Are Good Works Necessary For Salvation?

Are good works necessary for salvation?

In an old Lutheran document called, "The Formula of Concord" it states that good works are necessary, but not necessary for salvation.  The reason why this is stated the way it is, is that the authors of this document did not want to give people the idea or impression that God accepts people on the basis of their good deeds.  Rather people are accepted on the basis of what Christ has done and who Christ is.  Therefore, as result of being set free in Christ, good works are to be done willingly or from a spontaneous spirit.  

Throughout history we have seen the large amount of sects and heretical groups spring forth from trying to incorrectly answer the question posed above.  Friedemann Hebart in his book, "One in the Gospel," lays forth 4 dangers when one mixes the doctrines of justification and sanctification.  In other words, his four points are dangerous scenarios that may happen when one attempts to say that works are necessary 'for' salvation.  The 4 dangers are paraphrased and condensed as follows:

Danger #1: Pharisaism
There  have always been 'holiness' movements from the very beginning of the church's history.  They claim that a Christian who receives the Holy Spirit no longer sins.  And so believers begin to judge their value not by what God says about them in Christ but by the actions they see in themselves.  This way of thinking points people away from Christ to 'self.'

Danger #2:  Building Up Credits
If good deeds were 'necessary for our salvation,' it would also mean that we would have to spend all our efforts on improving our own life, not out of love to God, but so that we will be saved.  And then we would be doing just what we are not meant to do.  We would be acting in our own interests.  In fact our 'good' deeds would no longer be good!  If we worship God or visit a lonely person or make  large contributions to the church or forgive someone after a quarrel for the sake of the credits we hope God will give us, these 'good' deeds become selfish and bad.  We are using God and others to do ourselves a service.

Danger #3:  Doubt
Christians who fall into the trap of believing that good works are necessary for salvation can find themselves in doubt.  Have we given our best works?  Have we acquired enough works?  Are our motives pure enough?  Are we showing enough fruit?  Let's face it salvation is on the line here... have we done enough to make sure we have the prize?  Doubt!

Danger #4:  The Veneer of Holiness
Because our society tends to judge people by the outward deeds they see-- or by the sins they see... if catastrophe strikes a person tied up in acquiring salvation by good works they may feel as if they need to put on a brave front.  This danger leads people, like you and me, to live in a pretentious way.  We smile, are brave, friendly to all, adopt a holy-style of speech and show no un-spiritual emotions (i.e. temper or irritability).  We answer questions with the phrase 'I'm doing good' and call people 'friend' but deep down we may have pain, fear, resentment and anger.  The dangerous idea is that one must at least show they are a good Christian and behave the way that good Christians behave, even when one feels most unchristian.  Ultimately this Veneer of Holiness is a 'face-saving' device.  The good news is that there is no need to play-act, since God accepts us as we are, without deeds on the basis of Christ.   

In summary Hebart says, "My Christian life is important.  But when it comes to God accepting me, my life as a Christian does not count at all.  I can never become more righteous and more holy than I already am when I receive Christ's righteousness in faith day by day.  Justification by faith is God's last word."

Are good works necessary?  Yes.  Are good works necessary for salvation?  No.

Friedemann Hebart, One in the Gospel (Open Book Publishers, 2000), 46-48.