I grew up Catholic and always assumed works are what got a person into heaven, meaning God would one day tally up all the good I did on earth and then weigh that against all the wrongs I commited, and then based on some sort of mysterious reference key, He’d be able to determine if I’d be spending eternity with Him or not.
But according to Scripture, this isn’t how it works.
On the other hand, those who claim “once saved always saved” and then go about their business living it up during the week and totally ignoring God’s people (except for when it’s convenient on Sundays, of course) don’t have it quite right either.
So which is it then? Are we saved through faith alone? Are works a part of the equation at all? Can we just sign up to get baptized and then call it a day?
Let’s do a little digging:
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.Galations 2:16
Oh okay, so faith alone. Got it. But wait a minute….
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.James 2:14-17
Confused? I was too in the beginning, but when we look at what Scripture is really saying, God is pretty clear to reveal the righteous path.
We cannot save ourselves. Only Christ dying on the cross and resurrecting can. And we can only be saved through that miraculous act if we have faith in Him and trust that our sins are forgiven (after we repent of them). But our journey doesn’t end there. As Christians who have truly submitted to Christ, we show fruit of our allegience to God, and this fruit is often revealed through the good works we do for others. If you see someone who’s claimed to be saved but only selfishly thinks about themselves, then Houston, we have a problem.
This verse from John sums it up beautifully:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”John 15:16
God chose us, not the other way around, simply because we can’t save ourselves. Only our Creator can. And once He does that, picks us from amongst the others, we have the opportunity to place our faith in Him or to walk away. Our faith is what keeps us abiding in Christ, and without it, we are the branches He removes from Jesus, the vine. But if we stay abiding, we produce fruit, the good works that help to heal this fallen world and lead His sheep back to Him.
In conclusion: Good works are proof of our faith in Jesus.
Our faith produces fruit, the works that turn others to Christ. But, ultimately, our works aren’t what get us to heaven. Only Jesus can do that.