What the Bible says about
Works, The Necessity of Good
(From Forerunner Commentary)
If one is truly being sanctified, it will show itself in a habitual respect for God's law, most specifically the Ten Commandments. Many specious arguments have been devised to convince people that God's law need not be kept for salvation. These arguments are specifically aimed at denying the Christian responsibility of keeping the Sabbath, despite Jesus and the apostle Paul keeping the Sabbath as examples to all.
Was it not our sins that made it necessary for God to give us grace for forgiveness? Is not sin defined in I John 3:4 as transgressing God's law? Does it not defy logic that God would allow His sinless Son's life to be taken, grant us an unearned, unmerited pardon, and then permit us to go right back to sinning as a way of life? Perhaps one who has been taught thus should reread Hebrews 10:26-31.
Contained in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the very spirit of the Ten Commandments, showing that His followers have a more thorough and expansive responsibility to keep them than they ever had before conversion. He even admonishes us not to think that He has "come to destroy the Law or the Prophets" (Matthew 5:17). At just this point in His message, He launches into His expansion on the Ten Commandments.
Similarly, the apostle Paul never made light of God's laws. He writes, God forbid that we should break them and continue in sin (Romans 6:1-2). Do those calling themselves Christian really think that idolatry, lying, hypocrisy, thievery, murder, and adultery have God's approval? He does not approve of breaking His Sabbath either. We must labor not to break them so that we do not lose what our Lord and His Father have so generously and freely given us.
Habitually endeavoring to do Christ's will is a hallmark of one striving for holiness. He understands that Christ's teachings were given for the express purpose of promoting holiness because holiness is what pleases our Father in heaven. Is that not what our life is to be devoted to? In I Peter 1:16, the apostle quotes Leviticus 19:2, where our God commands, "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." It is foolhardy indeed for one to neglect to make practical use of Jesus' teachings, especially those given so plainly and clearly in the Sermon on the Mount.
Will not one committed to glorifying God follow Jesus' example when opportunities present themselves to do good, lessening the sorrow and pains of those around him while increasing happiness and well-being? Will he not exude peace, revealing a caring nature that always looks for ways to make others' lives a bit easier? A truly sanctified person will not exhibit a self-righteous, holier-than-thou, hard-as-nails attitude that cares nothing about whether others sink or swim. A sanctified person will perform good works.
Some works are more passive than those just mentioned, but we must develop and perform them nonetheless. Of the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, three of them - longsuffering, gentleness and meekness (KJV) - are more or less passive qualities that express godly traits. We must work to become more patient and forbearing with the weaknesses of others. Peter recalls of Jesus, "[W]hen He was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (I Peter 2:23). In this same context, he commands us to "follow His steps" (verse 21).
In the Lord's prayer, we are reminded of our need to forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 6:12). Immediately after this, Christ emphasizes how important this work is by telling us that, if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us (verses 14-15)!
Are we given to quick, cross tempers; sharp, sarcastic tongues; or disagreeable, easily offended attitudes? These are hardly godly attributes. It takes considerable work to overcome their presence in one's character.
We must never be ashamed of reaching for high standards of righteousness in our quest for holiness. Just because others do not seem to care is no excuse for us to lower our aim. For example, we cannot allow ourselves to be content with just keeping the Sabbath, somehow thinking that we have pleased God. Much of what passes for religion these days is perfectly useless when compared with the earnestness of God crying out in His Word for us to flee from the wrath to come (see Matthew 3:7; Romans 5:9; I Thessalonians 1:10). How do we flee from this wrath? By submitting to God. Can a person in danger flee in slow-motion or by standing still?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Six)
Is there any doubt in our minds that we are within striking range of the return of Jesus Christ? The gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached for almost two thousand years, and prophecies made by Him and others regarding His return are being fulfilled. The crisis at the close is almost upon us. Mankind's only hope is revealed in the gospel, yet we find great ignorance regarding what His good news is.
