Why is it that we can only be saved (justified or declared righteous in God's sight) by faith alone? Because faith is the only channel by which we pray and receive Jesus Christ through repentance in Him. We see ourselves as utterly sinful, unworthy and wretched. We come to God with nothing to bring Him but our sin, and we turn away from our sinful lifestyle unto Christ who paid for our salvation on the cross. When he died on that Cross, he died in our place. He paid it in full! It's like taking our certificate of sin debt and stamping in red "PAID IN FULL" on it. He rose from the dead on the third day conquering death and so was our perfect sacrifice for sin: "who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification." (Romans 4:25)
So if we are born-again, saved, and have eternal life by faith alone, where do good works come in? The Bible is full of scripture saying that good works are important. Let's go to James:
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only."(James 2:20-24)
The correct interpretation and meaning of these verses is this ......Abraham's offering of Issac demonstrated the genuineness of his faith and the reality of his justification before God. James is emphasizing the vindication before others of a man's claim to salvation. You see James was dealing with many people who were saying: "I'm saved!" What James says is in effect: "Okay, so you claim to have faith, true saving faith, then it will be evidenced by your works, since your works is all that men can see. Men can't look into your heart and see that you have the Holy Spirit. When you are saved, the Holy Spirit lives within you and your good works are evidence that you are a true child of God!
You see, works are the FRUIT, not the ROOT of your salvation. I love how the Apostle Paul lines these verses up: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10) Notice Paul starts out by saying, You are saved by grace (unmerited favor) through faith (faith not of yourselves, even that is a gift of God) not of works, lest anyone should boast. No one will be sitting in heaven boasting!!! No one will be saying I got here because I had faith in Jesus AND kept the commandments, AND I was baptist, pentecostal, Catholic, etc. The only thing people will be saying is: I owe it all to Jesus Christ who saved me by His Grace!!! He died in my place on the cross, taking my punishment upon Himself, and I am free by Christ's works, not mine! Then in verse 10 he says created in Christ Jesus for good works. After someone is really born-again/saved through faith alone, he will begin to do good works through God's power and these will be in accordance with God's will (prayer, evangelism, etc) We don't do good works to earn our salvation, we do good works because We HAVE been saved. We do it because of the one who did it all for us! They are not a means to earn favor with God. We have favor with God when we are saved.
When we get saved, Christ takes all our unrighteousness (sin) and gives us His righteous so that we are in right standing before God. It's a once for all done deal! No amount of your life striving to earn your salvation will suffice. He wouldn't have come and died for you if you could do something to earn it. Even if you could someone earn your salvation, how much is enough? How would anyone know whether or not they possessed eternal life before they died. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21)
Our blessed hope in being saved is completely dependent upon Christ's finished work upon the cross and nothing we do! These verses sum it up beautifully how we can have assurance of eternal life:"And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." ( 1 John 5:11-13)
In Christ -Dustin