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Nothing is more misunderstood than salvation. Why are so many confused—deceived—about what they will do in the afterlife? Does salvation come by grace or through works—and what is the difference? How—on what basis—are people rewarded in the next life?
Many expect to receive salvation at the end of this life. But what does this mean? So many are ignorant about what the Bible says their final reward will be. Most have no idea what they will actually be doing for all eternity.
A famous evangelist was once asked what heaven would be like. He answered, “I don’t know but it will be wonderful and we will all be there.” He dodged the question.
Obituaries speak of people who “passed away” and “went home to be with the Lord.” Others write that their departed loved one “joined the angels” and that they are “looking down on us right now.”
Some believe that they are “bound for glory.” When asked what this means, most are unsure. But the most common ideas are that everyone will “ride clouds,” “play harps,” “walk the streets of gold in front of the pearly gates,” “sit in rocking chairs” and just “roll around heaven all day.”
Hundreds of millions of others have been taught to believe that salvation is staring at the face of Jesus for all eternity. Not only is this idea based on a wrong scriptural understanding, but it also teaches that no one will actually be able to see His face directly.
What could possibly be more boring than fulfilling these ideas? I cannot imagine doing any of these things for an extended period—let alone for ALL ETERNITY! When one man considered these popular ideas, he remarked that he would “rather go to hell, because it sounded much more exciting.”
So much confusion! So much ignorance! The vast majority have been deceived into believing a false salvation.
What have you assumed? What popular concepts have you absorbed without checking to see what the Bible actually teaches?
Do works have anything to do with your salvation? Put another way, is your “righteousness” connected to being saved? If so, do these things automatically ensure salvation? Is salvation “by works?” Can you earn salvation by anything that you do?
Some believe that they can earn their salvation. We have been accused of teaching “salvation by works,” simply because we believe Christians have a responsibility to do certain things.
The Bible does teach that there is something that people “earn” by their works. It states, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Romans 6:23 adds, “the wages of sin is death”—“but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
But what is sin? I John 3:4 states, “for sin is the transgression of the law.”
Isaiah 59:1-2 explains that sin cuts people off from God. He is literally “unreachable” to the sinner whose past has not been forgiven and cleansed. Isaiah 55:6-7 instructs those who wish to come to God, “Let the wicked forsake his way.”
Many verses explain that sin can be forgiven only through Christ’s sacrifice. The apostle John was inspired to write, “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life” (I John 5:11-12).
Unless we have a Savior—One who paid the penalty for our sins—we are headed for death! Many more verses could be cited to prove this. Examine John 5:26 to see that only God has the power to grant eternal life. The good news is that God does hold the power to grant the gift of eternal life. Make no mistake! Salvation cannot be earned—it is a free gift. But it is a gift given with conditions to those who qualify.
Most Christians believe they are “saved by the blood of Christ.” This is not true! The Bible says that we are “saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10), while we are “reconciled to God” and “justified by His blood” (5:9). Understand this point. We are not justified by works, but by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Repentance—turning to God and obeying Him—addresses a Christian’s future obedience. It does nothing to cover up PAST sins. Christ’s blood justifies—makes clean, white, righteous—all past transgressions, sins. See also I Corinthians 15:17-18. But, being “saved by His life” is vital to understand and requires explanation.
Consider! If Christ is not risen from the dead, then His Spirit cannot guide and strengthen new converts, for it is the Holy Spirit that leads Christians. Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). It is this same Spirit that God will use to change the converted into spirit-composed sons of God—resurrected Spirit Beings. This Spirit in them, when they are changed, makes eternal life—salvation—possible. Is this clear? If Christ had not been resurrected, then He could not have gone to heaven where the Father and He could send Their Spirit to His followers. Without this Spirit living in a Christian’s mind, there is no hope of eternal life.
Human beings do not have life inherent within them. They are not born with an immortal soul. Genesis 2:7 states that people are souls—they do not have souls. And Ezekiel 18:4, 20 states, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” Matthew 10:28 confirms this. You are not an immortal being. Your life span will cover a certain allotted time, after which you will die. Unless God intervenes, you have no future beyond a limited time of about 70-80 years. Christ alone has inherent immortality with the Father (I Tim. 6:16; 1:17).
