Salvation by Grace vs. Good Works

Tom Lowe


 Salvation by Grace vs. Good Works


Text: "Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them"—Ephesians 2:9, 10.

Portion of text to be read before Sermon: Ephesians 2:4-10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
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.


I want to call your attention to the ninth and tenth verses: "Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works..." 

Take note of the two phrases, “Not of works,” and “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” 

Our text, at first look, appears to be unreasonable, because it says that good works will not lead to salvation, and yet, they are said to be the product of salvation. 

Some might say that there is a conflict that exists in the doctrine of faith, because it says in one place, “Believe, and thou shalt be saved,” and in another place it says, “Ye must be born again.” 

But both of these things are equally true: the Holy Spirit must do a work inside to bring life, and the person who believes in the Lord Jesus has eternal life.

I know people who like to debate the doctrine of good works, but I won’t do that. 

Instead, let’s keep to the scriptures, and see what they say. 

We must stand firm in believing that salvation is, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” 

But, on the other hand, we must admit, our experience is that faith in Jesus leads us to do good works. 

Where there is no good works, the Holy Spirit is not present. 

The faith that does not produce good works is not saving faith. 

Salvation is not of works; but, at the same time, the children of God are, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

There was a time, during the Middle Ages, when the common notion among religious people, was that people were saved by works. 

But during that time, what we call the Dark Ages, very few people had any good works at all, because they didn’t know the one who is the source of goodness and righteousness. 

Religion declined so much during this time, that it was only an empty ceremony. 

It was useless; in fact, superstition overlaid the whole truth of the gospel, and it was almost impossible to find it being preached. 

Those who were religious were told by the priests, that they must make themselves acceptable to God by doing good deeds. 

The church publicly sold indulgences and forgiveness of sins, on the street. 

So much was charged for the pardon of one sin, and so much for another, and “his holiness” at Rome, or perhaps I should say “his unholiness” was made rich by payments that were made to prevent punishment to those who were in a purgatory that Rome invented. 

Luther, the great reformer, learned from a sacred book, and by the Spirit of God, that we are saved by grace alone through faith. 

And when he found it out, he was so possessed by that one truth that he preached it with a voice of thunder. 

He used the truth to break down the gates of Papal superstition. 

The theme of every sermon was “By grace are ye saved, through faith.” 

For many years after Luther, preachers every where followed his example; and they never finished a sermon without declaring that salvation is not by works, but that it is by faith in Jesus Christ. 

These preachers were known as Reformers, and for them justification by faith, was the nail that had to be driven home. 

It became the foundation-stone, and they did lay it, and they laid it thoroughly, and laid it well.

Today, I want to make just two points:

First, that the way of salvation is something other than works.

Second, I want to speak of the walk of salvation. 

We, who are saved, walk in holiness; for we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” 

This is an order from our Lord to those who belong to Him.

First, then, THE WAY OF SALVATION is described in a negative way, as “Not of works.”   

There are many people today, who take exception to this, but what can we do; the bible makes it clear, and so does the hymn-

“Sinner, nothing do,
Either great or small,
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.”

People object to the words “Not of works,” and they hate to hear that Salvation is a free gift, and not something they can earn; but I hope you love it as much as I do. 

I want to preach that “Salvation is not of works,” over and over again, until I die. 

Salvation comes only from our Lord’s mercy, and not by the work of keeping the law.

If we were to preach that Salvation is of works, we would make a lot of people happy, but what good would it do them? 

If we were to preach to sinners, that salvation could come through their own good works, we would have to throw out the way of salvation by grace.  

There cannot be two ways of salvation for the same people. 

If you believe in one, you must deny the other. 

There is no question that a sinner, if he is saved, is saved by the grace of God. 

And it cannot be denied, that our Savior and His disciples taught that we are saved by faith. 

If salvation did not come by the pure mercy of God, we would be in sad shape. 

If we were to deny the grace of God, and His mercy, we wouldn’t have any hope. 

If salvation was by works, would there be a Gospel; would there be any “good news.” 

Salvation by works is nothing more than what the heathens taught. 

Those who teach that we are justified by religious performances, and by good deeds, are just sticking a Christian name on what the Pharisees taught. 

