"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Eph 2:8-9
For those who know me personally, you are aware that I am currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Religion with an emphasis in Biblical Studies. With all of my other responsibilities, you might correctly imagine that it is very demanding. So if you see a tad bit of inconsistency in timing and delivery or an an unusual amount of reposts, prayerfully you will understand why. I give praise to God, however, that I am learning something new every day. Some of that learning is shared with you through this and other forums. Thankfully, I am very near the finish line.
Having said all of that beloved, I thought I'd share with you a not untypical assignment from a course on apologetics. My classmates and I were asked to discuss the relationship between works and salvation from an apologists (evangelistic) point of view.
Rejoicing in the Lord,
If works do not provide salvation, then what role do they play in the Christian life?
Most individuals are taught from an early age that in order to obtain a desired thing, status or way of life, it must be earned through work. After the fall in the Garden of Eden, God established the necessity to work, even to eat, when He said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” The desire of the eye, the needs of the body, and the demands of the ego are not to be confused with the way to salvation. Despite the fact that some teach that salvation is to be earned through works, no works can be done that can accomplish what Jesus has already done, however works can and should be done because of salvation and these will be rewarded on earth and in heaven.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses boast a membership of over six and a half million. Each of these individuals have been taught that, “Door-to-door witnessing, conducting Bible ‘studies’ and remaining obedient to the ‘faithful and discreet servants’ (leadership of the Watchtower) are all necessary for salvation.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses are just one example of a salvation by works theology. An examination of the scriptures reveals this type of doctrine to be false.
It is only through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Christ that salvation can be obtained. Romans 5:8-9 reveals that it was Christ’s death that provides us with justification and salvation from the wrath of God. Further, Paul writes, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Isaiah presses the point of the uselessness of righteous acts by stating, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Scripture frequently points out that salvation cannot be earned by human effort but only through that which Jesus accomplished on our behalf.
Though works themselves do not save, works can and should be pursued because of salvation. Paul wrote to the saved Christians at Philippi with instructions to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purposes.” The Greek word for “work out” (katergazomai) means to fashion or render one fit for a thing. In essence, Paul, in his letter to the congregation is telling them that while he is gone, they are to continue doing the things that God has placed in them as His children that He may be pleased and that they may be an example. This would help them live up to the salvation which they had already received.
Although works do not save, there is a beneficial earthly and heavenly reward that can be obtained through them. Timothy was told to, “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 treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for that coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” By doing good works, Christians not only obtain the good feeling of helping others, they also add to their promised reward. The point is further made in Eph 6:7-8 when Paul writes, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”
There is certainly a value to doing good works; however, salvation is not the result of them. An everlasting existence with the Father is only available through the atoning work of Jesus, but works should be pursued because of salvation, as well as the earthly and heavenly benefit. The human psychology of earning what a person gets is admirable. This is also a biblical teaching in that it is written, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” This doctrine does not, however, extend to salvation. To teach that it does devalues the life, teaching, death, burial and resurrection of the son of God.
Hindson, Ed, and Ergun Caner, eds. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Horton, David, ed. The Portable Seminary. Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 2006.
 Gen 3:19 (NIV).
David Horton, ed., The Portable Seminary (Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 2006), 419.
Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 292.
1 Tim 6:18-19.
2 Thes 3:10.