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The simple answer is that salvation by works seems right in the eyes of man. One of man's basic desires is to be in control of his own destiny, and that includes his eternal destiny. Salvation by w...
Why is salvation by works a commonly held viewpoint by non-believers, and some believers as well? I cannot speak for non-believing Gentiles since there is a plethora of false religions and ideologies in the world that touch on this question for unsaved Gentiles. Given my personal knowledge of Judaism, however, I would like to speak briefly about unsaved Jewish views of “salvation by works.” For my explanation, I need to divide the unsaved Jewish people into two types: 1) Historic Jews=those who lived from the birth of National Isra'el (basically the book of Exodus) up to the 1st century. 2) Traditional Jews=those living after the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 AD until today. Historic Jews: It is somewhat difficult to ascertain precisely what unsaved Jewish people of the period of the TaNaKH (OT) held to for personal salvation, but we can be fairly certain it was NOT mere “works,” viz, commandment keeping or bringing sacrifices. In truth, salvation most definitely involved those aspects, but it was not rooted in these aspects. If the surviving Jewish works such as the Talmuds, midrashim, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc., have anything to contribute to the discussion, it would be that salvation was believed to be extended by God via one’s heritage in Isra'el as a Jew. We can see this in the way many Jews of the gospels demonstrated loyalty to what was called “the merit of the fathers,” Hebrew=”z’khut avot,” (Matt 3:9; Lk 3:8; Jn 8:39). In this view, a “good-standing, saved covenant member” was duty-bound to keep Torah and avoid idolatry. Thus, Torah became the “maintenance tool” used by the community, not to save the Jews, but to maintain their place in God’s covenant as “saved Jews.” Essentially, those we identify as unsaved Jews of the 1st century, held to a “nationalistic salvation,” where Jewish lineage guaranteed a good-standing Jew a place in the World to Come (i.e., heaven). We genuine believers KNOW that this is legalism (i.e., works), but those unsaved Jews did not term it legalism, because they did not feel they were “working” to gain it. In their eyes, Jewish ethnicity in National Isra'el was an act of grace. After all, those born with Jewish ethnicity did not “work” their way into that ethnicity, right? So you can see why they defined it as grace and not works. Paul often calls this “salvation by being Jewish” ideology “works of the Law” (Gal 2:15, 16). Traditional Jews: Since the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisaic Judaisms of the 1st century gave rise to rabbinic Judaism, and eventually to the Traditional Judaisms of the 21st century. Traditional Jews understand that without a Temple, much of the Torah cannot be kept anymore. To be sure, ritual impurity and sins associated with it cannot be atoned for by the sacrificial system anymore either. Traditional Jews still maintain their belief in Jewish heritage, but the emphasis has evolved from primarily “ethnicity” to now include “What must I do to make the world a better place for me and for everyone involved?” Thus, in Traditional Judaism, “salvation” is basically defined by these three things: 1) Doing charity 2) Repenting of sins 3) Praying the set-time prayer book prayers as dictated by the rabbis As with Historic Jews, Traditional Jews do not really see these three as “working their way into heaven.” Rather, they see these three as a replacement for the missing sacrificial system, and a way to demonstrate one’s Jewish loyalty to the covenant that God made with Isra'el. Basically, Traditional Jews see their salvation as grace, with these three concepts vindicating genuine covenant membership. Conclusions: Anything that bypasses faith in Yeshua as the ONLY way to be saved (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8, 9) is basically a “work.” Unsaved Jewish people may not define their respective beliefs as “salvation by works” but make no mistake, that is what it truly is if they reject Yeshua’s gracious offer.
To believe that our works have anything to do with salvation is to nullify grace. It is to say that Jesus death on the cross is not good enough to save us. He paid a horrible price to pay our sin debt in full. If we deny that His finished work on the cross is good enough to save us, where is our hope. Can we hope in ourselves that we can make our selves good enough to go to heaven? Religion cannot save us. Religion is what we do to gain acceptance with God. Love is what we do because we are accepted by God. Many churches preach salvation by grace in one message, and then take it away in another. Paul said we are not to even mingle law with grace. After we are saved our works are done because we love God for saving us and will have some account to our rewards in heaven. How many good works do you have to do to go to heaven? If your salvation depends on you then you have no hope. Salvation by works is the Pharisee religion. They trusted in their own righteousness to be good enough to go to heaven. They were blind to their own sin. To not believe in Jesus finished work on the cross is nothing more than pride and selfrighteousness. I can be good enough to go to heaven. Put your faith and trust in Christ alone, and you will be saved. This is the message of the bible. Not from me. I don't make the rules. Lord, open the eyes of the blind today. Amen. "Yes Lord, I believe, now help me with my unbelief."
The discussion of salvation by works sometimes becomes an annoying syntax debate because Jesus’death/resurrection ALONE does not guarantee one’s salvation (otherwise Satan would be saved). One has to do something with that truth…and it’s the “doing something” that is often called “works.” However, the “works” God requires is not volunteer charity work or flogging oneself or such, but rather as Jesus said, in John 6:29 “This is the WORK of God: to believe in the One He has sent.” Once we BELIEVE, we then must CONFESS our sins and REPENT as we are told in 1 John and Acts. (1 John 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us. Acts 3:19a Repent, then, and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped away) I think what Vincent Mercado said (“Faith and deeds are so closely interlinked that they are like two sides of a coin”) becomes evident in our believing, confession of sins and repentance. Certainly FAITH has to be put on the table because we have no salvation without believing, but likewise, without confessing our sins and repenting, we are not reconciled to God. Ask yourself this…Can one truly confess Jesus Christ as their Lord if one does not believe (confess in their own mind/heart) they are a sinner (since the whole point is that Jesus died for our sins)? And could a confession of that magnitude come from an unrepentant heart? And regarding this hypothetical person that we are imagining…did this person FIRST confess in their mind they are a sinner and then become repentant, and then finally, when they heard about Jesus, have an epiphany moment, OH MY GOSH, THERE IS MY LORD! (Faith in the promised Messiah!) I guess it doesn’t really matter which came first, but they all have to happen…whether they are called works or not.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. c.f. James 2:14-24
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