Let’s get this straight! We must remove all doubt about what brings salvation. It is a free gift from God. There is absolutely nothing a Christian can do to merit or earn it. The only wage that human beings can earn is death. Before studying the subject of Christian works, recognize that no one can earn eternal life through works.
Salvation is by God’s grace. But what is grace? It is completely unmerited pardon of one’s sin. This is what grace means. Salvation means that one is saved from death. Unless God intervenes to apply the blood of Jesus Christ to cover the repentant sinner’s past, there can be no salvation.
What role does faith play? Some believe that being “justified by faith” is all that Christians must be concerned with. They believe that anyone who teaches that any works are necessary denies God’s gift of salvation. Faith does play a role, but what is it?
Ephesians 2:8-9 expands on Romans 6:23: “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that [the faith] not of yourselves: it [faith] is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Salvation comes as a free gift, by grace—through faith! However, Paul explains that even the faith must be a gift. Otherwise, it would be a “work” generated by human effort. If God gave salvation on this basis, it would mean that a Christian earned it through humanly derived faith. (Read our booklet What Is Real Faith? to truly understand this subject.)
Another question arises. Should a Christian be preparing—training—for anything that he will be doing in the next life? And what does this have to do with the gift of salvation? These questions speak to the heart of another great question: What is a Christian?
So many do not know the answers to these basic questions—but you can!
Before explaining whether or not a Christian must perform good works in his life, we must examine a more basic question.
Just what is a real Christian? Is he one who “attends church”—“professes Jesus”—“knows Christ”—has been “baptized?” Is there a single verse that gives the Bible definition of a Christian and eliminates all confusion?
Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). A Christian is one who has the Holy Spirit leading him. But is having God’s Spirit absolutely essential to being a Christian? Earlier, Paul had said, “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His!” (vs. 9).
It is that simple! One either has the Spirit of God and is a Christian, or does not have it and is not a Christian—is “none of His.” All those who are truly converted must have the Holy Spirit in them.
The apostle Peter taught, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38).
As with salvation and faith, the Holy Spirit is a gift! Unless God gives it, one can not have it. But notice! There are conditions to receiving it. Repentance and baptism precede receiving God’s Spirit. Neither of these earn God’s Spirit but they are qualifiers—conditions—that must be met for the Holy Spirit to be given!
Now notice what receiving God’s Spirit means, in terms of eternal life, which will be given later, at the resurrection: “Christ…in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:12-14). God’s Spirit, in a person’s mind, is a down payment—“earnest”—of our future inheritance with Christ in the kingdom of God. We are “heirs according to the promise” of salvation (Gal. 3:29)!
Receiving God’s Spirit begins a process that ends in inheritance with Christ. Is this all there is to Christianity and conversion, or is there more?
There is much more!
When Christ kept the Passover on the night before He was crucified, He indirectly, through prayer, explained an important principle to His disciples: “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth” (John 17:15-17).
A Christian believes and follows the truth. The truth sets him apart (sanctifies him) from all those around him. He is not of the world and its ways, customs, and traditions. Again, what does this mean? Also, what is the truth about how a Christian’s life now relates to what he will be doing for all eternity?
Are Christians required to obey the laws of God? What is the answer—the truth—from the Word of God?
Jesus never taught that people should just “believe on Him” to receive salvation. When a young, rich man asked Him what he must do to have “eternal life”—receive salvation—Christ did not tell him, “Just believe in Me.” Instead, He told him, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.” Hearing this, the disciples were shocked. (So are most ministers and churchmen.) They did not understand how this was possible and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Christ answered, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:17, 25-26). It is possible to obey God.
Christians must not continue in sin after baptism and conversion. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin [Christ had paid the penalty for us], live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
Verse 12 amplifies this: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” Verses 14-16 continue, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin [transgress the law, I John 3:4], because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”
Christians are under grace. But, while they are no longer “under the law”—under the death penalty that past disobedience brings—they now obey God. Forgiveness for past sins is not a license to freely commit future sins.
In Mark 7:7-8, Christ said, “Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.” It is possible to worship Christ in vain. It is possible to think about Him, talk about Him and refer to Him often as Lord—all in vain!
