In some evangelical circles, it can feel like you are saying a naughty word when you mention “good works.” I understand, however, why Christians start fidgeting whenever these two words combine. Because of legalism, poor teaching, and unbiblical emphasis on works in the equation of salvation, the alarm bells begin to go crazy inside of many Christians when they hear someone explain that our actions really do matter.
When we hear about the wonders of grace that God offers, it seems like a regression to talk about why works still matter. But what does the Bible say about good works? Why do good works still matter if we are saved by grace and faith alone?
We Are Not Saved By Good Works, But Good Works Still Matter
The Bible is very clear that we can do nothing to earn our salvation and if we try, we are simply damning ourselves because no one will be able to fulfill the law perfectly as God requires (James 2:10). Therefore Jesus had to come and live the perfect life for us so that when we put our faith in him and repent of sin, God transfers the righteous life Jesus lived to us, giving us the benefits of living a perfect life we could never live (2 Corinthians 5: 21). This is the gospel. This is that beautiful grace we all desperately need to understand and receive.
The clear message of the Bible is that no one can earn their salvation through works. As the popular flagship verse on this subject explains, Ephesians 2: 8-10, “ 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Good Works Still Matter Because They Are the Evidence of Grace
What is crucial to note in this verse that many begin to miss because they are so focused on not being able to be saved by works is that verse 10 goes onto explain that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Therefore the alarm bells should ring just as loud in us if we ever hear someone begin to say that your works don’t matter. We are not saved by our works, but our salvation must always be accompanied by our works because that is what we were created for.
God saved us by grace when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. But he did not save us just so we can sit around and believe certain facts about God and how he saves people. God saves us through grace so we can serve him. As the song goes sung to Jesus described in Revelations 5:10, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Paul Is a Great Example of How Grace and Good Works Come Together
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 that he is the least deserving to be an apostle because his persecuting works against God before he was saved were the most disqualifying compared to the sinful acts of the other apostles before they were saved. Paul knows more than most, because he sinned worse than most before he was saved, that he was saved by the free and underserved grace of Jesus Christ.
However, he goes on to explain that the grace of God had an effect on him that caused him not to rely on his works but to work for God nonetheless. He goes as far to say that if God’s grace did not cause him to work for God that this grace would have been given to him in vain. Paul gives God’s grace the credit for the hard work Paul had done, but he does not deny that he had done much hard work.
Let us avoid the idea that we can earn anything from God. Everything good God gives us is all by grace because we don’t deserve anything due to our sinful rebellion. However, you cannot truly receive the grace of God and it not cause you to work for God. We are not saved by our works, but works really do matter because they are the evidence that we are saved.
(A version of this article first appeared on BeliefNet. You can read it here)