The Works of the Law Vs. the Works of Faith Explained

James 2:20–24, Faith without works is dead. James is referring here to the works of faith, not the works of the law. No man can live a good enough life to be saved by his Torah-obedience or the works of the law (Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:11). 

At the same time, faith in Elohim is more than just mental ascent—“a knowing in your heart.” It has to be backed up by action (and we’re not talking about the works of the law). For example, when Elohim told Abraham to leave Babylon or to sacrifice Isaac, he obeyed by leaving that country and moving to Canaan. 

Moreover, many were healed in Yeshua’s ministry because they had faith in the Master and backed that faith up with corresponding action, which was the evidence of their faith. This faith-action continuum had nothing to do with Torah-obedience per se, but had everything to do with “putting your money where your mouth is” by backing up your faith or belief with action. 

It is this kind of faith that James is talking about here, and this in no wise contradicts the teachings of Paul who said that no man is justified by the works of the law. When Paul declares in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of Elohim, not of works…,” he was correct and not opposed to James. What’s more, Paul goes on to say in verse 10, “For we are [Elohim’s] workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works…that we should walk in them.” These good works (i.e. obedience to the Torah) are the fruits, evidence or proof of our salvation and are the works that back up our faith. 

So, in summary, the Bible teaches that we need the faith (a heart that believes and wants to obey Elohim) to lead us to salvation, as well as the works of faith after we have received Elohim’

 

Good works of the law “versus” our relationship with Yeshua

Luke 10:28, Do this. Is Yeshua saying here that Torah-obedience (i.e. one’s good works) can guarantee eternal life? A cursory understanding of Yeshua’s words in this passage may cause one to arrive at this conclusion. 

However, previous to this, Yeshua speaks about loving Elohim with the totality of one’s being. Loving Elohim not only involves Torah-obedience, but entering into a right, spiritual relationship with YHVH through Messiah Yeshua, the Living Torah-Word of Elohim as per the Torah itself and the words of Yeshua (e.g. Deut 18:15ff; John 14:16). 

Interestingly, in Mark 12:32, Yeshua has a similar exchange with a scribe. When the scribe quotes the shema as the greatest of all commandments, Yeshua tells him, not that he has eternal life, but that he’s not far from the kingdom (v. 34). At the same time in Luke 18:18–22, Yeshua tells the rich young ruler that it’s impossible to have eternal life by keeping the Torah without also following Yeshua. 

All of these similar teachings of Yeshua when compared reveal to us that Torah-obedience outside of a relationship with Yeshua is insufficient to securing eternal life in Elohim’s kingdom.

Paul summed up his spiritual relationship with Torah and Yeshua when he declared that he was “under law toward Messiah), that I might win those who are without law” (1 Cor 9:21).

John sums up our relationship with Elohim and the Torah-law this way,

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:4–6)

 

James vs. Paul: Are we saved by faith or by works or what?

James 2:20–24, Faith without works is dead. James is here referring to the works of faith, not the works of the law. No man can live a good enough life to be saved by his Torah-obedience or the works of the law (Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:11).

However, faith in Elohim is more than just mental ascent—“a knowing in your heart.” It has to be backed up by action (and we’re not talking about the works of the law). For example, when Elohim told Abraham to leave Babylon or to sacrifice Isaac, he obeyed by leaving that country and moving to Canaan. Moreover, many were healed in Yeshua’s ministry because they had faith in the Master and backed that faith up with corresponding action, which was the evidence of their faith.

This faith-action continuum had nothing to do with Torah-obedience per se, but had everything to do with “putting your money where your mouth is” by backing up your faith or belief with action. It is this kind of faith that James is talking about here, and this in no wise contradicts the teachings of Paul who said that no man is justified by the works of the law.

When Paul declares in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of Elohim, not of works…,” he was correct and not opposed to James. What’s more, Paul goes on to say in verse 10, “For we are [Elohim’s] workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works…that we should walk in them.” These good works (i.e. obedience to the Torah) are the fruits, evidence or proof of our salvation and are the works that back up our faith.

So, in summary, the Bible teaches that we need the faith (a heart that believes and wants to obey Elohim) to lead us to salvation, as well as the works of faith after we have received Elohim’s free gift of salvation as evidence that we are saved. This fact in no way contravenes the reality of salvation by grace through trusting belief in Yeshua the Messiah, which is apart from the works of the Torah-law.


 

Galatians Overview in Five Minutes

Below is a quick overview of the book of Galatians. My explanatory comments are in brackets.

