As I mentioned in the previous article, faith is necessary for justification and to remain justified, but good works are necessary as well. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in “Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In Galatians 5, Paul, who, in this passage, is talking about freedom in Christ vs. bondage under the Law, says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Both verses are key to understanding the role of works.
First, we do good works because we have been re-created in Christ Jesus “for good works.” If we have been re-created in Christ and refuse to do good works, our faith is dead. Second, faith working through love is a benefit to us. If circumcision and uncircumcision are of no benefit, the logical conclusion according to Gal 5:6 is that faith working through love is certainly beneficial. But how do good works affect us? Let’s turn to Jesus’ own words for a moment, and then we’ll return to Paul.
In the parable of the talents, all three men are servants of the master but only two of them received a reward. The third servant said, “I knew you to be a hard man…and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” He was “cast into the outer darkness” because he did nothing with the talent given to him. The master then says, “You wicked and slothful servant!” and “Cast him into the outer darkness” (Mt 25:14-30).
Notice that the servant “knew him” but did not do the master’s will. Similarly, in the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus separates the righteous and the unrighteous according to their deeds. To the righteous, the King said, “…inherit the kingdom prepared for you” and “…as you did [these good deeds] to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me.” To the unrighteous the King said, “Depart from me…into the eternal fire” and “as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not unto me” (Mt 25:21-46).
The eternal reward and punishment in both parables are based on works. It should be noted that in both parables, the ones rewarded were faithful and did good works. Works alone cannot justify us. They must proceed from faith by the grace God gives us “lest any man should boast.” Paul confirms the role of works when he says, “For He will render to every man according to his works” (Rom 2:6). In order to get a better picture of how grace, faith and works work together, let’s look at bodily health as an analogy for spiritual health.
Suppose a man is stranded in the desert, is dehydrated and is close to death. He stumbles upon an oasis full of pristine water and drinks (or receives the water) from it. He is slowly rehydrated and lives. Did the water save him? Yes, through his receptance of it. Does this mean he no longer needs water or that he doesn’t need to supplement the water with food? No.
Further, should he reject foods that are bad for him? Yes. Water = grace. Water’s ingestion = faith. Healthy food = good works. Unhealthy food = sin. Grace + Faith + Works + Rejection of sin = Salvation. Or Grace + Faith + Obedience = Salvation. A purposeful rejection of grace, either by refusing to have a working faith or by committing mortal sin (sins of commission or omission) without subsequent repentance in the confessional, results in eternal punishment. For more on sins of omission see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11251b.htm. The bottom line is that we must have a working faith. But what about the supposed opposition between Paul and James on the role of works? This will be discussed in the next article.