Salvation vs. Service: Don't Pollute the Gospel

Salvation vs. Service: Don't Pollute the Gospel

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. Rom. 4:3-5

It's difficult to have a conversation about the good works of the believer, because in these last days the enemy has twisted works and fruits all up in the message of the cross. More often than not, the sound preaching of the true gospel is replaced by the cacophony of false gospel teaching and doctrines of demons who teach that works are involved in the salvation process, or that works are guaranteed evidence someone is truly saved. This is error. 

The second you take the gospel focus off the blood of Jesus and put it on works or behavior, you’ve created a false gospel message that cannot save, or a false message that puts you in charge of not losing what God has freely given. But you cannot lose what you did not gain. Salvation depends on Christ, not us. He saves us (and keeps us saved) “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” (Titus 3:5) The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, which means “without repentance.” (Rom. 11:29) God will not change His mind. 

However, just as Eph. 2:8-9 tells us in no uncertain terms that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, Eph. 2:10 explicitly tells us we are saved UNTO good works that God has prepared for us in advance. Good works are God’s will for the believer. As the Church, we need to rightly divide this. We need to be able to follow biblical exhortations unto good works without tangling them up with performance-based requirements for salvation, eternal life, or the message of the cross.

Keep the gospel plain and pure. The ongoing disciplines and service of the Christian life are a completely separate matter. Once you have been born again, you are justified forever. You cannot become unjustified. This understanding is essential so we do not pervert the grace of God.

The gospel of Christ isn't full of fancy words or cute cliches. It's simple, plain, and powerful.

All have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. However, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord who died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. When you trust from your heart--not by mere head knowledge or intellectual assent, but truly believe--that He died on that cross instead of you, taking the death penalty you deserve, your faith is accounted for righteousness. You are justified by God’s grace and saved forever. (Rom. 3:23, Rom. 4:1-8, Rom. 6:23, 1 Cor 15:1-4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Titus 3:5-7, Rom. 11:29, et. al.)

There is nothing you can do to earn it or keep it or lose it. You are a blood-bought, purchased possession sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. You do not own yourself and cannot return yourself to the department store. This is the guarantee of your inheritance. If God gives you a guarantee, you better believe His word is trustworthy, faithful and true!

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” Eph. 1:13-14  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Not of yourselves.

Scripture is clear that we are saved unto good works, just not by them. But good works are important and commanded for the believer, so how do we encourage one another unto good works in a culture filled with popular teachers and preachers who have presented a false, sneaky, works-ridden gospel? The threat of losing your salvation and going to hell is an easy way to keep someone in line, being a good boy or girl who walks on eggshells in terror of messing up. This is against everything the Bible teaches. How do we “rightly handle” the word of truth as a workman who needeth not to be ashamed? (2 Tim. 2:15)

First, let’s talk about what actually happens when you get saved. A clear understanding of this will place everything else in its proper context.

What being born again really means

In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Being born is a one-time event. One minute you’re not born; the next minute you’re born. You don’t continue being born for the rest of your life. And you can never become unborn, even when you die.

We become born again when we believe that Jesus Christ was lifted up for us on the cross, taking upon Himself the punishment for our sin. (John 3:3-17) He calls this being “born from above,” or “born of the Spirit.” You once were not a child of God, and now you have become a child of God. This is a gift; “to them He GAVE the right to become children of God.” (John 1:11-13) You receive a new nature that cannot sin, because it has been born of God. That which is born of God cannot sin. (1 John 3:9, NKJV) Therefore, it cannot die.

I’ll say it again. That which is born of God cannot sin. (1 John 3:9, NKJV) Therefore, it cannot die. 

After you’ve been born again, your salvation is assured because, remember, you have become a child of God that cannot sin. You have become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) However, your flesh was not born again. Your flesh still sins. Jesus did not save your flesh and your flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 15:50) Your flesh does not have eternal life, but YOU do. This is why your flesh will die or be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Corruption will put on incorruption, mortality will put on immortality, and you’ll get a glorified body to go with the new nature that is born of the Spirit. (1 Cor. 15:50-58) 

Until that happens, you need to consider yourself dead to sin, because you are a born again child of God walking around in a carcass that is unprofitable and has no good thing in it. (John 6:63, Rom. 6:10-12, Rom. 7:18)

