Eternal Salvation is a tough enough concept for people to comprehend but let’s now also consider the idea of good works. Some people believe the gospel, receive the spiritual birth of the new man but are deceived by the world’s wisdom and counterfeit teaching concerning the Christian life. The Galatian believers were drawn back to law keeping. Sadly some people never get to the point of faith because of all the hype about good works, fruit inspection, etc. Christians need clarity on this so let’s first consider the Biblical view of works and then look at various misrepresentations and certain verses used to try to prove that works prove our eternal standing.
What role do good works have in the Christian life? In essence, what is the big deal?
God always intended for believers to do good works
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God
hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify
unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Sometimes Christians get the idea that they are saved and therefore can relax knowing that they have their “ticket” to heaven. However, as we will see we were intended for great things. Note here that it does not say that we will do good works.
2 Timothy 3:14-17
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
(The Word of God is capable not only to make us wise unto salvation but to equip us with the instruction needed for good works. Part of what people have to understand is that good works are just that – work. Likewise preparing yourself for good works takes effort. There is no effort needed to believe the gospel and be saved but the believer needs to study the Word to know what is expected of them by their Savior. We need to also understand who God is and build our ongoing relationship with Him. 2 Pet 1:1-9)
Do good works without weariness. Keep in mind the eternal profit.
2 Thes 3:13
But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
1 Tim 4:10
For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living
God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint
I Cor 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in
the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the
Make use of your faith and standing in Christ.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?
can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
(God intends for us to be faithful in good works and not just to be content with a useless
faith. Also remember, when we don’t live in good works we are less effective in our
witness. Is the person needing food in this case more likely to be receptive to the gospel having had their needs met and having seen the love of Christ on display? Yes.)
And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in
uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath
denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
Good works please and glorify God
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great
shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Good works are a good testimony to others
Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
1Pe 3:15 -17
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
I did just a brief search online about “good works” and was amazed by the initial results. Very few people in the world would tell someone point blank that they needed to do good works for salvation. Yet, we hear these kind of statements all the time. Consider these false statements that any person doing a Google search could come across:
S. Michael Houdmann – GotQuestions
“If the darkness of sin continues, we can rightly assume no light came on.”
(This is totally false. If the darkness of sin continues then it just means the person is choosing at that time to walk in the flesh as a disobedient child.)
“Good works are the product of salvation.”
“Many people go through the outward motions of giving their lives to Christ, but no lifestyle change follows. That is not real salvation but is a “dead” faith (James 2:26).”
(This is somewhat of a moot point because no amount of giving your life to Christ saves a person. He is saying that those with “dead” faith have no salvation however dead there just means useless – not in relation to eternal salvation but in relation to others. Be wary of any person period who advocates this type of view as it indicates a big theology problem.)
John MacArthur – GTY
“In 1:17-18, James affirmed that salvation is a gift bestowed according to the sovereign will of God. Now he is stressing the importance of faith’s fruit—the righteous behavior that genuine faith always produces. Paul, too, saw righteous works as the necessary proof of faith.”
(List one time where Paul does so? What about his Romans 7 struggle? Was his salvation in doubt during that time? – no.)
“James could not be more explicit. He is confronting the concept of a passive, false “faith,” which is devoid of the fruits of salvation. He is not arguing for works in addition to or apart from faith. He is showing why and how, true, living faith always works. He is fighting against dead orthodoxy and its tendency to abuse grace.”
(“Faith always works” – no. James is advocating that believers actually use their salvation for something productive. This in itself proves that faith doesn’t always work because these believers weren’t doing good works. The Calvinist will deny that these are believers and say they are false professors but that is not how James addresses them.)
“The faith which does not produce good works is not saving faith: it is not the faith of God’s elect: it is not faith at all in the Scriptural sense. “
(False, good works are produced as a believer walks in obedience to the Spirit in application of the Word of God. Spurgeon fails to see this clearly as he is looking at this through the Calvinistic “preseverance of the saints” lens. If you don’t know what that means, ask me later.)
