Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

FAITH AND WORKS

The most important question that man faces is: How can sinful man be saved? All who call themselves Christians acknowledge that God has addressed this issue by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for sinners. What remains is the question: What must I do to be saved? What is my part?

The Exclusive Role of Faith

The following verses address the issue of what we must do to be saved:-

  1. "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." – Ephesians 2:9
  2. "I kept back nothing that was profitable for you...testifying to Jews and Greeks, repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ" – Acts 20:20-21
  3. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death unto life." – John 5:24
  4. "Truly, truly, I say to you, He who believes into Me has eternal life." – John 6:47
  5. "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." – 1 John 5:12
  6. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish but have eternal life." – John 3:16
  7. Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). If works had any role in this, then Abraham would be able to boast, but God would not allow this (Romans 4:2, 1 Corinthians 1:29)
  8. "He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. " – John 3:18
  9. "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." – Galatians 2:16
  10. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us [past tense implies a done deal]" – Titus 3:5
  11. "You were not redeemed with corruptible things...but with the precious blood of Christ," – 1 Peter 1:18-19  ["redeemed" means set free - the past tense indicates that we don't have to do anything now to be redeemed]
  12. "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" – 1 Peter 1:3 [If God's power has given you everything pertaining to life and godliness, what is left for you to do to attain life?]
  13. When the Lord Jesus died, he said "It is finished" (John 19:30). The Greek word used in the gospels has the sense of "paid in full". [This means that we cannot, and don't have to add anything to what Christ has accomplished on Calvary.]
  14. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God" – Romans 5:1 [Look at the words in bold; the Greek aorist tense indicates a "done deal" in the past, a one-time event, not an on-going process. The passive voice indicates that justification is something that God has done for us, not something that we have done (by good works or whatever else)].
  15. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" – 1 John 5:13  [If works were necessary, then you would not know, because nowhere does the Bible give a formula to check whether we've completed the necessary quota of good works to get to heaven]
  16. Paul says he'd rather die than live on because he's sure of going to Christ's presence and can't wait to get there (Philippians 1:21-23). If good works were necessary for salvation, Paul would never have been sure; he would have preferred to live on, do more good deeds and improve his chances.
  17. "We may know the things that are given freely to us by God" – 1 Corinthians 2:12. If these things have been given freely, then by definition, we have not worked for them.
  18. In Psalm 32:1-2, David expresses the blessedness of the man "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered...to whom God does not impute iniquity". And what are the requirements for this blessed state? A guileless spirit (verse 2) and in verse 5, sincere confession to God (not a priest!). Notice the complete absence of good works or church rituals done in the hope of attaining this blessed state. Note that this blessed state must include the assurance of salvation. What is blessed about being scared of going to hell when you die?
  19. The Bible also demonstrates the futility of good works for salvation

The same idea is reinforced by symbols that God has put in the Bible to illustrate our salvation.

The Passover lamb foreshadowed Christ's sacrificial death (1 Corinthians 5:7). So what did the Israelis do in Exodus 12 to save their lives? Simply put the blood on their door posts! No good works, nothing it is just the blood and only the blood that saves the soul.

When God's people were to be liberated from Egypt (see the first few chapters of Exodus), God performed 9 plagues through Moses. The result? Nothing. Pharaoh wouldn't let Israel leave. But then there was the 10th plague, performed exclusively by God - Moses had to take part in the Passover like everyone else - and after this plague, Pharaoh broke down and let the people go. Deliverance is all of God's doing and with deliverance began the history/journey of Israel as God's people. This illustrates that salvation is completely God's doing and begins Christian life. This is completely opposed to the Catholic/Orthodox idea of salvation being the culmination of Christian life, heavily dependent on human performance.

The prodigal son wanted to become his father's hired servant (Luke 15:18-19); perhaps he could pay off some of the debt that way! But the moment he confessed his sins (Luke 15:21), before he could make his proposal of being a hired servant, the father interrupts him (Luke 15:22). The feast, the robe, the ring, the shoes – all were free gifts to the son (no doubt procured at great cost by the father). Nothing was earned by good works!

On the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) the priest would kill a goat, sprinkle the blood on the altar and present it inside the Most Holy Place. He would also lay his hands on the other goat (the scapegoat), confess the sins of the people, and release the scapegoat into the wild. And what would all God's people do? Just watch from a distance! There is nothing we can do for our atonement, we can only accept God's free gift. If you are looking for any legitimacy for the Catholic/Orthodox priesthood from here, note that the book of Hebrews clearly shows that the Levitical priesthood is superseded by the priestly office of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus linked his death to Moses' bronze serpent (John 3:14, Numbers 21). The people of Israel were dying with serpent bites (the judgment of God for their murmuring) - absolutely helpless. When Moses erected the serpent at God's command, what did the dying Israelis have to do to be saved? Just look! Dear sinner, you don't have to do a long list of deeds and rituals to live, just look at the risen Savior who died for you!

Think about it: If God wanted to communicate works for salvation why would he include symbols like these in the Bible?

From the above we conclude: Salvation is completely God's gift to man that we receive by repentance and faith. Justification is by faith alone. We need not (and cannot) do good works in order for God to accept us.