The complete secularization of the Western, "Christian" world is almost accomplished, and doctrinal confusion abounds. It seems as though the vast number of professing Christians believe that all one must do is believe in the name of Jesus Christ to be saved. This is most certainly required, but Jesus Himself says in Mark 1:15 that one must believe in the gospel in order to be saved.
That is quite a bit different than merely believing in Jesus. While it is definitely true that Jesus died for our sins, the true gospel provides a great deal more instruction regarding Christianity and its purpose than solely Jesus' part in our salvation. It reveals that a Christian must play an active part in the spiritual creation that God is working in and through men.
One of the more effective deceptions Satan has palmed off on mankind is that all God is attempting to do is to "save" people. Most Christians somehow fail to think of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as actively involved in doing something more with those who are converted.
Consider this process, which most people believe: At some time in his life, the "saved" one had perceived the need to be forgiven of his sins. He then asked God to forgive him, and from that point on, because of Christ's blood, he was "saved." Is this true? Though this illustration has been simplified a great deal, it is nevertheless close to the prevalent belief.
We will add a biblical fact to that scenario. Almost all Bible commentators hold that the Israelite's experience of walking through the wilderness following Israel's release from bondage to Egypt is a type of a Christian's walk following his conversion. Walking is typical of laboring or working to reach an objective.
Did the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land - a type of the Kingdom of God - immediately upon release from their bondage? No! They had ahead of them a forty-year journey filled with trials. As they journeyed, God worked with them and supplied their needs, preparing them for their inheritance. Release from Egypt only began another aspect of God's work with them. To reach their objective, a great deal of labor lay ahead of them.
We all need to come to grips with the reality that our Creator is a God who works. He is not merely observing mankind, or worse still, having gone way off somewhere in the vastness of the universe, letting things run more or less on their own. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." More plainly, the Father began working in the indefinite past and has continued working right up till now. God is not sitting around passively saving people.
In Psalm 74:12, notice the psalmist Asaph's revelation of what God is doing: "For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." The salvation of human beings requires God to work, yet some seem to think that all He does is as simple as turning a "forgiveness switch," and the person is saved. However, in various places both the Father and the Son are called "Saviors." It ought to be apparent that saving a person from circumstances he needs deliverance from requires a savior to work. If a deliverer or savior does not make a strenuous effort, the one in need of rescue will not be saved.
Jesus testified that the Father was working at that very moment. The Bible provides abundant records of Jesus, our Savior, working on behalf of mankind: teaching, counseling, praying, healing, setting the example for His disciples, and obeying His Father flawlessly in order to be the sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Further, He says in John 14:10, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works." Jesus thus shows the Father to be His partner in His ministry.
In addition, when Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, He was made Head of the Church, as well as its High Priest. As such, He is responsible to the Father for working with the members of His Body, interceding on our behalf. He thus bears great responsibility for the salvation of its individual members and the success of the church as a whole. These vital tasks require His careful attention, especially as events near the crisis at the close of the age.
The conclusion is obvious: The work of God abounds with works for all concerned in seeking the objective He has set before us in His purpose. That objective is the Kingdom of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
Teachers who say that works are unimportant are spreading lies—by confusing the issues, by blunting the incentive to keep the commandments of God and to make the right kind of choices, by making people think that they do not have to do any works. Understand, however, that works are not required to save us but to ensure that we are changed!
What does God want to see when we come before the judgment bar, as we are now during our Christian lives? He wants to see evidence to prove that we are indeed His children. His judgment is based upon what we have done; the Bible says repeatedly that judgment is according to our works.
I am not qualifying here the quantity or the quality of our works. God is so merciful! Paul tells us in I Corinthians 3:15 that, even though our works are burned up, we ourselves will be saved. Even though the works are of poor quality, at least we have worked! We did not just sit there, dead in the water. We apparently pleased God enough to show that we wanted to be in His Kingdom.
That judgment is in His hands. But we should recognize that He does require works. The works are not for justification but for sanctification. The works aid in the transformation of our character to the image of God. The works aid in our growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. The works help to produce change. It is a cooperative effort that we do with God.
