good Works Necessary For Salvation
Without controversy, a person must have faith in the Lord Jesus
Christ in order to be saved. The great debate between Catholics and
Protestants centers on the role of good works. Is bare faith
sufficient for salvation, or should it also be accompanied by
personal good works - such as prayer, charity, baptism and obedience
to the commandments?
Catholics and Protestants agree that bare, sterile faith cannot save.
Furthermore they agree that true faith is always accompanied by good
works. However they part company when it comes to the purpose of
such works. For Evangelicals, good works are the necessary fruit and
proof of genuine faith, for which Christ will reward them at His
return. For Catholics, good works preserve and increase their
personal righteousness for their final justification.
To tackle this important question, let's consider
following three propositions:
1. Good works are not necessary at all.
2. Good works are necessary to increase merit.
3. Good works always accompany true faith.
Which one of these three statements is true and biblical? What is
the role of good works in salvation?
It is alarming that many "Evangelicals" and
"Bible-believing Christians" think that we are saved by
faith and that good works are not necessary at all. Perhaps they
want to affirm the Evangelical doctrine of sola fide - faith
alone. But they are dead wrong. Not only do they misrepresent the
historical Protestant doctrine on Justification by Faith Alone,
but also and more importantly, they deny the true Gospel of Christ.
The Westminster Confession is representative of the historical
Protestant doctrine of Justification:
Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his
righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it
not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all
other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
While affirming that a person is justified "for Christ's
sake alone" and not for "any other evangelical
obedience" of the believer, the Reformers were eager to guard
against the antinomian heresy. Saving faith is the "alone
instrument of justification" and yet it is "not alone in
the person justified." Saving faith is alive and manifest in
good works of love.
It is true that no sinner is saved by his own works. "Not by
works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his
mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5). When Lazarus died, he could not
do anything to revive himself. Only the Lord Jesus could bring him
back to life by His almighty power. Yet, when Christ saved him from
death, Lazarus came out, breathing, moving, and walking. This is a
picture of salvation. Our works do not save us, yet saved people do
good works because they are saved and have eternal life! To say that
works are 'not necessary at all' is akin to saying that Lazarus did
not need to breath and move after Christ called him from the grave.
James asks, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man
say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?" We
answer without hesitation that such 'faith' is dead and cannot save.
If faith is real and living, it is always accompanied by good works.
In this sense good works are necessary.
The Lord expresses His salvation in the form of a covenant with
his people: "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those
days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in
their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I
remember no more" (Hebrew 10:16-17).
There are two aspects to the new covenant. Firstly, God
forgives all the sins of His people on the merit of the sacrifice of
Christ on the cross. But secondly, salvation is more than forgiveness and
justification. Salvation also involves the renewal of the inner man.
Prior to salvation the carnal mind is hostile to God and it is not
subject to His Law. In salvation, God changes all that. "I will
put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write
them." The renewed man willingly obeys God's commandments - to
love the Lord and his neighbour, that is, to do good works.
Therefore good works are as much part of salvation as forgiveness of
Who knows how many are deceived because once upon a time they
'accepted Christ' and yet they show no evidence of their professed
faith? They continue walking in sin and bearing no fruit of
righteousness. If a person professes to believe in Christ but
continues to live in sexual immorality, drunkenness, resentment,
dishonesty or any form of unrighteousness, he will not enter the
kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:6,10). It does not take some gross
sin to keep you out of heaven. It is enough to do nothing. Christ
calls such a person 'slothful' and these will be the last words he
will ever hear from the mouth of Christ: "Cast ye the
unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).
Often I have received letters from Catholics protesting that the
Catholic Church does not teach salvation by works. However the
official Roman Catholic teaching is that works are necessary to
increase merit for the attainment of eternal life.
To be fair, we must state that the Catholic religion underlines
the importance of grace, faith and the work of Christ on the cross.
We must also clarify that the Catholic Church does not teach that
salvation is by works alone. But on the other hand, we must stress
that the Catholic Church teaches that, along with faith in Christ,
salvation is by personal works also.
