Your actions speak. Your works are words. The question is what are they saying?
The old adage, “actions speak louder than words,” is true because, as another adage says, “words are cheap.” So, when it comes to our faith, if our words and actions are saying different things we must look to our actions for the truth.
That’s what the apostle James tells us in James 2:18, and what the apostle John essentially tells us in 1 John 3:18. And Jesus also says this in John chapter 10, where once again Jesus has proclaimed himself to be God (John 10:27–30) and once again the Jews have picked up stones (John 10:31).
But before the stones start flying, Jesus asks them a revealing question:
“I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32)
The Jews respond that they don’t want to stone him for his works but for his words (v. 33). So Jesus replies,
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me [i.e. my words]; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37–38)
What Jesus is saying is that his works are also words. In fact, he had said this explicitly a few minutes earlier in the conversation:
“[The] Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.’” (John 10:24–25)
Jesus’s actions spoke plain and clear, but the Jews were not listening.
Jesus, the God-man, lived his earthly life in perfect integrity. His words and works were always saying the same thing. He was the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1, 14) who always did what was pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). Being “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), he showed us how faith works. Jesus’s trust in the Father was constantly being proclaimed through the things he did.
Faith, by its very nature, produces action. It’s intrinsic. Each of us is wired to feel and act in accordance to what we believe to be true. We cannot help it.
And this is a universal human phenomenon. Every human being lives by faith. The atheist who says he doesn’t go for that faith nonsense because he believes in science has a category confusion. What he really means is that he puts his faith in hypotheses advanced by non-religious scientists with regard to the origin of the universe and questions of ultimate meaning. Since these are things he cannot scientifically verify, and which he largely learned from others who he considers authoritative, he too has a “conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
None of us can help working out his faith. We cannot help doing what we believe.
None of us can help working out his faith. We cannot help doing what we believe. That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). That’s why Paul defined his mission as bringing about “the obedience of faith” among the Gentiles (Romans 1:5). And it’s why Hebrews 11 was written, so we could have a catalog of examples of how faith works.
So if we want to know what we really believe, we must look at our actions. For sinful humans whose selfish pride so frequently grabs for control of our tongue, the words of our mouth can be unreliable. But the words of our works speak with a powerful, and sometimes painful, eloquence about what we believe.
What are your actions saying? What do you do when you are alone, or when your plans are interrupted, or you are disappointed, or your weakness is exposed, or you’re tempted to fear, or someone else prospers or excels you, or you’re called on to help meet someone else’s financial need? How much of a priority do you make your local church? How willing are you to serve obscurely? When those who are closest to you are honest, those who observe you in your unguarded, uncalculated moments, what do they hear from your actions?
These are exposing and convicting questions. Jesus had perfect consistency between his words and works. None of the rest of us has this yet.
But since on the Great Day there will be a separation between the sheep and goats based on what their works said about their faith (Matthew 25:31–46), and since, even among the sheep there will be a distinction between those who built with gold, silver, and precious stones (more faithful) and those who built with wood, hay, and straw (less faithful) (1 Corinthians 3:12–15), we must “look carefully how [we] walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). And the wise repent wherever they see unbelief and then “[forget] what lies behind and [strain] forward to what lies ahead [and] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).
There is no conflict between faith and works. Our works reveal where our faith is. Jesus told us that a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). The wise seek to make the tree good.