What is the connection between our works and salvation? Are works a necessity to show that one is saved? Can one be saved and not do works? Why do so many Christians say that if you do not do good works you are not saved when the Bible says we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone?
These are all great questions. Some of these may be questions some of you readers have asked. I know that some are one’s I have asked. So, since we have these questions we need to answer what the connection between works and salvation is.
The easy answer is that works do not earn, keep, or prove salvation. When one has believed in Jesus Christ for their salvation they are saved and sealed right then (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Since this is the truth, then works are not involved in salvation.
Some have gone too far and say that regeneration precedes faith. They do this trying to show that salvation is solely of God and we do nothing in it. This view is erroneous because there is not a Scripture one that says this. Ephesians 2:8-9 is pulled out and they say the gift is faith. Now, this is incorrect because the gift is salvation, as the text indicates.
The text states, “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” (Eph. 2:8-9). By grace you are saved, through faith, which could just as easily read belief since the Greek word is the same for both English words, not of works, it is the gift of God.
This indicates the gift is salvation, not faith. It does because only God can save us. He gives salvation as a gift. But this gift is something we receive when believe. God does not believe for us then gift that to us so we can believe. No, He gives us grace, and when we believe we receive the gift of salvation.
Next, the Greek grammar in the sentence gives evidence that salvation is the gift and not faith. J.B. Bond has stated “The Greek word that is neuter and the Greek word faith is feminine. Demonstrative pronouns normally match their antecedents in number and gender. It is better to see the pronoun that referring to the entire clause, stating that by grace a person is saved through faith.” (“Ephesians.” The Grace New Testament Commentary. Revised Edition, 426, emphasis mine). Works by other theologians make the same case (c.f. Rene Lopez “Is Faith a Gift from God or a Human Exercise?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164, 655, July 2007).
Another aberrant view is known as salvation by allegiance alone. In this view, they take the word faith and say it is better translated as faithfulness. They say one gives their allegiance to Christ and will serve Him their whole life and this is salvation. This view is pure salvation by works and is an accursed gospel because it is not a gospel at all (Gal.1:8-9). They are forcing works into the message of salvation. This takes the salvific work of Christ and His finished work at the cross and says it is not enough. It says that you must continually work and earn your salvation by your allegiance. This is not a gospel that saves but one that damns the one who follows it.
So, what is the connection between works and salvation? Well, salvation is a free gift to the one who believes (e.g., John 4:13-14; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 16:31; Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:1-9; Eph. 2:8-9). These few Scriptures out of at least 100 Scriptures, show salvation is by faith alone without works of any kind (Robert N. Wilkin, “Faith Alone in 100 Verses” Grace Evangelical Society, 2020). So, salvation is completely by grace through faith and not works. But we should do good works.
That last sentence is the key to what works are for. We should do them. it is not required. No, they are something we should do after but not to keep or prove. James makes this clear when he wrote, “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?” (Jas. 2:14-16). Faith without works is profitless and useless. Yes, you are saved and bound for eternity with the Lord, but you have been no good here.
This means you have been useless and have helped no one. Your life has been vain because you have not served others. It is useless to others and the Lord. We work to help others find this great joy we have. We work to help others who do not have. We do this because we are striving to fulfill the two great commandments, Love God with our all, and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39; Rom. 13:9).
That is what our works are for. They are not to earn or keep salvation or prove it. We do them to bless others and to give honor and glory to the Lord. He has loved us with a love we cannot fully grasp. So we work for Him serving others out of a deep love and gratitude to Him, not to earn or keep or prove we are saved. Not to mention the rewards that await those who diligently serve the Lord in this life (Matt. 6:19; 1 Cor. 3:9-15; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
When we grasp that our works are performed out of love and a desire to love others, we will rejoice and rest in the Lord. I say this because we will all fail in our good deeds from time to time. It is an amazing thing knowing that the Lord’s grace is much more than our works. I for one am thankful that my salvation rests upon the Lord and not my works because I know I could never measure up. This is grace and it is glorious. He did the work so we can be saved. We do works to help others see the love of God. We do them out of love and joy, not fear and compulsion. That is a glorious truth found all over Scripture. So rest today in the grace of God and know that your works do not hinder your eternal destiny. Only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ or no faith in Him does that. He is a gracious and loving God who will save you and give you everlasting life if you will just believe in Christ for your salvation. No works just belief. That is amazing grace.