What happens AFTER you’re born again determines many things, both earthly and heavenly, but has no bearing on your eternal destination. But to avoid error, you must understand the distinction between being born and living out your life. This seems like stating the obvious, I know, but there are many teaching a false gospel message that tells otherwise. Being born is a one-time event. Living your life is a lifelong event that can only happen AFTER you are born. And you cannot do anything to help yourself be “more born.” You cannot become “more saved.” You being born again is “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)

So after you’re born again, you can take any questions or doubts about your salvation and eternal security off the table because 1) your flesh is the part that sins (1 John 1:8-10) and your flesh is not going to heaven 2) Jesus died for you and once you’re a born again child of God, you cannot sin, (1 John 3:9, NKJV) which means you cannot die. Sin dwells in your flesh, but this is not YOU. (Rom. 7:17-20) His seed remains in you (1 John 3:9, NKJV) and He is not going to dig His seed back out of you. You have passed from death to life. (John 5:24) You are IN CHRIST. (Col. 3:2-4) You can KNOW that you have eternal life (1 John 5:10-13) and can move on into actually living an eternally-secure-forever life.

What does this mean? What does it look like? What is God’s will for His children? This is where we can begin to talk about works and fruits.

Fruitfulness and the fruit of God

“But did He not make them one,
Having a remnant of the Spirit?
And why one?
He seeks godly offspring...”
(Mal. 2:15a)

Marriage is a precious symbol to describe our oneness with Christ. As the Church, we are His body and are still growing. (Eph. 4:13-16) Just as in the beginning, the Lord is still adding to His Church! (Acts 2:47) He often uses us, the individual members of His body, to plant or water the seeds He gives increase to. (1 Cor. 3:6-8) This is fruitfulness, but not the only kind. We are exhorted to walk in the Spirit so our lives are full of the fruit of the Spirit.

But we cannot be fruitful at all unless we abide in the vine.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4)

Since good works are closely intwined with fruitfulness, it's appropriate to steer the conversation this way. Especially since many big brothers in the evangelical world have become self-appointed fruit inspectors of other family members, using what is seen outwardly to validate or question the state of their eternal soul. While our works can justify or not justify us before men, as we've seen in Scripture eternal life is not a valid issue anymore. If we are born again, our soul is secure in Christ and our fruitfulness cannot add or take away from our salvation.

So before I move on, a quick word about this.

Seeking proof

Do good works prove that someone has truly been born again? No. (2 Cor. 11:14-15, Matt. 7:21-23)

Can someone who professes faith in Christ’s death and resurrection not have visible “fruit,” and yet be truly saved? Yes, because fruit is not a requirement or guarantee of salvation. (Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5) Eternal life is a guarantee of salvation. Fruit happens when a believer abides in the vine, keeps His commandments and becomes a disciple. (John 15:1-17) Sadly, not everyone does this. Some walk in the flesh as carnal babes in Christ. (1 Cor. 3:1 NKJV, Rom. 8:5-11, Gal. 5) They shouldn't, but they do.

Aren’t we supposed to look for the fruits in someone’s life to know if they are really saved? NO. First of all, the passage that says “by their fruit you will know them” (Matt. 7:15-20) refers to false prophets, not Christians. Second, the fruit in that passage is doctrine. It’s not behavior, deeds, actions or works. (Matt. 12:33-35, Luke 6:44-45.)

Can an unsaved person be loving, faithful, and kind, and exhibit many good fruits? Yes. Many philanthropists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, activists, and Mother Teresa types abound in more good works than some Christians. My thought is that many of them are trying to justify themselves (prove their goodness without trusting the righteousness of Christ) and thus abound in good deeds.

Can a saved person fail at all of that? Yes.

Now that we are born again, should we have good works? Should we walk in holiness? Should we purify ourselves and, with the help of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, walk in the Spirit, deny the flesh, and forsake sin?

YES and YES and YES x infinity! (2 Cor. 5:14-15, Rom. 12:1-2, 1 Cor. 6:12-20, 1 John 3:2-4)

This is one reason why getting the gospel right is so urgent. It is grace that trains us in holiness so we can become a purified people of God, zealous for good works. But if we water down grace, plaster it with warning labels and slap disclaimers on it, how can we know the truth?

