Chapter 9 GRACE AND WORKS
How, exactly, does God decide who is to be saved to enjoy the beautiful experiences in His new earth for all eternity and who is to die the second death in the lake of fire when He cleanses the universe of sin? There is considerable controversy in the world as to the relative importance of grace and works. Since one is saved by grace, many claim that works are not important. Others claim that works are important. Still others maintain that people were saved in Old Testament times by works and in New Testament times by grace. What is the relationship between grace and works?
Before we can discuss grace we must have the precise Bible definitions of the words righteousness and justification. The definition of righteousness is found in Psalms 119:172: My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness. The Ten Commandments define righteousness. If a person is righteous then he is keeping all ten of the commandments. Paul mentions this righteousness of the law in Romans 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Righteousness is keeping and obeying all ten of the commandments. In the New Testament, every reference to righteousness is a reference to the Ten Commandments.
Every time the word justified is used in the Old Testament it is translated from the Hebrew word tsadaq, which means made righteous. Every time the word justified is used in the New Testament it is translated from the Greek word dikaioo, which means be righteous. When we are justified, we are righteous. If a person is justified he is righteous, and he is keeping all ten of the commandments. Justification is, of course, the opposite of condemnation.
There are several meanings of the word grace as it is used in the Bible. In many texts grace denotes unmerited forgiveness for sins. Ephesians 2:8,9 is one of these texts and tells us that the only way a person can be saved is by this grace of God. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. No amount of good work can excuse us from the penalty of death for the sins we have committed. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23). Eternal life is a gift of God. He, by His grace, forgives us for our sins, and excuses us from the penalty of death when we choose to follow Him according to the Bible.
Another definition of grace is found in Titus 3:7. With an understanding that justification is getting us to the point where we are keeping all of Gods commandments, we can see that grace is the power or the ability to keep the commandments. That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Romans 3:24 also indicates that grace is the power to keep from sinning. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It is grace that gives us the power to obey the Ten Commandments.
By ourselves, without Gods grace, Gods power to keep us from sinning, it is totally impossible for us to obey the law. Paul sums up the human condition pretty well in Romans 7:18,19 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. It is totally impossible for us, by ourselves, to keep Gods Ten Commandments and be righteous. We need Gods help, Gods grace, if we are going to be able to keep the Ten Commandments.
Because our perception of righteousness is dulled by our constant exposure to sin and the deceptions of Satan, even our best works are far inferior to the righteousness God desires of us. Isaiah 64:6 says: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. There is, therefore, no possible way a person can be saved by his works. Only by grace are we saved.
Should we then continue in sin, continue to break the law of God so that His grace may abound? Will God freely supply us with abundant grace if we continue to disobey Him? Romans 6:1,2 says: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Since we are saved only by grace, are works important? Is salvation automatic when a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ? Acts 16:31 says: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Should we infer that everyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved?
What does believe mean in this text? Is it sufficient to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ exists? Is it sufficient to believe that He came to earth and died for our sins? Is it sufficient to believe that through faith in Him we shall be saved? Apparently there is more to it than that.
We saw in Matthew 7:21-23 that there will be many so-called believers who will not be saved. 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 which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. The people described in these verses obviously believe. Why will they not be saved by grace?
These believers obviously think they are doing many good works, but, clearly, they are doing the works of the devil. Why are these people not aware that they are displeasing God? Because Satan has tremendous power to produce euphoria by giving people many religious feelings and experiences. This euphoria is so intense that those who are thus deceived often feel that Bible verses which point out their errors cannot be correct. Satan also readily answers prayers, making people think their lives are well pleasing to the Lord when, in fact, their lives are an abomination to God.
How will the Lord determine whose sins should be forgiven and whose should not? How will the Lord determine on whom He should bestow His grace? In the controversy over grace and works Satan subtly implies that either one or the other is the way a person is saved, but the Bible clearly shows that grace and works have a very important relationship to each other.
There are many verses in the Bible which show the importance of works. In Revelation 22:12 Jesus says, Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Jesus says in Revelation 2:23 that He will give unto every one of you according to your works. Romans 2:5,6 says: But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds. Matthew 16:27: For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Everyone will receive a reward at the return of Christ, a reward which is determined by his works. Works, therefore, are vitally important, according to these verses.
As we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will all have to face the things we have done in this life. Revelation 20:12 tells us that we shall all be judged by our works. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
We will all be judged by what we do. James 1:22-25 tells us to be doers of the work. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. Notice that whoever does the work of the Lord, which, of course, includes obedience to the Ten Commandments, the law of liberty, shall be blessed.
