Are we Saved by Faith or Works, or a Faith That Works


I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. 2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT 

Early in my lay pastor ministry I was working one night with the district senior pastor when he received a call that an elderly lady in our church was dying. The senior pastor was mentoring me, and I  had learned a lot from him concerning solid Adventist biblical theology, especially about the cleansing of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment. I rode with him to the nursing home where Sweetie Mae was taking her last breaths. I watched as he held her hand and told her to rest in Jesus because He died for her and loved her. He asked if she loved Jesus, and she opened her eyes long enough to smile and then closed them for the last time. I had become good friends with this dear saint. I learned that over the years she had baked many goodies for the homeless, though she was most famous for her pies. She had given many Bible studies and taught Sabbath School. Yet as I watched the pastor take her hand as she was slipping away, he never once mentioned all the wonderful works she had performed. The only hope he gave her that night was that Jesus loved and died for her. Turned out that was all the hope she needed. She had just enough strength for one last smile when she heard the name of Jesus before falling asleep in His loving arms.

Sweetie Mae was saved by grace alone. Turns out not a single one of her pies contributed towards her salvation nor did any of the Bible studies or Sabbath school lessons she taught. Still it was because she was saved by grace alone that she had so much grace in her heart that made her want to bake all those pies and give all those Bible studies. You see grace-filled hearts perform grace-filled works.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT 

The good things we do don’t give us grace. Grace gives us the good things we do. Our good works – but maybe I should not call them “our good works.” Maybe I should call them the good works that Christ does through us – do not earn our salvation but, rather, are the fruits of our salvation. They are the evidence that we have received His grace. Grace-filled hearts perform grace-filled works.  2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us we will be judged by our actions. And Jesus tells us,  “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.’ Revelation 22:12 NLT

If we are saved by grace alone, why is Jesus judging and rewarding us according to our deeds? James can help us answer this question.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? James 2:14-16 NLT

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. James 2:24 NLT

Sweetie Mae was not baking pies and giving Bible studies so she could receive faith and grace. The faith and grace she had received motivated her to bake pies and give Bible studies. The good deeds God gave her were evidence that she was experiencing God’s grace.  The teachings of Jesus help us understand this point. 

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Matthew 25:31-33 NLT 

Just like in Revelation 22:12 Jesus gives people their reward and separates the saved from the unsaved at His coming and not when each individual dies. The Bible clearly teaches that the dead rest in their graves until the resurrection. 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. Matthew 25:34 NLT

What a comfort to know, during the investigative Judgment and the cleansing of the sanctuary, that Jesus has already prepared the kingdom for us from the creation of the world. It’s sad that many have a picture of Jesus judging us with skepticism. Jesus wants us in heaven! He has invited us! Surely he would not invite us if He did not want us all there! In the message to the church of Philadelphia Jesus p[resents an open door in heaven while His message to the church of Laodicea portrays our heart’s door which is closed. Heaven’s doors are wide open! It’s our heart’s door that needs to be opened. Here are more encouraging passages assuring us Jesus is preparing a place for us in His kingdom.

This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began. Titus 1:2 NLT

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? John 14:2 NLT

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. Ephesians 1:4 NLT 

Now I have heard it said that God only chose some to be saved at the beginning of the world but chose others to be lost. We will see in a while that God only intended for the devil and his angels to be lost. Again and again in Scripture we see that God is intending for us to be saved! 

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 NLT

After the invitation to His kingdom in Matt. 25:34 Jesus says why they are welcomed to enter in verses 35-36. Notice it is based on their actions. This coincides with what we read earlier in James 2. Our actions show where our faith is. Good actions are the fruit of grace. This has nothing to do with earning salvation by good works. Let’s continue…

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ Matthew 25:37-39 NLT

The righteous obviously were not doing these kind things in order to earn salvation. They were totally unaware that they were doing them directly for Jesus. They were just doing these things out of love without even thinking much less hoping for a reward. They are saved by grace alone just like my dear friend Sweetie Mae. Just like Sweetie Mae they were so filled with God’s grace that they all performed graceful deeds. 

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40 NLT 

The way we treat others shows how much we love God and appreciate His grace. At a Wintley Phipps concert I heard him say, “Our love for God is no greater than the love we have for the person on earth whom we care about the least.” Jesus teaches that the attitude we have towards the scum of humanity is the attitude we have towards Him. 

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. Matthew 25:41 NLT 

So does Jesus teach that He only chose a select few to be saved at the beginning of creation? No! He planned for everyone to be saved. He was preparing His kingdom for the entire world. While Jesus tells us He has gone to His Father’s house to prepare a place for us He teaches that the fire is prepared for the devil and his angels and no one else. Jesus tells those on His right that the kingdom was prepared for them, but He never told those on His left that hell was prepared for them. No! Hell is only prepared for the devil and his demons. All those on His left must have put up one massive fight against God’s grace in order to gain hell because it was never prepared or intended for them.

Do you know how hard it is to be lost? It takes a lot of work and effort. In order for you to be lost you have to fight, scratch and claw your way past the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and every angel in heaven to get to hell. Heaven’s door is wide open, and Jesus says in John 12:32 that He is drawing all people to Him, but if we resist that love and fight hard enough against God’s grace, we can fight our way into hell, a place God never prepared or intended for us to be. 

For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ Matthew 25:42-45 NLT

These never accepted God’s grace. How do I know? Because Jesus as well as James 2 teaches us that grace-filled hearts perform grace-filled works. This is why 2 Corinthians 5:10 says we will be judged by the things we do and Jesus says in Revelation 22:12 He will reward us according to our deeds. According to Ephesians 2:8-10, grace gives us good works. We don’t do good works in order to receive salvation. We are saved by grace so we can do good works. 

Galatians 5:6 speaks of a faith that works by live. I believe that’s the faith Sweetie Mar had. Sweetie Mae was so thankful for God’ amazing grace and loved Jesus so much she spent all of her health and strength baking for the homeless and giving Bible studies. As she lay dying the pastor held her hand and asked if she loved Jesus. With her last ounce of remaining strength she opened her eyes and smiled before slipping into her rest. Friend, do you love Jesus?

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

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