This is a topic that is very important and has far-reaching implications for any person who desires to please God and go to heaven. Let’s look at these themes of belief and obedience in the New Testament.
II Thessalonians 1:6-8, really shows us the importance of these themes. Note particularly v8, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
Hebrews 11:6 states both of these themes in a chapter that is often called the “Hall of Faith”. This chapter is the best summary in the whole Bible of these themes of belief and obedience. It would be great if you could read this whole chapter. Verse 6 introduces us to this chapter by these words, “And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Believing and seeking are mentioned in this verse as key to coming to God and are also the fullest expression of what faith is. Faith is not only believing that God exists but also believing that He rewards seekers. A seeker is one that obeys God. This principle was demonstrated in people like Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses and countless others.
James 2:14-26 is a context that makes a similar point but uses the word “works” to mean obedience. Faith is the topic in this section, but not just any kind of faith. The context mentions a “dead faith”(v17), a “demon’s faith”(v19), a “useless or vain faith”(v20), and in contrast, a “perfected faith”(v22).
A question that one asks themselves at reading this passage is, “What kind of faith do I want?” Your choices are seen above. The context tells us that a “perfected faith” is one that works, or obeys. It acts, it responds to God’s command. The example is Abraham. And verse 24 tells us that if Abraham had not offered up Isaac on the altar, then he would have had “faith alone”, i.e., faith without obedience. This kind of obedience is called “works” in the passage. This is not a works that is like man’s moral good deeds, but a work of obedience in response to a command from God. This kind of works does indeed justify whereas man’s moral good works does not justify us before God. That is a important distinction to make.
Further, v23 says that this faith and works fulfilled the Scripture that is found in Genesis 15:6 and is also quoted by Paul in Romans 4:3. Paul uses Abraham to show that he was justified by faith apart from the works of the Law of Moses (see Romans 3:20; 4:2,9-12). While Paul makes sure that people understand that one cannot be justified by doing the works of the Law of Moses, he cites Abraham as an example of justification by faith because he always believed God and did what God said to do (see Gen.12:1-4; 15:1-6; 17:1-14; 22:1-12; Heb.11:8-11,17-19). James uses the same Abraham to prove justification by faith too but James’ point is to show the true nature and extent of faith, i.e., it obeys God and while he uses the word “works” to describe this obedience, it is vastly different from the word “works” to which Paul refers. Consider also these verses Acts 10:34,35; Matthew 7:21-23; John 14:15 and Hebrews 5:7-10.