That teaching makes the Lord Jesus Christ practically a nobody; because if salvation can be earned, then the way of salvation that comes from faith in a Savior is unnecessary.

Next, if we were to preach, that the way to salvation is by works, we would be teaching a means to salvation that has already failed. 

If anyone was to be saved by works, they would have to begin very early in life. 

They would have to begin to live a perfect life, before they ever commit that first sin, since one sin would make them unfit. 

But I believe that everyone here would have to admit to committing some sin, so if you are depending upon your good works, you have failed already. 

Is there anyone here who can claim that they are saved by works up to this point in their life? 

Is there anyone here that is without sin? 

Look at your lives, examine your consciences; monitor your words, your thoughts, your imaginations, your motives; because all of these things must be considered. 

Is there a man or woman here, who always does good and never sins? 

Scripture proclaims that "there is none that doeth good, no, not one." 

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." 

Salvation cannot be based upon a concept which has already failed. 

And now, I think that all of you would have to admit that salvation by good works is unsuitable for many people. 

Let me give an example, to illustrate what I mean. 

My father was saved only a short time before he died of cancer. 

Between when he was saved, and his death, he didn’t do any good deeds that I am aware of. 

He didn’t leave the house and he only talked to family members. 

I loved my father, and I was the one who led him to Christ, but I didn’t mention good works. 

He didn’t have time for works. 

What kind of good works could he do? 

Should I have shown him where to find the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and tell him that he must keep these laws? 

He would just have shaken his head, and said, “I have broken them all; I am condemned by them all.” 

If salvation was by works, I would have been no use to my father. 

I am thankful that my dad chose to go the way of faith in Jesus Christ; because that was the only way he could go.

If salvation had been by works, our Lord could not have said to the thief dying beside Him, “To day, shalt thou be with me in paradise.” 

That man couldn’t do any good works, because his hands and feet were nailed to a cross. 

No, it must be by the grace of God and by faith; otherwise dying men and women wouldn’t have a chance. 

When life flows out, those who repent of their sins must find life in Jesus. 

It should be clear that the Gospel of works can’t apply in this case. 

And a Gospel that doesn’t work for everybody doesn’t work for anybody. 

But the Gospel of salvation by grace, through faith, is suitable for everyone. 

Now I want to issue a challenge; go to a prison and see what you can do with a doctrine of salvation by works. 

You will leave disappointed, no matter how sincere you are. 

But go there, and tell them about the gift of God, the love of God, and the pardon that was bought with blood, and you will see eyes fill with tears, you will hear men confess their sins, and men will ask, “What must I do to be saved?”

Furthermore, if we were to go and preach that salvation was by works, we would be preaching a way of salvation that is impossible, because of the perfection of the law. 

What are the good works that would deserve heaven? 

What are the good works that you could do, which would insure eternal life? 

These aren’t the easy things that some people imagine. 

They must be absolutely clean, constant, and unspotted, because “the law of the Lord is perfect.” 

It condemns a lustful thought, and even a glance, for, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” 

The law of God, in the Ten Commandments, doesn’t deal with only outward acts; it deals with a whole range of moral conditions, motives, and thoughts. 

The more a man understands the law, the more he feels condemned by it. 

We can’t hope to be any better than what is in our hearts, and our hearts are polluted; the heart is, “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

If you break any one of the Ten Commandments, you break them all. 

And in order to be saved by works, you must act with absolute obedience to God’s laws; obedient in thought, in word, and deed. 

And that obedience must be given cheerfully, and from the heart; because the Commandments can be summed-up like this-“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” 

Can you keep that? 

But that’s not all; here’s the rest of it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self.” 

You have been kind, and sometimes generous, but can you live up to that standard? 

When a man fails to keep the law, it condemns him; and there’s a penalty that falls on him, that is his just reward, and the penalty is death.   

I believe that if we began to preach salvation by works, we could create pride in some and create hopelessness in others. 

Many would think that they were very good, compared to others, and as a result, they would have a kind of false hope. 

Then there would be others who would know that they had not done very well by comparison, so they would think there was no hope for them. 

So this could serve no practical purpose.

