By Benjamin H. Liles
Whatever you do, do well. ~ Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NKJV)
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” ~ James 2:18, NLT
Having good works isn't a bad thing to have, in fact, having good works is a good thing. However, having them accompany a life of faith is even better. In the verses surrounding James 2:18, he is saying that faith without good deeds is dead. In other words, if all you have are good deeds but no faith there's no life in what you are doing. And yet, if you have faith and good works result of that then your faith is alive and well, it is fruitful.
Let's look at another passage that shows James' argument in its proper light:
"Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’
“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” ` Luke 13:6-9, NLT
"The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” ~ Mark 11:12-14, 20-21
As we can see, faith needs to precede a life of good works, because without that faith our good works are like filthy rags (see Isaiah 64:6, NLT). For our faith to produce good works we need a life, a life that can only be refreshed and renewed by having come to the cross where Jesus paid the price for our sins, offering us salvation, and showing us we can be free of sin and its effects. Sin keeps us wanting to give good works, but they are multiplied and made more abundant through faith.