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Some unbelievers will show lovely “fruit” while some Christians will show no fruit at all. Or it may lay dormant for awhile. Some Christians immediately show abundant fruit. But not everyone responds quickly to the Holy Spirit. Sadly, some folks stay babes in Christ. Some stay children tossed about by every wind of doctrine. (Eph. 4:14) This is why Peter exhorts us to desire the “pure milk of the word,” that we may grow. (1 Peter 2:2, NKJV) Some never grow and miss the blessing of a life that is growing in faith, love, and obedience to our heavenly Father.

The point here is that we may not always find “fruit” or proof of salvation in someone’s life and are not called to do so. Instead, we are called to preach the gospel, hold fast to sound doctrine, rebuke, exhort, encourage, and love. God, the One who gives the increase in the first place, is the one who grants repentance to those in error and, when needed, chastens His children. (Heb. 12:5-11, Rev. 3:19)

But as His servants, we can humbly and gently offer correction.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:24-26) 

You never need to ask “What is my life purpose?” again. Because here is what you were born for.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)

It is God's will that we, His children, are zealous for good works. 

Scripture teaches that our good works:

* are profitable for the believer, reap rewards, and lay up treasure in heaven,
* are the reasonable service of one who has been saved by grace through faith,
* glorify God,
* justify us before men,
* adorn our witness,
* are how we love one another.

A recurring theme in the New Testament is the profitability and fruitfulness of our good works. (For the record, you can’t “profit” salvation; it is a free gift.) How do our good works profit us? The apostle Paul is eager for believers to have a heavenly account rich with rewards for how they ministered to him and other saints. Notice here:

“For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” (Phil. 4:16-18) “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.” (Titus 3:8) “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14) 

James also speaks of profit.

“What does it profit, my brethren [born again folk], if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2: 14-17)

Dead here does not mean faith does not exist, but that it’s unfruitful like the deadness of Sarah’s womb. (Rom. 4:19, NKJV). Sarah was not wombless. She had a womb; she was, however, barren. Unable to bring forth fruit. Unprofitable faith is of no use to anyone else and it can also cause us to be disobedient to God’s command to love one another. In contrast, profitable faith lays up treasure in heaven while saving others from dire situations like nakedness and hunger.

“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue [“depart in peace, be warmed and filled”], but in deed and in truth.” [Give him the things which are needed for the body.] (1 John 3:16-18)

Apostle Paul does not mince words:

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:11-15)

For women, good works are our “adornments.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10) Good works glorify God. (1 Peter 2:12) Jesus gives us two scenarios. In one, our secret good works reap rewards in heaven (Matt. 6:1-4). In the other, good works seen by men glorify God (Matt. 5:16). Generous good works bring an abundance of thanksgivings to God. (2 Cor. 9:7-15)

While Scripture is hyper-clear that we are not justified by works (see Romans and Galatians and just read the whole Bible), our works do justify the faith we claim in the sight of men. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”  (James 2:18, 24) Even Abraham was not justified by his work that God saw; he was justified because he believed what God said. If there was any boasting going on, it was before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works [see James 2:21], he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Rom. 4:2)

God, who knows the heart, does not need to see a man's work to know if that man has faith. Our fellow mankind, especially those who do not yet have the indwelling Holy Spirit, cannot discern the heart the same way. This is why our good works give testimony to God and bear witness for the Lord before a watching world.


It all comes back to the love of God. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) He doesn't force either the loving or the obedience. The only command that affects our salvation is to believe the gospel. But someone who has been transformed by a revelation of God's grace, in whom the Holy Spirit is not quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), who longs to serve the One who, while we were yet sinners, loved us and died for us (Rom. 5:8), has been given the sweetest calling for their lives.

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15) “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” (Is. 32:17) “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1)  

If we walk in the flesh we live for ourselves, but if we deny the flesh and walk in the Spirit, oh, the sweetness of that Spirit-born fruit in us! This is how we can become useful vessels for the Master who bought us with His own blood.

But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

Love Him, saints. 

Love one another.

Meet urgent needs. Give cheerfully and generously of what you have. Be tenderhearted and kind. Put off that old man who is dead anyway, and put on that new man who cannot sin. Walk in the newness of the Spirit. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Visit the prisoner, whether the one behind bars or the one captive to their own fear and despair. Set your mind on things above. Lay up treasures in heaven. Speak an encouraging word to the weary heart. Give a cup of cold water to your little ones. Change another diaper. Make dinner for the new mom and take it to her house. Pray for your family, your friends, the body of Christ, the persecuted Church, your unsaved friend, your pastor, your favorite teachers on YouTube.

You were born for this.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10)
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)