Salvation and Good Works

One often hears fundamentalist preachers and television evangelists saying, “You cannot get to heaven on your good works.” They often then quote such Bible verses as Ephesians 2:5, 8, “…by grace ye are saved … For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. … Not of works, lest any man should boast.” [KJV] Such prophets teach that good works are not important and no matter what one does salvation is assured.

What did Jesus teach? What did his inspired apostles say on the matter? Are “good works” necessary in order to attain salvation? Let us look to the words and parables of the Nazarene Master first.

“Judged By Your Works”

In what is called his Sermon On The Mount Jesus taught, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16 King James Version] So Jesus taught that “good works” were important and the true Christian disciple ought to be characterized by them.

Many Christians are familiar with John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16 KJV] 

From this single verse many have been taught that all that is expected of them is to “believe.” However, if you ask any Christian what Jesus said after this they will not be able to tell you. For Jesus goes on to teach on the subject of judgment and what God expects of those who will gain salvation. Read these words and ask yourself if “good works” are important to God and Christ:

17 For The God did not send forth the Son into the world of humankind so that he should condemn the world of humankind by means of him, but rather that the world of humankind should be saved by means of him. 18 The person believing in God’s Son is not to be condemned. The person not believing has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of The God. 19 Now this is what condemns: Though the Light has entered the world of humankind humans loved the Darkness rather than the Light because their works were wicked. 20 For everyone who habitually does vile things continues to hate the Light, and he will not approach toward the Light, so that his works might be reproved. 21 However, the person doing what is truthful approaches toward the Light so that his works should be made manifest as having been worked in harmony with God. [John 3:17-21 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

True belief is characterized by works that God approves. But what are these “good works”? Learn from a parable of Jesus:

31 “Further, when the glorious Son of Humankind returns with all his angels, at that time he will sit down upon his glorious throne of judgment. 32 He will gather together right in front of him all those from the nations and he will separate these persons from each other just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will make the sheep stand at his right-hand, but the goats at his left-hand. 34 At that time the King will say to those on his right-hand: ‘Approach, those blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the world’s foundation. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. 36 I was ill-clad and you clothed me. I fell sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous persons will answer the King, asking, ‘Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you? Or, thirsty, and give you drink? 38 Also, when did we see you a stranger and take you in? Or, ill-clad and clothed you? 39 Or, when did we see you sick, or in prison, and went to visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them: ‘I tell you this truth: Depending on how much you did to a single one of my humblest brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then the King will also speak to those persons on his left-hand: ‘Depart from me, those who are cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. And, I got thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not take me in; ill-clad and you gave me no clothes; sick and in prison, and you did not look after me.’ 44 Then the goats will respond: ‘Master, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or ill-clad or sick or in prison – and refused to minister to you?’ 45 At this the King will tell them: ‘I tell you this truth: Depending on how much you refused to do to a single one of my humblest brothers, you refused to do it to me.’ 46 And these goats will depart into an everlasting pruning; but the righteous into everlasting life.” [Matthew 25:31-46 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

Do you see what makes the sheep righteous? It was their good works manifest in charity and hospitality to those in need. And the goats? Why will they be rejected by the King at the Day of Judgment? Because they were wicked? Or was it because they just did nothing? There sin was one of omission – a failure to come to the aid of those in need.

So is it not clear that Jesus taught “good works” were necessary in order to obtain salvation? Now, what did the inspired disciples and apostles also teach? Are “good works” necessary in order to obtain salvation?

“God Approves Those Who Work Righteousness”

The apostle Peter taught the first non-Jewish converts to Christianity,

“In every nation the person fearing Him and who continues to work righteousness is acceptable to Him.” [Acts 10:35 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

Thus, these new Christians understood that righteous works were necessary to be acceptable to God.

The apostle Paul also had much to say about the need for good works. He writes to the Christians in Rome:

6The God will reward each one in harmony with their works. 7 Indeed, to those who endure in good works – glory, honor, and incorruption to those searching for everlasting life. … 10 glory, honor, and peace to everyone who continues to work at good. [Romans 2:6-10 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

So it is clear Paul taught that endurance in “good works” is necessary for those who will gain everlasting life. He also wrote to the Christian congregation in Ephesus, 

“Having been created incorporate in Christ we are a product for good works which The God arranged beforehand so that we might walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

God purposed in advance the “good works” that would characterize true Christians.

Paul also wrote to two traveling Christian elders and gave them instructions on what they were to teach the little home-churches. To Timothy he wrote regarding Christian women,

“… what is proper for women professing godly reverence through good works.” [1 Timothy 2:10 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

To another elder he gave these instructions regarding Christians in general:

“Above everything show yourself as a role model of good works. … Jesus Christ gave himself on our behalf that he might redeem us from all lawlessness and also might cleanse for himself a people as his possession, zealous for good works. … That statement is trustworthy. Concerning these teachings I counsel you Titus to make strong affirmations about them so that the congregations of those who believe God continue minding good works. … Let our own people learn good works and to be concerned about supplying pressing needs so that they are not unfruitful.” [Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

The Master’s brother James also wrote on the need for “good works.” Notice below some of his words that demonstrate “faith without works is dead.”

14 My brothers, what is the profit if anyone says, “I have conviction, ” but does not have works? Is just his conviction able to save him? 15 For example, if a brother or sister is living without adequate clothing and lacks daily food, 16 and anyone of you says, “Go in peace. Keep warm and well fed” – but do not give them their bodily necessities – what good does that do? 17 Just so, conviction without works is dead by itself.

24 You observe that a person is pronounced innocent by works and not just conviction alone.

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let that person prove it by good conduct with works done in wisdom’s meekness. [James 2:14-17, 24; 3:13 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

Note that these “good works” are manifest in charity to others just as Jesus taught in the parable of the sheep and goats.

For a certainty no one is going to obtain salvation without “good works.” These “good works” are in a large measure shown in being kind and charitable to others, including one’s own enemies. [Luke 6:30-35] Given the above let all Christians “work out their own salvation” by letting their “good works” shine before others. [Philippians 2:12] Heed the words of Saint Peter:

“… what kind of people is it necessary to be in saintly deportment and reverence, awaiting and quickening the Arrival of the Day of The God, on which the heavens being on fire will be dissolved and extremely hot elements will melt; but in accordance with His promise we are awaiting new heavens and new earth in which righteousness is to dwell. And so, beloved, in awaiting these things hurry to become spotless and unblemished, found with Him in peace.” [2 Peter 3:11-14 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures©]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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