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Christianity & Works

I received quite a few emails since publishing my 'Jesus' web page, not all complimentary. This 'Works' page is a by-product of those emails, and I hope to cover all the questions and comments raised so far.

I know this is a sticky subject that has been debated through the centuries. But having spent years studying the issues, I've come to this conclusion: salvation by faith alone is the most crucial aspect of Jesus' sacrifice. Therefore, with that conviction, I must add my two cents worth to the quandry.

I realize the 'faith alone' doctrine can be offensive to many Christians who hold to a tradition of salvation by faith plus works. My intention here is not to flame the fire, but to challenge others to peaceably consider their beliefs in a different light. If my contention that this one issue is the most crucial aspect of the crucifixion, then you can understand why I also feel it is important to make it plain.

Let's consider the Ephesians passage again:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9)
Note several points:
  • We begin with God's grace. Grace is defined as 'unmerited favor', that is, favor bestowed not because of any inherent value or goodness you may have. God's grace as expressed here is His goodwill extended to you-- just because He is God and He is that way!
  • This grace bestows salvation on you
  • This salvation is appropriated through your personal faith
  • This salvation is 'not of yourself' (even the faith you have is a gift from God)
  • This salvation is a gift, not something owed to you, but like any good gift, it is freely offered
  • This salvation is not a result of your works (once again, you cannot earn it by working for it)
  • Since this salvation is all from God, you have no room to boast that you deserve it because of your deeds or performance, or you deserve it more than the next person, or that you can have any sense of personal pride in the matter whatsoever!

Is this an isolated Scripture reference?

By no means...
"...the righteousness of God has been manifested...through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe... being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24)

"...a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus..." (Galatians 2:16)

"[God] has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Timothy 1:9)

Why is 'faith alone' so important to God?

The book of Galatians addresses this issue at length. It appears that the basic issue is pride. God does not want any person to fall under the delusion that she or he can perform some kind or quantity of deed which will impress God so much that He'll say, "Now there is a fine specimen of human being, worthy of salvation." To the contrary, Galatians teaches that due to mankind's depravity, should a person attempt to attain right standing with God by persuing a course of good works, he'll only trip himself up morally and mentally.

The fact of the matter is, NO ONE IS WORTHY OF SALVATION, and there's nothing anyone can do to change that fact! But God is fully aware of the situation, and that's why He provided a way to Him that's clear and simple-- through faith in the work He's already done on the cross!

Another point about salvation by works: it is the key point that separates true Christianity from all other religions. Every known religion revolves around a system of works, rituals, performances, deeds, etc. by which its adherents can please or appease their god. That's how true Christianity stands out from all the rest.

Authentic Christianity shows that there is a loving God who continually approaches man with mercy and grace. His attitude is, 'lay down your burdens and rest your weary heads'. 'You don't have to do anything to earn my attention or blessings-- I love you just the way you are! And to prove it, I'm going to die for you. I'll do all the work for you, pay all your debts, wash away all your sins. So stop trying to do this your way-- it won't work anyway!'

A works-based faith also serves to preoccupy its adherents with acts, rituals, and deeds. This preoccupation actually deters the Christian from the true call of the faith: an intimate, loving relationship with The Creator.

A final observation: Religions that emphasize 'works' usually have leadership that is distinctly separate from the 'common' people. I believe this is a necessary by-product of a performance-based belief system. Such a dichotomy in a Christian setting is sooooo unbiblical...

But doesn't the Bible refer to doing good works for God?

Absolutely! In fact, good works are so important that the book of James says a Christian without good works is suspect of not even being a Chrisitian. Here's the catch: Good works are the result of salvation, not the cause of it. Get that? Good works according to the Bible must be kept on the correct side of the equation:

Jesus' Death + Your Faith ==> Salvation + Good Works


Jesus' Death + Your Faith + Your Good Works ==> Salvation
"We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..." (Ephesians 2:10)

I belong to a very large Christian denomination that subscribes to the faith plus works doctrine. How can so many be so wrong?

The real issue is not what everyone else does, but what you do with the knowledge you have. People believe things for a lot of reasons, and they're not always good reasons. ('Because everyone else is doing it' and 'We've always done it that way' are not very good reasons for doing anything.) I would venture to say that your 'very large denomination' is populated with people who were born and raised in that tradition, making other Christian traditions alien to them. Here are some questions you may want to consider to help you clarify your beliefs:
  • Did your denomination always have a works-based belief system? If not, or not to the extent it is today, how and why did it change?
  • Does the Bible (especially the New Testament) support a works-based belief system?
  • Do you find that your denomination's rules exclude you from certain practices or privileges?
  • Do you feel that, although you're doing everything right, the presence and power of God constantly evade you?
  • Does the thought of leaving your religious affiliation frighten you because of the social or family pressure it would cause?

Getting right with God is the single most important thing you need to do with your life. If you find that you've been putting 'works' on the wrong side of the equation, its not too late to change! Pray. Ask God to help you understand and accept His thoughts and ways. Ask Him to lead you into all Truth. Those are requests God loves to respond to. There is incredible freedom in the Truths of God, so I encourage you to sincerely shed all of your prejudices and preconceptions, and pursue God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You will not be disappointed.

If this page helped you understand Jesus better, and especially if it helped you receive Jesus into your heart, please let me know! Or if you just want to dialogue any further about the things of God, I'd love to hear from you.

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