WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH, BUT ARE WE BLESSED BY WORKS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork alone, and not by our works. So, some proceed to ask afterward: “After we are saved and on our way to heaven, will God bless us Christians when we do good works?” As always, we allow the Spirit of God to teach us through His written Word, the Holy Scriptures.
Every serious Bible student understands (or at least should understand) that God’s plan of salvation today and His truth that relates to us today, can be found in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, alone. The doctrine, duty, walk, and destiny of the Church the Body of Christ is taught alone in the Pauline epistles. What Father God wants us to believe for salvation, what He wants us to do in our Christian lives, where He will take us when we leave this earth, and what He will do with us in the ages to come, all of these issues are fully dealt with in Paul’s epistles. We do not have to go around wondering what God is doing and what He wants us to do—all too often, this describes the majority of professing Christians!
Please understand that we study all of the Bible, for all 66 books of the Bible are God’s Word, but we also recognize that God in His Word is not always talking to us. All Scripture is for us, but not all Scripture is to us or about us. For instance, when a passage says that God is addressing the nation Israel, then we need to believe the context and not apply the passage to us because the passage says that it is not talking to or about us. Regarding our current topic, the various conflicts and confusions regarding good works and Christian living are because of a failure to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), a failure to separate the varied instructions that God has given to different groups of people throughout the ages.
Dear readers, let us proceed to demonstrate how right division is the key to understanding how God relates to us today in the Dispensation of Grace, and how He dealt with the nation Israel in time past.
HOW GOD DEALT WITH ISRAEL IN HER PROGRAM
JEHOVAH God promised to Abram/Abraham many physical and spiritual blessings. We read about them in Genesis chapters 12, 15, and 17, among other places. Abraham simply had to believe what God said and God would take care of the rest. When God brought Abraham’s descendants—the nation Israel—out of Egyptian bondage over 400 years later, Israel preferred works-religion. They did not want God’s grace, everything that God would give to them freely; they wanted JEHOVAH to bless them on the basis of their works. Their sinful, deceitful hearts had caused them to believe that they could really do everything a holy, righteous God demanded. How wrong they were!
Let us read Exodus chapter 19, where God offered to make that Covenant of Law with the nation Israel: “ Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.  And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.  And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD” (Exodus 19:5-8).
Immediately after JEHOVAH delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery, He proved to the Jews that He would take care of them, meeting all of their physical and spiritual needs according to His grace. Study His miraculous provisions for Israel delineated in Exodus chapters 14-17—His parting the mighty Red Sea for Israel to be delivered from Pharaoh and his armies, His providing Israel with potable water and quail and manna/bread from heaven, His furnishing Israel with potable water a second time, and His giving Israel military victory over her enemies. Yet, the Israelites were so ungrateful towards JEHOVAH’S provisions. Exodus 19:8 demonstrates that the Jews believed they really could please God, and they wanted Him to bless them according to their works—they rejected the free-for-nothing Abrahamic Covenant. At Mount Sinai, Israel entered into a contract whereby she could only be God’s people IF she obeyed Him (refer back to Exodus 19:5 above); otherwise, she would be cursed of God, and under sin and Satan’s control. This system is what we call legalism.
Read Deuteronomy 28:1-2: “ And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:  And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” JEHOVAH then listed the various blessings—great harvests of crops, large families, large herds of cattle and other livestock, military victories, plentiful rain, and so on. Verse 15 continues: “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:….” JEHOVAH then delineated the curses—sicknesses, wars, famines and other economic hardships, pestilences, and so on. Unfortunately, as history testifies, Israel “enjoyed” more of the curses than the blessings!
Although we must stop here concerning Israel’s program for sake of brevity, suffice it to say that the New Covenant will be JEHOVAH’S solution to Israel’s Covenant-of-Law dilemma. It will be by Jesus Christ’s shed blood that God will ratify the New Covenant, thereby forgiving and cleansing Israel so they may be His people (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 11:25-32; Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 10:15-17). This is yet future.
HOW GOD DEALS WITH US IN THE DISPENSATION OF GRACE
NOTE: While much of this section is review, it is needed in order to answer the question at hand.
