The place of faith
Salvation is indeed a gift to those whose faith is acceptable to God. But just what is "faith", the foundation of the whole Christian life. It is by faith in Christ above all else that we lay hold of the unmerited grace of God and obtain salvation,
" . . . for by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:9
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16
It is by faith that we are converted and put on the new nature of Christ; by faith that we enter into a relationship with God as our spiritual Father; and by faith that we attain to every part of the Christian life, whether it be obedience, good works, submission, sharing, unity or anything else. There is nothing that we can do in the Christian life that God will accept if it is not done out of a heart of faith and love towards him,
"For the just shall live by faith" Luke 14:25-33
"But without faith it is impossible to please him" Hebrews 11:6
"Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Romans 14:23
All that we do for Him out of our own natural strength and ability is entirely unacceptable, for
"all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Isaiah 64:6
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is being fully persuaded, as was Abraham, who staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, that what God has promised, He is able also to perform. We obtain faith by hearing and believing God’s word, for
"faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" Romans 10:17
"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." 2 Peter 1:4
Further reading: Titus 3:5,7; Galatians 2:16,20; 3:2,7,8,26; Romans 4:2,3,16-22; 5:1,2; 14:23; Hebrews 10:38,39
The place of works
The popular doctrine that we are saved by faith alone is nowhere to be found in the scripture, but is entirely contrary to the scripture. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, (2 Timothy 3:16) and all of the books of the New Testament should be read in order to gain the full teaching on salvation and the place of faith.
If our faith is real, it will be expressed in the works of faith even as the scripture saith, for those who are saved by grace through faith
"are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10
If the faith a person claims to have is not shown through any works of faith, then such a faith is dead and is of no value whatsoever; and if a person’s faith is dead, then there is no way he can obtain God’s grace to be saved. It is therefore true that faith and works must go hand in hand, the works being the expression of the faith and a sign of its presence, and so it becomes entirely true to say as does James:
"You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." James 2:24
Further reading: Matthew 5:16; James 2:14-26 (especially verses 21 and 24)
Furthermore, the Scripture commands all Christians,
"to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful." Titus 3:14
knowing that Jesus
"gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Titus 2:14
We must let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by our faith, but by our works. Any believer who simply believes they are going to be saved, and who does not back up that faith with works of obedience to the commandments of Jesus and the principles of the New Testament will find that his faith has been in vain. Our faith must produce works that will pass God's judgment.
"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Revelation 20:12
Similarly, there are works which God will condemn, because they were not done in faith.
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Matthew 7:21-23
In summary, we must exercise a faith in the grace of God that is evident in good works. Only by doing this can we have confidence that we have run the race properly, and for a worthwhile prize.
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:7,8
Further reading:Titus 2:7; 3:8; Acts 9:36; 1 Timothy 2:10; 5:10,25; 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:17; Hebrews 10:24; James 3:13; 1 Peter 2:12; Rev 2:2,9,13,19; 3:8; 20:13