Works of Faith
Paul underlines repeatedly the crucial and powerful relationship between faith and the good works of love. Paul would happily say with James, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). For the works of love are the fruit of faith, and thus the aim of Paul’s ministry. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from . . . sincere faith” (ἐκ . . . πίστεως ἀνυποκρίτου, ek . . . pisteōs anupokritou, 1 Tim. 1:5).
Paul calls the God-pleasing works of believers “works of faith,” meaning that their faith is the kind of reality that moves them to do good works. For example, in his prayers for the Thessalonians, he remembers their “work of faith” (ἔργου τῆς πίστεως, ergou tēs pisteōs, 1 Thess. 1:3). And he prays “that our God may . . . fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith [ἔργον πίστεως, ergon pisteōs] by his power” (2 Thess. 1:11). A Christian’s good works are “works of faith,” meaning they are the fruit of the transforming effects of faith.
Saved by Faith for Love
In Paul’s mind, saving faith is the gracious work of God in us (Acts 13:48; 2 Cor. 4:6; Phil. 1:29) that is designed by God for two distinct and glorious effects. First, it is the instrument of justification. That is, God instantaneously and simultaneously unites us to Christ and counts us righteous before him for Christ’s sake when our faith comes into being. Second, this saving faith is the kind of reality that moves us to love others—that is, to live in a way that does good works and fulfills the law.
Both of these designs of saving faith are seen in Ephesians 2:8–10:
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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Salvation by grace through faith is called God’s “workmanship” (ποίημα, poiēma). It is God’s creation. When God works by grace to bring a believer into being, Paul describes this as being “created in Christ Jesus.” Believers are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). This “workmanship” of new “creation”—this bringing of faith into being—has a double design. The faith saves instantaneously (“have been saved,” ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι, este sesōsmenoi, v. 8), and it brings about good works (“created . . . for good works,” v. 10). Saving faith is the kind of reality that saves the soul from the wrath of God (Eph. 2:3) and moves the believer to love others.
Is Love a Fruit of Faith or a Fruit of the Spirit?
When I argue that every God-pleasing act of the will (summed up in love) is the fruit of saving faith, I am not denying that it is also the fruit of the Spirit. Clearly, “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22). So how do our faith and God’s Spirit connect with each other in bearing the fruit of love? Paul clarifies the connection between faith and the Spirit in Galatians 3:5: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith . . . ?” The answer he expects is “hearing with faith.”
Saving faith is the kind of reality that moves us to love others.
In other words, the Spirit is given to us when we first hear the word of God with faith (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14). And the Spirit goes on being powerfully active in believers as we go on hearing God’s word with faith.
So the fruit of the Spirit is also the fruit of faith. The Spirit does his work in and through faith. Faith does its work by the Spirit. Faith not only justifies instantaneously (in our union with Christ) but also moves believers to love people.1 It is that kind of reality. It has that kind of nature. It is an amazing force. It becomes powerfully effective through love (διʼ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη, di’ agapēs energoumenē, Gal. 5:6). This love for people is not love for Christ. This love for our neighbor is the fruit of faith, not part of faith. Saving faith is so pervasively effective in producing this love that we may say that every God-pleasing act of the will that is not part of saving faith is the fruit of saving faith.2
- The reason I think love in Gal. 5:6 refers to love for people or neighbor and does not include love for God or Christ is that the phrase through love (διʼ ἀγάπης) in 5:6 occurs again in 5:13: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love [διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης] serve one another.” Thus the love in Paul’s mind in this context is love for “one another.”
- For a more detailed defense of this understanding of Gal. 5:6, see John Piper, The Future of Justification (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 203–6.
This article is adapted from What Is Saving Faith?: Reflections on Receiving Christ as a Treasure by John Piper.
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