I think everybody can agree that doing good works and obeying God are great things that not only help us to grow closer in our walk with the Lord, but also help others and bear witness to Christ. I seriously doubt you will find one person who claims to be Christian that believes that doing good things and obeying God are not important.
I recently had a conversation with someone who claims to be a Christian and they made a comment that I found very sad and made me have pity for them. They were basically talking about doing good things, praying, and and living a life pleasing to God in this world. All of which are great things for Christians to do. But after listing those things, they said “the goal being that we do all these things with hopes of heaven”. Confused by what they meant, I asked them to clarify whether they meant “Hope in the sense of something you look forward to” or “doing those things with the hope that they will help contribute to getting to heaven”. They responded that they meant both of those statements. The first one I completely understand, doing good things with hope (excitement, anticipation, and looking forward to) heaven.
The second statement worries and saddens me. In that statement hope is viewed in the sense of something unknown or something that is uncertain (I hope I don’t get a speeding ticket for going too fast, I hope my lottery ticket has the winning numbers, etc…). With this view, the person speaking does not know for certain if they will spend eternity with God. I can’t imagine living with this uncertainty. It really is quite sad. I wanted to take some time to look at some verses that speak about our works and how we can know for certain where we will spend eternity.
Contrary to what my friend said about doing good things in hoping that they will get to heaven (be saved/justified before God), there are many verses that plainly say that our good works have nothing to do with that. Let’s look at a few of them.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”
“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
“know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
2 Timothy 1:9-10
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,”
It’s made clear in these verses that no amount of work or good deeds that we do can save us. We are told that if works are involved, then it is not of grace (Rom.11:6) and if we are seeking to be justified before God by works, then we have lost understanding of God’s grace(Gal.5:4). The very definition of grace, in Greek, is an undeserved gift, something that we receive not by merit of our own. It is a gift given freely and accepted by faith. Some may argue that believing/having faith is a work, but as we see from the verses above, there is a stark contrast between grace, faith, and works. I came across a website that provided a good example to further explain this.
“Suppose someone anonymously sent you a check for $1,000,000. The money is yours if you want it, but you still must endorse the check. In no way can signing your name be considered earning the million dollars—the endorsement is a non-work. You can never boast about becoming a millionaire through sheer effort or your own business savvy. No, the million dollars was simply a gift, and signing your name was the only way to receive it. Similarly, exercising faith is the only way to receive the generous gift of God, and faith cannot be considered a work worthy of the gift.”
If our eternal destiny was dependent on things we did, of course it would be impossible to have certainty. But praise God that it is not dependent on our works. Our eternal destiny rests on the object of our faith, the finished work of Christ on the Cross who promises eternal life to all who simply believe in Him. I have written about this assurance previously here and here, but for the purposes of this article, I listed just a few verses addressing assurance and certainty of our eternal future.
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
“He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.””
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
1 John 5:11-13
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Those are just a few verses that tell us that we can know for certain. The one that sticks out to me the most is John’s purpose statement for writing his account in 1 John. He assures the people that whoever believes in the name of the Son of God can know that they have eternal life. In his original account (the book of John) he states over 70 times that you receive eternal life simply by believing in Jesus Christ. He says that his whole purpose of writing that book is to convince people to believe in Christ and that they will have eternal life by believing (John 20:31). If that were John’s purpose, why didn’t he once add any good works to the condition of receiving eternal life? He didn’t, because it isn’t necessary in order to receive eternal life.
(Side note: I heard a story from a minister who received an angry e-mail from a random religious person who received a booklet from his church that simply contained the gospel of John. The person was angry because the gospel of John made it seem like the only thing you had to to was believe, and that works weren’t involved. He accused them of heresy, but in reality he was accusing the John, who walked with Jesus, of heresy. He understood the gospel of John perfectly, but was angry because it went against his religion).
“According to the Apostle John in 1 John 5:13 it is the birthright of every believer to know with certainty–not to guess or have some degree of confidence–that he or she is eternally secure. If one is not 100% certain of this, then he does not have assurance of salvation.
