People have tossed the subject of “salvation and works” around since the
beginning of the gospel. In truth, we have statements in the New Testament
that show the inspired writers of the Bible battling erroneous views from
two opposite extremes. Some wrongly suggest that Paul and Peter, or Paul and
James, contradicted one another. But they did not. They merely fought
against the extremes at both ends of the same issue. Paul taught against the
concept of earning salvation by works while James taught against salvation
by faith alone apart from any works. Because they were tackling different
problems, they emphasized different points of truth, and when taken
together, they compliment one another.
Seeing Both Sides
We are saved by grace through faith. Many are the passages that address the
false concept that we can save ourselves by our own good works or by works
of the Old Law. We are saved “not of works” which has reference to good
deeds that we might do (Ephesians 2:8-10). Neither is our justification “of
works” when referring to works of the Old Law (Romans 4:2-4; cf. vss. 9-11).
We are not saved “by deeds done in righteousness” referring to the righteous
deeds we might do and ought to do (Titus 3:5). These passages present the
truth from one perspective.
But the same truth, approached from the other direction, shows that we are,
in a sense, justified by works. We are “justified by works and not by faith
alone” (James 2:24). What we did or did not do will be considered on the day
of judgment and it will make a difference as to where we spend eternity. See
Jesus' parable of the separation of the sheep and the goats for a good
lesson on this (Matthew 25:32-45). Jesus is the author of salvation to those
that obey Him (Hebrews 5:9). So, what does the Lord mean when we bring all
How do we keep right with God? Because of the grace passages some think that
works do not play any role in keeping right with God. “Once saved, always
saved.” But this cannot be so. The church at Ephesus had once been an active
church (Revelation 2:2). These people had been busy doing the Lord's will.
But they had grown slack. The only way they could be right with God was to
return to doing the deeds they had done at first (Revelation 2:5)! The
Corinthians were also told that they must continue in the word (1
Because of the works passages, some think we earn salvation. Some are very
uncertain of their standing with God because they know deep down they can
never be worthy of His grace and we are all painfully aware of our own
Do not forget God is aware of this! He knows we cannot merit our salvation.
We deserve death, but the Lord has a free gift for us (Romans 6:23). Yes, we
have needs that we cannot supply, but the Lord can (Hebrews. 4:16).
So When we correctly put all these together, we do not find a contradiction,
but rather two perspectives on salvation that must be taken together in a
complimentary way. Any doctrine that puts an interpretation on one of these
perspectives so that it contradicts the other is a MIS-interpretation!
The Place of Works at the Judgment
Those who deny that works we have done are at all involved at the outcome of
the proceedings at the Judgment Seat of the ages must ignore many passages
that say otherwise! There are so many scenes of the Judgment we can examine.
We have already noticed the parable of Jesus describing the judgment scene
as a division of the sheep from the goats. Jesus highlights what they had
done, or failed to have done, as He announces the eternal decree. The Bible
also says that people will be judged “according to their deeds” (Revelation
20:12,13). Other passages about the judgment and the deeds we have done
teach us that we can lose our souls due to our deeds (Matthew 16:26, 27) and
that the righteous judgment of God is according to the deeds we have done,
whether good or bad (Romans 2:5-10). Other passages show us the same thing
(see 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7,8; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:23-25;
Revelation 2:23). We must not let our preaching and teaching suggest to
someone that our deeds will not be considered at Judgment!
But thank God for His mercy and grace! Without them we would be lost! Even
if starting today I lived perfectly for the rest of my life, moving
mountains by faith, in the end, I am still but an unprofitable servant to my
God and unworthy of salvation (Luke 17:10)!
Works Will Save Us And Keep Us
How can this be reconciled with passages such as Ephesians 2:9? Does it not
say that salvation is “not of works”? Actually, the passage says “not of
works, that any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). The works that are
involved in our salvation are not works about which we can properly boast.
Salvation is “not of yourselves” (Ephesians 2:8). That is, salvation is not
by our own efforts or power. But the works of God are plainly involved.
There are two categories of the works of God. There are the works of God -
the things He did for us (John 3:16) and then there are the works of God,
the things He does through us. For example, when I hear the gospel, it is up
to me whether to believe it or not. If I receive it into my heart, it will
bear fruit in my life. I will undergo growing faith and repentance. I will
seek to obey the Lord. It is God that is producing that increase. When I
believed, I submitted unto God to work within me (John 6:28-29; I
Corinthians 3:5-7). This is why Paul would say "and it is no longer I who
live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I
live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."
(Galatians 2:20). Paul's endeavors, he said, were not his own, but Christ
living in Him! And these works of Christ in us are absolutely essential to
our salvation! They are the result of Christ dwelling our hearts by faith
(Ephesians 3:17). From where does one get his strength during the difficult
times of heartache, or temptation, or persecution, or sickness, or spiritual
weakness, or uncertainty? We get what we need through Him (Philippians
Understand that none of this is apart from our wills and efforts. But the
power is God's. Disciples are to let their lights shine, but the glory
belongs to God. It was His strength provided by His grace to me if I wanted
it. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians; "For who regards you as superior? What
do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you
boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
To the extent that I obey the Lord, He works in me. The saved in the parable
of the sheep and the goats did many good things which the lost did not do.
But if they had done the very same good things without the Lord, it would
not have effected their salvation at all. But in the Lord, these works of
faith are the Lord working through us bringing about our justification by
faith and works.
From The Bradley Banner 11/26/2006
Published by the Bradley Church of Christ
1505 E. Broadway
Bradley, IL 60915