It would seem as though a discussion about works as it relates to the process of salvation would be a discussion limited to religions such as Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others. However, the issue of the place of works in the salvation process has been a debate among Christians since, at the very least, the time of the Reformation. This is one of the most important questions that one can consider when studying and formulating theology – “Does works play a part in the salvation process?”
Certain passages of the Bible, when not studying systematically, appear to advocate a works-based theology and deny a salvation by grace theology. For instance, James 2:24 says that, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only”. James appears to be teaching that salvation is accomplished by both faith and by works. However, reading the broader context, at verses 20-26, one can see that James is teaching that genuine faith will produce a changed life that does good works as fruit of one’s conversion. In other words, works is a byproduct of faith and salvation.
Philippians 2:12 is another point of contention in the works verses grace debate. This verse says that Christians are to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”. This verse is often used by the Mormons to affirm that one needs to earn their salvation. However, after further examination of the context of the verse (all of chapter 2, and especially verses 12-18), one can deduce that this verse deals with the sanctification process of salvation, and not the initial salvific experience of grace. This verse is an ‘encouragement’ to believers to live a life that is self-sacrificial, others-centered, and Christ-exemplified. Working “out” salvation does not mean the same as working “for” salvation. After a review of the complete Pauline doctrine of grace and the biblical picture of salvation, it is clear that salvation by works would be foreign to the context of this passage, and to the Bible as a whole.
Works, however, while unquestionably not salvific in nature, do serve their own important purpose. First, works aid in identifying an active, Christ-centered life. Jesus said in Matthew 12:33 that, “a tree is known by its fruit”. Thus works help identify and confirm that one is indeed a Christian. Good works, as stated above, are the byproduct of the experience of grace and mercy in one’s life. The more a believer realizes just how hopelessly lost her or she was and how miraculous their salvation was, the more the believer will desire to do good works in the name of their Savior.
Works prove ones obedience and allegiance to Christ. 1 Peter 3:11 says that the Christian “must turn away from evil and do good”. A Christian who does not “do good” is clearly outside of the will of God, and is thus in a state of disobedience. Works is evidence of a desire to be obedient to the commands of Christ. Committing evil is easy to do, because it is awarded almost immediately with self-gratification, but being obedience unto good works provides a far more eternal weight of rewards.
Furthermore, works is an expression of thanksgiving for one’s salvation. Since we cannot earn salvation, according Ephesians 2:8-9 and many others, we should be grateful that Christ has chosen to redeem us and grant favor upon us. We express this gratitude by our “faith working though love” (Galatians 5:6). Lots of people “believe” in Christ, but those who have “faith” in Him are motivated by a spirit of thankfulness to work for Him “in love”. (See also Titus 2:11-14)
One of the purposes of mankind on earth involves works. The Bible tells us that we were created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). We were created to serve others and to serve God. So often people will argue that Christians are “predestined”, but will not further the discussion by analyzing what the Christian was predestined for: to be conformed to the image of His son (Romans 8:29) and to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Works are evidence that we are walking in the very purpose and will of God – that one is doing what one was predestined to do from the very foundation of the world.
Additionally, works please God, as seen in Hebrews 11:6 and 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Works also prove that a believer is indeed in a right standing with God, as seen in Colossians 1:10. Works also help to store up rewards for the believer that will be awarded at the judgment seat of Christ, as seen in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Although we are justified, or made right by faith in Christ alone, works play an important role in the life of the Christian after redemption. As the process of sanctification is carried out in the believer, works will be present. They will be present to help believers identify with Christ and each other, to prove obedience and allegiance to Christ, to express gratitude for one’s salvation, and to work out the very purpose(s) of God in one’s life. After all, one of God’s messages to the children is this: “[God’s grace] teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world…a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14).
Ok. You’ve heard my opinion. Now what’s yours?
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