Romans 2:13 specifically mentions the work of doing the law of God. For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. Does this verse say that obeying the law makes a man just, thereby saving him? Of course not, for we have seen that there is only one way a person can be saved, and that is by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. How will the doers of the law be justified? By their act of obeying the law? No, but they have shown by their good works and by their obedience to the law through the grace of God that they are worthy of justification and salvation.
What kind of work is acceptable to the Lord? Revelation 22:14 says: Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. Obeying the Ten Commandments is a work required by God. Continuing in verse 15: For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. The word commandments in this text obviously means the Ten Commandments, for the first, second, sixth, seventh, and ninth are specifically referred to. Blessed are those who keep the commandments of God, for commandment-breakers will surely be lost.
One of the reasons there is so much controversy concerning the subjects of grace, works, and justification is that there are verses which apparently contradict as to whether a person is or is not justified by his works. The following verses make the statement that a person is not justified by his works:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16).
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (Romans 4:2).
The following verses, which seem to contradict, tell us that we are justified by our works:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:21,24).
For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (Romans 2:13).
We saw previously that every verse must agree with every other verse in the Bible, for there can be no contradictions. Therefore these verses which apparently contradict must be interpreted so that they agree.
Remember that justification is the opposite of condemnation. This can be shown in Matthew 12:37, where Jesus says, For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
When we consider the verses which say that a man is justified by his works with the understanding that by justification is meant not condemnation, then these verses say that a person is not condemned by his good works. For example, when the words not condemned are substituted for justified in James 2:24 we have: Ye see then how that by works a man is not condemned. The thought in these verses which say that a person is justified by his works is that good works do not condemn a person.
When we consider the verses which say that a man is not justified by his works, we find that the emphasis is on the fact that he is condemned by his past sins and that his present good works cannot erase that past condemnation. As we have seen previously, the statement in Galatians 2:16 which says by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified shows that present obedience to the law cannot save a man from condemnation for having broken the law previously. He was condemned before he did his good works and he was condemned after he did his good works because only by the grace of God can condemnation be removed.
The term justified by works has an additional connotation. It implies a general feeling of pride and self-confidence that a person is obeying the Ten Commandments and doing good works. It implies that a person can live a holy and just life apart from God. It implies self-justification and self-satisfaction. Thus the idea of salvation by works is a false doctrine.
Romans 3:20 tells us that the purpose of the law is to point out sin. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. We see here that the law can make no one just; it can only condemn.
Considering the emphasis which God puts on works, we should not take lightly our obligation to obey His law and to work to enlighten others to do so. Not heeding the warnings given in these many verses as to the vital importance of obedience and good works can lead only to grief and regret.
In the judgment, we will have to face the deeds of our lifetimes. Second Corinthians 5:10 tells us that we will be judged by our works. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Those who have done good works will not be ashamed to witness their deeds, but those who have evil works to face will long to run away and hide both from themselves and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have repented of their evil works will have their sins blotted out and will not have to face their wicked deeds, as Ezekiel 18:21,22 says. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
Is our salvation a sure thing? Can we afford to sit back and relax with the assurance that all we have to do is believe? First Peter 1:17 says: And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every mans work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear. Philippians 2:12 tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Wherefore, my beloved, 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. Why fear and trembling if all we have to do is believe? Because believing, you see, includes believing what the Lord has said and what He has told us to do. It means believing the complete message of the Bible, and it means believing and understanding the importance of the law of God. It means believing what the Bible says regardless of what ministers tell us it says. It means believing, as the Bible tells us, that we are all susceptible to being deceived by the devil. Most do not realize the nature or the power of their formidable enemy, the devil.
If salvation is a sure thing and automatic, why does 1 Corinthians 10:12 tell us to take heed, to be careful lest we fall? Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. Consider 1 Peter 4:18: And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? If salvation is sure and automatic as soon as a person believes, why does this verse indicate that the righteous are scarcely saved? The devil is certainly able to bring many temptations that cause many to fall. And many who do fall will not be able to recover from the fall into sin and will not be able again to obey the Lord.
You are saved by grace, but God judges you by your works to determine whether you are worthy of His grace or not; your works determine your worthiness for salvation. By your works you show the Lord whether or not you are safe to save, for God will not take anyone to heaven who would ever break any of the Ten Commandments after he got there. God will never grant salvation to anyone who continually and willfully ignores His law.
