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Dear Dr. Matt:
I'm 38 years old, married, from Jacksonville, Florida.
I’m a little confused about my Christian walk? I know that Jesus taught that “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father" (Matt. 7: 21). And the Bible also establishes that in the day of Judgment, God “shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16: 27). Yet, I hear my Pastor preach that “works” are unnecesary to my eternal life. Please help me understand the apparent contradiction.
The short answer to your question is this: The exercise of your faith through a worthy Christian Walk (good works) is absolutely "necessary" yet those same faithful works are NOT "sufficient" to attaining eternal life, without His saving Grace. Keep reading and I will explain.
First, it is vital to understand that in conceiving reality correctly, we must NOT shape our conception of reality around the implications of words; we should do exactly opposite, we must look to REALITY primarily, and then shape the meaning of words around it. For example, because "faith" and "works" are two separate words, the natural assumption is that they are two separate things—or realities of human intent and action.
Depending upon the context of how these words are used, generally speaking, when the word "works" is used in a positive and productive sense, the Bible is speaking of a "working" that is inseparable from "being faithful."
The reason why the Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to "walk worthy" (Eph. 4: 1) and to "walk in love" (Eph. 5: 2) is because as James put it "faith without works is dead" (James 2: 20). Thus there is no "faith" that is pleasing to God that is not manifest actively through worthy "works."
When speaking of faith & good works, The unified REALITY of which Jesus taught (Matt. 5: 16) is this:
Because the two facets of "working-faithfully" are inseparable (outward active works patterned after the Savior's example—infused by faithful inward intent of heart), thus the reciprocal notion that works without faith is equally true (Matt. 6: 1-18). So, faith without works is dead indeed, AND works without faith is even deader!
In the sense that we fulfill our side of a sacred Christian Covenant, there is absolutely NO separation in the SINGLE-REALITY described by the separate words "faith" and "works" (when these words are used in a positive and productive context).
Let's me review some passages of scriptures to support what I am saying:
Eternal Life is contingent upon Believing in Christ:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3: 16).
What does it mean to Believe in Christ? Jesus answered this question directly.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12).
Here is one oft quoted scripture to establish the false conclusion that "works" are NOT necessary to attaining eternal life:
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 (Ephesians 2: 8-9).
If we read this passage out of context, then we risk arriving at a wrong conclusion. Here is what the very NEXT verse says:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2: 10).
If "good works" are unnecessary, then WHY is Paul saying that we are "created . . . unto good works?" And we are "ordained that we should walk in them." Now, the adjective before the word "works" is an important one, for the New Testament makes a distinction between "works" and "good works."
"Works" is a word that often refers to what the Jews would do--outward demonstrations of "lip" worship (Matt. 15: 8) while failing to "believe in Christ"--thus, their works were not "good works" for they denied the very author of their salvation.
"Works" when used in a faithless context are also referred to as "evil works" and "dead works."
Good Works represents "walking by faith" (2 Cor 5: 7); good works are the deeds we do that are infused with Faith in Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul speaks of the "work of faith":
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father (1 Thes. 1: 3).
Another passage that is used to support the erroneous conclusion that "good works" are unnecessary to one's eternal life, is this passage from Paul to Titus:
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).
Again, when we read this passage in context, we come to realize that Paul exhorts Titus 6 times in three short chapters to be engaged in "good works." Again, WHY is Paul exhorting Titus unto "good works" if they are NOT necessary?
ANSWER: Good Works are necessary, for it is by doing the works of Christ that we are counted as believers in Christ (John 14: 12).
Further, exercising our faith through "good works" IS our part of a saving Covenant with God. From the beginning, it is clear that to be counted among the children of God, one must be a covenant keeper:
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine (Ex. 19: 5).
The Gift of Eternal Life cannot be earned by our works alone. Without the "True Vine" we can "do nothing" (John 15: 1-5). Thus, it is by the Grace of God that our faithful efforts to walk in His ways become "sufficient."
His Grace makes our keeping of the covenant acceptable and "wellpleasing":
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13: 20-21).
Paul speaks of how Grace lifts our good works to "sufficiency" thus becoming "wellpleasing" to Him:
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you;
Why does the New Testament continue to mention "good works" over an over, if faithfully doing "good works" does not directly represent our side of a saving covenant?
"Good Works" appears 33 times in the New Testament.
Doing "good work" with faithful intent of heart is our part of the Christian covenant; and as we look to the Savior with an eye single to his Life and Light, through His Grace our Walk of Faith becomes sufficient unto receiving His promises of salvation. Without His Grace we can "do nothing" (John 15: 5).
Matt Moody, Ph.D.
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