Tonight we looked at one of the major questions of Christian teaching: Is salvation based on faith, works or both? The question might seem a bit academic, but the answer at it’s root it can… and should affect every aspect of our lives.
Our position before God
As a reminder of the importance of this subject, it’s important to remind ourselves of our state before God as presented in a few passages:
- Romans 5:12 – We are all sinners
- Jeremiah 17:9 – Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked
- Romans 3:9-10, 23 – We’re all equally guilty before God
God calls that guiltiness or sinfulness “unrighteousness” (not being right).
How can we be made righteous?
We’re in a pretty desperate state according to the above passages, but can we be made righteous?
The answer is yes – we can be made righteous by God… but on what grounds? Before we answer the question, let’s spend some time defining some terms.
Hebrews 11:1,6 tells us that faith is essential if we want to please God. Faith, or belief is a confident anticipation of the things we hope for. It’s evidence of things that we haven’t seen. We can see how fundamental this is. If we don’t believe that God is, and that his plan is important, then we won’t follow his instructions… would we?
John 3:16-18 tells us that whoever believes will be saved. But that’s only a part of it, isn’t it?
Romans 1:16,17 tells us that those who are right with God (righteous) live by faith – they believe God and they do his will. So both faith and a life that is motivated by faith are essential.
Where do we get faith from? Romans 10:17 tells us that Faith comes from hearing the word of God. Simply put: If we don’t read the word, we can’t develop faith.
What are Works?
Works are actions. They are the doing part of our life and they too are essential. Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:27 that “every man” will be rewarded according to their works.
Our lives are full of actions – Good and Bad. Jesus did good works (John 10:25,32), and says that the works of the “world” (those who don’t know, believe and obey the gospel) are “evil” (John 7:7)
Are Works Important?
Clearly works are important, and in fact are commanded for the believer.
We are asked to “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12), we are to “provoke one another to good works” (Heb 10:24), and so on. In the end, our works play a central part in the decision of whether or not we will be saved (Rev 20:12,13).
Interestingly, as we saw that the word of God give us faith, the word of God also equips us to do good works (1 Timothy 3:16,17).
The Necessity of Grace
So far, we’ve seen that both Faith and works are essential for salvation, but neither are enough.
Ephesians 2:8-10 shows us that we can’t earn salvation through our faith or works… “We are saved by grace, not of works, lest any man should boast.” We’ll never get their relying on our own ability.
Having said this, we can’t just give up and let God “take us as we are”. Philippians 2:12-13 are clear that God is working with us to help us. We are still to “work out our salvation”. We faithfully obey, trusting in God to make up that which lacks. God responds to our feeble efforts of faithful obedience by granting us something we don’t deserve: Calling us Righteous (or “justifying” us) (Romans 3). He does this by forgiving our sins.
Faith & Works
A good example of how faith and works are essential, and how they work together is the life of Abraham. Romans 4 and James 2 show us clearly that both faith and works played essential parts God declaring him righteous.
In Romans 4:2-3 we are told that when Abraham believed that God could do what was beyond his (Abraham’s) ability. God saw that faith (or belief) and credited that faith of Abraham as righteousness.
In James 2:21-22, the other side of the coin shows that his faith was perfected in works later on when that faith was proved when he obeyed God in offering up Isaac.
What saves us? Faith, works, or both?
Primarily it is God’s grace that saves us through faith. But Faith that doesn’t lead us to obey God isn’t really true faith. Faith must be shown by works (obediences). You can’t have one without the other… and even if we have faith and works, we can’t be made righteous without God’s grace forgiving our sins.
So the questions for us are: How are we going to develop our faith? And How is that faith going to affect how we live? As James 1:22 instructs us:
be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only