What About Works?
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to Paul's letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2. We will read the paragraph which begins with verse 8:

Ephesians 2:

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Those verses are so brief, but they are so profound that I want to read them again for you so that they will be fixed firmly in your minds:

Ephesians 2:

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Were we to stop our reading right there, we could say, “Forget about works. There is no need even to talk about them.” But we do not stop there; we continue reading verse 10:

Ephesians 2:

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Having completed the paragraph, we dare not ignore the place which the Scripture gives to works.


We are continuing a discussion on the theme, Simple Questions Often Asked . We have often been asked very simple questions such as “What does it mean to be saved?”, and the very asking of the question indicates that there is a lack of understanding in relation to it. So we did ask and answer the question, “What does it mean to be saved?”, and after answering the question, we dealt with the matter of how salvation becomes a reality in the believer's life.

We used as a basis for our discussion the familiar question of the Philippian jailer to the Apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16). The Apostle answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” We discussed with you what it meant by “believe.” We discovered that the act of believing is described by synonyms such as receiving : “As many as receive the Lord Jesus Christ, to them gives He the authority to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). Nobody else has the authority, and of course you understand what it means to receive. If I say to you, “Here is my Bible; do you want it?”, if you want it, you take it. It is as simple as that. God says, “Here is My Son. He died for your sins. Your sin problems will be settled if you take Him. Do you want Him.?” If you do, you take Him. It is as simple as that.

But because it is so simple, and because men have added so much to the simple presentation of the gospel, other questions follow the very simple one, “What does it mean to be saved?” One of them is, “What about repentance? If you believe that you are saved by believing, what about repentance?” We dealt with that; we emphasized that though repentance, as it is found in the Scripture, has a place in the believer's life, long-drawn-out hours of agony of repentance have nothing to do with salvation.

Then we asked another question. “What about confession?” Is it possible to be a secret believer? Is it possible to be saved and not walk down the aisle of a church? Is it possible to be saved and not stand up before a great crowd of people and confess your faith in Christ? We had to declare, from our study of the Word of God, that one is saved by simply believing, and that, although confession has its place, it does not merit salvation.

Then we are asked the question, “What about baptism? If you say all you have to do is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, what about baptism? Don't you have to be baptized?” We emphasized from the Word of God—not our opinion, but the Word of God—that baptism has absolutely nothing to do with salvation, because men are saved by grace through faith alone.

The Matter of Works

We have come to another question, and this is a very common one: “What about works? If you say that you are saved by simply believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, what about works?” There are two erroneous positions in relation to works, in connection with Christian living. One group of people says, “You are saved by faith and by faith alone, and if you even mention works, you are legalistic. You are trying to add something to the simple grace of God. So don't even talk about works.” The other position is extreme indeed: “You can not be saved without works. If you don't do what you are supposed to do, after Christ has done what he has done, then you can't be saved.” Those are the extremes.

We want to find out what the Scripture says, and in order to do that and to give you some mental pegs upon which you can hang some of the thoughts I want to leave with you, we are going to look at what the Scripture has to say about the place of works, the plan of works, the power of works, and the purpose of works. Keep those four words in your minds: place, plan, power, and purpose.

The Place of Works

What is the place of works in the believer's life? Let us consider it from a negative standpoint first, and listen carefully to what I say: There is no place in the believer's life for works in relation to obtaining salvation or keeping salvation. Let me say it again: There is no place in the believer's life for works in relation to obtaining salvation or keeping salvation. My word is worth no more than yours. Let God speak to our hearts.

Turn with me to the book of Romans, chapter 3, and notice verse 19:

Romans 3:

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

There is the simple statement in verse 20:

Romans 3:

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his [God's] sight:…

What do we mean by the deeds of the law? Let me summarize it very generally by saying that as far as we are concerned, the deeds of the law could be summed up in the Ten Commandments. Does it surprise you that I say, if you are depending upon keeping the Ten Commandments to save you, that they won't save you? The Ten Commandments were meant to show you that you need a Saviour. If you try to keep the Ten Commandments, you are going to fall short; you can be a good commandment keeper in Hell, for the Ten Commandments alone cannot save you.

No Works for Salvation

Turn with me, please, to Paul's letter to Titus, chapter 3, and notice another statement from the Word of God to bear out the statement that I have made that there is no place in the believer's life for works in relation to obtaining or keeping salvation:

Titus 3:

5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Notice, please, the first statement: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done…” I want to suggest to you that there is a difference in meaning between the phrase, “the deeds of the law,” and the phrase, “the works of righteousness.” There are any number of people who have never heard of the Ten Commandments who are still working for their salvation by the performance of works of righteousness. The works of righteousness may or may not be incorporated in what is suggested in the “Thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments. The “works of righteousness” are related to good deeds which individuals do in order to obtain salvation. They are specifically expressed in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount , in chapter 6 of the gospel according to Matthew. If you are among the number who believe that you are saved by works of righteousness—by doing good, by helping others—God's Word says that that kind of work has nothing to do with your salvation.

