Works of Service Don’t Earn Salvation

It is clear in scripture that God has work for His people to do, but what is the purpose of those works and what do they accomplish? In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains the purpose of works:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV).

The works that God has given us to do are not for the purpose of earning our salvation. Paul is talking here to those who are already God’s people by faith in Christ before the works are appointed. But the work He has appointed for us – that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are called to prepare us for – are for the purpose of building each other up, for strengthening the faith and knowledge of His people so that they might know the fullness of the blessing of salvation and eternal life. The works of service that God has set before us are for the purpose of helping His people to trust in Him each day and to bring us together in unity.

There is nothing in the whole of scripture that suggests that our works of service will gain for us salvation or peace.

I am thinking today about Martin Luther because tomorrow is Reformation Sunday. Martin Luther was a monk who is considered the father of the Reformation. Of his years as a monk he remarked, “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them.” Yet throughout this time he felt no peace with God and believed that he was far from Christ. He lived in constant fear of God and hell, wondering if he had done enough, if he had been good enough, to earn salvation. He tried, in vain, to find an assurance of salvation in his works of service.

His superior at the monastery ordered that he pursue an academic career and so Luther began his academic career, as a student and then professor, at the University of Wittenberg. It was during this time that he studied the book of Romans and came to understand the doctrine of justification by faith. It was only then that he found peace with God as he understood the assurance of salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. He came to the point where he could honestly say, “Is it not wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside ourselves?” And it is wonderful news, indeed, that we need not earn our own salvation.

That is what the Reformation was all about. The Church had become corrupt. The common people were denied the ability to read the scriptures for themselves and were taught that they would pay for their sins in purgatory when they died. But they could avoid such penalty by paying indulgences to the Church, in essence buying their own salvation. Luther opposed this practice and fought for the Gospel when he hung his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, calling for a public debate of his arguments made in that document.

Because of his actions, and his refusal to recant what he believed the scriptures clearly taught, Luther was eventually excommunicated from the Catholic Church. But he had found peace with God, knowing that he was justified by his faith alone and so his excommunication did not matter to him. He certainly did work as a pastor and teacher so that the body of Christ might be built up and God’s people might attain the full measure of the fullness of Christ, but he never again worked to earn his salvation. He knew that it was a gift of God.

I am a Jesus Freak, and I don't care who knows it. I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend. My blood family is only part of the larger family of Christ that I belong to. I love to write, especially about my dear Savior.


6 Responses

  1. I am so glad I took the time to come over here and read this morning. I had forgotten about Martin Luther’s struggle. It is a struggle that I share…baggage from my early doctrinal training as a kid and also as a young adult. Being alone at home with the book of Romans…and Ephesians …set me free, as well. That is what the truth has been promised to do. 🙂

    • Theresa, It is sad that there are still churches today who teach a doctrine devoid of grace, teaching that people are required to earn their own salvation. I am so glad the Lord spoke to you through Romans and Ephesians (2 of my top 5 favorite books of the Bible) and helped you to know and trust that you are forgiven! Thanks for sharing your own path to finding him. It gives me hope. 🙂 Peace, Linda

  2. Linda, thank you so much for sharing this! I loved learning those things about Martin Luther and how he no longer worked for his salvation. 🙂 That just blesses me. God is so good and He made a way . . .His way.
    God bless you and comfort you as you must face the send off of a pastor that you love and appreciate. Praying he comes back often, for some visits and fill-ins!

    • Deb, I’m so glad this was an encouragement to you. 🙂 I am always encouraged when I think of Luther and all he went through to bring the Gospel to the people. Thanks for your prayers. Peace, Linda

    • April, Thanks! It will be a wonderful Sunday, except for the sad part of it being our interim pastor’s last day. As we searched for our permanent lead pastor we knew this day would come, but he will be missed. Peace, Linda

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