What About Works
Works! This is perhaps the most misunderstood ingredient in regard to an individual's hope to gain salvation and perhaps the most controversial as well. Just what role do our "works," defined by Nelson's Bible Dictionary to be an individual's "acts or deeds," have in determining our eternal destiny?
As usual, we will examine Scriptures to see what God's word says about the "works" issue. However, as we look at Scriptures, we will see a number of "apparent" contradictory points in which we need only to remember two very important and lasting facts. These unchanging facts are (1) that God's word is truth (John 17:17) and that (2) "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful ...... so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17) The point to note is that, if God's word is truth and ALL Scriptures are useful, then we must realize that there cannot be any contradictions in the Bible. We should also remember that the apparent confusion doesn't come from God, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14:33) Satan, on the other hand, is revealed in Scriptures to be, "...not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44) More on that later, but for now, let's look at these apparent, contrasting, views.
Some would point out, attempting to "prove" that the Bible says works help merit one's salvation and that we do merit salvation because of them, the following verses: Romans 2:6,7 - "Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:" Romans 2:13 - "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." James 2:17,20 - "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." James 2:24 - "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Matthew 25:40,45,46 - "The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me...' He will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.....Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Indeed, these verses do seem rather convincing IF we would isolate these verses by themselves.
However, we can't ignore the rest of Scriptures, and when you include the following verses, you begin to see a different, more complete perspective. Romans 3:20,28 - "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight....Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Galations 2:16 - "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Philippians 3:9 - "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Titus 3:5 - "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us..."Ephesians 2:8,9 - "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Again, as we began above, we wonder, "So what part do works play?" Thankfully, the Bible does provide the answers in a fine, well orchestrated manner that puts it all together. Thus, it is essential that we include what the words gift and grace mean in order to get a better understanding of how one's "works" fit in from God's view. A gift, according to Nelson's Biblical Dictionary, is "bestowing an item on another person without expecting anything in return." Grace, likewise, is defined as "favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves." The Gospel message abounds with grace and that it's a free gift.
The Bible tells us that there is only one Gospel that saves. This Gospel is presented in several ways throughout the New Testament as the "Gospel of God," the "Gospel of Christ" and as Paul says as "our Gospel," even once referring to it as "my Gospel." But in regard to our topic, the Gospel references known as "the Gospel of the glory of Christ," (found in 2 Corinthians 4:4) and called so fittingly as "the Gospel of grace" (Acts 20:24,) reflects unmistakably, that the message of the Gospel is about grace. There are so many additional verses that mention the Gospel, using the terms "grace" and as a "free gift," so as to make clear this saving message of the Gospel, most notably in Romans 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," and Romans 5:17 - "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ."
So as we can see, works cannot be a part of our salvation, even partially, because as the Bible so clearly explains in the following passages, "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.... God credits righteousness apart from works." (Romans 4:4-6) Furthermore, the Gospel can't be of works because in Romans 11:6 we find that works and grace are opposites, "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." So where do the works come in? Do we now ignore the opening verses that seemed so convincing at the beginning? Of course not, because, as stated earlier, there are no contradictions. The controversy about the "works" issue, is a result of just another scheme of Satan. A believer does many good "works," but they never do things in an attempt to be purified of, or to remove, sin. The "works" that believers do are many, but the controversy usually stems from the faulty idea that, as a result of your works, somehow you help merit salvation, remove sins or/and help merit salvation for others. In the Gospel of John, we see the only works that a "believer" trusts are those of Christ's, not his own. (John 6:28,29) "Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." And everything needed to purify one from sin was done at Calvary when Jesus said, "It is finished." It was at that point that all of the work was accomplished for the atoning of sins.
The many "works" that people, mistakenly, think merit them righteousness are actually worthless, as the Bible points out in Colossians 2:8 and 23 - "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ....Such regulations (works) indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value...." Paul, similarly shows us, in Romans 9:31-32 and Romans 10:3, that these "works" accomplish nothing, "... after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.... For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."
Works do fit in, just as God intended, but as a characteristic of a believer, not as a means for salvation. The complete, harmonious, Biblical picture is best demonstrated for us so wonderfully by looking at Ephesians 2:8 and 9, which is then followed by verse 10, "(8) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (9) Not of works, lest any man should boast. (10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Another good example is found in Titus 2:14, "Who gave himself (Jesus Christ) for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
So in closing, again in review, what the Bible teaches is clear. We are saved by faith alone, in the works of Christ alone, through grace alone, but never by our works. A believer (in what Jesus did) will do many good deeds, for indeed, as James said, "Faith without works is dead," and these acts simply reflect a believer's desire follow Christ in their life.
Thus, the glory goes to God, through Jesus Christ, who is "the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)