Some people think their good works will make them right with God and save them. This is wrong thinking and contrary to the word of God. I am going to explain the difference between working for your salvation and working to please the Lord.
There are religions out there that say we need to earn our salvation. Some think salvation is guaranteed through martyrdom; some think it’s being a good person; some believe in church-mandated works or sacraments. It’s true that we can’t get into heaven without being righteous, but what’s unique about Christianity is that our God loves us so much that He did the work and gave us His righteousness as a gift.
Unfortunately, there are churches within the Christian community teaching a works-based salvation. When they teach this, what they are saying is that Jesus could not accomplish our salvation on his own but needs our assistance.
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
What this verse is saying is that if you could achieve your righteousness by keeping the law or doing the right things, then Jesus died a horrible death for no reason. He could have stayed in heaven and just hoped we were good enough to get in. The Bible states over and over that we cannot accomplish righteousness on our own.
“As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.’”
“If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done.”
I think this verse from Ezekiel clearly warns against trusting in your own works! When you trust in yourself for salvation, you are not trusting in the finished work of Christ—and that is a salvation issue.
One single little sin causes us to be unrighteous. We may consider ourselves to be a really good person, but God’s standards are perfection in thought, word, and deed.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”
There are a lot of laws out there, and we don’t need to break them all to go to jail. Breaking one law can send you to jail, just like one sin can send you to hell. All your previous good deeds will not matter to the judge when you are sentenced and sent to prison.
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
The disciples asked Jesus what works they should be doing. They were basically asking Jesus for a to-do list. Jesus responded with only one work, and that was to believe in him.
“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God’? Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
Since Jesus fulfilled the law in our place, the only work we need to do is believe in Him.
Paul, in the book of Romans, explains that works do not save you.
“But if, it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
If I am working for my salvation, I will get the wages for my labors, and I, being a sinner, do not want those wages. I do not want what I deserve, or I will end up in hell. I will trust in the grace of God only. Jesus completed all the works on the cross and is giving us (as a gift) the sinless wages he earned.
If we get into heaven, our good works will earn us rewards, but they will not be what has gotten us there to begin with.
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
“No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
When we have a foundation of Jesus, we can start building. When we do things in service to God, we are adding to that structure. Our works will be tested by fire. If they survive, they will reap us rewards. If they are worthless, they will be burned up—but notice that he says we will suffer loss, but will be saved. This is because our salvation is not based on our works but on the foundation of the work of Jesus himself.
So how does one know if his works are worthless or will bring rewards?
If we are doing the works based on our love for God or others, it will reap rewards. If we are doing the works for ourselves to receive worldly praises and rewards, then they are worthless.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus says that not everyone who does lots of works will enter heaven.
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
We are representing the King of Kings on this earth and need to be a good example for others so that they will desire to be with Jesus also. Jesus says if we love him, we will obey his commandments (John 14:23-24). As we mature in Christ, our service comes out of the outpouring of our love for Him. The more we love him, the more we will desire to please him. We will never be perfect, but we can do our best—always working on improving with his help.
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