Having God as your Lord is the requirement for salvation, but grace, faith, and works play an integral part. Many people incorrectly understand grace and works to be opposing concepts. The concept of grace is misunderstood to mean individuals are saved regardless of continuation in evil behavior. The concept of works is misunderstood to mean individuals are saved only if they can earn salvation by perfectly obeying God’s law. The misunderstanding of these concepts has led to the mistaken belief that there is a conflict between grace and works.
The mistaken belief that there is a conflict between grace and works leads to the acceptance of one concept and the rejection of the other. For example, if you believe people are saved by grace, then it ultimately does not matter whether or not people obey God’s law. Conversely, if you believe people are saved by works, salvation is not a gift but instead is something to be earned by perfectly obeying God. Ephesians 2:8-10 clearly states that salvation is a gift and is not earned by good works or by obedience to God’s law. Instead, Ephesians 2:8-10 identifies grace as the means of salvation.
Ephesians 2:8-10 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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
People logically conclude that works are not important because they perceive a conflict between the concepts of grace and works, and because Ephesians 2:8-10 clearly identifies that it is “by grace” that people are saved, not by works. Furthermore, people conclude that it makes no difference whether or not a “saved” individual obeys God. While seemingly logical, these conclusions are faulty. Grace and works are not competing philosophies. Instead, the concepts of grace and of works are simultaneously correct and have their place when each concept is correctly understood. To understand the biblical meaning and importance of grace and works, one must also understand the third component listed in Ephesians 2:8-10. This third component is faith.
Grace is God’s unmerited favor and is manifest in the unearned transfer of the obligation to pay for sin from ourselves to Jesus Christ. Faith is the belief in God’s promises that enables an individual to choose God as their Lord. (when I say ‘choose’ I mean we receive Him or respond to His call because He chose us before the world began) Works are the behaviors of obedience to God’s commands that demonstrate that one has chosen God as one’s Lord. A person must first have faith (i.e. believe God and choose God as Lord) through which salvation comes by grace (i.e. the obligation to pay for sin is transferred from us to Jesus Christ,) but this faith through which salvation comes by grace must be demonstrated by works (i.e. actions taken out of obedience to God.) If the faith through which salvation comes by grace is not demonstrated by works, then that faith is dead and salvation does not come by grace.
James 2:20-26 explains that faith does not exist apart from works. James 2:20-26 gives examples of situations in which faith was demonstrated by works. The first example of faith being demonstrated by works is the example of Abraham who was going to kill his son on an alter out of obedience to God. The second example of faith being demonstrated by works is the example of Rahab the harlot who was a sexually immoral woman who wound up in the lineage of Christ. Rahab had faith in God; she chose Him as Lord, and she demonstrated her faith by hiding the spies of Israel. The overall message of James 2:20-26 is that faith without works is dead.
James 2:20-26 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, `Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
It is through faith that one believes, in his or her heart, that the promises of God are true. It is through that same faith that one acts on those promises. These actions demonstrate faith. Without faith, there is no salvation because people are saved “…through faith….”
“Works” are the actions taken out of obedience to God and out of a belief that His promises are true. “…Faith without works is dead…” (James 2:26.) Faith does not exist where it does not manifest itself as works. We are saved “by grace…through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8-10.) Grace is not realized without faith. Salvation is not realized without grace. Before someone is saved by grace, they will have the faith to choose God as their Lord. If God is a person’s Lord, it will be evident in their actions. Works do not earn salvation. Works are the visible evidence of the faith which brings salvation by grace. If someone has faith, they will believe God’s promises including the promise made in Matthew 19:29. The promise made in Matthew 19:29 can give people the courage to do what is necessary to obey God, even when it will cost them the things and relationships they value most.
Matthew 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life.
God asks no less of us today than he has asked of his followers from the beginning of time. God asks that we surrender to Him our lives and everything important to us and obey Him. In exchange, we gain eternal life and reward beyond measure, but these promises won’t be fulfilled until after we are dead. When people live life by their own rules and do not live in complete subjection to the Lordship of Christ, they demonstrate a lack of faith in God and are living as though they are not saved.
Conversely, when people sacrifice the things they value most to obey God, they are performing works which demonstrate the faith necessary to have salvation by grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor and is manifest in the unearned transfer for the payment of sin from ourselves to Jesus Christ but is received only after we have made Jesus our Lord. Eternal life, which is a gift from God, is only a gift to those who have Christ Jesus as their Lord. This is why Romans 6:23 is directed to individuals who can identify Christ Jesus as their Lord.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grace makes salvation a gift. It is impossible to earn salvation. Those who misunderstand “works” to be the means of earning salvation may try to earn salvation by living righteously. Any attempt to earn salvation through works is futile. Isaiah states that even man’s most righteous behavior is filthy to God.
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…
Salvation is not free. Salvation did have to be earned through perfect obedience to God’s law. Salvation was earned, but it was not earned by any of us. It was earned by God Himself when he came to earth as a human being, Jesus the Christ, and lived without sinning. Christ was then in the unique position of being able to pay for the sins of all mankind and transfer His righteousness to sinful man.
Grace does not grant freedom from accountability for our actions. Grace is freedom from having to perfectly obey the law. Because of grace, we don’t have to earn salvation for ourselves. Grace is also freedom from the eternal damnation merited by any single sin. The law need not be perfectly obeyed, but it still identifies sin. We are under grace and not under the law but this does not mean that our actions are never sinful. Instead, because of grace, the price of sin is paid and we do not have to despair because of our sin. Without grace, one sin condemns us as imperfect and leaves us hopeless and disqualified from ever earning salvation under the law, so there is no incentive to escape sin. With grace, we have hope and repentance means forgiveness as stated in I John 1:9.
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Romans 6:1-6 highlights that the existence of grace does not mean freedom to sin. Instead, the existence of grace means freedom from being slaves to sin.
Romans 6:1-6 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism in to death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
We should not continue to sin using the fact that we are under grace and not under the law as an excuse. Instead, we should strive to obey God, because grace is our hope that allows us to escape sin and to have faith in God as our Lord (Romans 6:6.) This faith that brings salvation is genuine only if it is evidenced by our works (James 2:26.) Grace enables salvation, but genuine faith must be present before grace and salvation are received, because we are save “by grace” but “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-10.) Works are the evidence of the genuine faith that is needed before grace and salvation are received.
Grace is the mechanism for salvation, but that does not mean works should be ignored. Because grace is the mechanism of salvation, we know that works are not the mechanism of salvation. Therefore, works should not be performed in an attempt to earn salvation (Romans 11:6.) While works do not earn salvation, works must be present if a person is saved. We are saved “by grace…through faith…for good works…that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10.) Works are the evidence of faith, and faith the initiator of salvation. Works are themselves evidence that an individual is saved. If we have faith in God, if we have God as our Lord, we will strive to obey Him and that striving will be evident in our behavior, as works.
I John 2:3-6 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.