parables to his disciples and to us identifies “the faithful and wise servant(Matthew 24:45) of the Father. In his parable about the final judgement that will be administered by “the Son of Man(Matthew 25:31) the Son gathers people from all the nations (vs. 32) and separate them into two groups according to how they have treated those in need of some personal caring services from others in accord with their relationship with the King (Jesus is the King and the Son of Man in this parable.). Those who rendered such care were welcomed into the kingdom of the Father. Those who did not render such care were cast into the eternal fire. (See Matthew 25:31-46 for the details of this parable.)

In a previous parable about ten virgins who sought to serve the bridegroom (who was the lord) by lighting their lamps for him on the route as he took his bride to their new home, five of them assumed that were part of the bridegroom's group of known servants and they were foolish and were not ready to provide their service and were denied the blessing of sharing with the groom and his bride and their welcomed participants in the marriage feast. Five of them were wise and were ready to provide the necessary service for the groom and were welcomed into the feast. Although the virgins who had not provided the necessary service for the groom came to the door of the groom’s home and said, ’Lord, lord, open to us,’ they were not admitted into the groom’s home for the feast. (See Matthew 25:1-13 for the details of this parable)

I previously thought that this parable (Mt. 25:1-13) taught that a person who was actively serving the Lord could loose his or salvation by his or her failure to provide some basic service or have a major lapse in his her faith. But the lord’s answer to their request that ‘I do not know you corrects my assumption regarding the teaching of this parable. Jesus, the lord in this parable according to the lord’s answer, is teaching that these foolish virgins were refused admittance into the blessed feast because they had not been personally called to provide this service or prepared for it by himself (the lord). They had apparently sought to participate in this service for the groom in accord with their own selfish ambitious desires, so they had not adequately prepared for it and they were not ready to or able to complete the necessary service that they thought would be acceptable to the lord

Conclusion regarding the nature of faithful works

Jesus and James both teach that it is necessary for individuals to provide fruitful works of service for the glory of God in their faithful response to his saving grace and the sacrifical love of Jesus. It is not possible to live in an acceptable way with God under the authority of Jesus without such works of service in addition to one’s faithful words of repentance and belief in God’s commandments. It should also be clear from the above commentaries regarding two important parables of Jesus that such faithful works of service can only be done in a personal intimate relationship with Jesus and the Father for the personal call and resources that God provides to those who respond to his love. Such faithful works cannot be started or completed by anyone’s selfish efforts to claim any glory for himself or herself because they cannot be done apart from one’s union with Jesus.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV Study Bible English Standard Version. (ESV®), copyright © 2008 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.