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, spent five whole chapters—the first five chapters of the book of Romans—to settle the issue of soul salvation unto eternal life by faith alone in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for our sins. When we trust God’s Son, and Him alone, for a right standing before God, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are instantaneously and permanently justified before God, that we are made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). In short, what God commanded Israel to do in her own strength (Mosaic Law), He has done for us through Jesus Christ at Calvary. In Jesus Christ, because of His perfect sacrifice at Calvary, He has dealt with our sin problem. Again, this parallels the Abrahamic Covenant, where God offered to give Abraham righteousness as a free gift without his works (see Romans 4:1-25). Here are the highlights of Romans chapters 3-5:
- Romans 3:19-20: “ Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  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.”
- Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
- Romans 4:16: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,”
- Romans 4:21-25: “ And [Abraham] being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he was able also to perform.  And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.  Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;  But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;  Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
- Romans 5:1: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:”
Okay, again (we repeat for emphasis), how were justified, made right in God’s sight? How were we blessed of God regarding soul salvation unto eternal life? Did we have to strive and do various religious works so God would be pleased with us? That is, did God give us eternal life after we did everything we possibly could? Absolutely not! Once we read Romans chapters 1-5 and believe those verses, we conclude that our works do not save us. Our works had absolutely nothing to do with us receiving “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). No water baptism, no tithe, no speaking in tongues, no keeping commandments, no walking an aisle, no prayer recitation, no giving to the poor, no confession of sins, no church membership, no quitting bad habits and initiating good ones, nothing, nothing, nothing we did. “ 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” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Nothing we did in the flesh gets us into heaven. Nothing. This cannot be stressed enough because religious tradition constantly robs James chapter 2 of its context and then cheats its church members of the clarity of salvation by grace through faith without works. Religion is 100 percent wrong when they put you on a treadmill and cause you to “work your spiritual fingers to the bone” so that you can hopefully merit favor before God. God pity the ministers who make their congregations work their way to heaven, for they too will enter the same gates of hell their congregants passed—to enjoy much hotter parts! We would hate to be in those ministers’ shoes when they stand before a holy, righteous God and have Him accuse them of misleading people to everlasting hellfire using His Son’s precious name! Oh, may these people turn away from such error and trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone, before it is eternally too late for them all!
A Christian doing good works and someone doing good works to become a Christian are two totally separate matters. The first is acceptable before God while the latter is an absolute abomination before Him. When we say that doing good works saves us, that we can become a Christian by doing good deeds, we are pushing aside Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice of Himself and exalting our own deeds. Which would God accept—something defiled by sinful hands and hearts, or something that His perfect Son did? Would we dare to compare ourselves to Jesus Christ, who always did His Father’s will (John 8:29)? Then we had better not attempt to substitute His righteousness with ours.
With Jesus Christ’s merits at Calvary applied to our account by faith alone, we have been given an abundance of spiritual wealth. Are we going to be like Israel and ignore God’s grace, or are we going to accept God’s grace and enjoy what He has already given us in Jesus Christ? Yes, some want to live like spiritual paupers, and some Christians do live like spiritual paupers, but we do not have to live like spiritual paupers!
OUR SPIRITUAL WEALTH IN CHRIST
In Jesus Christ, God the Father has given us everything that He could possibly give us. Every spiritual blessing is ours in Jesus Christ, from the moment we trust Him alone until forever and ever. Notice:
- Romans 8:32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
- 1 Corinthians 1:30-31: “ But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
- 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”
- Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:”
- Philippians 4:19: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
- Colossians 2:10: “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:”
God has “freely” given (without cost to us) “all things” with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32). Again, when God gave us His Son, He gave everything to us that He could ever give. God the Father has given us spiritual wisdom, a right standing before Him, He has set us apart for His purposes, He has bought us out of the slave-market of sin with Jesus Christ’s shed blood (1 Corinthians 1:30)—that is our identity in Christ. Father God has given us every possible spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ. The Spirit of God has given us immaterial riches (2 Corinthians 8:9) such as fellowship with God, His righteousness, His love, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, His life, His peace, His joy, His power, on and on and on (Ephesians 1:3). These are all the things we really need in life (Philippians 4:19). We Christians are “in Christ,” and we lack nothing in Him (Colossians 2:10). Everything that God wants to give us is in Him, and we are in Him, so we have everything God wants to give us.
We say all this to ask, Why return to the “weak and beggarly” law system (Galatians 4:9) of do good to get God’s blessings, when Jesus Christ has done all that work perfectly at Calvary, and Father God has given us everything upfront when we trusted His dear Son? Why go back to a system that will only condemn us? Why abandon God’s grace to us and try to merit something He already proved we cannot merit? Why try to gain something Jesus Christ offers to us freely? It makes no sense.
