FAITH, WORKS, AND SALVATION
CONCERNING FAITH, WORKS, AND SALVATION
by Jeff Jenkins
Someone might say:
"How do you get to Heaven? 'Faith alone' seems too easy. 'Being good enough'
makes sense; after all, isn't that what the Ten Commandments are for? Don't you
get to Heaven by following the Ten Commandments? Or what about 'Faith plus
Works'? I mean, even the Bible says, "Faith without works is dead". You need to
have faith, but you need to be good enough, as well."
So which is correct? Are we saved by following the Ten Commandments? Or are
we saved by being good AND having faith? Or are we saved by faith alone?
OK, let's say we are saved by faith plus works. Let's say I already have the faith.
Now, how much 'works' do I need, in addition to my faith, to get to Heaven? If the
only 'good work' I ever do is help an old lady across the street, is that enough?
What if I beat my wife up for years, but then I give millions of dollars to help
thousands of kids who are in poverty: does that make up for beating up my wife?
Or what if I lie occassionally to my business partners, but I also visit those who are
sick in the hospital on a regular basis: does my visiting the sick outweigh my
lying? How "righteous" do I have to be to get to Heaven?
As a matter of fact, the Bible says there are NONE righteous; there is no one who
does good, no, not one (Rom. 3:10-12). In other words, there are NONE who are
good enough to get into Heaven.
I'm sure many people would agree that God is perfectly holy. In order to get to
Heaven by our own good works, we would have to always be absolutely perfect in
both thought and deed, every second of our life, and none of us is perfect. But God
IS perfect, and being perfect, God cannot be satisfied with anything less than
perfection. Every one of us has sinned (Romans 3:23), and even our best 'good
works', the very best that we can do, are but filthy, bloody rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).
Hebrews 11 explains that, even in the Old Testament, people were not saved by
their works. Even under the Old Covenant, people were saved by faith. The New
Testament explains that the Law was never meant to save; it's merely a magnifying
glass that shows our sins up-close; it's purpose is to show our need for salvation.
God knew we could never be good enough to get to Heaven by our own good works.
Galatians 3:2-6: "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of
faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected
in the flesh? Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in
vain. He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles
among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness."
God, in His perfect justice, has to judge sin, and the penalty for sin is eternal
spiritual death (Romans 6:23), for all sin is actually rebellion against God. So
therefore we all stand condemned before Him.
He originally created Hell for the angels that rebelled against Him (fallen
angels/demons), but since man sinned against God also, His just and perfect
nature forces Him to condemn man to the same place.
But He also loves us with an awesome love, so He didn't want to have to do this.
In His infinite wisdom and great love, He solved the problem by sacrificing His own
Son. Jesus Christ voluntarily took on our sin and our punishment, and suffered
and was condemned in our place, by representation. He offers Himself as the
propitiation for our sins. All we have to do is accept that offer by repenting of our
sins, asking Him to forgive us, and asking Him into our heart through prayer. Only
then will that representational sacrifice be actually applied to us. Just before He
died, Jesus said, "It is finished". His work was complete; yet, if we have to add
works to what Christ did, then His work was NOT complete, and NOT finished, and
Jesus was wrong; His sacrifice was imperfect. Either we're saved through Christ
or we're not saved through Christ. You may say, "We're saved through GRACE."
Well, if works has to be added to it, then its not grace. No, we're saved by faith in
Christ's atoning sacrifice. PERIOD. Grace? Of course. By His grace He offers us
eternal life if we put our trust in Christ and ask Him to be our own personal Savior
(personal application) and the Lord of our life (surrendering to Him). God created
us for fellowship with Him. He wants us to know Him. Romans 6:23 states "the
GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ." If we have to WORK for it, then it's
not a gift. Romans 10:13 tells us that "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall
be saved." If you have to work for it, then this verse is lying. Yet this is exactly what
the thief on the cross did, and that's why Christ told him, "Today you will be with me
Someone might pull out some verses from the Bible that say that we will be judged
by our works. Well, this is true. We WILL be judged by our works. The problem is,
no one will pass. God knew that, and that's why He sent His Son to die for us. If
you have Christ, God will say, "Well, your works fall short of total perfection, BUT I
see that you are covered by the righteousness of Christ. So, by His righteousness,
you are accepted." But to the one who has NOT accepted Christ, God will say,
"Well, you didn't accept Christ, so I have to judge you purely on your own merit.
