I thought of a way to get across a concept that people struggle to understand: there is a difference between being saved by faith and going to heaven.
Picture a congregation. The congregation is asked, “How many of you are born again?” Many hands go up.
The speaker then asks, “How many of you have gone to heaven?” All hands go down.
Read the Bible with that distinction in mind, and you will find that though you were born again by faith, you will go to heaven only if you have works (and a lot of mercy along the way). Thus the reconciliation between Romans 3 (“faith apart from works”) and James 2 (“works and not faith only”).
The main point I wanted to make is done. Everything below is to answer common objections and perhaps add some explanation and context to what I have just written.
This Is Scary
Is that a scary thought? Peter writes, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17). It is supposed to be scary.
Paul writes, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:10-11)
If We Go to Heaven by Works, Then We Can Boast
This objection is prompted (rightly) by Ephesians 2:9: “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
- Ephesians 2:8-9 is talking about being born again. It is all in the past tense. That salvation has already happened to us, and it is indeed apart from works. The result of that salvation is in 2:10. We are recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works.
- Thus, Paul writes, “What do you have that you have not received? And if you did receive it, then why do you boast as though you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). We should be able to boast that Jesus has changed our lives and delivered us from sinful patterns of life. We are not boasting about ourselves, but about Jesus.
How can we claim to be created in Christ Jesus to do good works if we are not doing good works?
Thus, Paul tells Titus, “… concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Tit. 3:8). Other versions have “I want you to affirm constantly.”
Harping on good works is not legalism. It is a command from the apostle Paul, and if you count yourself a prophet or spiritual, then you should acknowledge that Paul’s commands are the commands of Christ (1 Cor. 14:37).
I am always stunned that people think I am talking about sinless perfection. Not at all. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). God is full of mercy and has made amazing, wonderful, full provision for it (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2). Take advantage of it. Go boldly to the throne of grace and obtain mercy and grace to help (Heb. 4:16).
But don’t be deceived. God is not mocked. He who sows to the flesh, will reap corruption. Only he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life. Therefore, do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:7-9).
Or as God said himself to Moses, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7).
A Christian must have a pattern of righteousness in his life. A pattern of sin is the mark of a son of the devil (1 Jn. 3:7-10). If you have been born again, you should find your life changing. You should have the ability to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly-kindness, and love to your faith and find yourself increasing in those things. Diligently adding those things is the route to an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-11)