Every now and again I will read of someone’s biblically baseless theory (I will not call it a theology) that we can either merit salvation, or maintain our salvation, by doing good works or by keeping God’s commandments. God is thereby obligated (that might not be the word they use, but it certainly is what they mean) – God is thereby obligated to save the person or give the person ongoing salvation.
And then I think of the Lord’s comment in Luke 17:
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:7-10)
Certainly, we must obey God’s commandments. But the New Testament Scriptures do not make obedience to the Law the criteria by which God either saves us or keeps us. We obey God because He loves us, and we love Him:
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me . . .” (John 14:21); “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3); “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” (2 John 6)
The Holy Spirit tells us time and again we are saved NOT by our works of righteousness, but only by His grace through our faith. God saved us because He loves us. God keeps us because He loves us. That’s it. There is nothing to add to or take away from that ineffable truth.
That’s why St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
And again in Titus: “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)
The word ‘justified’ used by Paul in his letter to the Romans and to Titus means that for all those who believe in Christ’s sacrificial atonement for their sins, God Himself declares them righteous. He pronounces them to be without guilt of sin.
Did you get that? God Himself declares the sinner who trusts in Christ’s atonement to be without guilt.
Do we nullify the importance of good works? Of course not. Faith in Christ – if it is saving faith – will ALWAYS manifest itself in doing good deeds (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:8, James 2:14-24). If our faith does not result in good works or in a lifestyle of obedience to Christ, then we never had saving faith.
But the idea that God is somehow obligated to save us or to keep us because of our good deeds is nothing less than dangerous presumption.
As the Lord said in that text from Luke 17: He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”
God saved us and keeps us because He loves us.