When Works Don’t Work

“What good is it if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? … For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” – James 2:14, 26 (NRSV)

Faith doesn’t save us. Works won’t save us. Not even faith + works can make us whole. We are loved and made worthy, our lives given meaning and purpose, by nothing more or less than the grace of God.

Can we move on now?

Because for all the tens of thousands of books written and sermons preached on the false “faith versus works” dichotomy, it is not a question I see faithful folks wrestling with. The saints I know and love grasp well the connection between faith and love and action. You probably do, too.

But perhaps you, like they, sometimes work your faith to the bone. Perhaps you, like me, sometimes work-love yourself into exhaustion. And maybe you, like so many of us, sometimes wonder what difference it all makes.

I am less concerned about faith dying for lack of works than with faith being critically wounded, left crawling across the floor and gasping for breath because of works. Because there’s only so much we can do. Because sometimes our works don’t work.

A friend’s heart of gold has been so thoroughly shattered that she can no longer pray or sing or trust. She has turned the other cheek so often that her head spins, given every shirt off her back, and walked ten thousand extra miles. More work will not save her faith or heal her heart.

Only grace can do that. Grace + love + time. Grace that takes the hands of those worn down by works and holds faith for wounded souls.


Holy One, save us from our work and heal us by your grace. Again.

About the Author
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.