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 following verses address the issue of what we must do to be saved:-
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Catholic/Orthodox priesthood from here, note that the book of Hebrews clearly shows that the Levitical priesthood is superseded by the priestly office of the Lord Jesus.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.
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!
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.
In fact, works are not the only accompaniment of genuine saving faith. There is also:-
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!