For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James 2:26
I've heard the "faith without works is dead" speech so many times that I forgot completely about the first half of the verse. The part that says, "For as the body without the spirit is dead..." A body is a conduit of a person's spirit. Our spirits would have no expression in this world if it weren't for our bodies. Once our bodies die, our spirit has it's only manifestation in eternity. We are no longer represented here in the timeline of earth. How is workless faith like a dead body? It is inconsequential to this world. Like the person that once inhabited the dead body, workless faith may exist in some eternal realm like some heavenly inside joke between you and Jesus, but it isn't doing any earthly good. Even the tiniest bit of trust in the Lord as God represented in you can cause a monumental display like a mountain moving, if only that faith worked here in this realm.
Not every one who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but he who does the will of My Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, was it not in Your name that we prophesied, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name did many works of power? And then I will declare to them: I never knew you. Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness. Matthew 7:21-23
How can Jesus say that they were lawless when they were doing powerful things in His name? Well, because to themselves they were working for Jesus but they'd never actually been "hired" by Him. They professed to represent Him but they never got His approval to do what they were doing. It's the same as a person putting on a t-shirt that says "Whole Foods" who is passing out Mcdonalds hamburgers to hungry people and expects to be awarded by the Whole Foods CEO. Maybe what they did wasn't as harmful as what Mcdonalds could do to a vegan's G.I. tract and so God made good come of it. When these imposters saw the good that God did in spite of their infiltration of His name, they pridefully credited it to themselves. Hence their surprise at not being tight with Jesus when they see Him in person.
Did Jesus command those people to do those works? Were their works done as a result of faith?
What of faithless works? Those are the Mcdonalds peddlers with their fancy shirts feeding hungry mouths with junk food and telling them it's organic veggies. I did so many stupid things in the name of Jesus back in the day. By His grace it mostly effected my own life and those very close to me. Big, life-altering decisions though, nonetheless. I even got married a couple of times in the name of Jesus! I spent way too much money in the name of Jesus. All that stuff I did for a King and Country that had never asked me to. If I'd been listening to the Lord back then I would have calmed down and stayed put! Instead I crusaded after my own desires and scrawled Jesus' name on them with my own handwriting. Those things I did were dead works. The wood, hay and stubble that God will mercifully burn off my record when I enter His presence.
Dead works are works that mean nothing. They do not profit us and cannot be accredited any eternal value at all. When we stand before our Creator and answer for all the works we've done, we can't point to those things and get even the tiniest eyebrow lifted on the Father's face. Inconsequential and pointless; they are futile works. Vain and meaningless works. It's as though we are on a treadmill and expect to arrive somewhere a mile away when we are finished with our jog. Were we surprised when we got off the thing and we hadn't moved an inch? All that WORK for nothing? Dead works.
Will faith in Jesus Christ lead us to do good deeds? There's no doubt about it! But first thing's first. Let's check in with the Master and see what He has for us. Maybe He'll say your first assignment is to lay down and get well. Heal from the sin that had me bound? Lay here and get to know You? "But I'm not sick, Lord! I can work! Lemme at 'em!" Oh yes, and He'll let you do your thing for a while. If He chooses to show you mercy, He'll even let you fall on your face in front of everyone and get divorced a couple times maybe. He'll even give you a big hug and kiss when you come slogging home in your pig-mucked tatters having spent everything He gave you. After you see what a hopeless case you are without Him you may decide to receive some faith.
Faith comes by hearing Jesus, by trusting Jesus, by resting in Jesus, and by doing it over and over again. We believe or we don't. If we do stuff for Him before we believe Him, it's not going to bring His Life to us. Those works will end in the death of our purpose, the death of our calling and the death of our relationship with our Lord. People go on working for a Person they've never even heard from and expect Him to just be happy with the amazing things they've done. But it's only God's good work if it comes from Him through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. If it has it's source, strength, and sustenance in Christ alone, then it is a faith-filled work.
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalms 32:8