A photo holding a photo of a brown wooden cross by Gift Habeshaw on Pexels.com.

Are Works Necessary for Salvation?

Many religions teach that performing good works or following a set of rules is the only way to achieve salvation. They teach that their god will not show them any favor if they do not live up to a certain standard. They believe that salvation is something that people must earn. Some cultic groups teach something similar to these religions. They believe that we must work our way into heaven by performing good works:

WORKS = SALVATION

On the other extreme, some have thought that we can continue to live in sin without consequences since we are saved by faith alone. Works have nothing to do with salvation:

FAITH = SALVATION

Others teach that belief in Jesus’ atonement on the cross for our sins provides salvation after all that we do for ourselves:

FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION

Biblical Christianity has always taught that we cannot earn salvation by good works. None of us can live up to God’s standard because of our sinful nature. Paul explains this clearly in his letters (See Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:9, and Romans 3:10 as examples). Salvation is only possible by God’s grace through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:28). What are we to believe about works, then, when other Bible passages say that faith without works is dead? James says:

What is the benefit, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? That faith is not able to save him, is it? If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking food for the day, and one of you should say to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but does not give them what is necessary for the body, what is the benefit? Thus also faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself. . . . You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. . . . For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. 

James 2:14-17; 24; 26, LEB

Is there a contradiction in the Bible here? Not at all. Although we are saved by faith in Christ, Paul does not suggest that we continue to sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6). Good works are a normal part of the Christian life, but good works alone do nothing to save. Salvation comes through faith without works. We can understand the relationship between faith and works in the following way:

SALVATION = FAITH – WORKS

Let’s rearrange this statement to discover what works are. We find that trusting in works to please God is really faith without salvation:

WORKS = FAITH – SALVATION

So, what does this mean regarding faith? Let’s rearrange the statement to find what faith is. We find that good works accompany salvation that comes through faith in Christ:

FAITH = SALVATION + WORKS

Christian faith is an action, biblically speaking. J. D. Greear explains: 

Often we equate faith with a mental assent to the facts. Faith, however, is synonymous with action: apart from action, there is no faith. . . . Faith is a conviction expressed in a choice. It starts with belief, but if this “belief” does not lead to obedience, it is not yet faith. Your “belief” does not become true faith until you act upon it in obedience. Faith is belief in action.” 

https://jdgreear.com/faith-is-action/, para. 2-3.

So indeed, as James says, faith without works is dead. Christians do not perform good works to try to gain God’s favor and earn salvation, and nor do they perform them to boast about what they can do (Ephesians 2:9). Good works come by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as He conforms us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Without good works, there is no evidence of genuine faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.