This teaching is a defining feature of Biblical Christianity. By definition, a Christian is a disciple of Jesus (Acts 11:26); this is how to access God and thus, if you do not agree to this, you are not a Christian in the Biblical sense. 

The significance of works

What about the following verses then?
  1. "And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." – John 5:27
  2. "Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil...But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good" – Romans 2:9-10
  3. "Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." – Galatians 5:21 (more items are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
  4. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." – James 2:24
  5. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." – Philippians 2:12

Based on tradition and Greek/Roman influences, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the non-Chalcedonian churches conclude: We must do good works in order to be saved. And they point to these verses when asked for scriptural justification for this belief. 

However, the statement in blue contradicts the statement in red. If you claim that the Bible implies both, you mean that the Bible is self-contradictory. Think about it: according to Orthodox/Catholic teaching, the Bible is self-contradictory!

How faith and works fit together

Surely, authors like Paul would not contradict themselves. Indeed, under close examination, the above verses do not lead to the red conclusion (and thus to a contradiction with the blue conclusion). Let us look at these 5 verses again:-

Verses 1 to 3 (John 5:27, Romans 2:9-10 and Galatians 5:21): In these verses, good deeds are linked with eternal life and bad deeds with eternal death. But notice the absence of any term implying causality or instrumentality (contrast with the "by" that connects justification with faith in the list that led to the blue conclusion). Those who are going to eternal life definitely have good deeds, but it does NOT say that their good deeds caused their eternal life. Now look at Romans 6:1-2. Paul makes it clear that those who have experienced God's grace and have got justified as a result will not continue in sin. In fact, God has made us for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and He saved us so that we would do good works (Titus 2:14). Further, it is Christ living through us, producing these good works (Galatians 2:20). Thus, those who are truly saved will do good works, and those who aren't won't. Therefore, we can confidently affirm that those who do good works go to heaven, and those who do bad deeds go to hell, as Items 1-3 do.

Verse 4 (James 2:24): Here we have the word "by" connecting works and justification. This suggests instrumentality. However, unlike Items 1-3, this one appears in a passage on the subject, so we must not draw any conclusions without looking at the context. James 2:24 suggests that justification is obtained by faith plus works, so that only faith would be incomplete. However, we learn from James 2:26 that the problem with "only faith" is not incompleteness but non-genuineness! "Only faith", that is faith without works, is a dead faith, that is, not true faith at all - the faith that demons have (James 2:19). Thus, James does not add works to faith - he only insists that genuine faith will be accompanied by works.

Verse 5 (Philippians 2:12): Here Paul is asking us to "work out your own salvation". But in the very next verse he tells us that it is God who works in us (Philippians 2:13). So here again, works are very much there, but it is not us doing it, but God working through us. In fact, the "work out" in Greek is in the middle voice, which is between active and passive. Those who are truly saved will have God work through them to produce good works. 

To summarize:-

  • Faith is the basis/instrument
  • Works are the validation/outworking/illustration.

Illustrations:-

  1. James mentions Abraham. Notice that Abraham was justified in Genesis 15:6, but his good works came only in Genesis 22. Thus, his deeds were an authentication of his position as God's child, not the basis.
  2. When Paul confronts the immorality in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5), not even once does he suggest that they are likely to fail to "make it" because they're not being moral enough. But he asks them to check whether they have been saved (2 Corinthians 13:5). Both faith and works are required for a person to claim to be a child of God. But both don't play the same role: faith is the basis, and works the evidence.
  3. If an Indian high school student wants to study engineering at university, he or she needs to take an entrance test. There are some eligibility criteria such as Indian citizenship, age, completion of high school, and so on. When the student supplies the proofs of all these things, he gets a hall ticket. The brochure states that a student will be allowed in the examination hall only if he has a hall ticket. So, is the hall ticket the basis for writing the test? In an operational sense, yes, but not really. The real basis is that the student meets the eligibility criteria. The hall ticket is proof that the student satisfies these criteria!! In the same way, works are the evidence, not basis for salvation.

In fact, works are not the only accompaniment of genuine saving faith. There is also:-

  1. Repentance (Acts 20:21): If you really believe the Main Message, repentance is inevitable.
  2. Baptism (Mark 16:15): If you have become a disciple of Jesus Christ, what valid reason can you have to refuse something that he commanded? If you cannot be baptized for a genuine reason, you will still go to heaven (Luke 23:43)
  3. Confession/Declaration (Romans 10:9): If a person has believed on Jesus Christ, he will have no problems declaring the same to others when asked.

Conclusion

To summarize, salvation is a once-and-for-all experience, like birth. It is the start of our spiritual life, not a process that has a culmination. It's basis is only repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Once saved, we can be sure of going to heaven when we die. At the same time, those who are going to heaven will behave and act like citizens of heaven - they will glorify God through good works with God's help.

Paul says that "in it [the gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed" (Romans 1:17). The world has no clue as to how righteous God is, but the gospel reveals His righteousness. What is so mistaken about the world's concept of God's righteousness? Precisely this, that the world believes that good works earn salvation. That is, people think that God's righteousness is as puny as their own! So does the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodoxy when they claim that good works play an instrumental role in salvation! However, the true gospel reveals God's righteousness! How? By explaining to us that God's standards are so high that only by availing of Christ's perfect righteousness can we reach Him! Heaven is not so low enough to be within human grasp!