The main theme of the book of Galatians is that one is saved by the grace of Elohim through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, not by the works of the Torah-law. Here, it’s not Paul’s point to discuss the validity of the Torah in a believer’s life. This he does, for example, in the book of Romans. Rather, in Galatians, he discusses how one is saved: Is it by works (i.e., obedience to the Torah and men’s non-biblical religious doctrines), or by the grace of Elohim?

In chapter one, Paul warns against accepting a “different gospel” and shares his personal testimony.

Chapter two describes Paul’s confrontation with Peter about not having to adhere to Jewish (non-Torah) traditions. He then begins to define what the gospel is by asserting that men are justified (made righteous) before Elohim not by the works of the law, but by faith in Yeshua. [This is because a man can never keep the laws of Elohim well enough to measure up to his high standard of righteousness or perfection. This in no way gives man a pass to violate the laws of Elohim — only that man can’t be saved by the good works of Torah-obedience.] Once a man is saved, Yeshua now lives his righteousness through the man [through the help of the Holy Spirit].

In chapter three, Paul further explains the concept of justification by faith stating that this method of salvation goes back to Abraham who trusted Elohim, and because of that faith YHVH accounted him as righteous. At the same time, if one attempts to be justified by the works of the law, because he can’t keep the whole law perfectly, he will fall under the curse or penalty of the law [which is death. Elsewhere we learn the that sin is the violation of the law (1 John 3:4) and the wages or penalty of sin is death (Gal 3:22; Rom 6:23).] Paul  goes on to explain that all believers in Yeshua [both Jews and non-Jews] are children of Abraham (v. 28, 29), and so the same salvation model applies to them that YHVH established at the time of Abraham. What then is the purpose of the Torah, Paul asks? It is to bring sinners to the cross of Yeshua [who died in our place to take on himself the penalty for our sins]. [This isn’t the only purpose of the Torah, as Paul teaches us elsewhere. This is the only purpose he mentions in Galatians for the sake of this discussion. The Torah’s other purpose — once we are brought to Messiah because of our sin, which the violation of the Torah — is that it shows us how to walk without sinning; namely how to love Elohim and our fellow man.] Paul concludes this chapter by saying that once the Torah has brought us to Yeshua, we’re no longer under penalty phase of the Torah, and this applies to all people, not just the Jews.

Next in chapter four, Paul explains in more detail the glorious gospel message of salvation by grace. Messiah came to redeem us (set us free) from slavery to sin and the world and to give us a spiritual inheritance as sons of Elohim. He then asks a question. After having received the glorious message of salvation by grace, how can one turn to a works-based salvation and to other non-biblical religious doctrines of men? He then answers the question by using an illustration to make his point. He compares the old or former covenant that YHVH made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai with the new covenant through Yeshua. This was prefigured in Abraham’s two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. The first son (Ishmael) was a result of human effort and brought bondage, while the second son (Isaac) was a result of YHVH’s grace and brought freedom. [Similarly, if one seeks to do Elohim’s will through one’s own effort, it will result in spiritual bondage. On the other hand, if one seeks to do Elohim’s will through his grace and the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit, it will bring freedom from sin (i.e., Torahlessness) and it’s death penalty.]

In chapter five, Paul exposes the false teachers who were bringing “another gospel.” They were teaching that one can’t be saved, born again, justified or redeemed unless one is physically circumcised. [Although this doctrine is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, it had become a belief in first-century Judaism. This was hindering the spread of the gospel message among uncircumcised non-Jewish peoples to whom Paul had been commissioned.] Again, Paul restates the idea that salvation is by grace through faith in Yeshua, and that if one seeks to be saved by one’s good works including circumcision, then one must keep the entire law [perfectly without sinning, which is an impossibility]. Evidently, this false teaching was causing much division and strife within the church at Galatia, and Paul urges the believers there to fulfill the Torah-law by loving one another. [Yeshua sums up the entire Torah as loving YHVH with everything and one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:29–31).] Paul admonishes believers to walk according to the Spirit of Elohim that is living in them, which will lead them away from sin (Torahlessness) and towards righteousness (Torah-obedience). Walking in accordance to the leading of the Holy Spirit leads us away from Torahlessness (the works of the flesh including murder, lying, stealing, fornication, uncleanness, witchcraft, idolatry, worldliness and other fleshly passions and desires) and towards righteousness (the fruit of the Spirit).

Paul concludes this letter in chapter six by giving further instructions about living as a follower of Yeshua.