Now notice: “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven [“of” not “in” heaven]; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Paul wrote, “the doers of the law [God’s] shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
A Christian is one who actually does certain things. His responsibility is more than just belief. In the context of explaining the difference between those who build their house on a rock and those who build on sand, Christ said, “And why call you Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). A Christian does what God says to do! Also, carefully read James 1:22-25; 2:8-12, 14, 17-20. These verses substantiate Christ’s instruction commanding true Christians to keep the laws of God, tying works and faith together. They show it is not faith OR works but faith AND works.
The Bible speaks of “the Holy [Spirit], [which] God has given [it is a gift] to them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32). Receiving God’s Spirit is preceded by repentance (of breaking God’s Law) and baptism (Acts 2:38). It is at this point that a new spirit-begotten life begins. The newly begotten child of God is now a “joint-heir with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). He becomes part of the true Church that Christ promised to build and lead (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), which He feeds through His true ministry (Eph. 4:11-15).
But what about “having love”? Are not Christians merely those who “show love”? If so, what is it? Let’s consider several more verses. Let’s clear up all confusion!
Paul wrote, “...because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy [Spirit] which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). When a Christian receives God’s Spirit, he receives some (a very little at first) of the love of God. Over time, through actively exercising it, the depth and amount of love grows.
There are two different ways of life. One is the “give” way—the way of love and outgoing concern—God’s way. The other is the “get” way—the way of selfishness and self-concern—man’s way. Some focus entirely on “getting” salvation for themselves, in the meantime doing as little as possible. Christ taught that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
With this in mind, what is the Bible definition of love?
John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3). Many who claim to have love believe that the commandments are grievous. God says they are not. He calls His law “holy, just, good and spiritual” (Rom. 7:12, 14).
The Bible explains, through Paul, that the commandments and the law are the same: “Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). The Bible defines love as “the fulfilling of the law.”
A more detailed explanation of love is found in I Corinthians 13. Take the time to carefully read this chapter. Demonstrating God’s love involves many different aspects of conduct—action—works—that are done by the Christian!
Only if they keep men’s laws can all people walk free within their societies. Citizens of every nation understand that freedom is a privilege, which can be forfeited by law-breaking. Surely God is not less wise than men. People are free in Christ only if they obey Him.
So, a Christian is a “doer” not just a “believer” or “hearer.” Salvation is a gift, but there are qualifying conditions—behavior, conduct, works—that must be performed, or belief in Christ is in vain! And one who claims to have love must perform definite “works” of obedience to the law, which demonstrate it.
This “personal” is written to explain the reward that a Christian can expect in the next life. Its purpose is to directly connect one’s works in this life to the degree of reward that will be given in the next life. The Bible has much to say and you must recognize how vital this understanding is to your future. Being “saved by grace” and “rewarded according to works” are entirely different matters. Few understand that it is not one or the other—it is both!
Do not misunderstand the tremendous significance of the material here. Almost nothing you will read in The Real Truth magazine will be more important than the answer to the question raised in this article’s title. The purpose is to explain the relationship between your works in this life and your reward in the next life.
The Bible repeatedly states that Christians will be rewarded later according to their works now. This is an absolutely clear—plain—teaching of scripture. But, what kind of works is this referring to? The Bible actually refers to works with two different intended meanings. This “personal” will focus on one of them.
Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Galatians make reference to “the works of the law.” The Greek word for this, ergon, refers to the tedious physical ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices that ancient Israel was required to perform under certain circumstances. The book of Leviticus and other places discuss them in detail. They were often required to be performed in conjunction with obedience to the Ten Commandments.
But, this is not the meaning that we will focus upon. Ergon can also refer to “physical work, action, labor or acts of spiritual righteousness.” Invariably, when this meaning is intended, the word “works” stands alone, omitting the phrase “of the law” (God’s Law, the Ten Commandments). The often-used Greek word praxis, often translated “works,” also has a nearly identical meaning.
You cannot live your life without doing many things each day. All the things that you do are either good or bad. They are your “works.” They define you for what you are. Solomon wrote, “Even a child is known by his doings” (Prov. 20:11). If this is true of children, how much more so of adults?
While salvation is a gift, your reward in God’s kingdom will be determined solely by your “works” now, in this life. Understand this!
To study the scriptures that prove this, read my booklet What Is Your Reward in the Next Life?