The importance of this topic, Salvation, cannot be overstated. It is an absolutely critical dogma of the Christian faith. It has to do with eternity in Heaven or Hell, among many other things.
There are not many theological constructs more important than Salvation.
Being a Good Neighbor
Many people, even Christians, state that one does not have to believe in God or have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to be “saved”. There seems to be an increasing focus on “being a good neighbor” or doing good works as an exclusive basis for Salvation and eternal life in Heaven. Those who choose to use Scripture to support their views often refer to James 2:26 and Luke 10:27 as their proof texts.
James 2:26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Luke 10:27 “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’”
By combining these two verses out of context with the rest of Scripture, many build a straw man by saying that to love God is to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor (“works”) is the basis of our faith that will carry us to Heaven.
The Biblical Christian will counter this view by quoting Ephesians 2:8-9 which states that “grace” not “works” is the path to Salvation.
Eph. 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.
Of course, the atheist or frustrated Christian will quote both these verses and say that the Bible has errors and is written by flawed men and cannot be trusted.
The Greatest Commandment in the Bible
My belief is that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and therefore perfect in its original autographs. As such, verses that seem to contradict must be reconciled as best as man can understand. Unlike other more challenging doctrines (ex. predestination vs. free will), looking at the Bible through the lens of a systematic theology, the reconciliation of these verses seems straightforward.
My view is intertwined with the Greatest Commandment (see Luke 10:27 above), presented similarly in the first three books of the Bible. It speaks to FIRST, loving the Lord and THEN loving our neighbor.
God stated that, “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40), meaning the rest of Scripture is based on this, the Greatest Commandment. My point is that there is an order to God’s laws, to love Him AND THEN love mankind. That order, in my view, helps reconcile Eph. 2:8-9 with James 2:26.
I would argue we cannot truly know God unless we are saved (John 17:3). We can know of Him, but to truly know Him we must have a personal relationship with Him (John 15:4-5). We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). Once we are saved, we need to do His will. To do His will is to love our neighbor. And, loving our neighbor is performing good works referred to in James 2:26.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. – Note the order… first love God then do good works.
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. – This verse was in the context of loving our brother. Again, God loved us first (by offering His Son as a sacrifice for our sins) so that we can love our neighbor (works).
John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” – Again, the order that whoever obeys God (works) is the “one who [already] loves me” (grace-based salvation).
Salvation Through Grace – Sanctification Through Works
To make my point more succinct, we are saved by God’s grace (Eph, 2:8-9). Once we are saved, we are compelled to do good works because we love Him and want to serve Him. Those are the good works referred to in James 2:26 which FOLLOW our salvation and are not the basis of our salvation. They are part of the Sanctification process that continues throughout the rest of our lives as believers.
One cannot skip over the first part of the Greatest Commandment (love God) and just do the second part (love our neighbor) and expect to be born-again or saved. However, it is equally true that we cannot just say a prayer as a youth and never change our behavior to reflect God’s will for our lives, and expect to be saved.
The reconciliation of these two supposedly controversial verses (Eph. 2:8-9 and James 2:26) represents a beautiful harmony of what God has done for us and what He expects of us as His children.
John 3:1-5 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’”… “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
Being “born of the Spirit” is having a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is not works-based salvation.
Luke 23:42-43 Then he [the thief on the cross next to Jesus] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The thief recognized who Jesus was and asked, by faith, for a relationship with Him. This man could not offer any good works to earn his salvation. And Jesus responded, by grace, “today you will be with me in paradise”. Good works has nothing to do with Salvation. It is an outpouring of man’s desire to love God and do His will, once saved.
Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Salvation comes from a belief that Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord of one’s life. To acknowledge in prayer that you are a sinner, that Christ died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave, ask Him to forgive you of your sins and save your soul. Accept Him as your Savior and Lord and then share your decision with others.