For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise
grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Many religious groups that call themselves Christian are teaching that believers in Christ must do some works and keep on doing
those works in order to obtain salvation at the time they die physically. Those necessary works include being baptized, attending religious services,
taking part in a communion observance of some sort and not committing certain acts. Sometimes the works are labeled "works of faith" as though that
label somehow makes them fit in with the concept of salvation by grace.
The two passages quoted above spell out two very serious problems with requiring that a sinner do any works in order to obtain
salvation by God's grace. The verses from Ephesians state that we are God's workmanship (or product). That is, God has done the work to provide
salvation and has given us the faith to believe his gracious promises. If we think we must add any work to what God has done for us, we belittle God's
handiwork and the value of his promises.
The second serious problem with requiring works for salvation is stated very concisely in the passage from Romans: you can't mix works of people with the grace of God to arrive at some kind of combination that will effect salvation. If we believe that a sinner's personal works have anything to do with his salvation by God's grace, we're believing nonsense. The verses in Romans refer in particular to Jews. And, if Jews that claim to be under the Old Testament can't do any works to help save themselves, how can gentiles do so?
In the book of Malachi, God condemns the priests for offering sacrificial animals that aren't essentially without blemish. Since those animals represent Christ as the perfect required sacrifice for our sins, the priests were indicating symbolically that Christ is not an adequate sacrifice. In much the same way today, legalists are saying that we must add our works to God's works in Christ in order to obtain what God has promised to give us freely. But, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:11,
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
God's righteous requirement is completely satisfied by the good works and suffering of Christ.
When a certain ruler asked Jesus what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life, the Lord told him in so many words what the ruler knew from the Old Testament. But the ruler wasn't satisfied with the answer because he lacked the faith that God would do what he had promised. And, with that short passage, God leaves us with no doubt that works of faith were the way to salvation under the Old Testament. But, under the New Testament of grace God has ordained that we should walk in the works that are reasonable and done in gratitude for God's completed works in Christ. In other words, people living today can't do any works to obtain or enhance their salvation.
Legalists love to quote James 2:14,
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
But, they ignore the facts that James was writing primarily to Jews and the examples he cites are of people that had lived under the Old Testament. They ignore verse 23:
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
They also ignore Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6 where Paul gives the same quotation about Abraham in arguments that, under the New Testament of
grace, salvation is strictly by faith. We should expect some good works from people that claim to believe that God has saved them by faith. We also
should expect them to desire doctrine based on the entire word of God. But, Christian maturity isn't acquired immediately when someone first puts his
faith in Christ; and, only he and God know what's in his heart.
Legalists, of course, can't accept the idea that a believer in Christ has eternal security in the promises of God because he must keep up the works that they have ruled as necessary for salvation. It's pretty obvious, though, that God isn't a legalist because he inspired Paul to write in Romans 8:35-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.