Good Works
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Good Works

In Christian theology, good works, or simply works, are a person's (exterior) actions or deeds, in contrast to inner qualities such as grace or faith. In Judaism, a good work is also known in Hebrew as a mitzvah, and refers to a moral deed performed within a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an individual act of human kindness in keeping with the law. The expression includes a sense of heartfelt sentiment beyond mere legal duty, as "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).[]Islamic theology holds that salvation is a combination of the grace of Allah and the works performed by the individual. On the Day of Judgment, if an individual's bad deeds are outweighed by their good works, he or she will be forgiven of all sin and then enter into Jannah (Paradise).[1]

Old Testament

Proverbs 21:3ff says that "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice."

New Testament

The New Testament exhibits a tension between two aspects of grace: the idea that grace is from God and sufficient to cover any sin (except the Unforgivable sin) and the idea that grace does not free humans from their responsibility to behave morally.

John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance, connected repentance with bearing fruit saying, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Jesus himself tells people to live a life without sin after receiving grace and forgiveness from God as the incident with the adulterous woman shows (John 8:11). He mentions good works explicitly as a good testimony to other people (Matthew 5:16). In 1 Peter the same encouragement for Christians is expressed that they should keep their conduct among the Gentiles honourable so that they may see the believers' good deeds (1 Peter 2:12).

The apostle Paul connected grace with works, writing to his fellow-worker Titus in Titus 2:11-12 that the grace of God has appeared so we may live an upright and godly life. For him, good works are a consequence of grace (compare 2 Cor 6:1) and he even says that on the Judgment Day each person will "receive what is due for what he has done in the body" (2 Cor 5:10). The Letter to the Hebrews says that doing good is a sacrifice which pleases God (Hebrews 13:16). As in every book or epistle of the New Testament, doing God's will is emphasized (Hebrews 13:21). This verse also speaks about the cooperation between the believer and God in regard to the believer's deeds because God works out in a Christian what is pleasing in his sight

James states in his letter that a person is "justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). The First Epistle of John describes the life of a Christian as walking in the same way in which Jesus walked, which includes necessarily also deeds (1 John 2:6). In his letter, Jude describes false teachers as "fruitless trees in late autumn", indicating that true believers should bear fruit in their lives (Jude 12).

Views by Christian denomination

Anglican Churches

The Episcopal Church (United States), part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Continuing Anglican and other independent Anglican churches teach in the Thirty-nine Articles that "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by faith and not for our work or deservings" (BCP, p. 870).[2] In explaining this Anglican article of faith, John Wordsworth, former Bishop of Salisbury, says that "But by faith we understand not a dead but a living faith, which as naturally leads the believer to do good works for God as a good tree necessarily bears good fruit."[3]

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church teaches that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation:[4]

Protestants and Catholics agree that faith is necessary for salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that it is. Good works alone do not merit salvation. No one can "buy" heaven with enough good works, or good enough motives. The ticket to heaven is not being nice or sincere or good enough; the ticket to heaven is the Blood of Christ, and faith is the acceptance of that free gift. But the [Catholic] Church insists that good works are necessary too. This means the works of love. Good works are not mere external deeds, but the works of love. And love is not mere feelings, but the works of live (charity, agape). That is why Christ can command them; feelings cannot be commanded. St. James clearly teaches that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas 2:17). And some of Christ's parables teach that our salvation depends on charity (Mt 25:40: "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me"). --Peter Kreeft[4]

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Eastern Orthodox Churches teach the unity of faith and good works as necessary for salvation:[5]

We are first "justified by faith" and then "empowered by God for good works and deeds of righteousness." Orthodoxy believes one has to acquire faith then become righteous so that he can do good works. In essence, one follows the other. However, we do not discuss the one versus the other, as we look at them as a total unit. We believe that they are in union with one another; one cannot exist without the other in order to achieve salvation. It is up to us to commit to and acquire faith through God's mercy, so that we will see the need and have the will to do good works and deeds of righteousness, in the hope we will obtain God's final grace as the last Judment. Good works is "a necessary consequence of a faith-filled heart," but it is only part of the requirement of salvation. One cannot skip from justification of a faith-filled heart directly to the final step of being saved without performing good works and deeds of righteousness. The two are intimately linked, which allows believers to be assured of salvation through a changed heart and changed actions. --A.S. Bogeatzes[5]

Latter Day Saint (Mormon) view

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) view respects both faith and good works as essential, however it sees salvation as free, a gift from God based on the merits of Christ for 'there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise' (2 Nephi 2.8). As such salvation cannot be earned. Indeed, one purpose of writing the Book of Mormon was 'to persuade our believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do' (2 Nephi 25:23). Accordingly, faith is seen as a pre-requisite for this reconciliation opening the door to salvation. The LDS view of salvation is seen as life in one of the mansions or kingdoms Jesus prepared for his believers (Jn. 14.1-2). As Paul, they view the heavenly estate as divided into three glories likened to the sun, moon and stars (1 Cor.15.41). Though resurrection is seen as a gift for all mankind, no exception (1 Cor. 15.22), eternal life is conditional: 'And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God (Doctrine & Covenants 14:7). Once again, salvation is a gift, however, the quality of that gift or the degree of glory one attains to in the afterlife is determined by each individual here and now by the way he or she lives (Doctrine & Covenants 176.111). Of this earth--and subsequently all who eventually live on it--modern revelation declared: 'Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power [light, eternal law] by which it is quickened, and the righteous [that is, those made righteous or justified] shall inherit it' (Doctrine and Covenants 88:11, 21-24, 26-28, 49).