And I can guarantee you that, if a person does not make the efforts to change, he would be totally unhappy in the Kingdom of God. He would be like a fish out of water, because everybody in that Kingdom is going to be holy. Everybody in that Kingdom is going to do—they are going to live holy lives. (An unholy person wouldn't fit, and so he won't be there.)
Satan is trying to destroy God's purpose by subtly confusing the necessity of good works, and therefore stopping the process of sanctification through a perverted teaching on grace, law, and covenants. But remember this: Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness—a holiness that we have to strive for—"no man shall see the Lord."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)
A much better translation that catches the essence of what Paul says is, ". . . a man is not justified through works of the law except through faith in Jesus Christ," or "but by means of faith in Jesus Christ." Paul is saying that works are of value when joined with faith in Jesus Christ, clearly showing that when works are combined with faith, they have positive value.
Since righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ, in reality it comes by the faith of Jesus Christ because it is His righteousness that is imputed to us for the purpose of justification. He achieved that righteousness by perfect lawkeeping through His faith in God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)
Works do not pass from the picture because we are saved by grace. This is made evident in the book of Revelation because Christ, in His last message to His people at perhaps the most important juncture in the history of mankind, says, "I know your works." His concern in the final two letters to His churches is about conduct, overcoming, and works.
In the conduct of our lives, to whom or to what are we going to be loyal after conversion? This is why in Revelation 2 and 3 Christ consistently mentions works, conduct, doctrine, faith, repentance, warning, promises, and overcoming—and warns, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
Most of us realize that the unity of the church of God courses through the book of Ephesians as a general theme. Paul illustrates the church as a complete body of which Jesus, though in heaven, is the Head, and the elect here on earth comprise the rest of it. Early on, Paul declares how God has planned the organization of His purpose from the very beginning, determining whom He would call, give His Spirit to, and perfect as His children.
In Ephesians 4, the apostle begins to clarify our Christian responsibilities regarding works. He appeals to us in verse 1 to make every effort to live a manner of life that measures up to the magnificence of our high calling. He then makes sure we understand that we must carry out our responsibilities in humility, kindness, and forbearance as we strive to maintain doctrinal accord in purity.
He explains that Christ has given each of us gifts to meet our responsibilities in maintaining the unity of God's church. Foremost among these gifts are teachers who will work to equip us for service in the church and eventually in the Kingdom. This same process will enable us to grow to completion, to mature, no longer wavering in our loyalties, certain in the direction of our lives, and not deceived by the craftiness of men.
With that foundation, the "therefore" in verse 17 draws our focus to the practical applications necessary to meet the standards of the preceding spiritual concepts. We must not conduct our lives as the unconverted do. They are blinded to these spiritual realities and so conduct life in ignorance, following the lusts of darkened minds.
Because we are being educated by God, the standards of conduct are established by His truths and are therefore exceedingly higher. We must make every effort to throw off the works of carnality and strive to acquire a renewed mind through diligent, continuous effort so that we can be created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24).
In verses 25-29, Paul moves even further from generalities to clear, specific works that we must do. We must speak truth so that we do not injure another through lies, as well as to maintain unity. Because deceit produces distrust, unity cannot be maintained if lying occurs. We must not allow our tempers to flare out of control, for they serve as an open door for Satan to create havoc.
We must be honest, earning our way so that we are prepared to give to others who are in need. We must be careful that what we speak is not only true but also edifying, imparting encouragement, empathy, sympathy, exhortation, and even gentle correction when needed.
In verse 30 is a brief and kind reminder that, in doing our works we must never forget that we owe everything to our indwelling Lord and Master. We must make every effort to be thankful, acknowledging Him as the Source of all gifts and strengths, enabling us to glorify Him through our works.
In the final two verses of the chapter, Paul delineates specific responsibilities concerning our attitudes toward fellow Christians within personal relationships.
This brief overview of just one chapter shows clearly how much works enter into a Christian's life as practical requirements that cannot be passed off as unnecessary. How else will a Christian glorify God? How else will he grow to reflect the image of God? How else will he fulfill God's command to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) except by faithfully doing those works that lead to life?
