Works vs. Works
No one can deny that "we are not saved by works" because the Bible says so.
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
However, many never look any further in the scriptures to realize that it is also true that "faith without works is dead".
James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
I think most Bible students would agree that a dead faith will not save you. So from a little logic we can see that one must work to have a "living faith". If it takes works to have a living faith so that you can be saved, then in part we must conclude "works save you".
The reader might be grappling with this already. Surely we have made a mistake in our logic, you might say. But I pose no. We have used correct logic. If what James says is true then in part "works save you".
So now we have something to think about. Paul said in Ephesians you are not saved by works. James said if you do not have works your faith is dead and therefore you "are saved by works". I really only see two possibilities here.
There is a mistake in the Bible.
They are talking about different kinds of works.
Some have concluded the first one to be true. There is a movement in the religious world that James was not an inspired writer. They claim his words should have never made it into the canon of the Bible. I have even heard accounts of people literally having torn the pages of James from their Bible.
I am confident that point two is correct. Both Paul and James were inspired writers talking about different kinds of works.
The best way I have ever seen to explain this is by saying Paul is talking about "meritorius works". These are the kind of works that earn you something. For example, when I put in my 8 hours work I have earned my pay. It would be wrong for my employer not to give it to me. I earned it. I deserve it. You can never earn heaven in this manner.
As you know you could put crosses on every hill. You could adopt every orphan. You could feed every hungry person. You would still not have earned heaven. It would still be a gift from God.
James is saying something different. He is talking about "works of God". James is saying you MUST work the works of God to be saved. This would agree with what Jesus said.
John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
I realize this was under the old law. But when these asked Jesus what work they could do, what did he say? Believe! This was a work under the old law and guess what?!? It is STILL a work under the new law. Believing is work. It is ironic that some who misapply Ephesians 2:8-10 say you don't have to WORK, you just have to BELIEVE. But here we see Jesus himself say that believing is a work.
If we do not work the work of God (belief) we cannot be saved.
Jesus also said
Again, this was in the old law but repentance is certainly taught in the new law. Every time one decided to obey the gospel they were told to repent. Repentance is certainly a work. It is very difficult to quit doing evil works and start doing works of light.
We also must confess.
We must confess Christ with our mouth and with our deeds. Both of which are a work of God. If we do not do these things, we will not be saved.
Another work of God that is clearly shown in the Bible that one must do is baptism.
1 Pet 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
There are MANY other examples showing that Jesus, the apostles, and all other disciples of Christ taught that one must work the work of God in baptism before they could be saved.
Working the works of God does not stop here. One must not forsake the assembly (Heb 10:25), teach others, visit (James 1:27), sing (Col 3:16; Ep 5:19), pray (1 Th 5:17) and so on. If one is not bearing fruits such as these then they will be rooted up (Matt 15:13). Once again we see something ironic. Many who read Ephesian 2:8-10 forget that
They don't realize that although we are "not saved by works" this same passage goes on to show that God created us to "work good works" or in other words to work HIS works.
For the record, the word used for work by both James and Paul is ERGON. Many times the way a verse is translated makes the meaning harder to grasp. That is not true in this case since both are using the same word. I thought one day, how can we illustrate this in our culture? How can you illustrate working, but not meritoriously working? I think the best way is by viewing an internship. An intern is usually someone in college who has to "work" at a company for no pay to fulfill a requirement of his or her education. If you ask someone, "Does he work here?" They would say "No. He is just an intern." You could even ask the intern, "Do you work here?". He would probably say the same thing, "No. I'm just an intern." But the fact is the intern is "working" very hard. Usually an intern has more fire in his bones than any of the employees. They have sweat dripping from their brow. They are excited and are trying to think of new inventive ways of doing things. They are more anxious to help than anyone on staff... usually. But alas, they are working, but not working. Just like we are for our salvation.
So in the end we must WORK THE WORKS OF GOD to be saved. We will not have earned heaven, but our gracious merciful master will give it to us even though we haven't earned it. It is a gift.