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Saved With Works
© 05.20.21 By David Eric Williams

This article appeared in the May 20 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle

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 (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The primary rallying cry of the Reformation was "salvation by grace alone through faith alone." This doctrine remains foundational for modern Protestants. If you ask Evangelical Christians what it means to be saved by grace they will most likely tell you it means God graciously makes a person a new creation in Christ - their behavior, or works, notwithstanding. "Grace, by definition, excludes the slightest hint that human merit contributes to our righteous standing before the most holy and perfect Creator, and faith, which admits our inability to help ourselves and rests wholly on another for salvation, confirms that our works have no power to atone for our wickedness" (found @ https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/grace-alone-through-faith-alone/).

My Catholic friends agree we are saved by grace. However, if I understand them correctly, they mean God extends grace to his children to provide faith and enable them to do good works resulting in salvation. I have heard the difference between Protestant and Catholic teaching on the subject summed up this way: "saved by grace through faith alone vs saved by grace through faith and works."

The usual protestant response is to say performance of good works are a show of thanks and commitment to Christ. The truth is, this falls short of what the Bible says about the subject. The Bible does tell us we should do good works to show love and gratitude to Jesus but that is not the heart of the matter. According to the Bible, good works are part of who we are as a new creation in Christ. This is the meaning of the complete thought started in Ephesians 2:8-9 (quoted above) and continued in verse 10: for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). In other words, it is a package deal; we are saved by grace through faith with good works. As James said, for just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Truly, we cannot separate good works from salvation; it is the reason for the new creation.

Moreover, it is not enough to say God enables us to perform good works. While this is true, it makes it sound as if good works fall outside the matrix of salvation. To think of it this way weakens the biblical witness. For, good works are an integral part of the new creation and inevitable in salvation. So much so, they are the destiny of the person who is a new creation in Christ. Therefore, there is no salvation without good works. Not because we are saved by our works but because works are a part of salvation. As Jesus said, I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death (John 8:51). Not "have faith and never see death", but "obey Jesus' teaching and never see death." While we must not isolate this verse as the only thing the Bible has to say about salvation in Christ, we cannot ignore the fact that good works intertwine with salvation.

In a way, Catholics are closer to the truth on this subject than most Protestants. Evangelical Christians especially have gone too far in divorcing good works from salvation. Both sides display the human desire to make difficult subjects easier, resulting in an over simplification of the doctrine. It is hard to understand how good works can be part of salvation without being a basis for salvation. As a result, human reason distorts the biblical witness.

In summary, you are not saved by works but you cannot be saved without them. I will return to this subject next week.


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