Through the whole process of sanctification, the Christian will make constant use of two additional works: daily prayer and Bible study, which must be combined with his efforts to obey God. No one who is careless about performing these works can expect to make progress growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ during sanctification.
Why? Without them, he will have no relationship with either the Father or the Son, and thus will not be enabled to achieve the required works. They are the Source of the powers that make it possible for us to do the works God has ordained. If we do not follow through on these two works, we will surely hear ourselves called "wicked and lazy" and be cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:24-30).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
Notice how many active words Paul uses in Colossians 3:1-17 to describe what a Christian must be doing:
- "Seek those things which are above" (verse 1).
- "Set your mind on things above" (verse 2).
- "Put to death your members" (verse 5).
- "Put off all these" (verse 8).
- "Do not lie to one another" (verse 9).
- "Put on tender mercies" (verse 12).
- "Bearing with one another, and forgiving" (verse 13).
- "Put on love" (verse 14).
- "Let the peace of God rule . . . and be thankful" (verse 15).
- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you" (verse 16).
- "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (verse 17).
Paul makes sure we understand that we must actively participate in order to grow. When God talks about growth, He means increasing in His attributes, the qualities that will conform us to His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
In broader generalities, Christ told the Ephesian church to do the same (Revelation 2:1-7). Here we see it in Paul's epistle to the Colossians, in a more specific way.
Because of what Christ said, we can understand that it is not impossible for us to redirect our energies and feelings. If we tie Galatians 6:7-10 to Colossians 3:1-4 and Revelation 2:1-7, we can see that Paul was saying that the rewards are in the doing—in the works. As Christ said, "I know your works." The solution is, "You need to redirect your energies, go back to your former devotion. And, if you have the right devotion, if you show real love, then the right works will come, and you will overcome."
God's way is such that it begins producing the good soon, not late. The apostle is saying that, if we begin sowing the right seed, we will soon begin to reap the fruit of the harvest to come because God's Word always produces results. God says that His Word will not go forth and return empty. We can be assured that fruit will be produced if we sow the right things, if we turn our energies to the way they should be.
The harvest, then, begins to be reaped—soon, in the sense of well-being, a sense that things are well between us and God. John 3:21 and the next several verses tie in here so well. So in the Ephesian church, as well as the whole church era, the members' lack of love was showing in what they were doing. Ignorance was not motivating them, but a loss of affection for Christ (Revelation 2:4-5). This is serious business. If there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation (I Corinthians 16:22).
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ
The objection people have regarding Hebrews 11:5-7 is that the mention of works and reward in the same breath suggests legalism and working for salvation. Is that so, or is it a misconception on their part? The latter. They misunderstand the salvation process because they do not allow the Bible to interpret itself.
God says in Genesis 15:1, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." His encouragement applies to us as well as to him. God Himself is the reward of those who seek Him. "Those who seek Him" is limited to those God invites to approach Him and who believe enough to take advantage of the opportunity and thus stir themselves up to draw near. The invitation itself is an aspect of God's grace.
Romans 4:4 makes it clear that earning access to God is impossible because it would put God in man's debt. No, access to Him is the result of freely given grace. The pairing of grace and reward is no more inconsistent than God's almighty sovereignty and man's responsibility being linked, or Jesus being both our Lord and our Servant. There would be no reward if God did not first give grace.
Another pairing we need to consider is found in Colossians 3:23-24: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Is not salvation a free gift? Yes, but as servants of Christ, we work, and our reward is eternal entrance into God's Kingdom. Add to this the idea found in Isaiah 55:1, that we are to "buy . . . without money." Salvation, then, is both a gift and a reward.
It should be clear that, in terms of salvation, gifts and works are nothing more than opposite sides of the same coin. Both are involved in the same process—salvation—but they are seen from different perspectives.
One thing is certain: There will be no lazy, neglectful people in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:26-30). Why? Because God is preparing us for living with Him eternally, so we must be created in the character image of Him and His Son, or we absolutely will not fit in. We would live in absolute, eternal misery. Jesus stresses that diligent work is part of His character when He says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Creators work!
