According to the Bible, salvation is only available through the grace of God, and not through our works as many cults believe. If works do not provide salvation, then what role do they play in the Christian life?
The fact that the Bible says so much about good works is one of the reasons why there is often such confusion between salvation by grace and a hybrid of faith and works. From the ESV, there are eight specific references to the “good works” Christians do as part of the life they live. These verses, Mt. 5:16, Eph 2:10, 1 Tim. 6:18, Titus 2: 7, 14; 3:14 and Heb. 10:24, as well as other supplementary references, refer to works that need to be examined to understand the role good works play in the Christian life. From the New Testament this short article will show that there are three things good words accomplish in the Christian life. First, good works glorify God. Second, they serve as a means of validating that one’s faith is real, and third, they are used by God to accomplish his will.
Good works are important and the Bible is full of exhortations toward them. Titus 2:7 tells the believer to “be a model of good works” and verse 14 communicates that God expects his people to be “zealous of good works.” The author of Hebrews 10:24 encourages believers to “stir up one another toward good works.” Sometimes good works are just described as what God desires without using the words “good works.” The good work that the Samaritan did is presented as the perfect example of loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Lk. 10). Paul recognizes when churches are doing good work and he commends them for their good works (2 Cor. 8). Believers will be rewarded for their good works at the Judgment Seat of Christ. According to 1 Corinthians 3:13–14: “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 [emphasis mine].” Moreover, there are numerous other references to “works” without an adjective describing the works. For example, who can miss the message of James 2 faith without works is not salvific faith? In Revelation 2-3, there are six references to “your works.” Finally, the Bible is full of directives (instruction/commandments) concerning how a man is expected to live—do good works. Good works matter to God.
First and foremost, Christ made it clear that good works are necessary so others see the good work of God in the life of the believer and glorify God (Mt. 5:16). Ephesians 2:10 supplements this truth: God saves (created in Christ) people “unto good works.” Saved people are “his workmanship.” Likewise, in the same way the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. How much more should new creatures in Christ, radically changed by the power the gospel, produce good works which also point toward the glory of God?
Second, good works that glorify God also serve to provide “evidence of an inward faith (Eph 2:10; James 2:21-22)” (Weider, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, 2008, p. 428). Faith without good works is not salvific faith (James 2:21-22). Good works are a way of validating the authenticity of the grace of God in the life of the believer. The proof text for this comes from Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Instead of saying “good works,” Paul describes what the life that produces good works looks like. It has renounced the sins of the world and is seeking to live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life.
Third, not only do good works glorify God, and validate faith, but God uses them to accomplish his will in the Christian life. He doesn’t have to, but he does. Jesus went about doing (accomplishing) the will of the Father and when the Jews sought to kill him he asked, “Which of these good works do you stone me for?” (John 10:32). In 1 Timothy 6:18, Paul tells Timothy to instruct the rich people in the church to use their money in a good way. He writes, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” In this case, we learn that rich people doing “good works” take care of the needs of the less fortunate in the body of Christ. Likewise in Titus 3:8 and 14 Paul tells Titus that good works are “profitable for others” (v. 8) and good works help people in “urgent need” (v. 14). The rich sharing wealth with the poor is a good work.
In conclusion, “good works” glorify God. They provide evidence of authentic faith and grace in the life of the believer and are used by God to accomplish his will.