Assurance is found in looking to the promises of Scripture that everyone who believes in Christ has eternal life. The famous saying of the philosopher Descartes, “I think, therefore I am,” comes to mind here. The Bible says something similar about spiritual life: “I believe, therefore I have eternal life.” “
I would also recommend the short little book “How Good is Good Enough?” by Andy Stanley.
So, if works have nothing to do with where we spend eternity after our physical death, and we can know for certain that we will spend eternity with Christ if we simply believe in Him, what is the point of doing good works and why did Christ and his chosen apostles instruct us to do good things? That is a very good question. I will address that question in my next article.
I recently heard an Evangelical friend of mine have a meltdown and break down in tears because he had serious doubts about his daughter’s salvation – a previously faithful and practising Christian – because his daughter was getting married to her gay partner. It was not the moment to discuss the theology behind it, but I saw firsthand what damage a misunderstanding of scripture can cause to someone’s faith.
I’ve seen people deal with very similar experiences and I agree 100% that a misunderstanding of scripture can cause someone to be quite upset in such a situation. The person of which you spoke of sounds similar to many that I’ve talked to who follow “Lordship Salvation” theology which branches from Calvinism. In that theology, they believe that faith isn’t enough, that you have to make Jesus “Lord of your Life” and if you aren’t “living for the Lord” then you were never saved at all. This is in contrast to the Armenian theology who would say that you can lose salvation. Both theologies, although claiming to be opposites are two sides of the same coin. When you boil it all down, it is human works that determine their salvation, not Christ’s final payment. The only difference between them is one says you can lose salvation and one says you never had it at all. Both miss the very basic understanding of justification and sanctification.
Your friend sounds very much like a “Lordship” friend that I had. He was with his ex-girlfriend when she placed her faith in Christ/believed that he was God and paid for sin(justified). Sadly, she didn’t have much mentorship or guidance to help her grow in her walk with the Lord (sanctification). And because of a lack of that, she fell under some false teachings and joined an LDS group. The friend was almost in tears because of what happened to her. In his “Lordship” theology of works-based salvation, her lack of discipleship and growing and then being confused by another religion meant that she never really believed. He was beside himself because to him and his theology, that meant that she had never believed at all. He was distraught because he thought she had lied to him and faked all that, and she didn’t seem like the type to do that. Because his view of works-based salvation, she didn’t “really” believe. To him, Her works proved her salvation, and because she lacked in works and spiritual growth (because of no discipleship or teaching) she was lying and not saved (in his view). Your friends situation sounds quite similar to my friend’s. And yes, I agree that a faulty theology based on misunderstood scripture damaged that man and his understanding. It is very possible that his daughter is saved (justified). But because of any number of reasons, she got too caught up in the things of this world and fed the flesh rather than the spirit. The apostle Paul talks about that struggle and the dual natures within believers in Romans 7. It’s sad to see people distressed over those things. I pray that he can find peace in the Word of God and understand that Christ, the son of God lived a perfect life and died on the cross for the sins of the world. That he was the propitiation for our sin. And that he offers eternal life to all who believe in Him.
Thanks for your reply. The point is that my friend firmly believes in “Once saved always saved”/Eternal Assurance, and that this conflicts directly with what is happening to his daughter.
In Catholic terms, anyone, no matter how great a sinner he or she is, can turn back to God, and God will always forgive them if they are sincere. So there is always hope.
Christ has indeed paid for our sins, in fact for the sins of all men, but not all turn to him, and some who have embraced Christ later turn against him, and in that process risk their salvation unless they repent.
Your romantic embrace of Eternal Assurance is at odds with both the old and new testaments.
