“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)
Our Savior makes a sincere repentance of all past sins, and universal obedience to the divine will, necessary to our salvation.
It would not become Jesus' holy Father to receive us into His favor upon other terms; and holiness is in itself so necessary to render men truly happy, that without it, they cannot enjoy themselves, nor be prepared for a state of perfect happiness.
Accordingly, our Master did not only require men to believe in his name, but also exhorted them to forsake their evil ways, and charged those, who became his disciples, to distinguish themselves by their good works. “Let your light so shine before men,” he said to his disciples, “so they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in Heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
When he sent his apostles to preach the Gospel, he enjoined them to teach those whom they baptized, “to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them.” (Matt. 28:20) - a commission they faithfully executed.
We must consider the case of those who hope to be saved by their faith in Jesus Christ, though they are destitute of those good works in which God has ordained, and in which, we should walk.
The Apostle James shows them that as it would be a pretense for someone to say he loved his brother, if he did not manifest his love by kind actions; so it would be mere presumption for anyone to rely upon their faith, if it was not producing good works.
Again, James says: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what good is that? In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
“Works” here intended are undoubtedly Good Works, done in obedience to the will of God, and proceeding from faith in Christ Jesus; and he principally intends works of charity and mercy.
Some will therefore be most unhappily disappointed, who flatter themselves with the hope of heaven, because they believe in Christ, and rely upon his merits, but do not reform their lives. And yet is not this the unhappy condition of many Christians? For all hope to be saved by Jesus Christ, but few live in conformity to his precepts and example.
There are many things indeed, which are esteemed good works by some Christians, but are far from deserving this name; because they are contrary to the moral precepts of the Gospel, or have not the authority of Christ stamped upon them.
Observing all his commandments, according to the best of our knowledge and ability is necessary to our acceptance with him. We must not therefore content ourselves with doing some good things, while we live in the willful omission of other known duties.
We should imitate our blessed Savior, who fulfilled all righteousness, who did not only pray to his heavenly Father, but also went about doing good to all men; and, by submitting to John's baptism, has taught us to lay due stress upon every commandment of God.
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Morris, “Faith without works ineffectual to Salvation,” 1757)