How can faith be combined with works?


I have been reading articles on this web site, especially the one about how salvation comes both from believing and works. My question is this: Did Paul lie to the prison guard when he said: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved"?

I am having difficulty with the combination of works and belief especially when it comes to verses such as "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." or "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began," or "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." or "Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." It certainly seems as if faith does save through God's loving grace and mercy and does make us free - "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."

I have seen two major reasons in Scripture as to why we ought to have a change in our behavior. First is that we may be witnesses to those around us who are lost, and second is so we may receive our rewards in heaven. Is Paul referring to being disqualified from his salvation in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, or are the disqualifications of the rewards or 'incorruptible crowns' (1 Corinthians 9:25) he would receive if he remains faithful (Revelation 2:10;22:12/ 1 Corinthians 3:14)?

I look at Israel, how they murmured and complained, how they constantly disobeyed God, and how even today they have no reverence for God, but they are still God's people, and God will still sustain His promises to them regardless of how much they disregard the Love of God. Are saved believers that go astray any different from God's chosen people? It looks as if salvation is through faith by the means of God's grace and mercy than salvation cannot be lost either. Works seem to be a part of making one's faith known to man on an earthly level. James is making it clear that man must see the works in order to justify the faith; however, God does not need to see works: "for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart."

I realize this may not have been the type of question you were looking for but if you could answer I would greatly appreciate it.

P.S. I truly enjoy reading many of the articles on this web site. Thank you for the time and work you have put into this online ministry.


Let's put things back into perspective a bit. When you ask "Did Paul lie to the prison guard ..." you know perfectly well that he did not. Thus the question is a misleading one. But what you are doing is being selective in the verses that you cite.

"And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:30-33).

When the jailer asked what was necessary for salvation, Paul and Silas first told him the main point that he needed to do, which was to believe on Jesus. Yet notice what immediately followed, they taught him. Why was that? Because a person cannot believe without knowing the word of God. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). So what came about as a result of the jailer and his family learning about Jesus? "And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:33).

You cited Ephesians 2:8-9 and claim that works are left out. Actually, what was left out was verse 10. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 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).

"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles" (I Timothy 1:8-11).

What you are doing is making all "works" equivalent, which they are not. God does not save us according to our works. There is nothing that I can do that causes God to owe me salvation. I cannot earn salvation. But none of this precludes that my salvation is not conditional on meeting the requirements of God. Even when I do as God has asked, I still can't say I earned my salvation because the things God has asked of us are insufficient to purchase salvation. Still, a man cannot claim salvation when he denies what the Lord asks him to do. "Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:23-24).

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:8-10).

This passage explains what God has done on our behalf, but it doesn't cover what God requires of us to take advantage of that gift. For example, it doesn't even mention that you have to believe, and that by the way is a work in itself because it is something man must do. God doesn't believe for us, man must choose to believe. "Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent"" (John 6:28-29). So while we are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus, how do we come into contact with that death? Paul answers that in the very next chapter. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). Notice that the very same themes are being addressed in Romans 6:3-4 that were brought up in Romans 5:8-10, but this time Paul addresses those themes from the point of view of what every Christian did to take advantage of God's gift.

"Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 5:20-6:2).

This passage is the introduction to the discussion on baptism in Romans 6. God gave more than sufficient grace to cover the greatest of sins, but Paul warns that we cannot live in sin thinking that God is going to cover them. When we became Christians, we died to sins. How? Through the act of baptism was his answer.

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:3-7).

Further, Paul points out this death to sin must remain.

"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:15-18).

Notice how a person is freed from sin, it was through obedience from the heart to the teachings of the gospel. "From the heart" refers to faith, but it is not faith alone, but obedience spurred by that faith.

The idea that salvation is separate from a heavenly reward is foreign to the Scriptures. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). True faith is required to please God, but notice that it is an active faith because we believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him -- that is effort or work on our part. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). Our salvation also requires an obedient effort to please God. Thus it is not faith for salvation and works for rewards. It is faith and obedience together which leads to salvation from sins and heaven for our home. "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith -- to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen" (Romans 16:25-27).

You asked, from what was Paul concerned about being disqualified and again you try to separate being saved from being rewarded. To be disqualified in Paul's mind was to be lost. The following all use the same Greek word, adokimos.

"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:28).

"Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? --unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified" (II Corinthians 13:5-7).

"Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was" (II Timothy 3:8-9).

"They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work" (Titus 1:16).

"For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner" (Hebrews 6:7-9).

To be disqualified is to be among the evil and corrupt and to end up in hell. That is how Paul used this term.

You claim that Israel was saved despite their disobedience. But that isn't what Paul said. Paul desired that they be saved, but he knew that their salvation was tied to their obedience. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Romans 9:1-3). Rather than repeating arguments, please see "The Saving of Israel."

You argue as well that salvation cannot be lost, but again, that is not something supported by the Scriptures. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6). Again, I rather not repeat arguments already made. Please see "Eternal Security" and "Hymenaeus and Alexander" for more details.

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