Yet the apostle James wrote, "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18). "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?... Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone…But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:14,17,20).
Over the centuries there has been much debate among Christian scholars over the relationship between faith and works as they have tried to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements. To add to this confusion, Paul himself made two remarks in the same letter that seem to say the opposite of one another. In writing to the Romans he said, "Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified… therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:20,28). But he also said, "For not the hearers of the law are justified before God but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Romans. 2:1).
This confusion has given rise to two opposing views regarding the importance of works in relationship to our salvation. One side claims that works play no part in deciding whether we are saved. It is their belief that salvation is given as a free gift that doesn't require us to do anything to receive. To these people, the "works" that the Bible speaks of are the natural consequence of our saved condition, thus the works we do are evidence that we have been saved. In other words, works are an outward manifestation of an inward conversion. For this reason, it is said that a person who claims they are saved but whose life doesn't demonstrate any good works has not been truly saved.
But the other side argues that to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" means more than just making a profession of faith. To them it means that a person shows their belief by striving to follow the teachings of Christ. Thus, a true disciple of Christ is one who actively seeks to keep God's commandments. To this group of people, if a person claims to be a Christian but doesn't do what God expects of them then they do not really believe what Jesus taught when He said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 15:10).
In short, one side believes that once a person is saved they are saved forever regardless of what they do, while the other side believes that we become saved by enduring to the end in demonstrating our allegiance to Christ by doing the works that God commands.
During His mortal ministry Jesus made many statements concerning salvation and nearly all of them speak in terms of the need for us to keep the commandments. Even so, there are those who argue that these statements were made before Jesus died to atone for our sins, therefore His statements reflect the condition of man's salvation under the Law of Moses.
However, after His death and resurrection it is claimed that we are now under a new covenant whereby grace has replaced the law and has done away with the need for works as a condition for salvation. They say that this is the reason why the doctrine of grace is so strongly reflected in the teachings of the apostles but not in the teachings of Jesus.
To validate this view, they point to how Jesus only taught the gospel to the Jews and specifically instructed His disciples not to preach to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5). Yet, after His resurrection Jesus commanded that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles. In the same way, it is argued that before the death of Christ, salvation came through keeping the Law of Moses because man was still under the old covenant, but after Christ's resurrection we were freed from the law and become saved through the grace of God.
Yet the other side disagrees with this interpretation, saying that since Jesus is the author of salvation He would not have preached one doctrine of salvation before His death and a different one after His resurrection. They say that it would make no sense for Jesus to do such a thing.
To help resolve this argument, it would be wonderful if Jesus Himself came back after His resurrection and gave us an explanation concerning the relationship that works has to our salvation. Of course, if He did many Christians would not accept this new revelation saying that the Bible is complete as it is and as such God has nothing new He can tell us that He hasn't already given us. As their authority they cite where God commanded that no man should add or subtract to the words of the Bible (Revelation 22:18,19).
However, Jesus did indeed give us a new revelation long after He had been resurrected and ascended to heaven. The apostle John wrote that while he was in exile on the isle of Patmos Jesus Christ Himself personally appeared to him and revealed many things He had never taught during His mortal ministry. John's writings have come to be known as the Book of Revelation which is part of the canonized scriptures that Christians say should not be added to nor subtracted from.
Jesus died in the year 33 A.D. and most biblical scholars agree that the Book of Revelation was written around 68 A.D., thirty-five years after Jesus died and was resurrected. Therefore, this book represents the teachings of Jesus Christ from His own lips concerning His doctrine of salvation long after the atonement had been made and the gospel was being preached to the Gentiles.
In the first chapter of this book John writes about Jesus appearing to him and even describes what He looked like, but then, beginning in chapter two, Jesus dictates seven letters He wants John to write and send to seven different Christian churches. These letters are personal correspondence directly from Jesus Christ Himself to the leaders of each of these seven churches. What Jesus had to say in these letters clearly tells us what the resurrected Christ's attitude is towards works and salvation.