So when we ask the question, “What is the place of works in the believer's life?”, we answer negatively, and we prove from the Word of God that works have absolutely nothing to do with the believer's obtaining salvation or keeping salvation after he has obtained it.

The Creation of Believers unto Good Works

But let us look at it from a positive standpoint. Our text in Ephesians 2:8-9 said that we have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and that God has ordained that we should walk in them. If we had no other passage of Scripture than that one, we would not dare to say that works have no place in the believer's life. They do have a place. This passage of Scripture says that we were created in Christ Jesus unto good works. I like the way that Arthur Way gives you the real thought behind the word, created ; he puts it this way: “We were re-created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” It refers to the re-creation, the new birth, the regeneration, described in John 3 in the phrase, “Ye must be be born again.”

The very purpose of our being born again, the very purpose of our being re-created, is that we may carry out the good works which God hath before ordained we should walk in (Ephesians 2:10). I like the Amplified translation of that word ordained , because it translates that one word with the phrase, “which God planned beforehand.” God has a plan for you and His plan is related to works; that is the very reason He saved you—in order that you might carry out His plan and His purpose.

The Work of Christ

You know a work plan is tremendously important. If you don't have a work plan, almost anything can happen. God has a work plan; as we consider the place which work has in the believer's life, it is important for us to consider God's plan for that work. Different phrases are used in the Scriptures to describe the works which are expected of believers. In a general way, they are described in Philippians, chapter 2. The apostle is speaking of a man by the name of Epaphroditus, and he is asking these Philippian believers to be kind to him and to strengthen him; he gives one of the reasons in verse 30:

Philippians 2:

30 Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

So when I speak of the works which God has planned for believers, I can describe them Scripturally under the phrase, “the work of Christ.” Any work which is related to the will and the plan and the purpose of Christ, should have a part in your life as a believer.

Turn back to Ephesians, chapter 4, and notice another general term, keeping in mind that one we have referred to is, “the work of Christ”:

Ephesians 4:

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

The Work of the Ministry

Notice the phrase, “the work of the ministry.” Let me emphasize that when we say, “the work of the ministry,” we are not talking about preachers. Oftentimes we have used the word minister> exclusively in relation to preachers to such an extent that when we talk about a man's entering the ministry, we are talking about his starting to preach. The Bible doesn't use the phrase that way. The work of the ministry is simply the work of service, for the word ministry means “service.” Any service which you perform in relation to the edifying of the body of Christ—that is, any service that you perform in relation to building up the Body of Christ—is part of God's plan for you as a worker because you have been born again.

Turn, please, to chapter 6, verse 10, of the book of Hebrews, as we consider God's work plan in a more specific way:

Hebrews 6:

10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

A Labor of Love

Did you notice that the specific work is referred to as a “work and a labor of love”? What kind of work should you do as a Christian? You should do that kind of thing that the love of your heart stirs you to do—the love for Christ and the love for men. And what is this work? Ministering to the saints. Here is a saint of God and he has a need; you are performing the work of Christ in doing something to meet that need because the love of God prompts you to do it. John said that if an individual comes to you and says, “Sir, I am hungry,” and you say, “That's nice. Love Jesus,” how dwelleth the love of God in you (I John 3:17)? But if that person comes to you and says, “I am hungry,” and you feed him, then you are evidencing the love of Christ. This is one of the works which are done by believers.

So if you are not teaching a Sunday School class, if you are not out preaching, if you are not out doing something where you are before the eyes of men all the time, don't assume you are not doing something for the Lord. You may be performing a very real service that no man knows anything about.

I want to give you another suggestion along that line. Turn with me, please, to the gospel of John, chapter 14:

John 14:

12 [Jesus said] Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

The Ministry of Prayer

There has been a lot of confusion about this passage of Scripture. Individuals have attempted to do the things which Jesus did and have failed miserably. They have attempted to raise the dead and they have not raised them. They have attempted to do unusual things which Jesus did and they have not been able to do these things, and they say, “I don't understand it.” If you examine this verse in the light of its context, the greater works which you as a believer will be able to perform are through prayer; there can be no question about that, in the light of verse 13:

John 14:

13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

There is no question about it. For double emphasis, He said, ”If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it.”