Sorry, but you fall short of perfection. You are sinful and wicked, and in being sinful,
you have rebelled against me, and I cannot abide in the presence of sin. Sorry, but
there can be no sin in Heaven. You must join the other unrighteous, with the devil
and his angels, in the place that I have prepared for them."
Even the slightest sin is an offense against a holy, righteous God. For when you
sin, you are actually saying that you don't trust God, and, in actuality, you are saying
by your actions that you hate God and you are rebelling against Him.
OK, so what about where the Bible says "faith without works is dead"? Doesn't that
prove that you need faith AND works to get to Heaven? Well, let's look at it.
James 2: 17, 20, and 26 basically say that faith without works is dead. But the
question here is, what is meant by faith? Let's take it in the context that its written.
James 2:14 says, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man CLAIMS to have faith but
has no deeds?" Notice it says "claims". Not that he has true, saving faith, but that
he claims to have faith. There are many today who claim to have faith, and who
claim to be Christians. In Ireland, Protestants are fighting against Catholics. Are
those Protestants true Christians? Most people would be inclined to say, "Of
course they are! After all, Protestants are Christians!" My reply would be: "going
into a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going into a garage
makes you a car". A Christian from Ireland told me that actually, the fighting over
there isn't even a religious war, but rather a political war; its the media that is trying
to make it look like a religious war. And the so-called Protestants aren't born-again
Christians at all; many of them don't even go to church, he said. However, even
here in the U.S. there are some who call themselves Christian, but who have never
had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Why, then, do they call themselves
Christian? Well, because their parents are supposedly Christians, or because
they were baptized as an infant, or because their dad is a Preacher, or maybe just
because they believe in God. So they CLAIM to be Christians; they CLAIM to have
faith. To these types of people, those who CLAIM to have faith, is who these
verses are directed toward. A dead faith is not true faith; its not a real faith. A mere
intellectual assent to certain truths is not true faith. And that's what is here meant
by "faith" in James 2:17, 20, and 26. A head faith. But true faith is not mere head
faith, but heart faith. James 2 is referring to a mere intellectual acceptance of
certain truths without trust in Christ as Savior. If you really have true faith, if you're
really saved, your actions will show it. By their fruits will you know them. Genuine
faith will produce good deeds. So genuine faith is evidenced by good deeds, and
good deeds are proof of genuine faith; but good deeds are not part of the
requirement for salvation. James here is not talking about the requirements of
salvation. He is talking about proof, or evidence, of true salvation. A banana seed
will produce a banana tree; if what is produced is not a banana tree, then it wasn't a
banana seed in the first place. Romans 3:28 says, "For we maintain that a man is
justified by faith apart from observing the law."
So what is the Gospel? What is the Good News? Just this: Jesus was the
sacrificial lamb; the final sacrifice, which all the previous animal sacrifices by the
Hebrews represented, and were precursors of; He was the ultimate scapegoat. By
faith in Christ's shed blood are we saved. If we repent of our sins and surrender
our lives to Him, asking Him to come into our heart and forgive us, save us from
Hell and from our sin, and make us into a brand new creature, His Word promises
that He will save us, and will after that never leave us nor forsake us. At that point,
when God looks at us, He sees not our sin, but rather the blood of Christ, which
covers us. And not only that, but at the point of salvation, the God of the Universe,
the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, comes into our heart and dwells
within us, to guide us, teach us, and give us an unearthly peace. It is then that He
becomes our Comforter, that He gives us a peace that passes all understanding,
a peace not of this world, as we abide in Him. There's nothing more important in
all the world.