The Role of Works in the Christian Life
If works do not provide salvation, what role do they play in the Christian life?
The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is available only through the grace of God. God’s grace alone is sufficient to save all who believe both now and forever. (Hindson and Caner, p257) This is in high contrast to many other religions and belief systems. Mormons for example, believe that the purpose of the human life is to progress or earn salvation. (Hindson and Caner, p360) You must also confess Joseph Smith as the last prophet of God to enter Heaven. (Hinson and Caner, p159) Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that you earn salvation by tirelessly obeying the Watchtower by witnessing door to door, conducting Bible studies and obeying without question all leaders of the Watchtower. (Hindson and Caner, p292) Of course, since only 144,000 people will be allowed into Heaven and that list is already filled, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Heaven for all of us will be an eternal paradise here on Earth. (Hinson and Caner, p293)
The question of the need of works in the life of a Christian is valid one. If salvation is provided by the grace of God alone, there is the potential that works to demonstrate salvation are not necessary. This challenge can be answered for all of us by a classical, positive approach of biblical apologetics, “the Bible’s own use of apologetic and persuasive arguments” to answer the question and to “defend the Christian faith.” (Hindson and Caner, p28)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB p1774) Salvation is a gift. Gift in this case is the same word in the original Greek language used 19 times in 17 versus in the New Testament to illustrate a present or offering given with no expectation of repayment. (Blueletterbible.org) In each case this word is used, the receiver of the gift has done nothing to earn the gift. When the Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus, this was the word used to describe their gift. Our works are not essential to salvation. It is a gift given with no expectation of repayment. The question of their requirement of works is also biblically clear.
There are many biblical references on this subject. One is James 2:24 and 26 where James, this one the oldest half-brother of Christ tells the Jerusalem church that a “man is justified by works, not by faith alone” and that “faith without works is dead.” (NASB p1893 and p1899) If your faith is alive in you, you will show it by your works. The word used for justified here is used 40 times in 35 New Testament verses to mean “to exhibit one to be righteous.” (Blueletterbible.org) Your works are your exhibition of your salvation. If you are proud of your salvation, you will show it to others! If you are truly saved, truly the acceptor of righteousness in God’s eyes, you show the evidence of that gift in the works or actions of your life. Works are not necessary to be saved. They are evidence of it.
This question is always answered for me by the thief on the cross. He did nothing but accept the gift of righteous, of salvation offered to him by Jesus. He had no works. Yet that same day he was with Jesus “in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, NASB p1531) He did nothing but accept Jesus as the Savior, then die. He was a clear example of “that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB p1548) Salvation was his gift. Despite having no opportunity to exhibit or justify his faith, he received eternal salvation just the same.