Christians are indeed saved by grace, and they are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (English Standard Version Eph. 2:10). These good works are not performed to retain salvation. Nor are they performed as a means of repayment to God for the amazing salvation He has given all who have believed. No, to reduce it to this type of repayment will only be “distressing to the Giver” and it will “serve only to frustrate His grace and lower [it]…to the sordid level of barter and trade” (Grace the Glorious Theme, Chafer 7).
God’s grace is completely undeserved and completely free. It is a gift and one does not want to insult an earthly gift giver by trying to pay for the gift, so why do it to God? The ultimate question when considering why a believer should do good works for the Lord, then, is “if it is not repaying God, then why do them?”
It seems that many people will believe in Christ for their salvation but think they must work to keep it. As stated above, one does not work to earn a gift, regardless of who gave them the gift. This logic is applicable whether the gift giver is a human being, or it is God Himself. Paul wrote in Galatians that the Spirit is received by faith and not by works (3:2). He then goes on and asks the Galatians, since they began by the Spirit can they be perfected by their flesh, i.e., works (3:3). It just seems foolish, and this is what Paul tells the Galatians, to think if you cannot earn the gift by works, then you cannot keep it with works either.
What, then, is the relationship between works and grace, if it is not a repayment or a manner of keeping one’s salvation? The relationship between works and grace is not all that difficult to discover. For one thing, they are something that believers are to do because they were created for good works (Eph. 2:10). Another aspect is that of love.
When someone loves someone else dearly, they will do things for that person with no desire of a return. It is out of a thankful and rejoicing heart that one performs works for the Lord. It is simply something one does so they may be found pleasing to the gift giver. It is also true that one cannot improve their salvation with works, because salvation is a one-time happening, but they can improve their eternal life with God.
These works that one does, if they are done on the foundation of Christ, for Christ’s glory, then these works will receive a reward (1 Cor. 3:10-14). If these works are not done for the Lord, but the person doing the works, they will be burned up and of no use (1 Cor. 3:15). Even though a person will receive rewards for these works they do the works for the Lord and His glory.
Much like the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). Each man was given a certain number of talents by their master (Vv. 15-18). Two of the men who received the talents went straight away and earned more for their master, while one did nothing. Each man who did works for their master was rewarded for what he did. While the one who did nothing was cast out from the master’s presence(v30). These men did not do the works for their gain, but their master’s gain. These men were left in charge of their master’s property, much like believers now. They were to tend it and care for it. Two did the work for their master because it was what they were set to do and wanted to do and were rewarded greatly for it. One did nothing and was not rewarded.
These two different sections of Scripture demonstrate if someone does their works for the wrong reason, or none at all, they will receive nothing. On the other hand, if they do work for the Lord and His glory, they will be rewarded tremendously. It is for this reason why a believer does works for the Lord.
One reason, it reaches more people with the gospel, and the other reason, it will gain the believer rewards in eternity. Works are for God’s glory through believers and never for the believer to either repay or keep their salvation. Salvation, God’s grace, is completely free to the believer, and a believer works for the glory of God and the promised rewards they will receive (c.f. 1 Cor 3:11-12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). It is because of God’s grace that a person can do works that are pleasing to Him. Without His grace, human works would be for nothing because it takes God’s grace to save someone. Human works are then only fully pleasing to the Lord because of His grace bestowed upon the person who has believed.