Lutheran Churches and Reformed Churches

The Lutheran and Reformed principle of sola fide states that no matter what a person's action, salvation comes through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8–9 reads, "For by grace ye are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." (KJV) According to the Lutheran and Reformed tradition, salvation is God's gift at God's sole prerogative. Were it achieved by works, men could take pride in their efforts toward holiness, and God's gift of grace would be diminished in contrast to man's efforts.

On the other hand, Paul says that God's chosen one who has been made holy by grace must show faith by actually loving (see ) and in this way obeying the law, i.e., the law or commandment of Christ and his Spirit (see ).[6] In line with this, a more works-orientated perspective is presented by the Epistle of James, which concludes that "faith without works is dead" . By works the author here appears to include both acts of charity and righteousness according to the "laws of the Spirit" , as opposed to Mosaic Law. The sola fide view holds that James is not saying that a person is saved by works and not by genuine faith, but that genuine faith will produce good deeds, however, only faith in Christ saves.[7]

Methodist Churches

With regard to good works, A Catechism on the Christian Religion: The Doctrines of Christianity with Special Emphasis on Wesleyan Concepts teaches:[8]

...after a man is saved and has genuine faith, his works are important if he is to keep justified.
146) James 2:20-22, "But wilt thou known, O vain main, that faith without (apart from) works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou faith wrought with works, and by works was faith made perfect?[8]

The Methodist Churches affirm the doctrine of justification by faith, but in Wesleyan-Arminian theology, justification refers to "pardon, the forgiveness of sins", rather than "being made actually just and righteous", which Methodists believe is accomplished through sanctification.[9][10]John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Churches, taught that the keeping of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments,[11] as well as engaging in the works of piety and the works of mercy, were "indispensible for our sanctification".[12]

Wesley understood faith as a necessity for salvation, even calling it "the sole condition" of salvation, in the sense that it led to justification, the beginning point of salvation. At the same time, "as glorious and honorable as [faith] is, it is not the end of the commandment. God hath given this honor to love alone" ("The Law Established through Faith II," §II.1). Faith is "an unspeakable blessing" because "it leads to that end, the establishing anew the law of love in our hearts" ("The Law Established through Faith II," §II.6) This end, the law of love ruling in our hearts, is the fullest expression of salvation; it is Christian perfection. --Amy Wagner[13]

Methodist soteriology emphasize the importance of the pursuit of holiness in salvation.[14] Thus, for Methodists, "true faith...cannot subsist without works".[12] Bishop Scott J. Jones in United Methodist Doctrine writes that in Methodist theology:[15]

Faith is necessary to salvation unconditionally. Good works are necessary only conditionally, that is if there is time and opportunity. The thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 is Wesley's example of this. He believed in Christ and was told, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." This would be impossible if the good works that are the fruit of genuine repentance and faith were unconditionally necessary for salvation. The man was dying and lacked time; his movements were confined and he lacked opportunity. In his case, faith alone was necessary. However, for the vast majority of human beings good works are necessary for continuance in faith because those persons have both the time and opportunity for them.[15]

Bishop Jones concludes that "United Methodist doctrine thus understands true, saving faith to be the kind that, give time and opportunity, will result in good works. Any supposed faith that does not in fact lead to such behaviors is not genuine, saving faith."[15] Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer stated that "justification would have ended with me had I refused to be holy."[16] While "faith is essential for a meaningful relationship with God, our relationship with God also takes shape through our care for people, the community, and creation itself."[17] Methodism, inclusive of the holiness movement, thus teaches that "justification [is made] conditional on obedience and progress in sanctification"[16] emphasizing "a deep reliance upon Christ not only in coming to faith, but in remaining in the faith."[18]

Richard P. Bucher, contrasts this position with the Lutheran one, discussing an analogy put forth by the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley:[19]

Whereas in Lutheran theology the central doctrine and focus of all our worship and life is justification by grace through faith, for Methodists the central focus has always been holy living and the striving for perfection. Wesley gave the analogy of a house. He said repentance is the porch. Faith is the door. But holy living is the house itself. Holy living is true religion. "Salvation is like a house. To get into the house you first have to get on the porch (repentance) and then you have to go through the door (faith). But the house itself--one's relationship with God--is holiness, holy living" (Joyner, paraphrasing Wesley, 3).[19]

Oriental Orthodox Churches

The Oriental Orthodox Churches teach:[20]

