New Testament,  Theology

The Link between Salvation and Good Works

Many people do not connect good works with salvation at all. As a case in point, I remember a time about five or six years ago I had the opportunity to have a conversation from a man from Texas. As we talked about Jesus and the church, he mentioned that everyone went to church in the South and that it was a way of life. When I pressed him further, he admitted that there were many in the South who would verbally identify as Christians but live just as pagan as anybody else.

photo of tools symbolizing good works

When I asked this man how someone goes to heaven he articulated a very clean and precise presentation of the gospel. He told me that going to heaven was only possible through Christ’s sacrifice and that good works play no part in earning salvation.

At that moment I was kind of stunned, because he was articulating a better-than-average knowledge of the Bible. He even broke out an Ezekiel reference! Yet, he and I were chatting at a hotel where he was staying with his girlfriend, and he had just unleashed a barrage of swear words that would make pirates proud of him. It was obvious he didn’t believe the role of good works played any role in his life. He even told me that he didn’t think anyone could live a life in line with what the Bible commanded.

He said he believed Jesus was the only way to heaven, yet his life looked no different than the unsaved individual. I was rather saddened by this, and I think the Apostles would have something to say to this individual. Notice how often the Bible emphasizes the importance of good works.

  • Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
  • Colossians 1:10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
  • 1 Timothy 6:18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.
  • Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
  • Titus 2:7 In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified.
  • Titus 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.
  • 1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Good Works Accompanying Salvation

These references are only a precious few of the vast teaching of Scripture on the believer’s obligation to perform good works. Throughout Scripture there is a major emphasis is on good works. Not as a means of salvation yes, but as a reason for existence. So, I am not saying that we can contribute to our salvation through good deeds, but at the same time, we would be foolish to ignore the biblical emphasis on the importance of good works.

Sometimes encouraging Christians to live a holy life full of good works takes a back seat to teaching about the Cross of Christ. They should not be separated. Preaching that believers perform good deeds is not an insult to the Cross, it is the necessary application of it.

I know it is often a temptation to focus on the grace of Christ, and it is a beautiful thing to focus on! But, Christians should feel no shame in emphasizing good works when the biblical writers themselves are emphasizing those things. Remember that much of the New Testament instruction focuses on encouraging believers to live holy lives filled with good works. So, rather than living like that man from Texas I met years ago, Christians should make it their aim to pursue good works. Not to earn salvation, but to mark oneself as a recipient of the wonderful salvation of the Lord.

Photo by Julie Molliver on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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