Last week, we began a study on our “works” and their relationship to our salvation/justification. This week, let’s continue this study and see what else we learn.
According to multiple passages in the New Testament, God has made one thing crystal clear: WE ARE NOT SAVED BY OUR WORKS (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5). The Bible teaches that there is absolutely nothing that you and I can do to earn, merit, work towards, or deserve the salvation that God has offered. In fact, it is described as a “gift” 8 times in Paul’s letter to the Romans (4 of those instances describe it as a “free gift”)! In Paul’s words (inspired by the Holy Spirit), he explains, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (Rom. 4:4). Let’s break this down, by way of “nailing down” this concept:
- 1.THE PAYCHECK MENTALITY - The typical understanding of “works” is that we are paid back for them by the one we work for. If you doubt this, just ask yourself, “How many paychecks would I be willing to let ‘slide’ before I asked my boss for my wages?” We expect to be paid for the work that we do, whether that payment is money, gratitude, or some other display of appreciation (or all of these). This is what we call a “fair transaction.” And although there are many times when we might work/serve for free, that is OUR decision, and we certainly wouldn’t want that decision to fall to our boss! You and I have been trained and conditioned to think/feel this way about our own works.
- 2.THE GIFT MENTALITY - The biblical understanding of our “works” is that we cannot and should not consider our salvation to be our “payment” from God for the things that we have done for Him. We should never feel that God “owes” us the “paycheck” of salvation (this is the meaning of the Greek word translated “his due” in this verse). The reason for this is simple: if our works put God in a position of “owing” us something, then salvation would cease to be “free;” it would cease to be a “gift;” it would become something of our “own doing.” It would give us reason to “boast,” which is something that God has taken away by making salvation about what HE has done, instead of what WE can do to deserve it (Rom. 3:27; I Cor. 1:28-41; Eph. 2:9). As a comparison, imagine receiving a free gift from someone who loves you and saying to them, “It’s about time! I’ve been working my way towards this ever since we met!” This attitude is insulting towards the gift-giver and indicates a misunderstanding of the relationship. If we begin with the wrong attitude/approach when we receive the gift of God’s salvation, we will most likely continue to have the wrong attitude/approach towards the gift!
Let’s allow Scripture to address this issue in more detail:
- Our works are to be “seen by others” for the express purpose of bringing “glory” to God – Mt. 5:16 – If we were wondering what place our works have in our relationship with God, this passage helps, doesn’t it?
- Our works do not guarantee (or, in some cases, even indicate) our salvation – Mt. 7:22 – Based on this verse, the reasons WHY we work for the Lord seem to matter, don’t they?
- Our works are a reflection/indication of the one to whom we belong – Jn. 8:39-47 – We are going to “work” for someone in this life; we get to decide who that will be!
- A pursuit of “righteousness” by “works” without “faith” will FAIL – Rom. 9:30-32 – God’s people have a track record of trying to do this, and it is still a pitfall of many religious people!
- Grace cannot TRULY be grace unless it is separated from our works – Rom. 11:6 – Grace, by its very definition, is “unmerited.” This is crucial to our proper understanding of works!
- There seem to be 2 basic approaches towards salvation: “Works-based” and “Faith-based.” These two approaches – although they may appear similar to the casual observer – are directly opposed to one another – Gal. 3:2
- Interestingly, we see the “works” of the flesh compared/contrasted to the “fruit” of the Spirit – Gal. 5:19-23 – Who is really doing the “work” in a Christian’s life?
- A person’s works will either confirm or deny his/her claims to “know God” – Tit. 1:16
Next week, we will take a look at several tricky and challenging passages in the New Testament regarding the relationship between our works and our salvation. For example, we are told in Philippians 2:12 to…
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Isn’t this strange? Doesn’t this seem to contradict everything we’ve learned so far? Are we back to “working” for our salvation after all?
Join us again next week!