Does the Apostle John, and other Apostles, teach we need good works on top of faith in order to be saved? It is my contention, as a Christian layman as much as His grace allows me to speak the truth, that ultimately our good works are immaterial. Our good works are never good enough to accrue on our account any merit in which God could then be compelled to judge us as righteous.
Instead, it’s only what Christ has done for us, on the cross and by resurrecting from the dead, that can save. In Christ there is complete forgiveness of sins. In Christ, there is complete righteousness that the Father credits to our account because we are in union with Him. Hence, it is by faith in Christ that we have everything. What our good works in comparison? Mere filthy rags (Is 64:6).
This article will be in response to Shameless Popery. As best as I was able to do without looking ahead in his article, I answered all of his questions and offered a Scriptural rationale for why I gave the answer that I did.
1) Can you go to Heaven without loving God and our neighbor?
No. Faith without works are dead.
Now, God’s standards are perfection (Deut 18:13, Matt 5:48). God demands that we MUST love Him with out whole hearts, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30). Indeed, you are not far from the Kingdom of God if you strive for these things.
However, man cannot possibly fulfill these commandments. “Then who can be saved?,” the disciples ask. “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” Christ replies.
Christ paid the full penalty for our sins. Paul was aware of that, even though he gloried in the Law and in His faith, he still sinned (Rom 7). Who can save Him from his body of death? Jesus Christ.
He is our only salvation, for we cannot uphold all the Laws, all the time, nor live in complete faithfulness. Christ is our righteousness, He is our life, He is our only way to the Father, not our works that we may boast.
Shameless Popery then quotes 1 John 3:15, but for good measure I will add 1 John 3:17, 18…
Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. [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].
Isn’t it obvious that salvation is not by us doing, but by us having faith that is “in deed and truth” real?
How can the love of God abide in someone who claims faith, but in reality he does not really even believe? It’s like someone who says, “I bet the US dollar is going to collapse soon” and gets into the doom and gloom, but keeps all of his investments in US securities. There’s a difference between claiming something and actually believing it, it is this genuine mindset that results in real intentions and actions.
So spiritual gifts, theological brilliance, faith, good works, and even martyrdom: all these things are worthless, if you don’t have love. Love is necessary for salvation.
And now Shameless Popery makes a leap of logic not only lacking in 1 John, but actually specifically against what John was talking about. The works are not separate from the faith and needed in addition to them. They ARE the real faith.
And guess what, even then, that real faith falls far short from God’s perfect standards. And yet, in our arrogance, we think we can buy God back with some good intentions and the redoubling of efforts that fall far short. Such self-righteousness cannot save.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner (Luke 18:13)! The man who believes in the God who justifies the ungodly walks away righteous (Rom 4:5), not the self-righteous working for their own salvation, when the Scripture states we are saved “not by works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:9). If James 2:24 quoted totally out of context is the rallying cry of RCC and EO, then Eph 2:9 in context is that of Protestantism.
2) Can you love God without keeping His commandments?
No. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Why? “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). How does faith overcome the world? “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5)? If you actually read what John wrote, it is by having faith that we keep His commandments.
We overcome the world, because Christ did. This is true of us because we are one flesh with Christ, by faith (Eph 5:32). This is why we can believe Christ when He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:30). For He did the work for us, on the cross,. He justifies the ungodly because this is how we know what love is, because while we were yet sinners, he died for us and loved us first (1 John 4:10).
Shameless Popery then quotes the following verses as proof that works are needed to be saved:
John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:21: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
It is interesting, according to the Scripture, exactly what “commandments” Jesus has in mind:
“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29).
So, the commandments are to 1. love and 2. believe. Clearly, what isn’t in mind is a litany of good works as decreed by some institution. However, if someone wanted to be a real stickler, he can assert that salvation requires two things: faith and, on top of that, love. It sort of reminds me of the following from Rom 13:8-11:
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
How is love the fulfillment of the Law? Is it something we do? Instead, it probably relates to what Christ said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). Within the context of Romans, Paul appears to refer to the same idea in Rom 10:4: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Paul is not contradicting Jesus. He did not end the Law that He has fulfilled. Rather, because He has fulfilled it, that means ALL the Law’s requirements including Lev 19:18 and Deut 6:5, the very epitome of love. So, a Christian ought not to do wrong to a neighbor, but the Law is not fulfilled by the obedience of the believer. Instead, the obedience of Christ has ended the Law for He has followed it perfectly, thereby all of those in union with Him by faith are righteous in Him.
For, “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). Is this Law fulfilled by works? No, but rather the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
[I]f you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Rom 8:13, 14).
As we can see, the deeds of the body have not been completely been put to death. Merely, the leading of the Spirit (which results in righteous living, though not perfect righteousness or we would not still be putting to death certain deeds), is evidence that one has truly been adopted by God. Rom 8:16, 17 back this up:
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
The idea is that the Spirit “testifies” of an inward, spiritual reality. Further, Paul uses the word “indeed” in reference to perseverance in good works, showing that his concern is not in the salvific nature of works but the actual reality of the indwelling of the Spirit. The Law is fulfilled ultimately by the indwelling of the Spirit, not the works in of themselves, otherwise Paul would be back in the same situation he was in the previous chapter.
