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An honest reading of the New Testament amply supports the idea that salvation–forgiveness of sins, deliverance from the domain of darkness, and new life with Jesus–is all of grace. One’s works do not merit, earn, or secure this gift of life. This life offered by the Father, because of what Jesus has done, and implemented in our lives by the Spirit, is all of grace. To suggest that our works add to this gift of grace would be to be spiritually deluded–the very thing Paul suggested about the people he addressed in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 3:1-14).

Invariably, a conversation about this salvation will touch on one’s works. The question will be raised about the rightness of having “works” and not “just faith” as well as the place of works in a grace-based plan. Often, James’ words that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20-26) are used to anchor the insistence of a place for works in the plan of salvation. But I believe James’ words are often misread.

I think about how Jesus speaks of the life he wants for his followers in talking with them in the upper room before his death. It seems Jesus does speak about works–but differently than those who want to affirm a connection between works and salvation. What Jesus seems to be saying is that works serve as proof. But not proof of salvation as much as proof of reality.

Let me explain.

Jesus was telling his friends that he was intimate with the Father; he and the Father share life (John 14:1-10). Philip, hearing these words but finding it hard to understand, asked Jesus to show him the Father (14:8). Jesus replies by saying that if Philip cannot accept Jesus’ words at face value and believe Jesus and the Father share such deep intimacy, than Philip could look at the works that happen in and through Jesus as proof the Father is at work in him (14:11). The works underscore the reality of Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

These works do not procure Jesus’ relationship with the Father. He does not merit life with the Father because of his works. He is neither brought into relationship with the Father nor does he assure his relationship with the Father through works. The works show forth the reality of the Father’s presence in his life.

This seems to be what Nicodemus noted in his meeting with Jesus. This religious leader affirmed that God must have been “with Jesus.” The evidence of this “withness” was the works that were happening through Jesus (John 3:1-2). When Peter spoke with a Gentile, Cornelius, about Jesus after his resurrection, Peter could affirm that even Cornelius knew that God’s power was evident in Jesus’ life as seen in the things that Jesus had done (Acts 10:24-38).

So, for Jesus, it would seem that his works are proof of the Father’s presence in his life. And I would suggest a similar connection exists in our lives between works and proof.

Jesus told his followers that the works he did they would do because they believe in him (John 14:12). That “believing” is more than knowing that Jesus is alive, but it is about depending on, relying on, and living in relationship with Jesus. Very much like the kind of relationship Jesus has with the Father.

And as Jesus unpacks what he wants for his followers, having said that they will do what he does, he says that they will “bear fruit” (John 15:1-8). This fruit bearing, as Jesus explains it, looks like asking the Father to do things in and through us. When the Father does this, he is glorified, we have joy, and we “prove to be [Jesus’] disciples” (15:8).

In this way, works don’t secure our salvation or give us life. When we participate in Jesus’ own ministry by doing the kinds of things he himself did and his power and presence shows up through us in “works,” this is proof that we are his and living in intimacy with him.

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3 Comments

  1. I have some questions about this topic… especially when coupled with your earlier post, “Its not just loving things”.
    Do you think that people sometimes use as an excuse the “I don’t feel the affection” so I’m not going to be a hypocrite and act like I do? I think I understand what you’re saying when you say “the works show/prove the reality of the Fahter’s presence in your life” Can it ever be possible that the Spirit works on the mind to submit to or obey God’s plan of extending grace to others to “act” (take action) in love before the heart is actually caught up to true affection. . . and the very action stirs the heart to true affection? Or is that just faking? Is it only a proof? Of can the heart be stirred by acts of love too? Are both possible or is it only a proof of heart change?

  2. Some good honest thinking here. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m inclined to think that there is something to the idea of leaning into the Spirit’s tug so as to give into God’s call to love one another even if the richness of the affection is not fully being tasted. One of the way that I see this lived out (or perhaps it is better to say, the way I think it can be lived out) is when I talk with a husband or wife who says, “I don’t love my spouse any more. I don’t feel any love for him/her.” But when we talk, it isn’t that the person has no affection for his or her spouse. They just don’t feel what they think they should or what they want to feel. But when I ask, “So, you have no affection for your spouse at all? You’d prefer to never see your spouse again? You’d rather your spouse vacate the planet?” Typically, the response is more, “No, of course not! It’s just that it’s so hard/I don’t feel appreciated/we aren’t growing/etc.” At that point, I can invite the husband or wife to give into the affection that he or she does feel with the expectation that such a stirring is, in fact, a work of the Spirit and what Jesus intends. Giving into that small taste of the Spirit is the way to lean into what God wants and opens the door for the Lord to bring about more profound heart change.

    To my way of thinking, this is similar to what Jesus says about giving heed to his word (from Mark 4:1-25). He summarizes the parable of the soils by calling for attention to what he says. And Jesus explains that the one “has” will get more. The idea? Giving into what you do understand or hear from Jesus will result in you receiving more. Giving into the love that the Spirit is stirring in one’s heart is the way forward for more affection and delight and love.

    Does the action stir the affection? Or does the small stirring of affection open the way for feeling even more deeply?

    At the core, I am convinced that the Christian life is a change of affection; we are given new hearts that feel for God and for one another. God’s intention is transformation, from the inside out. It isn’t about “get the behavior right and the feelings will follow” but allow God to transform the affections (something we are reluctant to lean into . . . if we ever really felt about others what Jesus does we would end up laying down our lives for them!) so that the living would flow out of genuine loving.

    As for the idea of the proof of works, there might be some correlation. If we really do end up laying down our lives for one another, that very “un-natural” kind of love does make it clear that God is working in and through us. Thus, proof the reality of our life with him. But, in the upper room, the works (although done in love) are the kinds of deeds Jesus did that made it clear that there was something supernatural about him.

  3. Thank you. The 3rd from last paragraph, is really what I was trying to ask–and you answer it well. Wow! laying down my life–very un-natural! That would be very SPIRIT-ual


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