Are good works needed for salvation? Yes, God’s good works.
But how about all of those passages where Jesus seems to demand from us to do good works? Is He contradicting Paul? Are Reformed Theologians misrepresenting Paul and missing out on what Jesus is saying? Let’s take a look at the “pro-works” passages of Jesus.
Passage in question: “Merely calling Christ Lord is not sufficient to save.”
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23)
Questions to ask:
If calling Christ Lord does not save, is being saved by faith alone impossible? How can good works be salvific if even performing miraculous works in Jesus name do not save a man? If this be the case, what can save us from our sin?
Context of the passage:
Before the passage in question there is a rather lengthy discussion on false prophets (Matt 7:15-20). To sum up that discussion, Jesus says that we can discern who the false prophets and teachers are is by their fruits.
Then, not coincidentally Christ enters into the “Lord, Lord” discussion. Immediately after the “Lord, Lord” discussion Christ speaks of the wise and foolish builders.
“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). 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 in the sermon on the mount into practice, seeing the righteous and unmeetable demands of the Law, is like the wise builder who used Christ as his foundation. Hence, our faith is our foundation that protects us from judgement for our disobeying of the Law.
In short, we can sum up Christ’s sequence of teachings in the end of His sermon on the mount as follows: discerning prophets/teachers -> not everyone who says Lord, Lord is saved -> placing faith in Christ protects one from the day of judgement.
What does one have to do with the other? I would suppose that the “Lord, Lord” discourse directly relates to the difficulties of applying the judging of prophets by their fruits.
Take for example Benny Hinn.
He uses the name of the Lord and He shows “power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thes 2:9) that the Scripture warns about. Apparently, men will look to the supposed miracles and deem them as worthwhile “fruit,” while ignoring other pertinent details of the man’s life in which to verify if He is truly from God.
Some may be real quick to just write off Benny Hinn entirely, but there are other much more subtle false prophets. Ultimately, we as believers lack the ability to be absolutely certain who says “Lord, Lord” in earnest and who says so in vain.
This might lead some to assert that faith alone cannot save. However, the subsequent passage concerning the builders addresses how faith saves us from the day of calamity. This is why Christ’s ordering of the passages, one after another with each subsequent teaching illuminating something that the former teaching did not address in its fullness, is so important.
Now that we have shown that the “Lord, Lord” passage obviously is a warning that false prophets making false professions cannot be saved, what else can we learn?
For one, only those “who do the will of my Father” are saved (Matt 7:24). “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Therefore, the means of salvation is not work, but belief.
The false prophets are not faulted for what they said, but for not actually believing their own words. The Scripture says that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Obviously, an actor can mutter words but not be saved at all, because he is merely reading a line. Only real conviction, which comes from the Holy Spirit, gives the confession “Lord, Lord” any power.
Another interesting observation is the reason why those who said “Lord, Lord” were not saved: Jesus did not know them. What does God’s knowledge have to do with how much someone really believes what he says?
Everything! “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph 1:4-5). God knew all those who would profess their faith in Christ before they were born. So, of course He never knew those with their false professions. He did not predestinate them to be saved by His grace, through faith, not by works.
Conclusion: This passage does not endorse works-base salvation, because within the context of the discussion those who say “Lord, Lord” are false prophets. Further, the passage is followed by another passage that endorses faith-based salvation. Lastly, the passage obviously refers to predestination and actually excludes those who appeal to God on the basis of their works.
Concerning the relationship between faith and works, Matthew Henry makes the following observation:
Now this is his will, that we believe in Christ, that we repent of sin, that we live a holy life, that we love one another. This is his will, even our sanctification. If we comply not with the will of God, we mock Christ in calling him Lord… There may be a faith of miracles, where there is no justifying faith; none of that faith which works by love and obedience. Gifts of tongues and healing would recommend men to the world, but it is real holiness or sanctification that is accepted of God (Matthew Henry’s Commentary).