Although semantics is the study of meanings of words and ways that language can change over time, “God is not the author of confusion…” (1 Cor 14:33 KJV) but all too often mankind is the author of delusion. It seems as if a new translation of the Bible appears every year. Most of the time they help clarify antiquated words, but they must not alter the original intent of scripture. Let the Bible be its own interpreter by harmonizing the seemingly conflicting verses. Faith and works are two words that seem to fit this assertion.
“…without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb 11:6). What then does Bible faith look like? In Hebrews 11 several well-known Bible heroes of faith expressed it through their actions. This chapter is full of active verbs which follow the statement, “By faith….” Such verbs as: “built,” “obeyed,” “marched,” “conquered,” and “worshiped” are among the many mentioned. There surely must be a wider definition of faith than merely belief. The author of James puts it this way, “You see that a person is justified by what he does NOT BY FAITH ALONE” (Ja 2:24) and “…so faith without works is dead.” (Ja 2:26)
How can we harmonize this with the verses that say that salvation is not by works (Eph 2:8-9)? It must be because there are various types of works. By accepting the free gift of grace by faith one does not claim to have earned it simply by responding to God’s commands about its access. Confession (Rom 10:10) and repentance (Lk 13:3) are generally accepted by most religious groups as necessary works to show God one’s good conscience and heart. However, somehow immersion (Acts 2:38) is often called an attempt to earn one’s salvation. Curiously, the first two are active verbs whereas immersion is something that is done to us and for us and is a passive verb.
Jesus forever quelled the arrogant type of works of merit by those who depended upon their own abilities and accomplishments (Lk 18:10-14) (Lk 18:18-25). But He also praised the works of those who carried out His command to love their neighbor as themselves (Mt 25:24-40). God has told Christians that He has prepared good works in advance for them to do (Eph 2:10). These kinds of works spring from a sincere, loving, obedient and honest heart not one of pride. Max Lucado once said, “It’s not works that save a Christian, but that works mark the Christian.” So we see that semantics can serve rather than sever.