“Am I ordained to eternal life? Answer the other question: “Am I ordained to walk in good works?” If I am ordained to good works, then I do walk in them, and the decree of God is manifestly carried out in me. But if I make a profession of being a Christian, attend a place of worship, and compliment myself upon my safety, while I am living in sin, then evidently there is no decree that I shall walk in good works, for I am living otherwise than that decree would have caused me to live. “
(Is it a decree that I “shall” or that I “should”? What does Eph 2:10 say again? Don’t let Calvinists redefine this for you. See the danger in their misinterpretation? They would question the salvation of legit believers based on performance. Remember salvation is not based upon performance but Christ the object of faith.)
“So, then, dear friends, these good works must be in the Christian. They are not the root, but the fruit of his salvation.”
(This is really just a sneaky way of saying the works are required for salvation.)
“Martin Luther taught that justification is by faith alone. But he expanded the concept by saying that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. A person who is truly trusting Christ and resting on Christ for redemption receives the benefits of Christ’s merit by faith. But if that person has true faith, that true faith will manifest itself in a life of obedience.”
(“..not by a faith that is alone” – this is incorrect. Faith alone in Christ alone does save not because of the supposed “kind’ of faith but because of Christ. Then what about those in James who had a dead faith so to speak? Why did those particular believers have to be admonished to do good works and make their faith mean something in terms of profitability to others?)
“Catholics and Protestants agree that bare, sterile faith cannot save. Furthermore they agree that true faith is always accompanied by good works. However they part company when it comes to the purpose of such works. For Evangelicals, good works are the necessary fruit and proof of genuine faith, for which Christ will reward them at His return. For Catholics, good works preserve and increase their personal righteousness for their final justification.”
(Both are incorrect if that is what they believe because both are works righteousness – one is “backdoor” after salvation and the other one is “frontdoor” to earn salvation.)
Here are some verses one person tried to use to try say that works prove salvation:
James 2:14-26 – (This passage is actually talking about the usefulness of one’s faith in this life. It is not talking about “kinds” of faith or the usefulness of faith to save a person.)
Matt 7:15-20 – (This has to do with false teachers and specifically the fruit that is a false gospel. It is not a way to evaluate saved people.)
John 8:12, 31 – (We are to walk in the light. Following Christ does not equal salvation. Verse 31 says “disciples” indeed not “believers” indeed. These two words should not usually be read to be synonymous. There is a place in Acts where believers are referred to as disciples but we must remember that believers can fail to be disciples as they ought and not all disciples (those trying to learn / follow after Christ) are believers. You must consider the context and intended meaning.)
John 14:15, 21-23 – (“If ye love me” not – “if you are saved”)
John 15:14 (“Ye are my friends if ye do” – not – ye are saved if you do.)
I Cor 6:9-11 – (Notice verse 11. Believers are capable of doing these sins through the flesh but we cannot be labeled as such due to justification (being declared not guilty) and positional sanctification (being set apart unto God). No matter what we do in this life as believers we are always labeled as righteous in God’s sight. Though we may find ourselves practically walking in disobedience in the flesh at times, God always sees Christ’s blood covering our sin.)
2 Cor 5:19 – (This is a commonly misused verse. It is talking about the creation of the new man and the reconciliation between God and man. Some mistake this to mean that the old man is completely gone. Others use it to say that if there is ever sin in your life then you might be unsaved. Neither are true if you compare scripture with scripture. Just start with the sins that the Corinthian believers were committing. Had they ceased sinning? – No. Had they proven by their sin that they were unsaved? – No.)
Gal 5:19-23 – (Look back up at verses 16 -18 then down at verses 25 and 26. Why be told to walk in the Spirit if we live in the Spirit? That means to me that it is not automatic. Verse 26 tells us to not desire vain glory or to provoke one another. Even Christians can do those things. Doing them does not make them unsaved but makes them disobedient children. Why should we want to be disobedient children if we remember the love Christ had in sending His only begotten Son to die for our sins?
Good works were God’s intention for believers from eternity past. They do not come automatically as they require effort and preparation. Good works are profitable to others and well pleasing to God as they glorify Him. Good works are a good testimony and enhance our opportunity for witness. Our works do not prove salvation because salvation is not based on works. It is based on the object of our faith – Christ.