We like to take pride in our accomplishments. Yet, the bible teaches that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” (Is 64:6). It seems very counterintuitive that salvation is not something you can earn with your good behavior but it is a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8). This is an idea that appears in no other world religion, unmerited grace. Because this is just not the sort of idea men would come up with, I believe it is an authenticating characteristic of Christianity. Yet, surely our behavior counts?
Cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses make good works the means of salvation. Joseph Smith was brazen enough to add to God’s word in his best selling creative work of fiction, The Book of Mormon. He wrote, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). You can boast in that! It is the way of the world and exactly what one would expect in a manmade religion. In converse, Christianity makes salvation the means of good works not the mechanism.
James the brother of Jesus wrote, that “faith without works is dead” (Jms. 2:17). He makes a strong case that faith is not some sort of “get out of jail free card.” Cults often use this argument by James to justify their works based salvation. It may seem that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching, yet really he is not. James’ point is not that works are the basis for salvation but the result of it. This is confirmed in Jesus’s teaching.
In John 15, Jesus teaches that he is vine and we are the branches. Branches are worthless apart from the vine, thus apart from salvation our good works are futile. Yet he says he chose us to bear fruit and that everyone who abides in him will. In fact, He taught that works serve as proof that we are indeed his, “bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn. 15:8b) Good works are done out of joy, gratitude and love not fear. The primary work Jesus assigned us was to carry the Gospel to the nations and make disciples (Mat. 28:19-20).
Finally, works carry the message. As Christians we are “ambassadors for Christ, God is making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). There are so many empty promises in this fallen world. Apart from our witness, how can anyone know that Christianity is true (Rom 10:14)? Actions speak louder than words. The way we carry ourselves is an important way the Holy Spirit authenticates the gospel to the outside world. In doing apologetics it is essential to be cognizant of not only 1 Peter 3:15 “make a defense” but to read the passage through to verse 17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.“