Many sincere Christians think belief is all that’s required for salvation. That’s based on verses like Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Or Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It’s further reasoned that seeing any need for righteous works or deeds is wrongly trying to earn salvation.
Yet the next verse in Ephesians reads, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (verse 10, emphasis added throughout). In fact, various scriptures use this terminology of works or deeds in the context of serving people’s needs and living God’s way of life by keeping His commandments (Matthew 6:3-4; 10:42; 19:16-21).
What may be surprising is that Jesus told His disciples that works of obedience to God are required (Luke 17:10; John 14:21, 23, 25; 15:10). Now if this is contrary to what you’ve believed, you might be inclined to stop reading right here. But think about these words from the apostle James:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18).
I hope you can at least begin to see that there is a pivotal role for “works”—good deeds as evidence of faith—in a Christian’s life!
Demonstrating intention to live “by every word of God”
Again, works do not save us. Salvation is God’s priceless gift that comes only by grace through faith, as we’ve seen. However, accomplishing works of serving God and others, in line with obeying His commandments, is the means of demonstrating our intention to live “by every word of God” (Luke 4:4), showing how highly we value His incomparable gift of salvation and eternal life.
Consider some vital details. When God the Father calls people to become disciples of His Son Jesus Christ (John 6:44) and they accept His invitation, what does He want them to do? The answer involves much more than “accepting Jesus as Savior” or “giving one’s heart to the Lord.”
It also includes repenting of sin, which the Bible describes as breaking God’s laws (2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 3:4). Repentance can be defined as continually turning from a life of sinful disobedience to an obedient way of thinking and living as part of forming a personal relationship with God and a godly, loving connection with people. Following repentance, a person must be properly baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands by one of God’s true ministers (Acts 2:38, 8:16-17; Hebrews 6:2).
But these are only the beginning steps for a new disciple. Jesus said, “He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26). He also stated, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). The dictionary defines “overcome” as “getting the better of in a struggle; to prevail over; to surmount in a trial or temptation.” This definition evokes action.
For this is the love of God . . .
But what are we to overcome? Christ wants us to be committed to halting any further sin in our life. He desires that we would see the ugliness of sin in the way He does and then flee from it (1 Corinthians 6:18). He wants us to be dedicated to following His directive to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He desires that we strive to obey His Father’s commandments, just as He did and as He taught His disciples (John 15:10; Matthew 5:17-19; 19:16-17). Again, it’s not sufficient for people to say they “love the Lord” without also doing the works that fully demonstrate those sentiments!
The apostle John wrote, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). He went on to explain: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). He wants us to keep His laws because they benefit us and all those around us enormously. They are so important to God that our disobedience to them required Jesus Christ to die in our place (Romans 5:8).
Jesus wants us to strive to triumph over “the sin that so easily ensnares” us as we endeavor to emulate His example (Hebrews 12:1-4; 1 Peter 2:21-22). A true Christian must actively resist the devil’s wiles (Ephesians 6:11) and society’s adverse influences while struggling against the pulls and enticements of his or her own human nature (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Peter 5:8).
Jesus understood the magnitude of this mission as He personally battled temptation throughout His human life (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 5:7-9). Plus, He knows that we are spiritually helpless without Him (John 15:5) and how much we need His help in contending with and defeating sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).
This is where God’s gift of His Holy Spirit comes into force! It’s another aspect of grace. God’s Spirit gives you the spiritual capability and strength to overcome sinful conduct (Romans 15:13). It’s critical that you employ its great power continually while maintaining a vibrant personal relationship with Christ (2 Timothy 1:6; John 14:6).
Our striving with God’s help
The apostle Paul wrote about the efforts he expended and the determination he deployed to secure his reward in the Kingdom of God: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
He did not take salvation for granted. Rather, he fought vigorously and continually by employing the strength and energy of God’s Spirit to serve people, overcome sin and obey the commandments (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Christians today have this identical responsibility (Romans 15:13).
Yet this is not self-generated. The desire and power to repent and obey come from God (Philippians 2:13). We are not earning salvation by works. We need forgiveness for past disobedience and ongoing spiritual help to obey. This is all part of God’s gift of grace through faith. This is a living, trusting faith that leads to righteous works. Our duty is to strive to cooperate with God and not turn away, as we could (Hebrews 2:1-3). Continuing in the process, enduring to the end, we will receive ultimate salvation (Matthew 10:22; 24:13).
Jesus wants us to follow His example of overcoming temptation and sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. While this is a challenging assignment, our reward in God’s Kingdom will be more than worth it!