Luke 13:24 adds strength to this point: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able." The Greek word translated "strive" is actually the source of the English word "agonize." In addition, Jesus urges us in John 6:27 to labor "for the food which endures to everlasting life." God chooses to reward such strenuous efforts, not because they earn us a place in His presence, but because He deems it fitting to recognize and bless them. The Bible shows salvation as a reward, not because people earn it, but because God wants to emphasize the character of those who will be in His Kingdom and encourage others to be like them. The citizens of that Kingdom are workers like the Father and Son.
A second reason why reward and salvation are linked is because salvation, like payment for a person's labor, comes after the job is finished. Among the apostles, nobody worked harder for God than Paul did. At the end of his life, he writes:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:7-8)
Just as wages for work performed are paid after a job is done, God's major blessings are not given completely until our course is finished.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Noah accomplished a significant witness, persevering for a very long time under horrific conditions. His witness was of sterling quality and worthy of emulation.
These two verses appear quite innocuous. We read them and consider their teaching a matter of course regarding Christian life and salvation. However, for this world's Christianity, they pose a dilemma for those more deeply aware of the intricacies of Christian responsibility.
Calvinist theologian Arthur Pink (1886-1952) says in his exposition of this passage, "The verses which are now to engage our attention are by no means free of difficulty, especially unto those who have sat under a ministry which has failed to preserve the balance between Divine grace and Divine righteousness." Why would he say this? These two verses, almost single-handedly, nearly destroy one of the most treasured teachings of this world's Christianity—the Doctrine of Eternal Security, the "once saved, always saved" or "no works required" doctrine.
Note the end of the quotation: Some ministries have "failed to preserve the balance between Divine grace and Divine righteousness." Preachers who fail to maintain this balance strongly emphasize God's favor while neglecting or ignoring His claims on our lives—our duties and responsibilities to Him—because He owns us! We are His slaves!
To any thinking person, these verses severely undercut those preachers' claims that appear to guarantee grace, that is, to assure salvation. How? Verse 6 clearly states that God rewards those who live by faith, and verse 7 illustrates that, in Noah's case, the reward was that Noah and his house were saved because of what they did.
What did Noah do that was so important to his and his family's salvation? His works produced the ark, the means of escaping death from the Flood. Noah's works were rewarded. Where, then, is grace?
Note that I wrote that these verses "nearly destroy" this concept, not "totally destroy." They do not contain the entire story, but they are very troublesome, to say the least, to those of the no-works stripe. If they do not bother a nominal Christian, he is clearly ignoring what the verses really say, that a person's works play a large part in his salvation. What would have happened to Noah and his family had they convinced themselves that, since God had given Noah grace, no ark needed to be built because God would save them anyway?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Just as surely as a dead person does no works, so a faith, a religion, that does not include works is also dead. Thus, a person in whom living, saving faith exists will produce works.
One must also consider Ephesians 2:8, 10, which tell us that salvation is by grace through faith, and that the Father created us for good works, which He prearranged for us to perform. Therefore, how can a person with a dead faith, one that produces no works, be in God's Kingdom, since he would be failing to do the very thing for which God is creating him in Christ?
Furthermore, we are to be in God's image and to imitate Christ. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Our spiritual Father is a Creator, and a creator works. Most certainly, Jesus worked during His lifetime on earth, living a sinless life to provide us a means of justification. As our High Priest, He continues to work toward our salvation.
The root of this issue is that people have a dismally vague knowledge of what sin is, as well as an equally weak appreciation for the dangerous filthiness of sin, which can prevent us from entering God's Kingdom. We live in an exceedingly sinful nation in which we are confronted by sin from every quarter, including from within. Sin is so blatantly exhibited that most people seem to treat it with casual indifference until some form of it—rape, murder, thievery, lying, gossip, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drunkenness, etc.—personally hits them.
