Home‎ > ‎

Salvation by Works?


Are the Catholics, the churches of Christ, the Amish, the Armenians correct in their belief that man must couple faith with works to be saved?

Or are the Protestants correct in their assertion that a man is saved by faith alone? Or grace alone? Or a mixture of faith only and grace only?

Who is correct, is one, or both, or none?
What does the Bible state concerning this issue? Is it contradictory, confusing, or simply misunderstood?

I believe the Bible is relatively easy to understand, and it does have a unified sum, and that sum is the truth on any given matter (Ps 119:160)


Psa 119:160 The sum of thy word is truth; And every one of thy righteous ordinances endureth for ever.


Thus if there is something you or I believe based on certain passages of Scripture yet they seem to contradict other passages then we have a real problem. We are believing that the unified word is not as it claims (Ps 119:160). We need to reassess our beliefs and study the matter more carefully knowing the it is impossible for God to lie (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18), and be ready to change our beliefs to be lined up with the totality of what God teaches, its sum, and if there is not one group of men that believe the conclusions that we come up with, well at least we can have a conscience that is faithful to God (Rom 14:23). Who are we trying to please? Men or God, I can assure you right now to be a true servant of Christ you will not be able to align yourself with any large body in the Christian world (Gal 1:10), difficult is the Way that leads to life and few are they that find it (Mt 7:14), not that it is impossible to find, but rather that it’s hard to admit what it states is truth, and thereby separating yourselves from the many.


Let us look at our passage (Eph 2:8-9) . . .


Eph 2:8 for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Eph 2:9 not of works, that no man should glory.


It surely seems to state that an individual is saved“by grace through faith” it’s a gift of God not something we earned, that’s owed us

Thus “not of works, that no man should glory (or boast)”

Well it seems to teach faith only salvation, as some do assert, but we always need to do a close study concerning any passage under contemplation.
The first thing we need to know is if there are any variants in the New Testament documents that we have concerning this verse? And suprisingly there is a slight variant of it among those documents, in some of those ancient documents (T, S, B) the definite article is before the word "faith" making Eph 2:8 state that one is saved "by grace through the faith" that is that faith system, the gospel.
But if we reject that variant and stand with the reading of one's subjective "faith" we need to to also consider another factor . . .
Does it contradict other passages of Scripture? Remember God's word does have a sum (Ps 119:160).
Let us look at Ja 2:24 . . .

Jas 2:24 Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.

Looking at this verse we have an inspired man writing that a man is justified (saved) by works, now we have a problem, it seems to contradict What Paul penned in Eph 2:8-9. Let us also keep in mind that Eph 2:8-9 does not state by "faith only" so actually Paul and James are not contradicting one another.
Well is this (Ja 2:24) just a one time thing that we can explain away, or is there more like this? Look at Mt 7:21 . . .

Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.


Here we have the Lord Jesus telling us that the only people that will enter into the kingdom of heaven is those that “doeth” (“continue to do,” present active participle) the will of the Father. This certainly sounds like works salvation to me. We are looking at contradiction after contradiction. Is there more? A ton, and here is a short list (Rom 2:6-8; 2 Cor 5:10; Phili 2:12; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 20:12; Mt 25:31-46)


Rom 2:6 who will render to every man according to his works:

Rom 2:7 to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life:

Rom 2:8 but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation,


2Co 5:10 For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things donein the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.


Php 2:12 So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;


Heb 5:9 and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation;


1Pe 1:17 And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear:


Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works.


Mat 25:31 But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory:

Mat 25:32 and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats;

Mat 25:33 and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Mat 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

Mat 25:35 for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in;

Mat 25:36 naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Mat 25:37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink?

Mat 25:38 And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Mat 25:39 And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

Mat 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, eventhese least, ye did it unto me.

Mat 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels:

Mat 25:42 for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink;

Mat 25:43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Mat 25:44 Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Mat 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.

Mat 25:46 And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.


Certainly these passages teach seem to teach works play at least a part in one's salvation, but I thought Eph 2:8-9 taught differently? Or does it? Let us look a little closer at the context, look at Eph 2:10, the next verse . . .


Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.


