"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."
There are four fundamentally different ways to understand God's plan for your salvation. I have reduced them to four "mathematical" formulas. Here they are with a little bit of explanation:
1. WORK YOUR WAY TO HEAVEN
GW = S
(Good Works produce Salvation)
This is a common, though self-righteous, way of looking at salvation. It starts with the premise that unsaved people can do works that are acceptable and pleasing to God and, thus, earn their salvation. The fact that our text explicitly says that we are saved by grace through faith and NOT BY WORKS would seem to rule this out as a biblical and Christian view.
2. BELIEVE YOUR WAY TO HEAVEN
G + F = S
(Grace with Faith added to it produces Salvation)
Yeah!! That sounds right. It must be this because we talk all the time about Grace alone and Faith alone . . . so works mustn't have anything to do with the Christian life. But then again, our text also says that we were "created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS." James wrote that "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:17); and Jesus Himself said: "If you love me, you will obey what I command." So evidently we can't just leave good works out of the equation and be biblical.
3. EARN SALVATION THROUGH DOCTRINE AND DEEDS
G + F + GW = S
(Grace along with Faith and a sufficient amount of Good Works will produce Salvation)
Good, that covers all the bases; the passage above mentions being saved, grace, faith, and good works and I have worked them all into the equation. The problem is that if salvation can be EARNED then it isn't BY GRACE, which by definition is "favor which is un-deserved and un-earned." Paul made this exact point when he wrote: "At the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:5-6). So, even though this is an extremely common view of salvation among Christians, it isn't really any more biblical than the first two.
4. HA VE FRUITFUL FAITH
G + F = S + GW
(Grace along with Faith produce Salvation along with Good Works)
The big question is not, are good works part of the Christian experience, clearly they are; the question is where do they fit into God's plan of salvation. The fact is that our gracious God gives us the faith to receive and respond to what He has accomplished in our behalf through Christ Jesus - an acceptable righteous life, the debt of our sin paid in full, the gift of everlasting life, and the sure hope of heaven. Along with that, we also receive the indwelling Holy Spirit who directs our steps and empowers our work. It is only in the atmosphere of this divine direction and power that truly "good works" become possible. Because of that, they are sure evidence of His presence in our lives. This truth has been expressed in various ways, but here are two I like from theologians whose names I don't remember . . .
1. "Good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation."
2. "Good works, though they are not the causes of salvation, yet are the evidences."
Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians for the purpose of building the confidence and encouraging the ministry of the church. Regarding Christian's hope of heaven he wrote: "Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident . . . " (2 Cor. 5:5-6). And then he goes on to encourage our ministry by saying that because we have such confidence, we "make it our goal to please him" (5:9). Here we see that good works flow from an assurance of salvation and not from fear. Paul then mentions that we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The idea of being judged by Christ on the basis of works is worrisome to some Christians. It shouldn't be. This is an "awards assembly" for those whose names are already written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Its purpose is not to determine who gets eternal life and who doesn't, it is all about rewarding and rejoicing over the victories of Christ's people. It would appear that those whose lives have been most fruitful will receive the greatest rewards. But it should be understood that every crown, every jewel, every trophy, and every ribbon will ultimately be laid at the feet of Jesus, because it is ALL for HIS glory and honor.
I know this is overly long, but I do need to mention that all the good works in the equations above are not created equal. Why? Because works that flow from religiosity and do-goodism are works of the flesh. Listen, unless one is born again, filled with the Spirit, and living for Christ, his attempts to do good things will just produce mountains of filthy rags. A person may boost his own image but he can't reflect the image of Christ. He may make a name for himself, but He can never glorify the name of Jesus. Only saved people serve God's cause, for they are the ones who have been called according to HIS purpose.
Pastor Keith Andrews