What is the Relationship Between Works and Salvation?
Copyright © July 10, 2014 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
(All Scripture Verses are from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.)
If a person faithfully accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, then does that person also have to do good works to keep their salvation? Or is there another reason why a Christian should do good works? Let's look at what the Holy Bible says about doing good works.
Romans 4:4-5 - 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.
The above scriptures tell us that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ. The only work that a person has to do to obtain salvation is to sincerely believe in Jesus Christ. A person does not have to do anything else to be saved. This means that baptism, circumcision, and sharing in the Lord's Supper do not save a person. Some of these things we should do, such as being baptized and sharing the Lord's Supper, but we should desire to do these things because we wish to obey the teachings of Jesus Christ and not because we are afraid that if we don't do them then we won't be saved and we won't get to go to heaven. Issues such as circumcision have no impact on whether a person is saved or not saved because Christians are not under the law of the Old Testament. Instead Christians are under the grace of the New Testament.
Ephesians 2:8-10 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
John 6:28-29 - Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
However, the above scriptures do tell us that one of the responsibilities of a Christian is to do good works. Therefore let's look at some more scripture verses that discuss good works.
James 1:22 - Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Faith and works cannot be separated. A saved person should have both. However, faith in Jesus is what saves the person. Works do not save a person. But a person who has true faith in Jesus Christ will desire to follow Jesus' teachings and that person will want to do good deeds that benefit other people. The good deeds that the person does is the evidence that the person has a saving faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, if a person says that he or she is a Christian but that person does not attempt to practice the Christian faith, then that person may not be truly saved because he or she may be lacking true faith in Jesus. The lack of true faith in Jesus will be what condemns that person and not the person's lack of good deeds.
James 2:14-26 - What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that -- and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
1 Timothy 6:18-19 - Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 - By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
2 Corinthians 5:10 - For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
The above scriptures also tell us that the works we do here on earth may or may not have eternal rewards. Some of the work we do is necessary to keep us alive, such as the work the Apostle Paul did as a tent maker to provide an income so he could pay for his basic needs. But some of the works we do are good deeds that benefit others and we will receive a heavenly reward for those works.
One of the parables told by Jesus was the Parable of the Seed and the four types of ground that the seed fell on (Luke 8:11-15). In that parable Jesus separated the people who heard the gospel message into four different groups. It is possible that the people who fall into the second group of people that Jesus identified, the people who only say that they believe are actually people who do not have true faith in Jesus and therefore they are not really saved. It is possible that the people who fall into the third group of people that Jesus identified, the people who sincerely believe but who do not "mature" in the Christian faith, will be those who pass through the flames and they will be saved but they will have no rewards waiting for them in heaven. It is also possible that the people who fall into the fourth group of people that Jesus identified will be the people who pass through the flames and they will find the rewards for their good deeds waiting for them in heaven.
The above is one logical way to combine all the above scriptures together so they yield a uniform consistent message without compromising or minimizing the importance of any of the scriptures.
God expects His children to do good works. Doing good works is being obedient to the second commandment as quoted by Jesus Christ in the following scripture verses:
Matthew 22:35-40 - One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
A Christian therefore has two primary responsibilities: to love God and to love his neighbor. Jesus said that both of these acts of love are demonstrated at the same time when we do good deeds for other people:
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 35:40 - 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
A Christian does not need to do good works to earn his salvation. When Jesus died on the cross He paid the full ransom price for our eternal souls. Salvation is a free gift from God and it is not based on any works that a person does.
However, a Christian should do good works because it simultaneously demonstrates the person's love for God and his love for his neighbor. And every time a person does a good deed then that person will earn a reward that will be waiting in heaven for that person when they transition from this temporary body into their eternal body.
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