The new testament says one is saved by grace and not by works and also says one is justified or made right by works and not faith only (Eph 2:8,9 f; Jam 2:24) Is this a contradiction or just a matter of misunderstanding?
We are obviously not saved by some kinds of works the Bible mentions. For example, there are the works of Satan. Are we saved by those? (2 Thess 2:8-10.) We can break down the works of Satan into several groupings.
- The Works of the Flesh. Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21 that there are works of flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God”. Those who do such shall not enter heaven. Not saved by those works are we?
- The Works of Men. When we substitute our will for the will of God, we have renounced His authority for our own. When we do our own bidding, then we fail to follow Him. Isaiah says that such is as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Remember Paul says we are the servant of the one we obey (Rom. 6:16). Obey yourself and you cannot be the servant of God. Salvation does not come through our own wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-25). The commandments and doctrines of men are definitely the works of men, and such turn us from the truth (Tit 1:14).
- Works of which one may Boast. Is there any “boasting” when I obey God? Is there any “glorying” when I do that which God authorizes? We can take pleasure in the hope He gives us, but there is no room for boasting, for it is His works, His commands, His will that we are observing (Rom. 4:1-4). Paul uses Abraham as an example of this principle. As carefully as he obeyed God, there was no room for boasting on Abraham’s part. Why? Because he only did what God said and no more. He did nothing of his own will. But Paul calls that faith. But isn’t it interesting that James uses the same man and the same passage (Gen. 15:1-6) to prove that justification comes by works? Do you suppose Abraham would be called the father of the faithful if his faith had not led him to do the works of God?
- We are not Saved by the Works of the Law of Moses. We are not saved by keeping the law of Moses or the covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai. The 10 commandments and all subsequent God made with Israel have been taken out of the way. (Eph. 2:14-15 ff; Gal. 5:1-4; 2 Cor. 3:1-11).
So, if we are not saved by (1) works of Satan, (2) the works of man or, (3) the works of the law of Moses, are we saved by works? Surely James 2:24 has to mean something when he says, “You see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith”.
Ephesians 2:1-10, is a passage often misused to disprove the necessity of obedience to Christ. God’s mercy is the subject here (v. 4). Man was dead in sin, and the mercy and loving kindness of God is manifested that man might have a remedy for sin. God simply could not stand by and let man be lost in sin without a means of salvation. So from the depths of His love, He sent His only Son (Jn 3:16) to save man so (“by grace have you been saved through faith”).
Paul goes on to say one is saved by belief and confession (v 9,10). And then, he says one is saved by calling on the name of the Lord (v13). Jesus said, except you repent all shall perish (Lk 13:3). Peter said, “Baptism saves us now” (1 Pet 3:21). John said, if one remains faithful unto death they will receive a crown of life (Rev 2:10). Now you can see the pattern. No one is saved by faith only. No one is saved by confession only. No one is saved by repentance only. No one is saved by baptism only. No one is saved by faithfulness only. What then? Truthfully, one is saved when they do all of these. These are the steps of salvation whereby one is saved. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his STEPS: (1 Pet 2:21). “…walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the SAME STEPS? (2 Cor 12:18). Truly, this is the Work of God wherein James spoke of that man is justified.
Jesus declared, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Truly, Jesus stated His Will clearly when he commanded for the entire world to believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mk 16:16). No, we are not saved by our own works as Jesus described when he said, “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?” (Mt 7:22). These shall hear the words, “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work lawlessness” (Mt 7:23).
When one believes, is this a work of man or of God? (Jn 6:29). When one is baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27) is this the work of man, or of God? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieves shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). If one does what Jesus said, it is not man’s works, but the works of the Lord. When one obeys God’s works, then God knows you and accepts you into his kingdom. Thus are the words spoken from the Lord, “…Well done, good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of your lord” (Mt. 25:21).