Many Christians do not like to hear teachings on man’s role in the process of sanctification. Any mention of works and obedience puts up red flags to them and immediately they cry out “works-salvation!” They long to hear teaching on God’s love, mercy, and grace, but speak on our responsibility before God to obey His law and you are accused of legalism. There is a famine in the body of Christ today of biblical teaching on holiness. So many avoid the topic of holiness like the plague and scream either “works salvation” or “legalism!” But I believe if holiness is interpreted, understood, and applied rightly, it is the farthest thing from either a works-salvation or legalism in general.
When coming to the topic of holiness, it is important to recognize that there is man’s part and God’s part in sanctification (the process of becoming holy). This was also true when it came to justification or conversion as well. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Notice that in this passage there is God’s part – grace – and there’s man’s part – faith. We are saved “by grace” and “through faith.” It’s that simple! God saves us by His grace alone but the means of doing that is through our faith. Certainly, salvation is a gift of God from beginning to end 100 %, but it is actualized through the means of our faith in Jesus.
So just as we see that our salvation is by God’s grace (God’s part) and through faith (man’s part), so the same is true with sanctification. God by His grace continues to sanctify or make us more and more holy as we do our part to trust Him. It’s that simple. Our faith in God releases His grace in our lives to change us into the very image of Jesus.
True saving faith always leads to obedience to God’s law or His commands. Romans 1:5 and 16:26 mentions the “obedience of faith.” We also see obedience and faith going hand in hand all throughout both the Old and New Testaments of the Scriptures. Like a hand in a glove, faith and obedience are side by side all throughout the Bible. For example, Revelation 14:12 states, “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Notice here that keeping God’s commandments and faith go hand in hand.
We also see the close link between faith and the good works faith produces in James 2:14-26. So close is faith and good works seen together, that only a faith which produces good works can be said to be true saving faith at all. A faith that does not produce good works is no saving faith at all! As James 2:17 states, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” And James goes even further and states in James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” So, both faith and good works go together like a hand in a glove just like faith and obedience to God’s commands. In other words, true saving faith will always produce good works in our lives.
We also see this clearly in Ephesians 2:8-10. Verse 10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” So, the purpose of God’s grace in saving us, is so that we would produce good works in our lives. We are not saved by good works, but rather for good works. It’s that simple. I pray we never lose sight of how important good works are to God because they are proof of our saving faith.
The last verse I want to mention is found in Philippians 2:12-13 which states, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Notice it states that we have to work out our salvation. If we do not have any part to play in our justification and sanctification, then why are we commanded to work out our salvation? If it was all God and nothing to do with man, then why command us to work out our salvation at all? Of course, only God alone by His grace alone can save any of us! It is 100 % by God’s grace alone that I am saved. However, my part again is faith and by my choosing to trust in Jesus, I then release God’s saving grace to save me from my sins and make me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Now notice, it does not save “work for your salvation,” but rather “work out your salvation.” There is a big difference there! We can never earn or merit our salvation because Jesus alone has done that for us as the perfect savior. However, we are to be responsible and cooperate with God with our freedom of choice and do our part to trust in and follow Jesus as we “work out our salvation.” But notice in verse 13 of Philippians 2, that even God helps us to corporate with Him and to do our part. God will influence us by His grace working in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Even though God won’t believe or obey for us, He will help us to believe and obey Him as we are willing to do our part and trust and obey Him.
Let’s do away with the labels of “legalism” and “works-salvation” when speaking of our responsibility as Christians to obey God’s commands and law, to do good works, and to work out our salvation. To do these things is just to be responsible biblical Christians who desire to both glorify and please God out of both a fear and love for Him. All those in Christ should seek to obey all of Christ’s law and live a life full of good works to the glory of God.