SALVATION AND WORKS
Wayne S. Walker
Question: “When Paul said that we’re saved by grace through faith
and not of yourselves of of works, doesn’t this mean that salvation isn’t
based on anything that we do?”
The passage referred to in the question is Eph. 2.8-9 where Paul
wrote, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of
yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should
boast.” Paul here affirms that salvation is by grace, which refers to
all that God has done to make our salvation possible, including the
sending of His Son to die for us and the revealing of His will to make
His plan known (Rom. 3.24). But Paul did not say that we are saved by
grace only, as some teach. He also said that salvation is through faith,
which refers not to just a mental acceptance of Jesus Christ, but to all
that a person must do to accept God’s grace and receive His salvation.
It is not of ourselves in that man did not originate the plan of
salvation nor dod we do anything to see that it was carried out (Isa.
55.8-9, Jer. 10.23). It is not of works because all have sinned and fall
short of God’s glory (Rom. 3.23). Since we cannot atone for our own
sins, nothing which we might do could ever earn us God’s favor (Tit.
3.5). So in this sense, it is true that our salvation is not based on
anything that we do. Jesus Himself said in Jn. 3.16, “For God so loved
the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in
Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Salvation is based on
God’s love and Christ’s death, not our own merit.
However, this does not mean that there is nothing for us to do.
While salvation is based on God’s love as shown through Christ’s death,
at the same time it is conditioned on our obedience to God’s will, which
involves doing works that God Himself, not man, commanded us to do. We
read in Heb. 5.8-9 of Christ, “Though He was a Son, yet he learned
obedience by the things which He suffered, And having been perfected, He
became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Jesus had
to obey God’s plan in order for salvation to be offered, and we must obey
God’s will in order to receive that salvation.
Of whom is it said that Christ is the author of eternal salvation?
Not just those who believe Him, but “to all who obey Him.” Even the
condition stated by Christ, “Whoever believes in Him,” is something that
we ourselves do and, again, includes everything that God has said we must
do in response to His grace to receive His salvation as revealed in His
word. This is why we find in Jas. 2.24, “You see then that a man is
justified by works, and not by faith only.” Certainly, we are not
justified by works only either, and any works of obedience do not earn
salvation, but they simply meet the conditions upon which God grants us
His free gift of salvation by the blood of Jesus Christ.
As noted previously, faith itself is indeed a human response. Some
try to negate the need for obedience on our part to receive salvation by
claiming that faith is a direct gift from God that He gives personally to
those whom He has chosen for salvation. In Jn. 6.29 Jesus said, “This is
the work of God, that you believe in Him who He sent.” Is the “work of
God” here something that God does or that we do? Look at the question in
Jn. 6.28 which this statement answers. “What shall we do that we may
work the works of God?” He did not say that there was nothing for them
to do because God would do it all, but that the work of God was for them
to believe. Hence, the work of God, that we believe in Him whom He sent,
is a work that we do that we may work the works of God. Yes, we are
saved by faith. But we are saved by faith only when our faith works
through love (Gal. 5.6).
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