For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, N.K.J.V.)
In the summer of 1994, the Chicago Tribune newspaper ran the story of Marcio da Silva. He was a twenty-one-year-old Brazilian artist who fell into total despair when his nineteen-year-old girlfriend ended their four-year relationship. As the story went, da Silva performed an act of great devotion in an effort to win back his girl. He tied pieces of car tires to his kneecaps and walked on his knees for nine miles to reach her home. Motorists and passersby cheered him on as he made his way to the girl’s home in Santos, Brazil. It took him fourteen hours, but he did finally reach his destination. And how did the girl respond to da Silva’s incredible effort? She wasn’t even home. She had intentionally left the house to avoid having to see him.
Now, that story is very odd and very sad, but it makes a great point. That point is: Sometimes all the devotion, passion, and effort in the world don’t make any difference at all. And would you believe that this is true of salvation? A person can spend his or her entire life doing so-called “good” works to get into heaven, but that person will end up even more disappointed than Marcio da Silva. I won’t say that God won’t be at home after all those works are done, but I will say that He will be thoroughly unimpressed. How can I put it so that you will get it and never forget it? No amount or quality of works can EVER produce salvation!!!
The Bible teaches that salvation only comes by God extending His saving grace the moment an individual places faith (or belief, the words “faith” and “belief” are used interchangeably in the New Testament) in Jesus Christ. You see, salvation is a gift. That’s what our text passage (as well as Romans 6:23) plainly says, and you can’t do anything to earn a gift. The moment you earn something, it becomes payment or reward. All you can do with a gift is accept it or reject it. Those are the only two options. And you accept God’s gift of salvation by placing your faith (belief) in Jesus, the divine Savior who died on a cross as the full payment for the sin debt you owe your holy Maker.
Someone says, “But surely a person’s works have some bearing on the matter.” No, the importance of works doesn’t come into play until after the gift of salvation has been accepted. At that point, the person’s good works become the evidence of the salvation. In other words, good works aren’t the root of salvation; they are the fruit of it. They aren’t the cause of salvation; they are the consequence of it. They don’t flow into salvation; they flow out of it. This is what the book of James is all about. James wrote an entire letter (epistle, book) to say, “If you want to know whether or not I’m saved, all you have to do is check my works. They prove that something supernatural has happened in my life. I’m a changed person.”
And so let me offer a question to each and every professing Christian right now. Do your works provide clear evidence of your salvation? If they don’t, then something is very much askew with you. You aren’t acting right. You aren’t functioning correctly. Your behavior is strange. Maybe you aren’t truly saved at all. That’s an explanation you should consider. Then again, maybe you are truly saved but you are severely backslidden. If that’s the case, you need to repent of your sins and change your ways.
Sadly, this world is filled with spiritual Marcio da Silva’s who think they can somehow earn their way into heaven by way of their works. There are even some who try to mix and mingle faith in Jesus plus a list of good works to produce salvation. But such an equation doesn’t compute any more than a purely works-based plan of salvation does. As Paul points out, if works could play any part whatsoever in producing salvation, that would give the saved person the opportunity to boast about having met the necessary requirements to “get in.” And I promise you that whoever else ends up in heaven, one person who won’t be there is the braggart who spends eternity boasting about what all he did to earn the right to be there.