I’ve heard a common analogy that faith in God is like believing in the wind. One cannot see the wind, but it is there, as it is with faith: we believe in a God we do not see. As helpful as this metaphor may–or may not–be, it got me thinking. I think that there is a relationship between faith and the wind, and I think it is an interesting and helpful one. But it’s not the one that I just described.
In his book “Future Grace,” John Piper talks about the relationship between faith and works. Far from being contradictory, he deems it a necessary relationship. Not that we work to earn our salvation, but that “our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real” (364, Piper’s emphasis). Consider the following passages of Scripture that Piper puts forth:
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)
5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:5-8)
Why is this? Why is salvation “by grace . . . through faith” (Eph. 2:8), but works are still such a large part of the equation? The fact that works are considered in Scripture is undeniable. In addition to these two passages above, there are verses such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and James 2:26 which clearly indicate the importance of looking at works. This much is unavoidable. The only question left is: Why are works so important in a salvation based on faith and grace? Here we come back to the illustration of faith and the wind–except in this example, faith is not like believing in the wind, faith itself is like the wind.
Faith, like the wind, is abstract, metaphysical, intangible. You cannot see the wind; you cannot see faith. So how does one know that such a thing as “wind” exists? Because one sees the evidences of the wind. Leaves rustling, papers blowing, clouds moving–these all tell us that air is moving, and we call it “wind.” When we hear the air whistling or rushing past our ears, or we hear leaves rustling, or papers blowing, we attribute it to the movement of air. When we feel air glide over our skin or blow dust in our eyes, we know that there is a wind at that moment–and so it is with faith and works. Good deeds tell us that a person has faith that the promises of God are sure and that His rewards are greater than the temptations of sin. Bad deeds show an absence of such faith.
Says Piper, “salvation is by grace through faith, and rewards are by grace through faith, but the evidence of invisible faith in the judgment hall of Christ will be a transformed life” (364). Or put in another way, “Jesus can say, with no contradiction: the deeds of this life will be the public criteria of judgment at the resurrection. Because our works are the evidence of the reality of our faith. And it is faith in Christ that saves” (366). So there are certain works, done by faith in the promises of God, that Paul calls “works of faith” (1 Thes. 1:3, 2 Thes. 1:11). So yes, in one sense, faith and works are mutually exclusive. Salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works, so that God gets all the credit and glory. On the other hand, they are very much connected, because our faith is alive and real and will produce good works.