The Relationship of Faith and Works to Salvation

Which Way is the Right Way to “Salvation”?

(Regardless of what name you call it)

by Christopher Andrus

Revised 5/10/2017

Christianity’s meta-narrative explains those of other religions, but the others’ cannot explain what is unique about Christianity. This is especially evident with regard to how it is that one reaches what the religion considers to be the ultimate goal (regardless of what it is called). A good way to see the differences is to consider that there are four ways which these three are believed to relate: faith, good works and salvation. They are as follows:

1) “Faith”
Salvation (Good Works are unnecessary.)

2) “Good Works” Salvation (No particular kind of Faith is necessary.)

3) “Faith” + “Good Works” Salvation

4) Salvation (Accomplished by Christ) Faith Good Works Heaven

“Faith” Salvation (Good Works are unnecessary.)
The first of these is what Roman Catholics and many other non-Evangelicals believe the Protestant Christian Gospel teaches. But it is a misunderstanding, although it is regrettably true that Evangelical churches do sometimes fall into this error. This understanding of how one is saved is known as Antinomianism. It has also been called “cheap grace”. But it is really a denial of grace. For, even though the credo of the Reformation was that we are saved by faith alone, it has always been understood that true faith must lead to the doing of good works. This is in keeping with the words of the New Testament book of James (chapter 2, verse 26): For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Another way of putting it is that “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.”

Consequently, a person claiming to have faith who doesn’t show this faith by doing good deeds, as opportunities come, is rightly regarded as being either a liar or self-deceived. This is why “Faith” has been placed in quotes above. Any understanding of faith which does not hold good works to be a necessary result of faith is a false view of faith. This is also reflected in the New Testament book of 1 John (chapter 3, verses 17-19):
“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him.”

“Good Works” Salvation (No particular kind of Faith is necessary.)
The second is known as Moralism. It is probably the most popular notion for people identifying as non-religious (that is, Humanists) or nominally-religious people in the modern pluralistic world. (The latter refers to people who claim to belong to a particular religion but do not really hold to the teachings of that religion.) Of course, the “salvation” in view for most of these people is a sense of well-being in this world, rather than in a future world.

Unfortunately, it is also a way that does not work. This is because, from the Christian point-of-view no matter how many “good works” one does, these could not wash away the sin that separates us from God. (Beyond our behavior and thoughts, what we should not do and do or what we should do and don’t, is the root of mankind’s universal sinfulness – our inescapable tendency to deny or resist God.) Moreover, “good works” which are not performed for the right motive, which is love for God and neighbor, and for the right end, which is the glory of God, are not truly good (hence the quotation marks again).

Faith” + “Good Works” Salvation
The third conception is probably the most popular one for serious practitioners of all of the major religions of the world, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and, even (in practice, at least) Protestant Christianity. However, in spite of the popularity of this view and regardless of the sincerity with which it is pursued, it too is a false way! This is the error of Legalism, which makes Salvation dependent on what man does: namely, to have the right kind of “Faith” and the right “Good Works”. But, man is unable to have either on his own.

[Related to this is a recently-developed approach in Reformed Christian circles which considers Faith and Good Works to be two sides of the same coin. Thus: Faith/Works → Salvation
Or: “The Obedience of Faith” or Faithfulness → Salvation
While this view is somewhat of an improvement on the first two ways, in pointing to the inseparability of Faith and Good Works, it too fails to capture the true nature of God’s Saving Grace. It also fails to recognize that Faith and Works, while inseparable, are nonetheless also distinct entities, with the former being passive and the latter active.]

Salvation (Accomplished by Christ) Faith Good Works Heaven
This brings us to the final conception, which is the only true one
, what Jesus called the narrow path which leads to life (in contrast with the other ways, which make up the broad way which leads to destruction). For, the true Christian Gospel declares that Salvation is dependent only on what God does (in the past, the present and the future), both what He has done for us, in the saving work of His Eternal Son, Jesus Christ and what He does in us, in giving us true Faith and empowering us to do true Good Works. In this way, the Salvation which was perfectly accomplished by Christ is applied to believers in Him more and more until they are brought to Full Salvation in eternity.

The application of the Salvation accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ comes through the working of the Holy Spirit, Who takes up residence in the heart of God’s true Children as a true Divine Presence and Counselor. In this we see the necessity of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as well as the Second, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in order for Salvation to be possible. The uniqueness of the Gospel, then, is the glorious truth that we have already been saved by Christ, although we have not yet reached the full experience of our salvation. This means that, if Christ died for us, our salvation is certain because it has already been fully accomplished. But it is not yet complete from our point-of-view.

