Faith is Not a Work
  • Register

Interestingly I've found many Christians to believe faith is a work. Some rightfully claim it is not, yet in their theology they regard it as a work nonetheless. This is grossly in error and such belief makes people conclude some horrendous things. So what do I mean by work. Well a work is something that earns you a wage. A work merits something. In a worldly sense this holds true. When we go to our place of employment our work merits us our wages. When we earn, in other words, when we do the work we then earn the right to boast. Why? Because we did the work that merited the wage. If however lets say the boss gives me a wage even though I never show up for work nor do anything to contribute toward his business. What would I brag about then? Would I boast in myself? No. I actually should be humbled. For I am receiving that which I did not earn, a gift in which I did not merit, a gift I'm only receiving because of the generosity of the boss. I couldn't call it a wage, because I did not earn it, therefore it becomes a gift given to me solely on the basis of his grace. If at anytime something I did earned this gift then we could no longer call it a gift but it would once again be a wage. Like Paul writes:


Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. - Romans 4:4

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. - Romans 11:6


My analogy above was to better understand the system in which we receive righteousness. God in His grace gifted us with salvation in Christ. It's a free gift (Rom. 6:23). However if you seek to earn it then you are doing so on the basis of works thereby nullifying the receiving it by grace. For you cannot have both, one cancels out the other (Gal. 5:2). Grace earned is no longer grace but a wage. This however is where we all fall short and we know that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Be careful when asking God to give you what you earned. For what we've earned is death. The only thing we are entitled to is hell. David, having committed adultery and murder testified of God that God was just to judge him (Psa. 51:16) and in this understanding cried out "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness" much like that of the tax collector spoken of in Luke 18:13.


As Christians we recognize this fundamental truth in that we are saved by God's grace (period). This is often where my calvinistic friends say "gotcha". They agree with me that salvation is monergistic (God does 100% of the saving) and not synergistic (where two or more are contribute to the saving, in the case of Christians where God does most but there's a little bit we have to do). They say to me if faith is an action on our part then it's something that contributes to salvation thus your world view is not mongerism but rather synergism. The error I believe they make with such a claim is they make faith out to be a work when it isn't. They make faith to be something that earns, or merits to us the grace of God and herein lies there error.


Faith does NOTHING to earn us salvation. It contributes to the saving in NO way. Faith does not earn us grace. Faith doesn't force God's grace as if us having faith obligated God to pay us our due grace. If it did, then grace, that is the free gift of eternal life would no longer be a gift, but a wage as something we earned with faith, thus making faith a meritorious work and as we learned from Paul, grace earned is no longer grace. This is the error my calvinistic brothers and sisters are making. By saying faith is a contributing factor to salvation they have made it to be a work. In their minds faith is in one of two camps. They say it's either a work that God does (as part of His grace) or it's a work that man does. They fail to consider that it's not a work at all! Interestingly both Calvinist and Arminians argue back and forth over which camp faith belongs in, whether it's a work of God or a work of man (it's interesting that both theologies agree in that they believe faith is a meritorious work, they just differ on who's responsible for it). I would argue they are both wrong the moment they make faith a meritorious work. By making faith a work they put it in the same camp as other works. To say faith is a work is to liken it to other works such as feeding the poor, preaching a sermon, starting a Christian website, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, living sensibly, and yet it is not. Such works in the Christian are brought about not by faith but by grace (Titus 2:11-14). Even James in addressing another point separates works from faith (James 2:14-26). The fact that faith isn't a work is overwhelmingly supported by scripture. Let's look at the end of Romans 3 and first half of Romans 4:


27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. - Romans 3:27-30

"justified by faith apart from works of the law" By this statement we cannot lump faith in with the works of the law. Notice that boasting is actually excluded by the law of faith. Faith actually nullifies boasting. Calvinist actually agree with that, but then they lump faith in with grace to explain it (which I cover later in this series).

31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. - Romans 3:31

We do not nullify the law but rather through faith we truly fulfill the law (cf. Matt. 5:17, 2 Cor. 5:21)

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. - Romans 4:1-2

If faith were a work then Abraham would still have something to boast about, at least among men.

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” - Romans 4:3

"Credited", meaning gifted, not earned. Righteousness gifted to Abraham on the condition of His trusting God.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, - Romans 4:4-5

Like we discussed above, it's either credited as a gift, or it's earned, it cannot be both.

just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” - Romans 4:6-9

Circumcision represented those who followed the law, namely the Jews who were commanded by the law to be circumcised. Circumcision is mentioned dozens and dozens of times in the new testament. In those days it was seen as a meritorious thing that earned the Jews inclusion into heaven.

10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. - Romans 4:10-15

Again you can't have both. Either righteousness comes through the law or through the promise received by faith.

