Inactive Faith Doesn’t Save

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I have had many conversations with people who want to believe a relative or a friend is ‘saved.’  These friends hope this relative made a decision for Jesus in a coma, became a Christian secretly, or made a decision at camp years ago.  Quite often, the life the friend or relative is living will show no sign of faith.  There is no evidence the individual is walking with Jesus.  People appeal for faith without works at the cross – literally the event of the crucifixion.  Jesus turned to the sinner next to him and rewarded him for his faith.  The repentant criminal beside Jesus chided his recalcitrant companion, asking humbly for Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom.  Jesus, we remember, promised this sinner paradise.

However, even this example does not provide comfort for those who want faith without works.  The repentant sinner on the cross acted in accordance with his faith when he spoke to Jesus.  He didn’t do many things, but he did do one.  We see evidence of a change of heart.  Jesus states many times that the heart will show up in speech and action.  If a person’s actions are not in accordance with salvation, we are to act toward that person as if there is no salvation.

People are very guarded on the issue of faith and works.  They read the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8.  It is by faith we are saved, and not by works, lest anyone should boast.  However, later in the very same passage Paul states this faith will result in works.  Faith is not a passive or static thing.  James, Jesus’ brother, makes that very clear.  Demons have a ‘faith’ which is passive belief.  They believe in God, they know there are angels, they accept that Jesus is the Son of God.  If saving faith is defined simply as knowing the truth about God and heaven, demons are saved.  However, the faith the Bible requires is an active faith – it is a living faith.  James declares he will show the authenticity of his faith through his actions, he mocks the inactivity of those who claim faith, but have none.

Can a person become a Christian in  coma?  Can a person be a ‘backslidden’ Christian?  The Bible is unclear on these issues.  However, if we have no evidence a person is walking with Jesus, we should do everything in our power to challenge them.  The evidence is he or she is lost.  Any hope we have is dangerously close to wishful thinking.  At worst, it may be an excuse to justify our lack of action toward this person. We need to pray the world will repent and produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  There is something truncated at best about a gospel which does not result in a walk with Jesus.

An inactive faith is almost certainly a non-existent faith.


This was written as preparation for teaching at Warrenville Bible Chapel on 10/21/18.  I read a the introduction to the NIV Application Commentary on James.


About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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2 Responses to Inactive Faith Doesn’t Save

  1. Lydia Jones says:

    I have always been confused between the two verses, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” and the verses, James 2: 20-22, “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” I think when you become a believer you want to serve the Lord because of all that the Lord has done for you. You want to do everything in your power to glorify him.

  2. Josh Winter says:

    I thought this post was thought provoking. This is a hard topic, relating how faith and our actions work together. I have friends who have claimed to be Christians but their actions never show fruit and I have struggled to know how to view whether they have received salvation or not. I like what was said about the thief on the cross because I have often heard people use this example to show that God could save someone at the very end of their life. I like how it was mentioned that he may not have done a bunch of good things, but he did one and that was enough. He showed his faith through his actions. If we have truly come to a saving knowledge of Jesus we too will show this faith through our actions.

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