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Volume 18, Issue 3: Doctrine 101

According to Your Works

Patch Blakey

I was speaking with a member of the Latter Day Saints many years ago, and I told him that salvation was by faith in Jesus Christ alone. I showed him Romans 4:20-21, where Paul writes about Abraham: "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, he was able also to perform." He said that he believed salvation was by works, and then showed me the passage in James, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?" (Jas. 2:14). From this point on, it didn't matter what else I showed him from the Scriptures. He was convinced that his works were his key to eternal life.

In Paul's epistle to Titus, he states, "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" (Titus 3:5). It is God who saves men according to His own mercy, and not by any righteous works of their own. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). But does God disregard all our earthly works?
God seriously considers all of our works here on earth, whether we are saints or not. "The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works" (Psa. 33:13_15). God sees all that the sons of men do, and He considers all of their works, both good and bad, and He justly recompenses us for all that we have done. "If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? And He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? And shall not He render to every man according to his works" (Prov. 24:12)? Jeremiah reiterates the same thing: "For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands" (Jer. 25:14). We can have great confidence that none of our deeds will be forgotten when we face God's righteous judgment. "The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, `Surely I will never forget any of their works'" (Amos 8:7). Who could find fault with God for remembering all of our works and then rewarding us according to what we've done?
This is true for Christians as well. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). God created believers as new men in Christ with the intent that they should do good works. The very faith that saves believers is also manifested through the good works that they do on behalf of Christ. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect" (Jas. 2:21_22)? Good works follow believers because of their faith in Christ. Good works are not the means of their salvation. However, James gives a stern warning, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (Jas. 2:26). Those who are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are saved by Christ in the way that they live. The faith that saves them is alive with the life of Christ who saved them.
One problem with those who want to rely on their own works to save them is that they do not know the condition of their good works, even their best works. "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Is. 64:6). Apart from Christ, the very best we can do in this life is as a filthy rag to God. Paul goes on to delineate what the works of the flesh include:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19_21).
In addition, those who hope to be saved by works focus on their own actions, while saints of old looked to the works of God. "I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands" (Psa. 143:5). And, as may be easily found in numerous other places, "The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein" (Psa. 111:2).
Bookkeeping is another problem for those who seek to be saved by their own works. They are concerned that all of their good works should be remembered by God. And as has been noted earlier, they are. He has all of our good works recorded in books, and it is from these books that He evaluates the quality of our good works. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works" (Rev. 20:12-13).
God does reward us according to our works. But we should be more interested in His works than our own.

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