7 thoughts on “The Relationship of Faith and Works to Salvation

    • Sorry, but the arguments presented in this video are stupid. The problem here is that Muslims refuse to try to understand Christian Trinitarianism. For Muslims to say that Christians don’t worship One God is utterly ridiculous. Who are you to say that we worship more than one God?! We know Whom we worship! It’s you who don’t understand that God is great enough to exist as 3 Co-equal Persons and great enough to become a man without ceasing to be God. There is a huge difference between worshiping multiple gods and worshiping One God Who happens to manifest Himself as 3 Persons. The unitarian view of god of Islam and other groups is actually inferior because such a god would not be a fully-realized person without creating someone else to relate to. We reflect our Creator in being relational beings. God is self-sufficient as a relational Being because He was never alone.

      • Not to be glib, but this argument perhaps makes my point about the incongruence of the different world religions. If you want to know what is wrong with Judaism ask a Christian. If you want to know what`s wrong with Christianity ask a Muslim.

  1. You falsely assume that all religious truth claims are dubious and that there can’t be one religion which is true while all others are false. I once thought the same, until God opened my mind to the fact that He exists and that He Alone is Worthy of the worship and service of all people and all of Creation. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I can show where every other religion or philosophy falls short of the truth of Christian Theism or falls into self-contradiction. It’s not because I am so smart. Actually, it isn’t that hard to do, if only you begin by considering the Nature of The God described in the Bible. The problem is that people are ultimately committed to rejecting our Creator and, therefore, will not consider that He exists and that they are accountable to Him, nor can they consider very basic flaws in their thinking and beliefs.

    • I would accept your point if it is possible to demonstrate the truth of one religion above all others. That is certainly possible. However, were the religions that predate Christianity all falsehoods? The delusions of people who honestly believed they received revelation from God? How truly in one point in time, did God decide to finally deliver the correct message?

      Is Hinduism, which predate Christianity by thousands of years today a delusion believed by more than 800 million people? What would make the revelation given to a small group of Jewish people in the first century AD more special than any other? Why in such a small demographic, over such a short space of time? Wouldn`t it have been more considerate of God to hand down the revelation to more people over a longer period of time and in more than one place?

      • We say that God’s revelation of Himself was from the beginning of the existence of humanity (as the biblical history indicates). Just because there is no written or archaeological evidence of this until much later doesn’t disprove this. The history of the Jewish people as described in the Old Testament would tend to preclude the likelihood of archaeological remnants, since they were a small nomadic tribe until around 1500 B.C. Once they had grown numerous enough in Egypt we do find record of them, as would be expected. The Old Testament account has repeatedly been vindicated against claims of inaccuracy by archaeology in recent years. I would remind you that you can’t look at Christianity as a new religion invented by the followers of Jesus. The Old Testament has always been part of our Scriptures.

        And, yes, we accept the biblical account that all people begin with knowledge of The One True God, but suppress this knowledge and seek counterfeit deities (which the Bible calls idols) or belief systems. Being sincere about beliefs does not make them legitimate! Nor does the fact that people do many good things based on false beliefs. I would even say that many people are actually good people despite having false beliefs (including many Atheists, who can’t really give a good reason why they are good). In many cases people simply adopt the beliefs of their parents or teachers.

        Today, our idols are mostly not literal (though extreme fans of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, the Kardashians, President Obama and other celebrities certainly come close to the old idolatry). Today’s most common idols are Science as the sole source of knowledge (not that Science isn’t the valid way to understand the physical world as it functions today) and human desires (like sexual “fulfillment”, greed and power). If you want a powerful assessment of the idolatry of modernity, I recommend finding and reading Herbert Schlossberg’s “Idols for Destruction”. This book is a sadly-underappreciated classic and an intellectual tour-de-force.

  2. The discipline of Biblical archaeology, although established in order to vindicate the truth of the scriptures, have not in fact proven many of the claims made by the Bible. The Bible also makes wild assertions of “miraculous” events which defy the natural order, such as witchcraft, raising of the dead, talking animals and many other events which simply cannot be proven.

    The Israelites were known for worshipping many different idols and gods before the idea of one God was introduced. If you read Exodus, it is God who acknowledges the existence of other gods and warns the Israelites not to worship them. If the God of Israel is the one true God, why would this be the case?

    I am not a good person because it is demanded of me by a supernatural entity, by rather, because I would like my fellow human beings to do the same for me.

    Regards, DK

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