Salvation: Works vs. Grace

We can’t save ourselves. It is impossible, but salvation is possible with God. We are called to walk in holiness, to walk in righteousness, to walk in the Spirit.

Jesus commands us to repent, to follow Him, to rejoice and let our light shine, to be reconciled with our brother, to love our enemies and go the second mile, to lay up treasures in heaven and seek first His kingdom, to judge not and take up His yoke, to honor our parents and not lust, to deny ourselves, to forgive our offenders, to love the Lord and our neighbor, and plenty more things.

There are things we’re supposed to be doing. Those are works. We are commanded to do them.

The rich young ruler was told by Jesus to sell all he had and give the money to the poor if he wanted to be saved and have eternal life. Was Jesus suggesting he could earn his salvation?

We are saved by grace alone, through faith; we are not saved by works. But here’s the thing about works. Read these two verses together.

Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

James 2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

There’s another vocabulary word: justified. People like to say that means that God makes it “just as if I’d” never sinned. When we are justified, we are declared righteous, declared not guilty; we’re right before God. That happens as a grace gift we receive by faith.

So where do all these works come in? Faith without works is dead. Dead faith can’t save you.

Would you think someone a hypocrite if they said they believed in animal rights but bet on dog fights? Their works would show what they really believed. We can’t say we believe God has saved us and not show it by our works. If we believe the good news that we are saved from our sin, then we will choose not to sin. If we say, “I can’t help it. God understands our weaknesses,” then our words and actions would show we don’t believe Jesus saved us from our sin.

The rich young ruler was showing his heart when he wouldn’t give up his wealth. Zacchaeus gladly lets go of his wealth, showing his changed heart. His was a heart that believed it was forgiven and naturally responded with a work showing his faith.

The works come as a response to salvation, showing we believe and are changed by what we believe. We don’t do them to earn our salvation or to prove we are saved. We do them because God’s love has transformed our hearts. It’s a natural response to our salvation. It’s a natural way of living because we’re becoming like Christ, so we do the things He would do.

Read these stories and see the difference between these two men.

Mark 10:17-22 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Luke 19:1-9 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.

Lesson Point: We are saved by grace through faith, but faith without works is dead and cannot save you.

Challenge Question: What do your works, your actions, show about what you believe?