Do works help us get to heaven?

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In his epistles the Apostle Paul strongly emphasizes the fact that our salvation is based solely on what Christ has done in our behalf. Among other things he says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9). "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4). "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28). "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5).

In many different passages the Apostle Paul excludes works in the matter of salvation. The Bible is a unified book. If Paul excludes works, so do the other Apostles. Some people, however, waver on this point because they do not correctly understand the words of James. James says: "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). It appears that there is a contradiction here, but there actually is none. Paul explains how we are justified before God or how we become acceptable to Him, namely by grace through faith without works. James explains how we are justified in the sight of other people. Because faith cannot be seen, we are justified in the eyes of others by the fruits of our faith. James also writes: "Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). It is very plain therefore that James is explaining how our righteousness becomes manifest to others. Paul and James speak of different matters even though their words are similar. Paul is admonishing those who try to earn salvation by their works. James admonishes those who falsely imagine that they are believers and recipients of God's grace even though their works are clearly works of unbelief. To them James says: 'Your faith is dead. True faith produces love. Saving faith is not merely acknowledging the truth of a matter. It is trusting in the Word of salvation. A dead faith cannot save.'

We are saved through the faith that results in works, but not because faith results in works. Salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ.

We need both types of preaching. We need the Gospel of grace. We can find comfort for our conscience only in the truth that Christ has already done everything in our behalf and that salvation is by grace through faith without works. But we also need to be warned. We need to examine ourselves to see if we believe or if we have lapsed into a state of spiritual lethargy. This is the purpose of the Epistle of James. In conclusion he says: "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back; let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19,20).