16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, - Romans 4:16

"For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace..." Faith actually establishes grace. If faith were a work then it nullifies grace, but as faith is not a work, because it's not a work, it actually establishes grace. Faith testifies that we are 100% saved by God's grace! If faith were a meritorious work then it would not be in accordance with grace. You can't have a free gift of eternal life (Rom. 6:23) that's partially earned. Once it's partially earned it's no longer a free gift, but as Paul states above, it becomes what is due. When a calvinist or arminian argue about which camp this meritorious work of faith belongs in, they are starting that argument with an erroneous foundation with an errant view that faith merits anything. God credits righteousness (gives, attributes, applies) on the basis of faith which is His promise, but He is not paying righteousness as if it was due us because faith somehow merited it. I know I'm rewording myself many times to make the same point but this is not only fundamental to this article, but to our relationship with God.


Faith is not a work. To my calvinistic friends, when you hold to monergism, you are correct in that it's 100% God who does the saving by His grace. Where you error is by making faith a work that merits anything. Whether you include it in God's camp as a work or you include it in man's camp as a work, you still error in viewing it as a meritorious work when it clearly, according to scripture and logic, it is not. Now the first objection brought up is often Ephesians 2:8-9, so let me start there.


For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9 (emphasis mine)

Faith is named separately from grace. If it were part of grace the verse would read "For by grace you have been saved" (period). But Paul makes a distinction. God's grace does 100% of the saving, this is true and why monergism is true in soteriology. But it is faith that introduces us to this grace. Faith then adds no percentile to contributing to our salvation but rather is a response or an introduction to the One who did it all.

(on a side note "it" found in the phrase above "it is the gift of God", "it"in the Greek is neuter and "faith" is feminine. If you've studied greek that means "it" or in some translations "this" cannot refer to faith but rather the entirety of the verse, all of it. "it" or "this" refers to salvation as a whole.)


through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. - Romans 5:2 (emphasis mine)

We stand entirely by His grace, salvation is 100% by God's doing and it is in this we stand and why the promise can be a guarantee (Rom. 4:16). Faith however introduces us to the one who does 100% of the saving. If we were to say then faith is a work required as part of the salvation equation in that it merits it, then we've made faith out to be a work and we'd have to claim something like God does 98% and we do 2%. For example, we know that the price Christ paid for us is far too high for us to ever pay for ourselves. The debt was to big and we have not the means to pay for it. So keeping with this debt analogy imagine it cost a billion-trillion dollars to get into heaven. Do you have a billion-trillion dollars? No. But Jesus being rich does (2 Cor. 8:9). So Jesus, being so rich in grace, hands you a check for a billion-trillion dollars with his Name, address, and bank account number of His righteousness on it.

Excited you head to the bank to cash in on this check and as you hand it to the teller standing outside the gates of heaven they slide it back to you and say, "excuse me, first you must endorse this check by signing your name on the back before you can cash it". So you sign it (faith) and you head on in. Now when someone in heaven asks you, "hey man, how did you afford to get here?" If you were being honest you would say "Jesus paid my way here in full". Did you endorsing the check add to that sum? No. If signing the back of a check increased it's value I would be writing myself checks and heading down to the bank daily. But the fact is, endorsing something doesn't merit an increase in value, in fact, it doesn't merit anything. It's nothing more than an endorsement. That is what faith is. Faith establishes grace by endorsing it. When we sign the back of that check we establish grace by declaring the way in is the check with Jesus name, His address, and His bank account on it, not ours. Therefore this excludes any boasting by us and it establishes it's 100% Him. This is why boasting is excluded. Furthermore, not only does faith cancel out boasting, it should actually breed humility since it acknowledges our shortcomings, our self inflicted dire situation and God's 100% doing all the work to bail us out of it.

Faith is not an object to warrant focus on itself but rather faith by it's nature draws our attention to something else. If a person makes faith an object to behold then they've made it a work. Faith is merely a trust in something. We trust in Christ and His finished work on the cross, His shed blood, His resurrection. It's all Him. If my wife says she'll take care of the grocery shopping after she picks the kid up from school and I trust her word that she will, does my trusting of it somehow contribute to the grocery shopping being accomplished? No. Does my trusting her to do it mean less work for her at the grocery store as if I were contributing to her labor? No. My trust merits me nothing. What about with God? Does my trust merit His favor? Or in other words, does my trust merit righteousness from God? NO! I deliberately used the word merit here as we've established, merit means earned. Our faith doesn't earn us righteousness, but rather God grants righteousness as a gift on the basis of faith. He doesn't have to as if He somehow owed it to us (then we'd be earning it) but rather He chose to credit it to us by grace on the basis of faith.

This doesn't mean God used the old system, old wineskins, and made a new rule to the old law that now incorporates faith as a work, but rather God fulfilled the old system of works and brought a new system altogether. Those that try and make faith a work are trying to add new wine to old wineskins. They are trying to put a new patch on an old garment. (Mark 2:21-22).


Book Studies

Theological Studies

Study Series

The Gospel of Salvation



Drop Me a Line

Have some feedback, insight, questions, comments, prayer requests, etc? Maybe you just want to share what God is doing in your life (I love praise reports), or maybe you can relate to some of the things here and need an ear. I'd love to hear from you!