Verse 12, Faith or Works
|“||Faith saves (or do works save?)
Protestant Christianity often emphasizes that faith alone (sola fide) justifies God’s forgiveness. Many verses support this.
Ephesians 2:8-9 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.
Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
That seems clear enough until we find the opposite claim elsewhere in the Bible. The clearest example to me is the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25, but there’s more.
Proverbs 24:12 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?
James 2:14 ¶ What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
Revelation 20:12 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.
For something so important as getting into heaven and avoiding hell, the New Testament is surprisingly unclear. Addendum: Or maybe it’s repentance that saves . . . or maybe baptism? What if it’s repentance?
Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Or baptism? It was so essential a ritual that Jesus did it.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Romans 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
As mentioned by the Scofield Study Bible III, Ephesians 2:8-10 is the passage which brings both views together. We are saved by faith, not works, it's God's gift not man's doing, lest anyone should boast.
However, we are created by Jesus to do good works and it is God's will that we do them. The works themselves do not save, but are the outward evidence to others, and to ourselves, that we have indeed undergone an inward redemptive process of salvation.
True saving faith will ultimately produce good works as the result of a changed heart and a new spirit. Thus if a person shows no interest in doing good works once becoming a Christian, and for years lives without any change, then as James points out, that faith without works is a dead faith and no faith indeed.
Most of the verses quoted by Patheos in support of works, including Proverbs 24:12, Matthew 16:27, and Revelation 20:12 all relate to how people will be judged at the Final Judgment. Even Christians receive rewards based upon their works. However, the ultimate standard for whether one is saved is faith in Jesus Christ, no other foundation for works will be accepted. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) Works only make a difference for rewards if one first has faith in Jesus.
John the Baptist came preaching repentance before Jesus came for a reason. (Matthew 3:2) To trust in Jesus to save us from our sins (i.e. faith) we must first accept that we are sinners, and desire to change and stop doing evil; i.e. repentance. Repentance must precede faith; one cannot trust in Jesus to save us from our sins if one does not first acknowledge one has done anything wrong. One cannot call on Jesus to save them unless they desire to change with all their heart.
As for baptism, it is not the physical action which is involved in the salvation process, but baptism of the Holy Spirit, the cleansing of one's conscience. (Acts 1:25; 11:16) As Peter says, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3:21) Baptism serves as a public declaration of faith in Christ, and in countries like ancient Rome which outlawed Christianity, was to take a dangerous step in openly proclaiming a belief in Jesus.