But the very worst thing about the doctrine of salvation by works, is that it takes away from Jesus Christ. 

Our business is to hold up Jesus Christ. 

But why did He need to die, if men could be saved by their own works? 

Why would God permit His death on a cross, if we could save ourselves? 

You cannot save yourselves by your own efforts; you must be saved by faith in God’s Son. 

You need to love God; you need the power of the Holy Spirit; you need to be born again; you need help to live the Christian life. 

In other words, you need everything until you come to Jesus Christ, and then you will find everything in Him.

If we were to talk to unbelievers about the possibility of salvation by their own works, we would keep them from eternal life. 

The very best unsaved man cannot by his works, save himself. 

There must be a new birth, and that comes by faith in Jesus Christ.  


Now, we have come to the second point; THE WALK OF SALVATION. 

Those who are saved, because they have believed in Christ, are now, "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that they should walk in them."  

God does not only want His people to produce good works, He wants them to abound in good works. 

He wants us to imitate Him. 

The Bible says, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” 

The first thing that we should notice from our text is that there is a new creation. 

A Christian is the product of the new creation. 

When the first man fell, it flawed his Creator’s work. 

Through the second creation, He who makes all things makes us new. 

Now, the object of our new creation is that we should live holy lives and bring glory to God. 

We are not made new in the image of Adam, but in the likeness of the second Adam. 

You have not been made new so that you can sin; that would be unimaginable. 

The new creature doesn’t sin, because it is born of God. 

The new life lives forever, and it grows from an incorruptible seed. 

But the old nature sins and it will always sin. 

The new life that you have been given strives daily against sin and the old nature. 

If you have been born again, you have been born unto good works.  `

The new creation has a connection with Christ, for we read in our text that we are, “Created in Christ Jesus.” 

We are the branches and He is the vine that we grow out of. 

We have gone from being separated from Christ, to being in Christ Jesus. 

It’s a wonderful thing to be new creatures in Christ. 

The union, which we have with Jesus, cannot be dissolved, and good works flow from that union. 

We are joined to Jesus by faith in Him, by our love for Him, and by our imitation of Him, and we walk in good works. 

Our good works must flow from our union with Christ. 

We depend upon him to make us holy and to keep us holy. 

It is only through the Spirit of God that lives within us that we are able to resist one sin after another. 

It is the love of God that is shed abroad in our heart that can burn off sin and immorality, and bring us to love God with all our heart.

It’s the love of God that causes us to imitate Christ; but do you know what that means?  

It means simply, to be like Jesus. 

It might be good to put a sign up in your room that says, “What would Jesus do?” 

When you don’t know what to do, just ask, “What would Jesus do?” 

It answers all the difficult questions. 

If you are a child of God, you must imitate Him by doing good works.

Notice that creation unto good works is a decree of God. 

Our text reads that God has ordained that we should walk in them. 

If God has ordained it, then we must do it. 

But how can people make a profession of faith in Christ, then attend a church and think that they are safe, but there are no good works in their life. 

I would question their faith, because if we are new creatures in Christ we will do good works despite our surroundings, despite the temptations, and despite the opposition of the devil. 

If God has ordained that we should walk in good works, then that’s what we will do, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So good works are not the root of our salvation, but the fruit of it. 

They are not the way to salvation; they are in his walk as he walks with Jesus. 

Those who have been made new by Christ, desire to get rid of every sin. 

We still sin, but we don’t love sin, and sin can’t control us.

Now notice that the outcome of our union with Jesus is holiness. 

God’s word asks, “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” 

What union can Jesus have with men and women who love sin? 

How can those who love the world belong to Him? 

We must, in the power of the Holy Spirit, do more and better good works every day. 

What are you doing for Jesus? 

Do twice as much. 

If you are talking to people here where you live about the Savior, tell them more, and tell them more often. 

And try your best not to sin, so that you can glorify God to the utmost.


Now, this is the last point; doing good works should be our daily task. 

We are not to do them just occasionally: they are to be the purpose of our life. 

Some would say, “Oh, that’s hard to do.” 

Well then, you can see how impossible it would be to be saved by good works. 

But if you are a child of God, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." 


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