Would you please explain how his so-called “once saved always saved” and eternal assurance is in conflict with his daughter sinning? I’m confused because if he believed that one is justified by faith apart from works and that you are eternally secure based on Christ’s final payment, there would be would be no confusion or turmoil in regards to her eternal destination. Unless, like I stated previously, he belonged to a theological persuasion such as “Lordship”/Calvinism. If he does not belong to a theological system like that, would you please explain why his belief in that would be in “direct conflict” with his daughter’s sin?
Eternal assurance does not “conflict” with his daughter sinning. The dilemma is illustrated by your own words: “It is very possible that his daughter is saved (justified).” If his daughter has “eternal assurance”, how can it be merely “possible” that she is saved/justified? This is the concept that does not make sense to him, that she may be in the process of losing her salvation, no matter what the “once saved always saved” doctrine says.
I think there has been some misunderstanding or miscommunication. I was referring to things from his perspective. From your comment you said he was distraught and confused about his daughter’s eternal destiny. My point was that just because she sinned doesn’t mean she didn’t ever believe and wasn’t justified. I said “possible” because I do not know her spiritual state, I don’t know her or if she ever believed. If he believes in eternal assurance, and that salvation isn’t dependent on oneself, why is he fretting over it. That was my question. The only reason he would be worried about her eternal destination would be if A. She never believed or B. he didn’t subscribe to the idea of “once saved always saved”.
I think you have said it all. In your view, and I have no reason to doubt that she sincerely believed and in your eyes was/is saved, whatever she does from then on, that is lives a life of sin, renounces her faith, and were to die unrepentant and in a state of sin, she would still go to heaven.
That just doesn’t match what Paul tells us.
John 1:12 “12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name.”
John 1:12 is a good way to start to express the Catholic position. God gives us the power to become children of God. Indeed, if we respond to the call with faith, and we are baptised, we are “saved”. Mark 16:16 “16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”Were we to die at this point, we would go directly to heaven. At that point, from a Catholic point of view we could say that we have an “assurance” of salvation. So far, we are probably not too far apart.
From then on, the major differences surface. Because, to carry on being “saved”, we have to remain in a state of grace. That is, not to have commited a grave sin against God that we have not repented of. If we sin, God is always willing to take us back provided we repent.
So, a Catholic would put it this way. We are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved, in other words we have the hope of salvation. This hope is not the same kind of hope as “I hope I win the lotto.” It is the experience, as much as is humanly possible, of the thing hoped for.
As Hebrews 11:1 says: “1 What is faith? It is that which gives substance to our hopes, which convinces us of things we cannot see. “
Your article does not reflect John’s teaching. John has many things to say which your theology glosses over:
1 John 2:3-4 “3 In this way we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.4 Whoever says, ‘I know him’ without keeping his commandments, is a liar, and truth has no place in him.”
1 John 2:9 “9 Whoever claims to be in light but hates his brother is still in darkness.”
1 John 2:15b-16 “If anyone does love the world, the love of the Father finds no place in him,16 because everything there is in the world — disordered bodily desires, disordered desires of the eyes, pride in possession — is not from the Father but is from the world.”
1 John 3:6-8 “6 No one who remains in him sins, and whoever sins has neither seen him nor recognised him.7 Children, do not let anyone lead you astray. Whoever acts uprightly is upright, just as he is upright.8 Whoever lives sinfully belongs to the devil, since the devil has been a sinner from the beginning.”
This is very strong language Nick: “WHOEVER LIVES SINFULLY BELONGS TO THE DEVIL.”
1 John 3:10b “whoever does not live uprightly and does not love his brother is not from God.”
1 John 3:14b-15 “Whoever does not love, remains in death.15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you are well aware that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.”
1 John 3:17 “17 If anyone is well-off in worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart to him, how can the love of God be remaining in him?”
1 John 4:8 “8 Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:20-21 “20 Anyone who says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, is a liar, since whoever does not love the brother whom he can see cannot love God whom he has not seen.21 Indeed this is the commandment we have received from him, that whoever loves God, must also love his brother.”
1 John 5:3 “3 This is what the love of God is: keeping his commandments.”