In the New Testament, Paul wrote to the Romans that “a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). He also stated that “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24). He also mentions in his letter to the Ephesians that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2: 9,10). Yet, we also find a seeming contradiction in James as he states that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
So, are we justified by faith only, or by both faith and works?
The above verses by Paul in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians were addressed to the Jewish congregation who were maintaining the necessity of circumcision and other rituals of the law as means to salvation. We can see from the context that the Galatian Jews attributed redemption to their own deeds not to God. “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2). The same issue was repeated with the Romans “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Romans 3:27). Paul had to put things in order according to the words of Jesus who said “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul wanted to establish the necessity of faith for justification but surely it doesn’t say that good works are not necessary for justification, only the “works of the law.”
But how about the Ephesians verse, where Paul says that our salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2: 9)? In this verse, Paul is not stating that we are saved by faith alone. Rather, through the redemption of Christ, which is the gift of God, we are saved. That does not preclude the necessity of good works as fruits of our faith. In fact, right after this verse, Paul states that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)
But then, where do we find in the New Testament that works are necessary for salvation?
In the Same Epistle to the Galatians, Paul is talking about righteous works that are the fruits of the Spirit or Sinful works that are works according to the sinful nature of the flesh, and those will result in not inheriting the kingdom of God. He stated “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness.. that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-25). Paul himself puts it clear that our works are directly related to our inheritance of the kingdom of God. In the Book of Revelation chapter two, Christ mentioned several times to the bishops of the seven churches that “I know your works” as well as in chapter 22 where Jesus states that He is “am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.” Jesus taught his disciples on numerous occasions about the necessity of works to inherit the kingdom of heaven. For example, in the parable of the tree without fruits, He teaches “very tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). He also teaches that “every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (John 15: 2), and that “not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21)