Works Are Necessary for Salvation

12:51 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.)

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11 impressions

  1. I disagree. BIG surprise there, huh?

    I would start by defining holy. Holy is set apart unto the Lord, belonging to God.

    How do you pursue that?

    Belonging to God isn't what Christians pursue. We are holy.

    I would now discuss the Lord's Supper. In Genesis 9.4 the Lord says to Noah, "But the flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

    That is the Lord's Supper, eating Jesus the Christ's flesh with the life thereof. Whether it is physically his flesh, I know not; but it is truly his flesh with the life thereof. This I believe.

    Christians belong to God. We are holy. We partake of his flesh with his life thereof.

    We don't pursue holiness we are holy.
    We should seek to know him to whom we belong, thus prayer, meditation, and studying his word. Seeking his good pleasure in thought and deed. This I believe

  2. Tragedy101,

    Why be sanctified if we're already holy? Why are we told to "be holy, for I am holy" if we're already holy?

    There's POSITIONAL holiness (e.g. the holiness we automatically receive upon justification) and there's PERSONAL holiness. Two different, related, necessary things.

  3. Why, indeed, "be?"

    No "try to be." No "attempt to be." No "pursue holiness." Just "be."

    Be holy. Be dedicated to God. Be his.

    I know you are familiar with the New Testament, you should read the Law. Then you will see what holy is.

    Leviticus is a fascinating book. The first mention of "Love your neighbor as yourself" in the Bible. (19.18)

    Perhaps, you are correct. At this time, I do not think so.

  4. So you're already personally holy, not only before God but actually, personally righteous? Congrats!

    Dude. You need to read real theology. That's all I'm gonna say. ;)

  5. I'll read the Bible. Thanks. If that's not real theology, I don't need to read it.

    Now that's interesting...
    Righteous and holy are not synonyms. They are not used interchangeably in the Bible. Why do you use them as if they were

  6. Look, I'm sorry for getting snarky. It just bothers me that you're denying sanctification entirely -- this is what you were saved FOR. We're supposed to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." We are called to "be holy" (which is a COMMAND that needs to, well, be obeyed...a work). Please do read the Bible...because it has a LOT to say about pursuing holiness.

    We are justified...but we still need to be personally righteousness. We are sanctified (made holy)...but we still need to be personally holy (the process of sanctification). It's both/and. The reasoning of the NT is this: Because you were called and made holy, be holy. Because you were justified, pursue righteousness. This is who you are, so become that.

    You're not following the nuance of this both/and aspect of holiness in Scripture. You're zeroing in on the positional holiness before God that Christ bought for us on Calvary and that the Spirit applied to us and ignoring the personal holiness every Christian must strive to obtain (i.e. sanctification...the process of becoming personally holy as God is).

    You're right that righteousness and holiness are not interchangeable. I was being sloppy in my terms. But there is a moral aspect of holiness, a purity aspect, and the two are interrelated. Achieving full holiness also includes being rid of all sin, which hinders one from being entirely separate from the world, from being holy like God. We must be cleansed, washed, sanctified in order to be fully holy. And that's what the pursuit of holiness is.

    Perhaps you're hung up on what I mean by "pursuit"? I don't mean "try to," as in feeble wishing and pathetic attempts. I mean boldly striving for holiness in the power of the Spirit as our GOAL. For example, I strive for A's. That is my goal. I am not "inherently" an A student in the sense that I automatically get A's just because I'm Bailey. But I can become an A student because I exercise the capacity within me to achieve that goal. Which requires intense work. Striving. I AM an A-student, but to be an A-student, I must work. It's not just handed to me on a platter.

    So too with the pursuit of holiness. Because we are positionally holy, we now have the capacity to become fully holy (i.e. the Spirit works within us). But we must EXERCISE this capacity -- we must STRIVE for the goal. To be honest, if you're really holy, you WILL be striving to be holy. It's a sign that you were actually set apart.

    Does that make sense?

  7. And in case you still aren't convinced, here's the Bible to argue my case:

    "Strive...for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:14-15).

    We are holy. We are given grace. And we strive for holiness and we obtain grace too.

  8. I like this post - very analytical and theological. I have a feeling this change in perspective is a super big deal. (Or maybe it is just an explicit stating of what you always believed?) I can't claim any real understanding, particularly as my religion, Unitarian Universalism, is sometimes referred to as a "Deeds not Creeds" religion. But I know enough to be impressed with the magnitude of the difference.


  9. Bailey,

    Philippians 2.12

    "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

    Philippians 2.13

    "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do his good pleasure."

    Hebrews 12.14

    "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."

    Hebrews 12.15-16

    "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright."

    Hebrews 14.17

    "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."

    Hebrews 12.28-29

    Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire."

    The reason I read the Bible is to seek the presence of our God. If you mean that, then we are in agreement.

    Our God is a consuming fire and only that which is holy can be in his presence.

    I don't want you to be deceived. Holiness is not the prize that we run for. The prize, the goal, is full communion with God in his presence. So we cast off every weight and sin, and we run with endurance the race before us, looking unto the goal, Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.

  10. I wanted to join in on this conversation. I was trying to find the best way to portray my views and found this article. It does not answer the question directly of if we can reach Heaven by works, or by the Grace of God alone, but it does show a peak into how God sees us. I believe that God is our father, who gives us the chance to grow and learn, earth life. We are here to learn about Him and become more like Him. We will make mistakes and will fail to be perfect so we cannot get to Heaven, to live with Him, with out His grace, Mercy, and the atonement or our Savior Jesus Christ. But how can we expect to be comfortable in his presence if we have not tried to become like Him by making good choices. So it is both, he expects us to try to seek him out and to be more like him. But His Mercy, and the atonement of his son will be what saves us on that Judgement day. How merciful is he that he allows us to choose to be more like him. Let me know what you think of the article.

  11. Mara,

    Thanks for chiming in! I'm not sure how the article you cited relates to this discussion, though -- Mormonism is far outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy.


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