Here in this verse we see the types of works that are under discussion, not “any works” but rather “good works.” We need to understand that the Bible speaks of differing kinds of “works” and here is a general but not exhaustive list . . .


1) The works of the law of Moses (that which was commanded under the Law of Moses)


2) The works of man (that which man invents, or concocts with his own wisdom and does without God)

3) The works of God (this would include initial gospel obedience, hearing, believing, repenting, confessing Jesus, being baptized and living holy lives unto God, which inherently would include evangelism, edification, service and worship unto God, and God’s working and promises, and also works of benevolence as directed by God)

4) The works of the flesh (sin; Gal 5:19-21)


So what works are under contemplation in Eph 2:8-10?


According to our general list we would have to say #2, the works of man, which could and contextually must mean “good works” done without God.


In other words you can give to the poor, you can visit orphans and widows, you can treat your neighbor above yourself, and even give your life in your attempt to help others, but if one has not believed and obeyed the gospel (demostrated the obedience of faith; Rom 1:5; 16:26), those works can’t save you (Cornelius in Acts ch 10 is an excellent example of this, he was rich in good works, he prayed to God always, but he needed to hear, believe, and be baptized). This passage (Eph 2:8-10) is stating that a person is not saved “by”good works but rather “for” good works. To make it state that there is not one wit a person can do towards one’s salvation is twisting the passage to say something that it does not say. This is not talking of hearing, believing, repenting, confessing Jesus as the Christ, being baptized into Christ unto the remission of sins, but rather it is speaking of helping little old ladies across the street unto salvation. We are not saved “by” helping little old ladies across the street, but rather we are saved “for” helping little old ladies across the street.


And if this is true, then the Bible would likely have more to say about this, would it not? Sure it does.


In a very similar passage in Titus ch 3 Paul also wrote (Tit 3:5-7) . . .


Tit 3:5 not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,

Tit 3:6 which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

Tit 3:7 that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

“The washing of regeneration”in v 5 is equal to baptism unto remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Col 2:11-13; 1 Pet 3:21) being born of the water (Jn 3:5), and the “renewing of the Holy Spirit” is equal to being born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5) upon belief in the gospel message (Gal 3:2; 1 Pet 1:3-4, 22-23), and this renewal continues to take place in the Christian's life as they continue to believe and obey God’s precepts contained within the New Covenant (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:9-10).
In simpler terms Tit 3:5-7 states we are not saved by doing works of righteouness apart from Christ, but rather by believing and being baptized (Mk 16:16).

To sum up Eph 2:8-10 and Tit 3:5-7 we are to understand that we are not saved because we did acts of kindness or goodness towards others.

It is not of the works of man that save, man cannot save himself from sin (Pro 14:12; Jer 10:23).

It is through faith in the working of God that we are saved (Col 2:11-13),


Col 2:11 in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ;

Col 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead

Col 2:13 And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses;


In the waters of baptism God cuts away our former sins in that circumcision of Christ, He said it, we believe it. And as we continue to learn, believe and apply the gospel to our lives we are renewed by the Holy Spirit back into the image of God, that image we lost when we became accountable, imitated the world and sinned (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:9-10).


Rom 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service.

Rom 12:2 And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.


Eph 4:20 But ye did not so learn Christ;

Eph 4:21 if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus:

Eph 4:22 that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit;

Eph 4:23 and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

Eph 4:24 and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.


Col 3:9 lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings,

Col 3:10 and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him:

And the renewal is a process (2 Cor 4:16)

2Co 4:16 Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is (being; NASB) renewed day by day.


Basically this is how we are saved by the favor (grace) of God through faith (Eph 2:8-10), according to His kindness, His love, His mercy, His grace (Tit 3:3-7).


Tit 3:3 For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.

Tit 3:4 But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared,

Tit 3:5 not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves (apart from God), but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration (baptism) and renewing of the Holy Spirit (the renewal),

Tit 3:6 which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

Tit 3:7 that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.


And as we let God work in us through the gospel (Phili 2:12-13) by faith (Rom 10:17), there is a certain attitude that we are to maintain, and that attitude can be clearly seen in Luke 17:10 . . .

Luk 17:10 Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have (only) done that which it was our duty to do.
In all things including love (Gal 5:6; Jn 14:15).
Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.
John 14:15 If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.