"If any one saith, that the justice [righteousness] received
is not preserved and also increased before God through good works;
but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of
Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let
him be anathema." (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification).
In the Catholic system, salvation begins at baptism by which God
makes the sinner righteous. Throughout his life, God helps the
believer to maintain and increase this righteousness by his good
works. So, the good works done by the "disposition and
co-operation" of man are not merely the "fruits" but
also the "cause" of justification. Ultimately, a person is
accounted to have satisfied the divine law by his works done by
God's help, and thus he merits eternal life. He deserves and has the
right to that reward. A Catholic author plainly admits, "It is
a universally accepted dogma of the Catholic Church that man, in
union with the grace of the Holy Spirit must merit heaven by his
good works" (Dogmatic Theology for the Laity, 1977).
The Catholic system of merit is far removed from the Gospel of
grace. If our works were, even partially, the basis for our
justification, then salvation is no longer by grace. The Bible
defines grace as the antithesis of merit. "Now to him that
worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt"
(Romans 4:4). Grace is the very opposite of the reward deserved for
someone's work. Grace is a favour that is not deserved or merited by
Yet Catholics are encouraged to "merit the graces"
needed to obtain eternal life by their works, without realizing that
in so doing they are depriving themselves of the goodness and mercy
of God. How I pray that they will hear the Word of God: "To him
that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly,
his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5).
God would not justify the man who professes to believe in Christ
while at the same time engages in religious works to secure his
justification. In his case, works are not the evidence of faith but
of the lack of faith! If he truly relies on Christ by faith, he
would not seek salvation anywhere else, in other creatures or in his
own efforts. God justifies him that "worketh not, but
The proud human heart thinks that this is too good to be true!
You don't get anything for free, do you? Yes, in God's reign of
grace, you do! Believers are "justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." The Scriptures
repeatedly state that a person is justified by faith, and not by
works of the law - that is because of our obedience to the
commandments of God.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,
but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus
Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and
not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall
no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16).
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God,
it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith (Galatians
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are
justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace (Galatians 5:5).
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without
the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28).
It is tragic that human pride would not allow the sinner to come
to God. His hands are full of his works and he would not let go in
order to take hold of Christ by faith.
In Ephesians 2:8-10, the Bible teaches that we are not saved
because of our good deeds ("not of works, lest anyone should
boast"). That is only half of the story. The same passage also
teaches that we are saved for a very specific purpose, namely, to do
good works ("created in Christ Jesus to do good works").
Good works are not the cause, but rather the result (the purpose,
the fruit) of salvation. So good works must always accompany true
faith. Yet true faith rests in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for
salvation, and not in the merits of personal works. We are called to
believe "in Christ"!
Both truths - salvation is not by works, but saved people do good
works - are emphasized in the Scriptures. Take Titus 3:5-8 for
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but
according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration,
and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly
through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace,
we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This
is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm
constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to
maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto
The apostle Paul affirms that we are saved is "not by works
of righteousness." Yet, he does not conclude that since we're
not saved by works, we should not perform them. On the contrary, he
is eager to exhort believers "to be careful to maintain good
God cleanses those who believe in His Son from the leprosy of
sin, not to sit in laziness, but to employ their hands in doing
Well then, each one of us must take a look at his own heart and
life. Am I trying to gain heaven by my efforts, by religious works
and penance? If so, I must cast away these crutches, that I may
trust completely in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation,
knowing that God would be merciful to me and forgive all my sins
because His Son died on the cross to bear the sins of his people.
I must ask further, if I profess to believe in the Lord Jesus for
salvation, is there tangible evidence in my life that my faith is
for real? The true believer hates sin, lives righteously, loves God
and his neighbour, and has the glory of God as his greatest desire.
On the other hand, the pretender has some sort of religion but he
does not really love or know God, and his life is characterized by
vice and his selfish ambitions. So, is my faith real or counterfeit?
May God help each one of us to know ourselves, and to grant us
the grace of salvation, which is by faith in Christ Jesus, and unto