I am finding more and more that a major gap in someone’s ability to come into to God’s loving arms is that they have a misperceived idea that there is a to-do list that would have to be perfectly completed before trying to do so. I wrote the below last year and shared with a group of friends who were trying to understand how works tie to faith and salvation.
A question was posed among friends today regarding the connection between taking action in our faith through works, i.e., how doing works is connected to faith and, also, how doing works is connected to salvation.
I’ve spent some time finding applicable scriptures and looking up the Hebrew/Greek definitions of the words “works” or “deeds” (depending on the translation you read from) in hopes that it will help anyone reading to grasp a little better. Here’s my best attempt at connecting the dots….
One note, where you see […..], that is my personal commentary as to something really sticking out to me or just commentary as to the way I’m interpreting something (as with behind the Hebrew/Greek definitions).
Let’s start by reading these scriptures:
Romans 3:28: For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
- Hebrew/Greek definition of the word “works” in this scripture: “Of the works of men in reference to right and wrong as judged by the moral law: Generally” [as in doing what is morally right from what is morally wrong].
Galatians 2:16: …know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
- Hebrew/Greek definition of the word “works” in this scripture: “Of works of the law, meaning works required or conformable to the Mosaic moral law and required by this law.” [as in following Old Testament law (rules & regulations)]
Ephesians 2:8-9 8. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9. not by works, so that no one can boast.
- Hebrew/Greek definition of “works” in Ephesians 2:9: “Of works of the law, meaning works required or conformable to the Mosaic moral law and required by this law.” [as in following Old Testament law (rules & regulations)]
Galatians 2:21: I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Ephesians 2: 4-5: But because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Colossians 2:13: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
2 Timothy 1: 9: He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.
John 3: 17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
Titus 3: 4-: But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
John 6:28-29: Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
I’m hoping that in reading the above scriptures, that they come to life for you and you are gaining greater understanding of God’s grace and of what Jesus has done for us. Think of it, we didn’t have to complete a list of to-dos before we were saved. We didn’t have to have to be graded on how well we were following rules or regulations before we were saved. We didn’t have to have been “doing morally good” for a certain length of time before we were saved. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). While we were still sinners.
When we received Jesus as our Savior, it may be that the day before or even the minute before, we were living in sin; we were separated from God. But, when we made the decision to believe in Jesus and make Him Lord of our life, it was our faith in Him that saved us, not a list of to-dos or that we had followed rules or regulations or that we had been a good enough person. If our salvation was based on such things we would not make it, not one of us. We would all fall short. It was in an instant and only by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus that we were saved. Combine all of the scriptures above. You can see by the Hebrew/Greek definitions of works, that these scriptures were touching on all types of works. It is not by any type of works that we can be saved. Repeating Ephesians 2:8-9 again, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works…
Ok, so that covers the connection between works and salvation… at least the initial connection. We have been justified by faith, we believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior. Our sins which were like scarlet have been made as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions for us (Psalm 103:12). Now that we have faith, where do works fit in to the picture? Several scriptures in the Bible reference works related to faith. I am going to only share one scripture on this as I feel it, with the emphasis of the Hebrew/Greek definition, sums it up pretty well.
James 2:14-22: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith [note the words “claims to have faith”] but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
- Hebrew/Greek definition of the word “works” or “deeds” (depending on the translation you’re reading) in this scripture: Of works of faith, meaning springing from faith, combined with faith. [as in these types of works are a complete result of faith]
When we have a true, solid faith in Christ, this will coincide with works (or deeds). I think sometimes when people read the word “works,” they immediately think of super big and impactful to-dos (actions), and yes, works can include some large to-dos, but also smaller ones. As you can see with Abraham, his type of “works” were based on having complete faith and trust in God. His “works” were a complete obedience to God, and He was able to do this as a result of his faith. Obviously Abraham’s was a pretty large to-do. He could do it because he had large faith.
Keep in mind the process of sanctification (the process of being conformed to the image of Christ)… Remember, justification happens immediately when we are saved. I’ve heard it referred to “just as if I’d never sinned.” Sanctification, on the other hand, takes a lifetime. As developing fruits of the Spirit can be a part of sanctification, so can developing faith be a process of sanctification. I’m saying you can have enough faith to be saved, but it is still being developed to a level where you will start displaying more works as a result of your faith — be it the type of works where you are doing good for others, the type of works where you are hearing from God and being obedient, and so on. I’m just trying to say, if you are questioning yourself because you feel you aren’t doing the right “works,” please don’t, because your salvation was never based on works, nor will it ever be, but as your faith grows, doing works will become a part of who you are. If you have faith, you will have works.
In my own personal experience, God would give me small nuggets of works to complete. For example, it may be something so small as ‘you should give that girl who sits next to you at work a scripture card (seemingly small, but that is a work and it requires faith for you to complete it and you never know what seed has been planted in your coworker as a result of you acting in faith). Another example could be that you are driving home, feeling exhausted from a long day at work, and hear from God to stop in to a store, even though you do not need anything there and it makes no sense to you. Out of obedience, as a result of your faith, the work occurs when you are obedient and you do it. Though it doesn’t make sense in your mind at the moment, you stop in that store out of obedience. Sometimes there is a clear outcome; maybe you’re in that store and God shows you a family who could use the clothes you’ve been carrying in your trunk for months to drop off at a charity, so if He speaks to you to give them those clothes, you complete another work out of obedience and faith. Or maybe nothing tangible comes out of it that you can reason, but God was testing your obedience (and possibly doing something behind the scenes that you’ll never know). Works can be something such as serving, giving and so on, but sometimes the work is just being obedient. He can grow us in this way. For me, God would give small nuggets and then maybe a little bit bigger, requiring me to exercise more faith. I have found that He grows my faith in the process, and as my faith grows, the works grow too.
Well, I’m going to call that a wrap for tonight. Hopefully this is received well and helps you in your understanding. I wasn’t intending on writing a book, but there it is…
All scriptures from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 or New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson