I do not believe in a works-based salvation. Neither did Paul. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV) I think that’s pretty clear, and I think it’s probably a pretty good thing.
If salvation was works based, how many of us would end up in Hell? That question is probably hard to answer. The reality is that if we believed that we had to work for our salvation, we’d probably do more than we do. We wouldn’t be so lazy about our faith. Why, then, are we so lazy now? God has made it easy on us, because He loves us, and we return the favor by taking advantage of His love. I find it strange the way we react to our God’s love, especially given the way other religions actively engage in their religion.
Many young Mormons dedicate two years of their lives to the mission field before pursuing whatever career path they feel led to do. Shawn Bradley even resisted going into the NBA for two years to fulfill this. You would not be considered a dedicated Mormon if you weren’t willing to do this.
Muslims observe Ramadan. They kind of fast for an entire month, eating “breakfast” when they get up in the morning, and then not eating from sunrise to sunset. I’ve heard pastors mock the practice, as though this would not be difficult, but the belt of the pastors I’ve heard saying this were not visible due to their suffering from Dunlap’s disease. I’ll fully admit that not eating while the Sun is up for a full month would cause the most horrible month of my life. On top of the fasting rituals, they are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an during that month. It’s not a short book. Not observing Ramadan would disqualify you from being a serious Muslim.
Orthodox Jews live everyday inside a prison of rules and regulations. One rule they observe is no driving a car on the Sabbath, but they must attend a Shabbos service. When we lived in Florida, we would see families walking down the road, a mile from the Temple, wearing all black, heading to a Shabbos service. That act alone shows more dedication than most people I know (me included). Then there are the dietary laws, which include no bacon, no ham, no pork chops, no pulled pork, etc. Seriously? Yikes. You have your orthodox Jews, and then you have your not so serious Jews. Some call them Reformed Jews. No one calls them dedicated.
So what does it take to be considered a serious, dedicated Christian? Well, as best as I can tell, you have to go to church on Sunday, which equates to an hour of your week (or 4 hours, if you add in getting ready, traveling, and eating lunch afterward (a required part of church going)). Some heighten the requirement by adding Sunday school, Sunday night, and Wednesday night to the requirements. Some add reading the Bible and praying. But what about doing? Reading your Bible, praying, and going to church fill you up. Those activities prepare you to serve God. Does one become a good Christian by hoarding the grace of God in their own cup and never pouring out God’s goodness to others? Is that the standard?
James 214-26 says, “14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says,”Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
I really do believe that most of us would be in a lot of trouble if doing good works for God is what got us into Heaven. Good thing it doesn’t work that way.
God help us.