Beloved, this is the work of Christ: the ministry of prayer. Don't go about as a believer, saying, “Oh, if I just had something to do for the Lord.” While you are moaning and groaning about not having something to do for Him, spend the time in prayer, and see what can be accomplished through the ministry of prayer.

Witnessing for Christ

There is another phrase which describes the work which is made available to believers. In Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 4, verse 5, this advice was given to Timothy:

II Timothy 4:

5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

There is a sense in which there is a gift of evangelism when a man is given the gift of evangelism and God expects him to be an evangelist. He doesn't expect him to be a pastor. There is no question but that there is such a gift. But that is not what the Holy Spirit had in mind here, because Timothy was a pastor, and he had the gift of evangelism. The gift of evangelism in this case is a reference to witnessing for Christ, and this is a work that you can do.

Notice something that I always emphasize and that many folk are not willing to accept, and that is that nowhere in the Scripture are you told to win anybody to Christ. Nowhere; but you are told to witness, and you are told to evangelize. If God in His mercy and His grace permits you to see someone make a decision as you tell him about the Lord Jesus Christ, it brings joy to your heart; but don't you think for a moment just because you don't see the name on the dotted line, figuratively speaking, that you haven't done something for the Lord. Your ministry has been the ministry of evangelism.

That is the plan. Have you noticed as we have examined this plan that there is not one word about a Committee for Social Concern? Have you noticed as we have examined this plan that there is not one word about taking care of the ghettos? There isn't. That is not the business of the Body of Christ, in spite of what you may be told in these days of change.

Christ's Power for our Works

Where are we going to get the power for the work we are supposed to do? Somebody says, “You see, that is our problem. We are so small, and we don't have enough people really to do anything.” That is not where the power comes from. The third word I want you to notice is the word power . Our text says that we were created in Christ Jesus unto good works. If that says anything at all, it says that the power for these works comes from our relationship to Jesus Christ. That is the reason it is utter folly to get unsaved people to change conditions. It is the heart of man that needs changing.

When the Lord Jesus Christ takes up residence in the life of an individual, he is imbued with power such as no mortal ever had. Get this: it is dishonoring to God for you as a believer to say that you can't do something. It is dishonoring to God for you as a believer to say that the task is too big for you. He may not want you to do a particular task because He may want somebody else to do it, but if God has laid upon your heart a task to do, then you must recognize what the Apostle Paul recognized—that there is power, and it isn't man power. It is God power.

An Example from Philippians 2:12-13

Turn, please, to Paul's letter to the Philippians again, and notice chapter 2, verses 12 and 13:

Philippians 2:

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

This is the only place where works and salvation are connected together, and here you are working not for but out . You are told in the next verse what he means by that: You are working what God's work is. God saved you, and when He saved you, He put something in you. Now work it out. Make it useful. Notice verse 13:

Philippians 2:

13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

God saved you. He took up residence in your life, and He is working through you. So when you speak to an individual about Jesus Christ, it isn't you who is speaking. It is God using your lips to speak. When you undertake anything for God, it isn't you doing it. It is God doing it.

I like the way the Paraphrased version of the Scripture puts this verse: “God is at work within you, helping you want to obey Him, and then helping you to do what He wants.”

God's Working in Us

Turn to Colossians, chapter 29, and hear the Apostle Paul as he gives testimony as to how this worked in his own life:

Colossians 1:

29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

The labor that I do—I put forth a lot of effort, but it is related to something,” Paul said. ”It is related to the way God works in me. This is my work, and I can do it only because Christ's mighty energy is at work within me.”

The Purpose of Works

What is the purpose of all these works? Remember what is recorded in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 16:

Matthew 5:

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

The ultimate purpose of all of these works in the believer's life is the glory of God. Since it is the glory of God, you and I should work with the ultimate revelation in view. It is described for us in I Corinthians, chapter 3, verses 13-14, where we are told that every man's work shall be made manifest of what sort it is. The ultimate purpose, I repeat, is God's glory.

The Importance of Works

But what is the present purpose, aside from the good that we can do while we are here; why is it important for the believer to manifest works? Why is it important for him to maintain good works? Why is it important for him to be careful to do it, aside from the good that he can do? The answer is found in the book of James, chapter 2, verse 22, where we are told that without works we have no way of manifesting our faith before men:

James 2:

22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

Faith was made full-orbed where everybody could see it by the works that men did. You should be careful about your works, not in order to be saved, but because you are saved. I often think of the little verse that Dr. H.A. Ironside used to quote that sums the whole story. He said, ”I will not work my soul to save, For that my Lord has done; But I will work like any slave, For love of God's dear Son.”

Shall we bow our heads together for prayer: Grant, Father, an understanding of the Word to our hearts. Accomplish Thy purpose in it and through it. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.”

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