Faith or works? Many years ago I had a conversation with a Roman Catholic friend, who loved the Lord Jesus. He talked about how he desired to serve God and do good works. He was an active member of his parish and impressed me as being sincere and energetic in his faith.
But “faith” was the only sticking point in my head as we exchanged our thoughts and beliefs. Maybe this is a chicken and egg issue and I am making too much of it, but here goes.
I believe we are saved by our faith
My friend was convinced that the Bible clearly instructs us to do good works. I can’t argue with that, because we are encouraged to do just that. However, works and salvation are not tied together, as the Apostle Paul clearly states.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves. it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
When we do good works we are an instrument of God
Paul later tells us who is doing the work, so we need to understand that we are an instrument. It’s like picking up a pencil and writing something down. Is the pencil responsible? Certainly not. God gets the credit and the glory if we do something good. Paul explains that that’s the way things are ordered.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Paul asks a question of the Galatian church. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:2)
Paul describes the connection between faith and works
Paul was talking about the relationship between the Law and Faith. He was talking to Jewish believer, Cephas. Many Jewish believers thought that one must first be a Jew and follow the Law. Then and only then can they be considered believers and followers of Christ.
I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles
16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:14-16)
Many people believe they must EARN salvation
Many people believe that Christians needed to earn their salvation. But Paul shot that argument down in Chapter 3. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:10)
It was nothing new, salvation by faith. It started with Abraham. Genesis 15:6 says, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Paul cites this in Romans 4:3, Romans 4:9 and Galatians 3:6.
Abraham saved by faith
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
Later the writer recalls the story of Abraham and Issac in Chapter 11.
“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Abraham reasoned that God would not let him down
It’s interesting that Abraham reasoned that God would not let him down. Reason,/logic The Apostle John writes “In the beginning there was the Word…” The “Word” in Hebrew is Logos, logic.
Abraham reasoned that God would come through based on faith. God had a very good track record. So it was logical to deduce that whatever God had in mind, it was good. It is what GOD DOES, not what we do.
So, faith comes first and works follow. Paul explains it this way, “Salvation is still and always has been a matter of Faith in God’s ability, not from self-righteousness. It is Grace, not works. Works follow faith (Ephesians 2:8:10).
I credit my friend for wanting to serve. But I sadly feel that his desire to earn his way to heaven is misdirected. Although he does have faith in Christ. That’s the essential. Paul could not have been more clear on this point.