Why Works Don't Work
I remember working hard for my first paycheck. I was 14 years old and I was a score-keeper for youth baseball. I had been through the training. I had learned what a 6-4-3 double-play means. I had learned how to chalk the lines between the bases. And I was ready to run the scoreboard. After my first Saturday of games, I remember going to Parks and Rec that week and getting my first paycheck ever. It was great. I had worked hard and saw the fruit of my labors staring back at me on that blue paper check.
I did the work. I got the reward.
Working for money is a good thing. Working for salvation is not. A recent study was released by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. In this study, they found that 48% of self-identifying Christians in America believe that if a person does enough good things they will earn a spot in Heaven. They also found that 52% of self-identifying Christians believe in a works-oriented path to being accepted by God. That means that nearly half of the people who claim to be Christians believe that they are good with God because of their own works.
This means that nearly half of these people don’t know the gospel.
The gospel is the good news about what Jesus has done, not what you have done. It’s a message all about Jesus—his perfect life, his sacrificial death, and his glorious resurrection from the dead. When Paul reminds the Corinthian church of the gospel he proclaimed to them, he says this:
"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15:1–4 (ESV)
The gospel is good news because of what Jesus did. And it is by his works that God saves sinners. Not by ours. Good enough will never be good enough. Working harder will never work. You see, if you think that you are good with God because of you, you’re doing it wrong. Jesus is the only reason that God will ever accept you, forgive you, and receive you into His Eternal Kingdom.
Works simply will not work when it comes to salvation. And here’s 10 reasons why:
1. Your good works can’t fix a heart that treasures something other than God.
Matthew 19:20–22—The young man said to [Jesus], “All these [laws] I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
2. Your good works can’t finish the work Jesus has already finished.
John 19:30—When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
3. Your good works can’t justify you.
Romans 3:20—For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
4. Your good works can’t make you righteous.
Galatians 2:21—I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
5. Your good works can’t make you alive.
Ephesians 2:4, 8–9—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
6. Your good works can’t give you the Spirit, who you need for new life in Christ.
Galatians 3:2—Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
7. Your good works can’t save you and make you holy.
2 Timothy 1:9—[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
8. Your good works can’t wash you and renew you.
Titus 3:5—[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
9. Your good works can’t make you perfect or sanctified.
Hebrews 10:14—For by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
10. Your good works can’t fill Heaven with songs.
Revelation 5:9–10—And they sang a new song [to the Lamb], saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Are good works good? Of course! Does Jesus want his people to devote themselves to good works? You bet. Can good works save you? Not a chance. And that’s what makes the gospel such good news.
Jesus does the work. We get the reward.