Works Are Necessary for Salvation12:51 PM
. . .and with such a bold title, every Protestant immediately starts the death wail for Bailey Bergmann's demise into the heathen camp of Roman Catholicism.
Hear me out.
It used to plague my childhood mind when Baptist preachers thundered, "Salvation is a free gift! You don't have to do anything to be saved! You just need to accept it!" Being contrary, I snuggled against my mom's shoulder in the balcony of our mega-church and snorted softly to myself, "Accepting is doing something."
Protestants point to their prooftext of the jailer asking Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" The response was probably the second verse I learned after John 3:16: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
Except that's not the only answer given to that question. Repent. Repent and believe. Repent and be baptized. And then there's the constant urge to be holy, the requirement of holiness, the threat that no unrighteous people -- no slanderers, adulterers, liars, and disobedient children -- enter the kingdom. Period. Only those who persevered to the end were saved. Only those who pursued holiness were saved.
Dating someone with a Catholic background, I argued with my boyfriend all the time about the five solas -- especially faith alone. Works must be involved, he kept telling me. Faith without works is dead. Why do you choose Paul's argument of justification by faith instead of James's argument of justification by works? And Luther added justification by faith alone -- the alone part is not expressly put in Scripture.
Fortunately the Reformers recognized all along the huge emphasis Scripture put on works and the fear against antinomianism. Their formula I think most readily captures the faith/works relationship: We are justified by faith alone, but the faith which saves is not alone -- it is accompanied by works. (For some reason I never learned that until my college class on the Reformation. . .taught by a Catholic.)
In other words, works do not justify. Faith justifies. But works are necessary for salvation -- salvation which includes the sanctifying part, not just the justifying part.
It turns out that so many things in Scripture tie together when understanding that other things are necessary for salvation besides faith -- baptism, for instance. Nothing but faith justifies. Nothing. Which is why someone currently dying can get to heaven through sincere repentance and belief -- they possess no more life to get baptized or to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. For the rest of us, we work. We repent. We obey Christ's command to be baptized, fellowship with believers, and run the race set before that. We must do so. . .enabled by the relationship we possess with Christ through faith.
It is dangerous to separate faith and works incorrectly or to mix up their relationship or replace one with the other. It results in no salvation at all. It results in untrue faith or unacceptable works. Generally Protestants focus more exclusively on the danger of getting faith wrong. I've found it helpful, challenging, and necessary to hear the other side -- the danger of getting works wrong. Because both are serious.
It's like this: if someone collapses with a heart attack, the 911 call is necessary for that person's salvation. Of course, a random passerby or even yourself might possess the training to start CPR, but generally, the way life works is you call 911. It's the actual CPR and other medical stuff that saves the person's life. . .but the 911 call is necessary.
I think this solves other dilemmas in Scripture too. Why pray or evangelize if God is sovereign? Because those actions are necessary, even if our prayer or preaching does not in actuality change things or saves the person. It is so necessary, in fact, that it sometimes appears that Scripture says that the prayer or the preaching or the good works actually saves/justifies.
Think about that. (And read The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung -- a big Reformed voice who prompted this blog post.)