In order to show more clearly the relationship between grace and works, consider the following hypothetical case. Suppose a man lived a perfect life with the exception that long ago, when he was a child, he told a lie. Never again did he sin. He went about doing good, giving money to the poor, giving Bible lessons, and doing everything just perfectly. Does this man still need the Savior? Does he need the grace of God? Certainly he does, for the penalty for his one lie, the sin he committed long ago, is death. He needs the Savior as much as any hardened criminal does, for his lifetime of good works cannot save him. His lifetime of good works cannot erase the condemnation he received as a result of his one sin. We are all saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, but this grace in no way relieves us of the responsibility of obeying the Ten Commandments. If we continue to ignore the law of God, He must judge us unworthy of His grace, and we will have to pay the penalty of death for our sins ourselves.
How does faith fit into this picture of grace and works? Galatians 3:11 says: The just shall live by faith. Is faith the same as grace? Is it the same as belief? The classical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The margin reference gives confidence as a synonym for substance. Faith is having confidence that the things hoped for really do exist. Faith is having confidence that God is real and that someday soon He will return in all His power and glory to gather His true people from the earth. This text says also that faith is the evidence of the things of God which we cannot see, but which certainly do exist. Faith, therefore, is more than belief; it is an understanding that the things of God do, indeed, exist. As we study and gain this understanding, we realize that the evidence of God is all around us: in the prophecies of the Bible so precisely fulfilled, in the precision of the vast universe of countless stars and galaxies, in the sustenance of all forms of life, most so complex they defy description. The just, the righteous, shall live by faith, which is this understanding, this confidence, this evidence of our relationship to God.
This same statement of faith appears in the Old Testament, showing that the righteous in ancient times were to live by faith also. The just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4). When one gains this understanding of the things of God, he will want to do many good works for the Lord. James 2:21,22 tells us that faith is made perfect by works. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? Verses 24,26: Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Without good works, you see, we lose our faith. We lose our understanding and confidence in the things of God.
What kind of works is expected of us? We read earlier that good works include obeying the law of God. John 15:1,2,4,5 tells us that there is much more expected of us. Jesus says, I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. What is this fruit the Lord is talking about? What kind of fruit does an orange produce when its seeds are planted? The fruit of a true Christian is more true Christians. We, therefore, are not only required to abide by Gods law, but we are also required to learn, to gain understanding, and then to help others to find Gods truth. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58).
As one gains faith and an understanding of the seriousness of the drama being played out on this stage of earth, he begins to realize that his whole life should be dedicated to the work of God. Romans 12:1 says: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Present your bodies a living sacrifice; this is your reasonable service. This means to dedicate the remainder of your life to working for the Lord. This means to forsake selfish pleasures, to forsake having fun, in order to help save some from perishing in the lake of fire. First John 2:15-17 tells us to Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
When we think of the millions of people who will perish forever in the lake of fire because no one came to them with the truth, how can we spend our time trying to have fun? James 5:19,20 says: Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. When we consider the millions of people who need this truth, we see that there is much work to do. Or are we just concerned about our own salvation? Or are we not even concerned at all?
Notice in Matthew 12:36,37 that we will also be judged by our words. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. As we stand before the judgment to face our lifes record, we may want to disclaim our guilt. Remember that everything we do is done before the eyes of the vast audience of the universe and that angels are faithfully recording every detail of our lives on earth. Ecclesiastes 5:2,6 says: Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands.
The following texts indicate that we will be judged even by our thoughts. Psalms 94:11 says: The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. Proverbs 15:26 says that The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.
Here is more evidence that grace is divine assistance and power given to man for his attainment of a pure Christian character. God, in His unsurpassed love for us not only grants us unmerited forgiveness for our sins, but also gives us the ability to do the work which He requires of us. When the apostle Paul asked the Lord to heal him of a physical infirmity, God told him, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul again indicates that the grace of God enabled him to labor abundantly for the Lord. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So, we are saved by grace, for it is the grace of God which gives us the power to do the good works which God requires. Grace gives us the power to overcome sin, to obey His Ten Commandments, so that we are worthy of salvation.
We are told in Ecclesiastes 12:13,14 that keeping Gods Ten Commandments is the whole duty of man. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. This we must do in order to prove ourselves worthy to live among angels and other beings who have never broken Gods law. Salvation requires much more than just believing. It requires believing and obeying everything God has told us to do. Not our feelings, but the Bible, including all ten of the Commandments, is the gauge to use in measuring the acceptability of our works. Good works, not works that we think are good, but works that are good according to the Bible, are necessary to show God that we are worthy of His grace and salvation. Regardless of what pastors, ministers, or other people say, we must believe what the Bible tells us, for it is the only infallible authority. To do otherwise would be extreme folly.
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