3) Can you keep God’s commandments without doing good works?
No. Christ spoke of the wise and foolish builders. What specifically differentiated the two? “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). The wise indeed act upon what Christ taught. In fact, he ended His entire Sermon on the Mount with this admonition.
So, there is no doubt we ought to practice what Christ preaches. Not looking with lustful eyes, not murdering others in our heart, letting our yes be yes and our no be no, and more. These were things that the self-righteous Pharisees, concerned only with the letter of the Law, were not living up to. Christ warned, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).
This then begs the question: You who “rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law…you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God” (Rom 2:17-23)?
For those who scoff “that’s written to Jews, not to me,” are you not aware that Christians are the true Jews? That the early church called unbelievers “Gentiles?” That the Scripture says that those without the Law still have a conscience, so they are a Law onto themselves? For both Jew and Gentile alike are under the Law of God.
Those of you who look down at the white-washed sepulchers that are the Pharisees, does your righteousness really exceed that of the Pharisees? Have you never stolen? Have you never committed adultery in your heart? What idols have enticed you?
What is “the rock” the wise builder builds upon? It is the confession of Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Christ “added this, ‘And I say unto you, You are Peter, and upon this rock (petra) will I build my Church;’ [Matthew 16:18] that is, on the faith of his confession” (Chrysostom, Homily 54 on Matthew).
Christ is elsewhere called a “rock” (“petra” in the Greek) in 1 Cor 10:4 and 1 Peter 2:8. Therefore, the one who puts what Christ said into practice is like the wise builder who used Christ as his foundation. Hence, our faith is our foundation.
It is our faith that sustains our works of righteousness. We cannot possibly keep Christ’s commands apart from faith in Him. It is only by faith in Him that our righteousness can exceed that of the Pharisees, because Christ is the firm foundation and He is the end of the Law. By faith in Him, we are in union with Him, having the full penalty of ALL our sins paid for.
We must love God to be saved. If we love God, we’ll obey Him. Obedience to God includes performing good works. If each of these three statements are true, then we must perform good works to be saved.
Indeed we must love God to be saved. In fact, perfect love is needed to be saved. On top of other parts of Scripture that make clear that God expects perfection (Deut 12:32, Deut 18:13, Hab 1:13, Matt 5:48, Matt 28:20) Solomon tells us, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecc 7:20). He, in effect, is making two truth statements. First, there is no one who is righteous and does good on the whole Earth. Second, those who are righteous do good and NEVER sin.
Is your love perfect, my dear Pharisee? How will your imperfect love save you, when with one sin you are guilty of breaking the whole Law (James 2:10)?
So, indeed we must love God, but we must love Him and obey Him perfectly. Falling short at one point misses the mark not in part, but in whole.
We all fall short. How then can we be saved? It is by faith in Christ, who showed us what love is by going to the cross (1 John 3:16), who has paid the full penalty for all our sins, so that even when we fall short, we do not, for Christ has made the difference.
Just as the Israelites looked upon the snake in the wilderness to save them from the snakes sent against them for the punishment of their sins, so we look upon Christ for the same (John 3:15). Hence, it was not by doing good that the snakes were figuratively defanged, but it was by the grace of God given to those who trusted in Him to deliver them when they looked upon Him through the snake. In the same way, we are saved from all our sin when we look upon Christ on the Cross and we are given life by His resurrection.
Agree with the above points: In the case, it seems to me that both sides of the debate agree on the core question. To be saved, you need faith and good works.
This is the difference: the Scripture teaches that you need faith, and that good works are part of this faith–Not that you need faith AND works.
It almost sounds like a nominal distinction, but if we go by the latter, and not the former, then we require perfect works if our salvation is contingent upon it. Further, it throws verses such as Rom 4:5 and Rom 4:10 into contradiction with the rest of the Scripture. Hence, the former, instead of the latter, is the only workable understanding which is consistent with God’s revelation: we are saved by faith alone and not by faith that is alone, because that faith cannot save.
If that’s true, how is this a doctrinal dispute worth dividing the Church over?
While every pain should be taken to maintain unity, even institutional unity in the Church as the Apostles themselves have done, that does not include submitting to teachings the very early Church would have never submitted to. For example, the teaching that Church Tradition is equivalent to God-breathed Scripture cannot be maintained, as Tradition even with the “force of law” according to St. Jerome has fell into disuse. Claims that Apostolic Succession brings with it magical powers for the present-day Bishops so that they can go ahead and contradict what God breathed into the Scriptures is another abhorrent doctrine of the RCC and EO. On top of these, doctrines that teach Christ’s work on the cross is insufficient to save all people appears to me to be Satanic. It robs God of His very dignity.