The absence of good works means that faith is dead and fruitless. Therefore, good works are the fruits of faith and the evidence of its presence, and with such, faith is perfected. Good works, however, are not from our volition only. We need the support of God's grace and the work of the Holy Spirit within us, for Jesus said "Without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)[20]

The Coptic Orthodox Church says that a living faith should demonstrate good works, which are "the fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit within us and are the fruits requisite for the life of penitence which we should live."[20] Additionally, good works are "evidence of God's sonship".[20] For Oriental Orthodox Christians, neither faith alone nor works alone can save, but both together, are required for salvation.[20]



  • "To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward," (Surah 5:9).
  • "And He answers those who believe and do good deeds, and gives them more out of His grace; and (as for) the unbelievers, they shall have a severe punishment," (42:26).
  • "O you who believe! If you are careful of (your duty to) Allah, He will grant you a distinction and do away with your evils and forgive you; and Allah is the Lord of mighty grace," (8:29).

See also


  2. ^ Don S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum. "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America". The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ John Wordsworth (27 June 1900). "Some Points in the Teaching of the Church of England, by John Wordsworth". Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. English. Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ a b Kreeft, Peter (2011). Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press. ISBN 9781681490700.
  5. ^ a b Bogeatzes, A. S. (2010). Knowing and Living Your Orthodox Christian Faith: A Guide to Faith and Worship. WestBow Press. p. 145. ISBN 9781449704766.
  6. ^ New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition published 1985, introductions and notes are a translation of those that appear in La Bible de Jerusalem--revised edition 1973, Bombay 2002; footnote to James 2:14-26
  7. ^ Zondervan NIV (New International Version) Study Bible, 2002, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; footnote to James 2:14-26.
  8. ^ a b Rothwell, Mel-Thomas; Rothwell, Helen F. (1998). A Catechism on the Christian Religion: The Doctrines of Christianity with Special Emphasis on Wesleyan Concepts. Schmul Publishing Co. p. 53.
  9. ^ Elwell, Walter A. (1 May 2001). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Reference Library). Baker Publishing Group. p. 1268. ISBN 9781441200303. This balance is most evident in Wesley's understanding of faith and works, justification and sanctification. ... Wesley himself in a sermon entitled "Justification by Faith" makes an attempt to define the term accurately. First, he states what justification is not. It is not being made actually just and righteous (that is sanctification). It is not being cleared of the accusations of Satan, nor of the law, nor even of God. We have sinned, so the accusation stands. Justification implies pardon, the forgiveness of sins. ... Ultimately for the true Wesleyan salvation is completed by our return to original righteousness. This is done by the work of the Holy Spirit. ... The Wesleyan tradition insists that grace is not contrasted with law but with the works of the law. Wesleyans remind us that Jesus came to fulfill, not destroy the law. God made us in his perfect image, and he wants that image restored. He wants to return us to a full and perfect obedience through the process of sanctification. ... Good works follow after justification as its inevitable fruit. Wesley insisted that Methodists who did not fulfill all righteousness deserved the hottest place in the lake of fire.
  10. ^ Robinson, Jeff (25 August 2015). "Meet a Reformed Arminian". TGC. Retrieved 2017. Reformed Arminianism's understanding of apostasy veers from the Wesleyan notion that individuals may repeatedly fall from grace by committing individual sins and may be repeatedly restored to a state of grace through penitence.
  11. ^ Campbell, Ted A. (1 October 2011). Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, 2nd Edition. Abingdon Press. pp. 40, 68-69. ISBN 9781426753473.
  12. ^ a b Knight III, Henry H. (9 July 2013). "Wesley on Faith and Good Works". AFTE. Retrieved 2018.
  13. ^ Wagner, Amy (20 January 2014). "Wesley on Faith, Love, and Salvation". AFTE. Retrieved 2018.
  14. ^ Joyner, F. Belton (2007). United Methodist Answers. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780664230395. Jacob Albright, founder of the movement that led to the Evangelical Church flow in The United Methodist Church, got into trouble with some of his Lutheran, Reformed, and Mennonite neighbors because he insisted that salvation not only involved ritual but meant a change of heart, a different way of living.
  15. ^ a b c Jones, Scott J. (2002). United Methodist Doctrine. Abingdon Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780687034857.
  16. ^ a b Sawyer, M. James (11 April 2016). The Survivor's Guide to Theology. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 363. ISBN 9781498294058.
  17. ^ Langford, Andy; Langford, Sally (2011). Living as United Methodist Christians: Our Story, Our Beliefs, Our Lives. Abingdon Press. p. 45. ISBN 9781426711930.
  18. ^ Tennent, Timothy (9 July 2011). "Means of Grace: Why I am a Methodist and an Evangelical". Asbury Theological Seminary. Retrieved 2018.
  19. ^ a b Bucher, Richard P. (2014). "Methodism". Lexington: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Archived from the original on 25 July 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d e "Faith and Works". Coptic Network. 2011. Retrieved 2019.

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