“Faith Without Works Is Dead”
Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” James Montgomery Boice posed questions about the role of works versus faith in a Christian’s life, “But does this mean that works no longer have any place in Christianity?...If we must have works, then isn’t it the case that we are not saved solely by the work of Christ after all?”
To a Roman Catholic and to some Protestants, the answer to the last question would be that indeed works are essential to our being saved. To these souls, works enter into the act of justification, in that, part of the justification is God producing good works in us, so that we are justified by faith plus those works. The proponents of this position would quickly turn to James 2:14-17, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus, also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Those who hold to this position would ask, “Are we not also told bluntly that we are to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’?” (Phil 2:12)
To demonstrate this point, they would move to Matthew 25 and expound on three parables found there. The “Wise and Foolish Virgins” seem to teach a works salvation in that the foolish maidens neglected to perform their work of keeping the oil lamps filled, with the result that they are locked out of the marriage feast. Those holding to the necessity of saving works would point out that an obvious cause and effect relationship is at play in this parable.
The parable of “The Talents” seems to support this position in that the third servant who was given a single talent to “do business with” only hid it in the ground and grew no profit from it at all. He performed no work with the talent, so he is rejected and is cast “into the outer darkness” where slothful people like him “weep and gnash their teeth.”
The third parable is “The Separation of the Goats and the Sheep.” The goats are seated to the left where they are admonished for not feeding, giving drink, providing clothing, or visiting the sick and imprisoned. Therefore, they are told “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” Consider that the sheep, by contrast, had done all of the things neglected by the goats and were told “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” They would say that the three parables together make a trifecta of proof for the need for works to obtain salvation.
While other passages could be called upon, these seem sufficient to show the concept that works are key to attending the Marriage Feast of the Lamb of God, avoiding Hell, and obtaining a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, is this true? Does the Bible teach that works will result in our salvation? If we failed to maintain works, would we lose our salvation supported to date by good works?
Truly the old hymn says it well, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” The issue of works versus faith for attaining salvation disappears when we understand that the works themselves are the result of God’s working them in us. The prior Ephesians passage continues with 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Works is repeated twice in Eph 2:9-10, once as a negative, repudiating works as making any contribution to our salvation and the second as evidence that works follow...
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