Works and Salvation

Chances are you know someone who struggles with their faith because they believe their performance (i.e., works) is not living up to God’s expectations and therefore are having doubts about their salvation. You might also have such feelings.

But what does the Bible say on this matter? Actually, plenty. In a nutshell, no NT writer ever prescribes working your way to heaven. Salvation is in no way tied to your performance. Period. It is a gift from God for all those who truly believe (Ephesians 2:8-9). Then the next question invariably becomes, “Well, what’s the whole point in doing good if it doesn’t affect my salvation?”, or “Why bother?”

Believing in the Gospel—having faith—is not a polar opposite to good works. They are not competitors, or enemies of one another pitted in some sort of arena competition. Works are not intended to supplement faith, because by doing this, this makes your faith—and the object of your faith—deficient. And this perceived inadequacy is completely unscriptural.

Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16 that works in no way produce justification. God in no way loves you any more or any less based upon your performance. Consider the profoundness of Romans 5:8. In our natural state of being an enemy to God, Christ died for us, the ultimate expression of love. Paul further clarifies in Galatians 2:21 that if we could become righteous through your works then God’s grace is deficient—a concept no believer should EVER consider.

Go back to Romans 5:6: “…Christ died for the ungodly”, meaning you and me. We are weak because of our sinful nature. In these verses it is clear God did not wait for our works to justify ourselves. While we were an adversary to God, He loved us.

So where do works fit in?

Works validate our faith. Works do not make God love us anymore or gain merit with Him. It’s not about getting God’s attention to show Him how good we’re doing. Good works are simply a byproduct of a true faith. This is what Paul was saying in Romans 5:1-5. While many think James 2:17 contradicts Paul, he is actually saying the same thing. For James, if someone really has true faith, they will demonstrate this faith by the kind of life they lead. James did not say works without faith is dead, but just the opposite.

Works are not a substitute for faith and faith cannot be exchanged for works. James was concerned about works because he knew that it was only a true faith that saves. Faith alone brings salvation.

Finally, let’s go back to Paul in Romans 6:19. In this verse, Paul clearly teaches that being a slave to righteousness (in other words, doing good works), does not produce salvation, but rather holiness, or sanctification. This perfectly aligns with NT teaching to conform ourselves to the image of Christ by our progressive sanctification.

We grow in this temporal lifetime in holiness by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). But our salvation is secured solely by believing in our hearts the truth of Jesus Christ.