Salvation & Works
Humanists may argue that no god exist to save us, man must save himself. Yet, there is a God and salvation from sin can only be achieved by one of three ways.:
- First, live a sinless life, so there is never a need to be saved. In this sense salvation would not require Christ to be one’s Savior or would it necessitate grace. However, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All men sin. “The wages of sin is death” therefore man needs “the gift of God” which is “eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
- Second, the sinner can attempt to earn salvation. Islam teaches one can earn salvation from Allah by accumulating more good deeds in life to out-weigh the bad deeds. However, it is 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” (Eph. 2:8,9).
- The third manner is to be given salvation. This gift can come with or without conditions. Universalism teaches all men will be saved without any conditions “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7:13,14). The Bible teaches there is a condition which involves man’s faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. “Jesus said, “therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Many denominations teach that faith is the only condition for man to receive salvation. The doctrine of “justification by faith only” is the offspring of the famous German reformer, Martin Luther. Luther was so controlled by this idea that he took the liberty of adding the word allein (German for “alone”) to the word “faith” in Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by(allein, alone) faith apart from the deeds of the law. No German translator would agree with Luther. Most Protestant denomination agreed with his teachings on faith only. The Methodist Discipline states: “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort” (Article IX, “Of the Justification of Man”). The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach: “The only ground of salvation mentioned in the Scriptures is faith in Christ as our Redeemer and Lord. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith.’” (Vol. 1, p. 100). In the Church of the Nazarene creed we read: “that believers are to be sanctified wholly – through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Manual, 1956, 36). The Episcopal church believes: “Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort” (Article 2 of Episcopal Articles of Religion). Finally, the Baptist denomination claims: “All you have to do is believe and he will save you: also, ‘Justification, the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life – are solely through faith” (Church manual for Baptist Churches, J. M. Pendleton, p. 48).
However, these same denominations will also claim that one is saved by grace only. The Baptists: “We believe the Scriptures teach that salvation of sinners is wholly of grace” (The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches – Articles of Faith, item 4). The Presbyterians: “…their justification is only of free grace: that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners” (The Confession of Faith – Presbyterian Church – Chapter 13, Para. 3). Although the Lutheran church claims salvation by faith only, their “ Lutheran theologians, on the other hand, insisted that salvation is wholly a free gift of God’s grace” (What Lutherans Believe, Warburg Press, Chapter 9).
Much of the confusion over salvation has to do with an apparent contradiction. Passages like Ephesians 2:8-9, John 3:16, and 2 Timothy 1:6 appear to teach salvation by faith only. On the other hand James 2 that states that we are saved by works and faith: “by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Is this a real contradiction or is there some other solution to the problem.
The Bible does not contradict itself. Man just fails to make the distinction between the works of man and the works of God. James 2:24 shows three doctrines to be false: grace only, faith only, and works only. There are many different types of works listed in the Bible. The Bible mentions the works of the Pharisees (Matt. 23:3); the works of Satan (Jn. 8:41,42); the works of darkness (Rom. 13:12); the works of the flesh, Gal. 5:19-21); the works of ungodliness (Jude 15); and the works of the Law of Moses also called “works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Paul wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified”
(Galatians 2:16). The Hebrew writer says, “for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). The other works which cannot save are works of personal merit. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Works of righteousness “which we have done” cannot save. None of these types of works having anything to do with salvation from sin.
In contrast, there are works of God, works of righteousness, and “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3). When God sent Peter to preach salvation to Cornelius the apostle said, “in truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34,35). Who does God accept? The sinner who does two things: fears God and works righteousness. Obedience is important for salvation. “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13)
What about the apparent contradiction in Ephesians 2:8,9: “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.” What is the “gift of God”? It is not grace. The word “grace,” means “unmerited favor,” it is a free gift so Paul would be saying a “free gift is a gift of God.” This gift of God is not faith. However commentator John MacArthur wrote, “Faith is presented as a gift from God in 2 Peter 1:1… When we accept the finished work of God on our behalf, we act by the faith supplied by God’s grace. That is the supreme act of human faith, the acts which, though it is ours, is primarily God’s-His gift to us out of His grace. When a person chokes or drowns and stops breathing, there is nothing he can do. If he ever breathes again it will be because someone else starts him breathing. A person who is spiritually dead cannot even make a decision of faith unless God first breathes into him the breath of spiritual life. Faith is simply breathing the breath that God’s grace supplies. Yet, the paradox is that we must exercise it and bear the responsibility if we do not (cf. John 5:40). (Ephesians, 60-61).
Yet the Greek grammar will not support the idea that Paul is saying faith is the gift of God by grace. “Faith” is feminine, while “that” is neuter. Bible faith is the human response to divine testimony. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). “It is the gift of God” refers neither to “grace” or to “faith”. It refers to the whole process of salvation by “grace…through faith”. The gift of salvation cannot be bought – it is a free gift. However, it does have conditions: hearing to produce faith (Rom. 10:17), confession of faith before men (Rom. 10:9,10), repentance of sins (Acts 2:38) and baptism to wash away sins (Acts 22:16).
While the Church of Christ believes in the necessity of both faith and grace for salvation (Heb. 11:6; Acts 16:31; Romans 5:1), the New Testament church also holds that one must be baptized to be saved. Many denominations have falsely accused the church of believing in salvation by works. They claim “salvation by works rather than by the grace of God” (“The Truth About the Church of Christ, p. 17, Hugh F. Pyle). “If it is necessary for man to work in order to be saved, then salvation is not of grace.”
The real contradiction is that so-many denominations are claiming that salvation is by faith only and also claim it is by grace only. The term “only” is from the Greek word monos and is defined as, “alone, solitary” (W.E. Vine). “Only” means solely or alone, that is, “exclusively.” If one is saved by grace only, faith is excluded. If one is saved by faith only, grace is excluded. However, one is saved by both the grace of God, by faith, and by other works of God.
– Daniel R. Vess