Grace vs. Works – Earning Our Salvation
Grace vs. works has been a debate for centuries. It’s not surprising that man feels compelled to earn salvation on the basis of works, not by grace. The Council of Trent on Justification (Canon 12) states: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy [grace], which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence [faith] alone that justifies us, let him be anathema [cursed]”. This infers that we merit grace and eternal life only through sacrificial works. In Islam, the Muslim attains forgiveness through Allah's favor and works: “To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward” (Surah 5:9). Only by good works outweighing bad works and by the will of Allah can a Muslim be forgiven his sins and gain access to his paradise. “Then those whose balance [of good deeds] is heavy, they will be successful. But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in hell will they abide” (Qur’an 23:102-103).
In the Bible, when Paul speaks of “works,” he often refers to the things produced by someone’s effort or life. There is a connection with the flesh. The flesh works hard to achieve results, going its own way, doing what it wants -- always producing fleshly results stemming from self-fulfillment. We delude ourselves into believing that our human accomplishments equal God’s standard for holiness. “Salvation” is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9).
Paul never shunned hard work. He even referred to the work of the ministry. Paul experienced incredible visions, revelations, and special demonstrations of power as he worked hard in serving God. Yet he proclaimed, “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor [grace] on me . . . For I have worked harder than all the other apostles, yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Grace vs. Works – Accepting God’s Gift
Paul uses Abraham’s life to consider works. “Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him . . . from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride” (Romans 4:2). God had declared Abram [Abraham] righteous because of his faith, not by any works (Genesis 15:6). In Romans 4, Paul goes on to explain that wages are earned by the worker, but are not graciously given to him as a gift. As with Abraham, Paul, and all followers of Jesus Christ, it is our faith that brings us to a place of joy regarding our salvation (Romans 5:2).
The Greek word for joy is chara, derived from the word charis, which is the Greek word for grace. In other words, joy is produced by accepting God’s gift of grace. “. . . Even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Your reward for trusting him [God] will be the salvation of your souls. This salvation was something the prophets wanted to know more about. They prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you . . . (1 Peter 1:8–10).
Grace vs. Works – The Final Word
Grace is mentioned only 38 times in the OT with emphasis on the works of God, not man. The New Testament’s makes abundant references to grace which comes to man through Jesus Christ. No code of laws or sacrificial acts can secure our salvation (2 Timothy 1:9). When God sows His Spirit and His Word into our hearts, we can expect divine fruit to be produced, i.e. good works. Just as God’s grace pours abundantly upon our lives, our works will then overflow as blessings into the lives of others.