To the Galatians who were already saved but trying to “enhance” their Christian lives with their performance in religion, the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote: “ O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?  This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3). The entire book of Galatians deals with the issue of mixing law and grace—it will not work, and law will only wreck your Christian life. May we not give place to Satan, causing him to use the Scriptural Mosaic Law to pollute our minds from “the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 5:1-10).
WHAT ABOUT MATERIAL WEALTH IN CHRIST?
In this day and age of prosperity theology and social gospels, Christendom is being deluged by such catchphrases as, “God wants you healthy and wealthy. Christians are promised an easy life, so come to Christ and get it.” These false teachers allege that material poverty is a “sin” and that bodily illness is a “sin.” They overlook many Bible verses that demonstrate the Apostle Paul, indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit, was materially poor on numerous occasions (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 11:22-27)—he and his ministry companions did not always have enough food to eat, drink to drink, clothes to wear, shelter to find refuge in, and so on (see Philippians 4:11-13). Among other discouraging conditions, Paul suffered various bodily illnesses (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Galatians 4:13-14). Timothy, another man of God, was sick with his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul was also unable to heal another sick Christian, Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). We read about the poor Macedonian saints who gave, despite their deep poverty, to Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). Although God has given us spiritual wealth in Christ, these Scriptures confirm that He has not promised us material wealth and perfect health. He does, however, give us the grace to endure all circumstances, good and bad (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Philippians 4:11-13).
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul penned in 1 Timothy 6:5-8: “ Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” The Bible says we should be content with just food and clothing. If we want abundant material wealth, the Bible says that we need to get a job and provide that income for ourselves (2 Thessalonians 3:6-17). This is how God prospers us materially.
The Bible is often used to prove that if one gives money to “God’s ministry,” He will bless that individual’s finances. Malachi 3:8-11 is the primary passage used in such a regard: “Give your tithes and God will bless you, because He will curse you if you give too little or not at all!” Beloved, this is not only extortion, but religious tomfoolery as well; I know Christian people who give money regularly to ministries and these faithful and sincere givers are not millionaires. Furthermore, we are not under the tithe today. We give cheerfully (happily), not because someone forces us to give (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
The Law system can be summed up with the phrase, “Do good and you will receive blessings; do bad and you will receive curses.” We cannot take the first part and ignore the second; we cannot take the second part and ignore the first. Neither the first nor the second part applies to us. We are under grace not law (Romans 6:14-15). God has given us everything in Jesus Christ because of His grace, His unmerited favor, apart from our works.
When you first trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, you realized that you did not and could not measure up to God’s righteous standards. Despite the “best” you could do, you were still unable to save yourself. The Law could not save you, your works could not save you and make yourself accepted of God. Likewise, your performance will not make you right in God’s sight. It will always be Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork at Calvary. It is His resurrection power that causes you to be raised again to have a life pleasing in His sight, a lifestyle that matches the identity you have in His Son.
According to Colossians 2:6-7, “ As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:  Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” The Bible says that our Christian lives in this the Dispensation of Grace operate just as they began: “AS” we were saved, “SO” will be our daily living. In other words, both our initial sanctification (salvation in Christ, salvation from the penalty of sin in hell) and our practical sanctification (salvation in Christ, salvation from sin’s power over our lives) operate on the same principle. According to the Bible, how we are saved from hell is the answer to how we are saved from sin having dominion over us on a daily basis (practical Christian living).
The Apostle Paul prayed for the Philippians: “ And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;  That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;  Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). Every believer is to be “filled with the fruits of righteousness” indeed, but notice, the Bible’s clarification “which are by Jesus Christ.” Just as our salvation from hell (eternal salvation) depends on Jesus Christ’s performance, not our efforts, so our salvation from sin’s dominion over us (daily living) also depends on Jesus Christ’s performance, not our efforts (remember what we read in Colossians 2:6-7 earlier). Remember, technically, the Christian life is not us doing good deeds in order to make God happy with us (that is religion and legalism/Law-keeping); the Christian life is really Jesus Christ doing the work in and through us, living in and through us, because God is happy with us in Christ (that is grace living)! Beloved, this is why we must study God’s Word rightly divided, that He may work in us using those Scriptures.