Salvation & Works

 Theoretically, there are three ways to be saved. First, live a sinless life. A sinless soul would not need redemption or grace. Nothing would hinder his relationship with God. However, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore this is not a option for a sinner. Second, a sinner could earn salvation. Catholics and Muslims are saved from sin by meritorious system of works. However, all the good deeds in the world cannot take away one sin or earn salvation. Finally, a lost soul can be saved by the gift of forgiveness. This gift could be without any conditions which would meaning salvation is universal, that is, given to all sinners whether they even believe in God or repent of their sins. Yet, the gift of salvation could involve conditions, such as, faith, confession, etc.

Most denominations of Christianity teach that salvation is a gift by the grace of God. However, what conditions are involved vary from sect to sect. For example, the Methodist Discipline teaches, “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 Presbyterians claim “… 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). The Baptist teach “We believe the Scriptures teach that salvation of sinners is wholly of grace.” (The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches – Articles of Faith, item 4). “Our 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). 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 faith (alone) apart from the deeds of the law.” No German translator would agree with Luther.

In contrast to these denominations the Church of Christ claims the Bible teaches that salvation is not by mere faith or grace alone but must include as part of the gift’s conditions: repentance of sins, verbal confession of Christ, and baptism in water. Some will argue that the church of Christ is teaching “salvation by works rather than by the grace of God.” (The Truth About the Church of Christ, p. 17, Hugh F. Pyle). It is believed that if salvation is conditioned upon anything the sinner does, than salvation is not a gift or of grace.

An Apparent Contradiction

Those churches which claim that salvation is by faith/grace only will turn to certain passages to support this view. “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) and “not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us” (2 Tim. 1:9). In contrast, James chapter two claims that salvation is by works and faith. James 2:24 reads, “by works a man is justified and not by faith only.” Remember the Methodist Discipline states, “ . . . that we are justified by faith only is a wholesome doctrine . . .” Is this a contradiction in the Bible or is there some solution to the problem?

What is the Gift?

Ephesians 2:8 states that “it is the gift of God.” What is the gift? It cannot be grace. The word “grace,” means “unmerited favor.” If it is a free gift, Paul would be saying a “free gift is a gift of God.” The gift is not faith. “Faith” is feminine, while “that” is neuter. Faith is the human response to divine testimony of the Bible. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 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.

What are the Works?

Ephesians 2:9 clearly explains that salvation is not from works performed by men. But what are the works mentioned here? The Bible mentions several types of works: 1) the works of the Pharisees (Matt. 23:3); 2) the works of Satan (Jn. 8:41,42); 3) the works of darkness (Rom. 13:12); 4) the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21); the works of ungodliness (Jude 15); and the works of the Law of Moses or “works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). “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” (Gal. 2:16). No man could keep the Law perfectly and the animal blood sacrifices could not remove the guilt of sin (Heb. 10:4). Furthermore, works of personal merit cannot bring salvation. Paul wrote, “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” (Tit. 3:5).

Nevertheless, there is another category of works which are often overlooked in the discussion about salvation: the works of God. These are also referred to as works of righteousness (Acts 10:34,35); and “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3). In fact, faith is a work of God according to Jesus. Those who partook of the miracle of the loaves and fishes asked Jesus, “‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” (John 6:28,29). Notice faith is not a work that God does, but faith is a work man must do.

The Real Contradiction

The term “only” is from the Greek word monos and is defined as, “alone, solitary” (W.E. Vine). Thus, to be saved by faith only is be be saved by faith exclusive of anything else even grace. Likewise, to be saved by grace only is to be saved by grace exclusive of anything else, even faith. If saved by grace, only faith is excluded and to be saved by faith only means grace is excluded. So which is it?  Is one saved by “faith only” or “grace only”? Ironically, the only time “faith only” appears in the New Testament is in James 2:24 where is clearly says, “by works a man is justified and NOT by faith only.”

The church of Christ does believe that faith is essential to salvation. This faith must be an active obedient faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Paul told the jailor and his household, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). However, obedient faith has always been required of by God. “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).

– Daniel R. Vess

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