If we’re saved by faith, why does the Bible teach works?

If we are saved by faith in Jesus’s blood sacrifice, why did Jesus spend his time talking about the way to the kingdom of heaven being loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. This falls in line with John the Baptist’s message about bearing fruit in keeping with righteousness and trees that bear bad fruit being cut down.
Jesus relates doing good things from the heart to inheriting the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus died and was resurrected, people believed that if they followed Jesus commandments, Jesus would judge the righteous and they would be given eternal life. They would be resurrected just like him.

Luke was Paul’s disciple so he would be championing Paul’s gospel. Paul even admits he has a different gospel given to him by Christ alone.

Then we have the Jewish Christians and James himself telling Paul that he should be keeping the law and wants him to purify himself to show the others that’s there’s nothing to the accusation that he was telling Jews they don’t have to keep the law of Moses. James surely would have known what Jesus wanted.

I’m missing a middle connection. Do you know what I’m missing? Thanks.


Thanks for the question!

First we should think about the relationship between good deeds and salvation.  Jesus put it very succinctly after the death of Lazarus.  Lazarus was Jesus’s good friend, and after Lazarus died Jesus went to visit the family.  Martha expresses confidence in the resurrection in the last day and Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25-26)

What is it that Jesus is prescribing as the way to attain resurrection and life?  Faith in him.  He does not here prescribe good deeds, as one would expect if he thought that they were necessary for salvation.  Rather, Jesus’s prescription is faith in him.  Consider earlier when Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  Here again we see that the prescription for salvation is faith in God.

Paul describes in Romans 5 the nature of the exchange and how this is meant to work in Romans 5:12-21.  Notice the parallel created in verse 18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  This deals with the real problem that we face, condemnation in our sin.  Theologian Millard Erickson gives a great explanation for how this parallel works.  Some have said that the guilt of original sin is imputed on our act of sinning.  When we act in sin we are participating in Adam’s rebellion and thus are guilty of his sin.  Erickson points out that this is a failed parallel because it is not our acts of righteousness that make us right with God, thus the parallel between our relationship with Adam and Christ would not be satisfied.  Others think that we passively inherit the guilt from Adam, but again the parallel breaks down because we do not passively inherit righteousness through Christ.  We must put our faith in Christ.

Erickson resolves this difficulty by saying that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to us not through our act of sin, but through our allegiance to the sinful nature.  He writes, “We become responsible and guilty when we accept or approve of our corrupt nature.  There is a time in the life of each one of us when we become aware of our own tendency towards sin.  At that point we may abhor the sinful nature that has been there all the time.  We would in that case repent of it and might even, if there is an awareness of the gospel, ask God for forgiveness and cleansing.” (Excerpt from Introducing Christian Doctrine)

If Erickson is right, then the scriptures teach is that salvation is a matter of putting one’s trust in oneself (siding with one’s sinful nature and rejecting God) or else putting one’s trust in God (siding with God and rejecting oneself).  This is why Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

So you can see that there is a necessary relationship between faith in Christ and good works.  If you do in fact side with God and abhor your sinful nature then it will follow that you repent.  It is not the case, however, that your repentance is what causes you to be saved.  It is rather your faith in Christ.  Paul would later say, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

So there doesn’t seem to be a conflict between good works and faith.  Rather it is the case that if one has faith then one is saved and good works will necessarily follow.

Sincerely,
Matt Bilyeu