You’ve only read the title, and you may already be thinking “oOoO revolutionary! She just flipped the words around. Big deal.” If you have spent any amount of time in the Church, I can say with utmost confidence that you have heard the popular scripture James 2:26: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
It may just seem like a matter of semantics, but let me assure you that there is an important distinction to be made here. And in the same way “faith without works is dead,” examining the inverse will help us broaden our scope, deepen our grasp of how God wants us to live out our faith, and understand just what those “works” look like that make our faith so living and active.
Faithless Work is Just Earning
Don’t get me wrong: our faith is an active one. Putting work to our faith is something that is commanded of us. As believers, we all have the common work of basic spiritual disciplines: consistently spending time with the Lord (Heb. 4:14-16), gathering together with fellow believers (Heb. 10:25), serving in the Church and those around us (1 Peter 4:10), and sharing the Gospel (Matthew 28:18–20). Moreover, we also have work that is specific to each of our lives and individual skill sets (1 Corinthians 12:4–6).
Some of that could include being a wife or a mother, serving in a girl’s ministry, going to a job in an office, being a good friend, or moving overseas to share the Gospel full-time. All of this work is holy and sacred; none more than another.
But sometimes the work that was once propelled by our love for God and others begins to take on a different shape. Slowly but surely what was once cheerful obedience turns into half-hearted earning. Spiritual disciplines become legalistic rituals performed out of a sense of Christian duty to earn the favor of God. Pure motivations to serve begin to shift to approval, reputation, status, or money. We start to move throughout the day with “It’s the Hardknock Life” from Annie playing on repeat in our heads as we pick up yet another dirty sock or send another “As we previously discussed…” email.
Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning” (The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship). And work without faith is just that: earning. Earning approval of God and others, earning affirmation, acclaim, money, or maybe even salvation—any other tangible thing that will make us feel like our work is worth something. But be warned: all earning—working unto our flesh and not unto the Lord—does make us tired. Which is why the Bible warns us against it (Gal.6:8-10).
Faithful Work is Worship
When we have been serving to earn for so long, it’s hard to remember what it’s like to serve out of joy and obedience alone. But this is where one of my favorite things about the Lord comes into play: justification. It’s a long word that basically just means that we don’t have to try so hard! From the moment of salvation, we have been wholly approved of by Christ. So that means–and here’s the best part–there is literally nothing we can do to earn approval from Jesus (Gal. 2:15-16). And if the ACTUAL SAVIOR OF THE WHOLE WORLD already approves of us, THAT means that we don’t need to do anything to earn the approval of people. THAT means that we get to do the work He has called us to do out of the abundance we have just from knowing Him as Lord.
Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.”
Our Faith Changes Our Work
Work alone gives food to the hungry and then leaves.
Work with faith gives food and stays around to engage in order to invest because it sees everyone as made in the image of God.
Work alone spends time with God today because we know we’re supposed to.
Work with faith believes we get to spend time with the Lord because we love Him. And we spend time with those we love.
Work alone knows we have to get along with our co-worker just because I’m the Christian. even though they’re being the worst right now.
Work with faith remembers grace. It helps us to say yes, my co-worker is being the worst, but how many times am I the worst toward my heavenly Father and yet he continues to be in relationship with me.
Work without faith is obligation.
Work with faith is worship.
How to Move from Faithless to Faithful
Give yourself a fighting chance.
There is no chance that you will do the work that the Lord has set before you with joy and pure motivations if you try to do it on your own. Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit think about the things of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace.” The only way to set your mind on the Spirit is to spend time with Him.
Examine your heart.
No matter how much time we spend with the Lord, we are still human. Psalm 129:23-24 is one of the most helpful verses to commit to memory, and once you read it, I know you’ll see why. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
The verse doesn’t say “offend” to mean a political stance or an accidentally saying a bad word. But rather, he is referring to something offensive to the character of Christ and who He’s instructed to be as His children who carry that same character within us.
In everything you do, ask yourself these things:
- Why? What’s motivating me?
- Will I be okay if this work is never recognized or praised?
If you find that your heart isn’t in the right place, that doesn’t mean you quit. If faith without works is dead and works without faith is also dead, then imagine what the Lord would think if you had neither! Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, my friends! We as humans are fickle people, so putting faith to our work is going to require a constant evaluation of the position of our hearts, a consistent acknowledgment of our flesh, and a surrender of impure motivations. Putting faith to our work isn’t easy, but the Lord has asked us to do it, so it must be worth it.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.
Alyssa Lewis is a Nashville area native, enneagram enthusiast (super basic, she knows), and huge advocate of mental health. She has been serving in girls ministry for several years and it is her heart’s desire to work with young women in a vocational ministry capacity in the future. She is passionate about seeing young women grow from a basic knowledge of the Lord to a genuine love for Him and active pursuit of relationship with Him. Alyssa loves any time spent with friends, singing at the top of her lungs, and eating ice cream—preferably Jeni’s. Connect with Alyssa: Instagram