(45) Romans 1:4.
(46) Romans 4:25.
(47) Romans 3:21, 28; 4:5-6.
(48) Contrary to thought expressed by, Kimball, op. cit., p. 208.
(49) Romans 2:4.
(50) Romans 14:23.
(51) Romans 5:19a; 1 Corinthians 15:22a, 45-49.
(52) See Ephesians 2:8-10. Verse 10 quoted above, (emphasis and bracketed words added).
(53) Romans 7:18; 8:7-8.
(54) Romans 8:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:11, 19-20.
(55) Romans 8:9-11; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30.
(56) 2 Thessaloniaans 2:13-14; Acts 13:48; Philippians 1:29.
What About Good Works ?
People caught in the trap of working for their eternal life, who have not believed that God has given them all the riches and glory of eternal life as a free gift, have never fathomed the real depths of God’s love. They cannot know, then, the change, and the tremendous power for good, which that love works in the heart of the believer.
Upon hearing the good news of full salvation by grace alone, such unbelievers invariably ask questions like, “Do you mean if I just ‘believe,’ I can go out and commit murder and still be saved?” Or they make statements, like, “Well, if all I have to do is ‘believe,’ I might as well just go out and do whatever I please.”
They don’t seem to realize that such statements are actually evidence that their own obedience to God’s law is not really out of love for Him but to “save their own skin,” and held in place by fear of the consequences of disobedience. Without fearing such consequences they seem to lose motivation for serving God. God characterizes such obedience as drawing nigh unto Him with the lips, while one’s heart is far from Him. And He hates that!
Such people are also missing the whole point of what it means to the Christian to “believe.” It is not enough just to “believe” anything whatever. After all, everyone “believes” something. Christians don’t believe just anything; they believe specific things. Those beliefs have consequences. They produce effects.
The question—the crucial issue—is not simply that one believes, but what one believes, and in whom one believes. Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that His resurrection was God’s testimony to the world, not only of Jesus’ divinity,(45) but also that His atonement was sufficient to make men right with God.(46) Christians are those who are trusting God to forgive all their sins and grant them eternal life in His presence on the basis of Christ’s righteousness—His life, and atoning death on the cross—alone, apart from works.”(47) Such a gift represents astounding, overwhelming love.
Those who believe and trust in God this way find so great a love begets a response of love for God in their own hearts. They may have believed before that God loved them, and felt love toward Him. But when they realize their eternal life is no longer “hanging in the balance, awaiting [their] works,” that it does not depend on their success in “keeping all the commandments,”(48) —when they finally trust God alone, for absolutely everything— they discover a love both from and for Him deeper and more powerful than everything they ever thought was love before.
That love becomes a driving motive and desire to please God. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, it moves the Christian to fight sin and obey God. It is greater love and more powerful motivation than anything known by those who still believe they must somehow qualify themselves for eternal life.(49)
The Bible teaches that this real, living, saving faith bears fruit in good works. Indeed, nothing else can! Real saving faith that Jesus has made you completely right with God and given you eternal life as a free gift is the only thing that can set you free from service to self. It totally eliminates any need to “do right things” for your own sake, to save yourself or qualify for eternal life. Only such faith can produce truly pure, selfless motivation for serving God—a motivation inspired by and grounded in the character of God alone, sustained and carried out by His power.
However hard it is to admit, nothing done apart from such faith is, in fact, truly good in a spiritual sense; it is, ultimately, self-serving sin.(50) Self-centered, self-serving works are not good, spiritually, however religious they may appear, nor whoever else may happen to benefit from them.
Persons who really have faith, who believe and trust God as we have described, do good works. Such faith invariably moves its possessors to good works (as well as to great, godly grief when they sin). So then, “faith” that is entirely without such works is dead and not really faith of the kind described above.
This does not mean a person having true faith will completely stop sinning overnight, or even in this lifetime. It does not mean that if a person commits a sin (however serious) he has lost or never had such faith. Neither does it mean the believer’s salvation is in jeopardy, “hanging in the balance, awaiting the works of men.” It means, simply, that there will be good works in the lives of persons having such faith, traceable to and evidence of that faith.
In one of the places where God most clearly affirms to us that we are saved apart from any works that we can do, He also says that, “...we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [as distinguished from our original creation in Adam(51)] for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”(52)
Those works do not win eternal life for us, nor even contribute to our receiving it. Rather, those good works are only possible as a result of having been born again as new creatures created in Christ Jesus—cleansed and forgiven of all sins, and given new and eternal life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
There are no spiritually good works apart from the Holy Spirit.(53) There is no indwelling of the Holy Spirit apart from forgiveness of sins.(54) No one indwelt by the Holy Spirit is without eternal life.(55)
Thus the good works of believers are not the foundation of, nor even a means toward, eternal life. On the sole basis of the righteousness of Christ in His life, death and resurrection, God, by an act of His sovereign grace, can rightly, justly forgive the sins of His elect, regenerate and indwell them by the Holy Spirit, giving them eternal life and the faith to believe in it all.(56) Free of the need to work for themselves for their own salvation, indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they seek to be pleasing to God their Savior. The good works which follow can form no part of the root of eternal life. Rather, they are its fruit.
(45) Romans 1:4.