Grace versus Works
There is only one instance in the Bible where someone asks this exact question: “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” It is found in Acts 16:30. The question was asked of the Apostle Paul and Silas, by the keeper of the prison, sometimes referred to as the Philippian jailer. Their response was simple and to the point. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your family.” What? No list of do’s and don’ts? No good deeds to earn my way? No. Salvation is a gift. A priceless gift, that no one can be good enough to merit.
In the Book of Acts, Chapter 10, we see the first non-Jewish people receive eternal life. The Apostle Peter was actually quite amazed when God told him to share the Gospel with the Gentiles (God even had to first show Peter a vision to prepare him for the task).
Let’s read about this monumental event:
(the Apostle Peter speaking)
38 "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.
39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
40 Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly;
41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after he rose from the dead.
42 And He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead.
43 To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins.
44 While Peter spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45 And they of the circumcision (the Jews) which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
47 'Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?'
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay for a few days."
So here in Acts 10, we see the gospel being shared with the non-Jews for the first time. Peter teaches them the elementary principles of the gospel. He tells them that through faith in Jesus Christ, they may receive forgiveness. And God acknowledges their faith by baptizing them in the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost). They are then baptized in water as a seal of their faith. Water baptism symbolizes a burial of the old life, and a rising up unto a new life. All true believers seek to fulfill all that God asks of them. Jesus said in John 14:15 that if we love Him, we will do as He asks. That is what we expect of our own children, and God is no different. He wants what is best for us, and in order to achieve that outcome, He graciously gives us guidance. So when God asks us to do something, whether that is baptism, attending church, feeding the poor or whatever… it is for our own good.
But the question is, “Do these good deeds save us?” No. In Titus 3:5-8, the Apostle Paul stated:
5 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men."
Paul says to Titus that we are NOT saved by our good works, but since we ARE saved (by faith) already... we should seek to do those good works. We do the good deeds out of gratitude for the gift we have received. Not in order to earn the gift.
The Apostle Paul goes into great detail on this subject in the book of Galatians. He writes to them rather sternly, because they had begun to fall back into the worldly perspective of attempting to “earn” their salvation.
In Galatians 2:16, the Apostle Paul warned:
16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law: for by the works of the Law shall no one be justified."
In Galatians 3:1-3, Paul asked:
1 "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2 This only would I learn of you, ‘Have you received the Holy Spirit by the works of the Law, or by faith?’
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?"
In Galatians 5:1-4, Paul added:
1 "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage…
4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law; you are fallen from Grace."
The word “grace” literally means “unmerited favor” or “undeserved love.” Paul is obviously very adamant about the issue of grace versus works. He stresses over and over that no one is saved, or forgiven, or justified by their good deeds. He could not make it more clear. God offers you eternal life as a gift. There is but one stipulation: that you allow His Son, Jesus Christ, to bring you to Heaven. There is only one door. In Acts 4:12 the Apostle Peter (speaking about Jesus) tells the rulers of Israel,“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Jesus even said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man comes to the Father, but by Me.”
This is God’s only stipulation; you must come to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. But even though God offers you salvation as a free gift… it will cost you everything! You exchange your old life… for His new life. You give Him your heart… and He gives you His heart. That is the Great Exchange. Your sin… for His righteousness! Many people make the mistake of trying to get their life straightened out before they come to God. That is like taking a shower before you take a bath! The problem with that approach is that you can never get clean enough to come before God. That is why we come to God as we are! We let Him cleanse us from all of our sin.
I John 1:7-9 says:
7 "But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
God is saying, first of all, don’t deny that you have sinned. We have all sinned. But do not despair, for if we will simply come to God and ask for forgiveness, He will graciously cleanse us from all sin! That is the problem with addressing this type of issue in print. There will always be those that think they are not “sinners” and that they are “good enough” to get to heaven on their own, but then at the opposite end of the spectrum you have people that think they are too bad to be forgiven. The reality is that none are good enough to make it on their own, and none that are beyond hope. The first step for either category, is to go to God in prayer. But some may say that they don’t know how to pray. Don’t worry about that. God doesn’t care as much about the words as he does the condition of your heart! Jesus once told a parable (a story) about two men that sought to know God.
In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus said:
10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed, ‘God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’
14 I tell you, the publican went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Jesus says in these verses that God is not impressed with flowery prayers. God heard the simple prayer of the repentant publican. So if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, He beckons to you now. Revelation 3:20 says that Jesus is waiting at the door of your heart. Waiting for you to ask Him in. I admonish you to call on His name in prayer. He will answer you.
But the offer is also extended to those who may have misunderstood God’s plan of salvation. Maybe you find that you have spent a portion of your life in an organization that has taught you to try to earn your way to God. God’s offer is to you, too. Just pray from your heart: “God, please forgive me of my sins. Come into my heart and cleanse me. I accept your Son, Jesus, as my Savior, and as my Lord. Please walk with me and give me Your Peace and Your Strength so that I may be able to do what You want me to do and become the person You made me to be.” God will hear… and answer your prayer. I John 4:15 says, "If you will confess that Jesus is the Son of God, then God will come and dwell in you, and you will dwell in Him."