So many are unaware of what sin is that they ignorantly participate in it. Television and movie "entertainment" overflows with it. In fact, sin is woven so tightly into the fabric of movies and TV shows that one could wonder if any other subject material exists! In America, over one million unborn children are aborted each year, and people euphemistically call this a "privacy right," hiding from the reality that they are murderers! What else can one honestly call the taking of life from an unborn human being created in God's image?
Through Jeremiah, God accuses Judah of having a "whore's forehead," indicating a people so perverted and hardened in their sins they could no longer be shamed (Jeremiah 3:3). If we as a people have not reached that stage of degeneracy, we soon will because God cries through Ezekiel, "Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence" (Ezekiel 7:23). Is there any other nation in the Western world that so openly exhibits as many violent crimes as the United States of America?
When one realizes sin's stranglehold on the United States, it becomes clear that a majority of its people are either ignorant of their responsibilities to God and fellow man, or no longer care what God thinks. A recent Barna poll reveals that an astounding 76 million American citizens never darken a church doorway to receive spiritual and moral instruction. How can they possibly appreciate what sin is and does?
Of far greater concern, though, are those who are reading this. God's ministers are responsible to make their teaching of God and His way as sharp and clear as they can so that those they teach can understand, not just the basics, but as broadly and deeply as possible so that it can be lived.
Wrong ideas about holiness usually lie in wrong ideas about human corruption. The responsibility of the Christian to seek the holiness of God provides the very reason God requires works. I Peter 1:15-16 charges us, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
The obverse of this common ignorance of sin is that, without a firm understanding of human corruption, we have little appreciation of the radiant glory of God's holiness toward which we are to strive! Sin lies exposed as the root cause of humanity's corrupt condition, but many, even in the church, do not appreciate the depth of persistent corruption in themselves.
Vague, dim, and indistinct understandings of sin will never serve a Christian well. He must always apply his mind to growing in understanding to throw off spiritual vagueness and simultaneously glorify our Father and Elder Brother. If one does not grasp the depth of his carnal heart's disease, it will constantly deceive him into thinking he has little to overcome, thus dragging him into pride. The human heart is so sick God tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurable!
Scripture uses terms for sin that are easily understood, but unless one meditates on them, they may not provide a clear picture of sin's many means of exerting its influence. The Bible's terms generally mean something like "missing the mark," "turning aside," or "slipping off the path." They can sound quite innocuous unless one recognizes the devastation sin has caused and ponders it seriously.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
Since all are to be judged according to their works, what if one claiming to be Christian has no works to show when God clearly expects them? James 2:19-20 clinches the argument: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?"
This entire issue is actually quite simple. No amount of works can justify us before God. Justification by faith in Christ's atoning blood makes one legally free to access God and to begin a relationship with Him. However, from that point on, works are absolutely required for sanctification unto holiness - to the extent that, not only is one's reward contingent upon them, but also salvation itself. Will God reward one who can show no works at all, or provide salvation to one whose faith is so weak it produces bad works? Such a person would be totally out of place, unfit for living eternally in the Kingdom of God.
Ephesians 2:8-10 makes this reality even stronger. Even though we are saved by grace through faith, the very reason we are created is for good works that God Himself prepared beforehand for us to walk in. The gospel of the Kingdom of God provides the reasons for which works are required - the major one being to prepare us for living in God's Kingdom.
God intended Israel's forty-year journey through the wilderness to prepare them for living in the Promised Land. However, even though Israel had the gospel preached to them and had godly leadership provided by the likes of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, in their stiff-necked unbelief they refused to submit in obedience to God's commands. They thus failed to receive the necessary preparation for using the Promised Land rightly, becoming an eternal example of why works of preparation are needed (Hebrews 4:1-2).
Can we learn a lesson from their examples? When God brings us out of spiritual Egypt, He is not done with us yet. In fact, a great deal of spiritual creating within us remains to be accomplished before we will be fit to live and occupy a working position in God's Kingdom. We are being created in Christ Jesus, created in His image. Can we honestly say we are already in His image when we are merely legally cleared of sin? Absolutely not! As great as this is, it is not the end of God's creative process. God is not merely "saving" us. His purpose is far greater than that.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Six)
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