Am I saved by faith or good works? As a new Christian, I was relieved to hear that salvation doesn’t depend on works, but solely on God’s gift of grace. But then someone told me that “faith without works is dead” and that God cares as much about my actions as He does about my beliefs. Now I’m worried. Maybe I’m not “doing” enough to get into heaven. What do you think? Can you help me understand what seems like a contradiction?
From a certain perspective, the question you’ve raised goes straight to the heart of the Christian Gospel. Salvation is indeed based upon faith alone (Galatians 3:6, 7). But then faith, as it turns out, is something like a two-sided coin.
If you’ve been reading your New Testament, you will have noticed that the apostles (especially Paul) make it clear that we do not “earn” our way into heaven by doing good deeds or giving up sinful behaviors. Our only hope is to place all our confidence, faith, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior who offered Himself up on the cross to redeem us from sin. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” writes Paul, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9; see also John 14:7; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5, 6).
But does this suggest that behavior doesn’t matter in the Christian life? Does it mean that believers can engage in willful sin? Are they free to forget about consequences and the deeper implications of poor personal choices? Not in the least.
“What shall we say then?” writes Paul. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:1-3). Writing in the same vein, the apostle follows his famous declaration about grace and faith (cited above) with this important statement: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Saving faith, then, is not simply a matter of acknowledging something that you accept as true.” After all, “Even the demons believe – and tremble!” (James 2:19). The New Testament writers agree that faith is a “holistic” phenomenon. In other words, it involves the entire person, body, soul, and spirit. To believe in the biblical sense is to embrace the truth with mind, heart, and will. This means that genuine faith is expressed both through our actions (James 2:17, 18) and by the public declaration of our heartfelt beliefs: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation … For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:8, 9, 13).
This concept is often illustrated with a story drawn from the exploits of the 19 th-century dare-devil Clifford Calverly. In 1892, Calverly pushed a wheelbarrow over a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls. After performing this feat, he turned to his audience and asked, “Now that you’ve seen what I can do, do you believe I can do it again?” “Yes!”replied the crowd. “Do you think I can do it with another person in the wheelbarrow?” said Calverly. “Yes!” was the enthusiastic response. “Well, then,” said Calverly, ” who wants to climb in?” Genuine New Testament faith means getting in the wheelbarrow. It’s not just a question of standing on the sidelines and saying, “I believe.”