It’s the age-old question:
How good do I have to be to get into heaven?
It’s not really that we want to know how bad we can be—how much we can get away with. We merely want to know the entrance requirements. What’s the upfront cost for a ticket to the big game in the sky?
Except that it doesn’t work that way. The Bible is clear that you cannot earn or buy your way into heaven. Righteousness is too costly for us to afford. So forget the idea of working hard to earn a spot in heaven. So then we don’t have to do anything, right? If good works don’t get us there, what’s the point? This is exactly what James is talking about in 2:14-26:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
No matter how you slice it you can’t get away from the Bible’s talk about good works. Christians are called to good works. The Apostle Paul mentions in Titus 3 that “those who believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.” Not because good works are good in and of themselves. They aren’t. We need to make sure the horse is before the cart.
Through God’s mercy he has justified us by his grace. That means we’ve been declared righteous. That’s the horse that pulls this whole thing.
Now for the cart.
Since we are recipients of God’s grace, God’s behavior ought to compel and motivate us to do good works just as God is one who does good works. The end result is that our good works validate the faith that is at work within us. This is what James means when he talks about demons. Raw belief alone isn’t enough. Even demons have that raw belief. The Christian character, though, is one that puts aside our own traits and puts on the traits of the One we follow.
Since God does good works, our response to his mercy and grace should be to do good works.
– Have I seen someone I have the ability to help but have ignored?
– How can I put on the character of Christ and seek to be a “do-gooder” in this world?