If you have been a Christian for at least a day, I am sure you have heard the popular, clichéd phrase – It’s not by works!
Aha! That one phrase that answers all questions, queries and complaints. If you ask a sister why she decided to sleep over at her boyfriend’s house last weekend; she will say “it’s not by works so don’t judge me”. If you ask someone why they haven’t attended church in a while – it’s not by works. Ask someone why they are repeatedly not fasting – it’s not by works oo.
This “it’s not by works” as become the singular excuse and escape phrase that saves all (lol).
Let’s get serious. Is it truly not by works?
In my usual fashion, I will present to you the scripture on the matter and allow you choose to either obey the word or not! Let’s begin.
The phrase is from the verse Ephesians 2:9 “not by works, so that no one can boast” and while I appreciate people knowing the scriptures, this verse has been taken and used out of context for so long. Let’s examine this verse in the context the bible placed it (within a chapter)
Ephesians 2: 8 – 10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The full snippet shows us that this “not by works” is referring to Salvation. What Paul meant in his letter to the Ephesians is that No one has been saved by their works or attributes but by the love, mercy and grace of God. In the book of Romans, he clearly points this out by giving the example of Jacob and Esau – two brothers born from the same womb who had no works or acts, yet God had chosen to favor Jacob over Esau. Thus the apostle here emphasizes that we can’t claim to be saved because we are good people, deserving of salvation but that we have in fact been saved just on the note of the mercy of God. Thus there is no point taking pride in that you are saved and someone else isn’t when you know that you didn’t do anything to earn it.
Now the 2nd part of this snippet mentions works again – good works, which we were created to do (Surprise!!!) YOU WERE CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS!!! (Don’t be shocked; it’s by works afterall lol).
Many Christians today have this false understanding that once you are saved, the hard part is over and you can now rest, place your feet up, expect blessings daily from Papa God and get to heaven at the end (Whew! Isn’t is just lovely to be saved?)
However, the reality is different; we are promised blessings but also persecution (but that’s a post for another day) After you get born again, there is in fact WORK for you to do! We are not saved into a lazy kingdom where we can just put our feet up and expect Jesus and all the angels to come and work for us. We have work to do!
What are Christian Works?
Let’s divide Christian Works into 2; Internal & External.
Internal works are those you do to better your Christian Life.
“Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you practice these things you will never stumble, and you will receive a lavish reception into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.2 Peter 1:10 NIV
This include Praying, Fasting, Fellowship, Giving, Loving etc. these things aren’t done for God. They are rather of benefit to us. The more you do these works, the more you grow, develop and become a useful member of the kingdom of God. I know some people are also of the opinion that it’s by faith and not by works and once am standing in faith, I don’t need to do any works. Well James has this to say to you – “So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” – James 2:17-18
Side Comment: Yes I said useful, some members of the kingdom are in fact being of no use. They are Christians who though are saved, have failed to separate themselves unto this new kingdom, with its lifestyle and behaviours and thus have become inherently useless (the possibility of being called that makes me shiver) Here are some Bible verses to consider on that (post for another day) 2 Timothy 2: 20 – 22 “A large house contains not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. Some indeed are for honorable use, but others are for common use. So if anyone cleanses himself of what is unfit, he will be a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work. Flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.…”
External Works – This is what is popularly known as ministry work.
It involves people serving as teachers, pastors, evangelists, apostles etc. there are diverse number of ministries all around the world and they are being championed by individuals who have realized that we are not just called to be saved, get fat and make heaven. But we are ALL in the ministry of reconciliation – ” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 20
Side Comment: I’m aware some people receive direct CALLS from God (you know that when you are just sitting alone and a breeze come through the window and you see a bright light and hear your name and a voice saying YOU ARE CALLED, lol) but you don’t need to have a woozy, stomach turning call to realize that we are all in fact chosen and called by God to minister his grace, love and spread the gospel. Whereas the CALLED ones may take a more Centre stage and public setting like pastors; yours could be done at work, while you are on the plane, while you are in the bus, within your neighborhood, via your social networks and can be as basic as sharing fliers and inviting people to church. So take this as your call to ministry – “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – Mark 16:15
So to the question: Is it by works … that you are saved? NO …but that you maintain and be productive in your salvation – YES.
Take this analogy; if a baby refuses to grow, walk or doesn’t respond to growth medications – that baby would be considered an anomaly. The baby would be loved by its parents but it would be useless and of great embarrassment to them. I doubt you want to be useless and of embarrassment to God ehn!.
So when next you want to excuse your failure to read the Bible, fast, pray or give; quickly remember that it is in fact by works!
1 Corinthians 3:13 – But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. NLT