What is interesting to note about these letters is that they were each addressed to "the angel" of each of the seven churches. The Greek word for angel as used here is "aggelos" which, when used in the context of these letters can be defined as, "a messenger, envoy, or one who is sent" (Strong's Concordance). A pastor (or a church leader, which is referred to in the scriptures as "episcopos", meaning an overseer and translated as bishop) is indeed acting in the capacity of God's messenger. But, more importantly, this church leader is not only responsible for conveying Christ's message but, as we shall see, has the obligation of making sure that those under his leadership follow the gospel message.
But before we look at what Jesus had to tell these leaders, it should be noted that these letters were not written to the members of the church but to the "angel" or messenger or leader of each church. As such, we should read them as being advice or warnings given to pastors concerning their responsibilities.
The first letter was address to the "angel" or head of the church at Ephesus and Jesus begins by acknowledging all the good things that this church leader has done. He says that He knows the works that this church leader has performed and how hard he has labored and how patient he has been. He tells this leader that He knows how much he abhors evil and how he has tried those who claimed to be apostles but found them to be liars. Jesus goes on to praise this pastor saying that he has labored hard and has not fainted in his duty to Christ's name (vs 2,3).
It would seem that this church leader was doing everything he should and that the Lord was well pleased with his works or service in the gospel. Jesus even acknowledges that this pastor has labored hard in doing his duty, but despite all of his works Jesus then adds, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (vs 4,5.)
Imagine being told by Christ Himself that there are some things you are doing that He is not pleased with, despite all the other good things you are doing? The head of the church at Ephesus was told by Christ that he had "fallen" and that he needed to repent because if he didn't do it "quickly" his "candlestick" would be removed.
That statement by itself seems unclear as to what exactly it means. Does it mean the pastor would lose his salvation, or does it mean he would be removed as the church leader over the saints in Ephesus? However, as we continue to read what God said to the other church leaders, the meaning of this statement becomes clearer.
And what did this leader do that was so wrong? Jesus said that he had left his first love. Unfortunately, the Lord did not explain what he meant by this but it seems evident that despite all the good things this pastor was doing he was neglecting what was most important. The implication is that for all of his diligence, this pastor was straying in his love for the gospel, and unless he repented of this omission, and do so quickly, he could face serious consequences.
However, Jesus did tell him, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (vs 7). The message here seems to be that if this pastor is not overcome he will be entitled to eat from the tree of life in paradise. Stated differently, he would be entitled to eternal life in heaven. But the message also seems to indicate that if this pastor is overcome, he will not be given access to eating from the tree of life, nor will he go to paradise. But what did Jesus mean by the word "overcometh"? As we look at the remaining letters Jesus dictated, this word will become clearer to our understanding.
The second letter was addressed to the "angel of the church in Smyrna" (vs 8) and Jesus starts off by again saying He knows about the works of this pastor and the tribulations and poverty that he and his church members have gone through. He says He is aware of "the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews but are from the synagogue of Satan" (vs 9) but says not to fear any of the things they will suffer because of their belief in Christ. Jesus then tells this pastor that some of his people will be cast into prison but then adds "be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life… [and] he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." (vs 10,11).
There are two things we learn from this statement. The first is that God does notice our works and when those works are righteous they seem to draw His praise. Furthermore, Jesus holds men accountable for the words they do, rather than praising them for letting God do His work through them. The second thing we learn is that those who are faithful in doing what pleases God have the promise of receiving "a crown of life" and will not be part of "the second death," which Jesus will elaborate on its significance later in this revelation.
The clear implication of this statement is that those who are not faithful unto death in keeping the gospel will not receive such a crown and will not be part of the first resurrection. In the context of this letter the word "overcometh" refers to being overcome by the pressures of the world to be unfaithful to Christ and His gospel.
The third letter Jesus dictated to John was addressed "to the angel of the church in Pergamos" (vs. 12). He begins, as before, saying "I know thy works." Jesus then acknowledges that this pastor and his church is located in a place "where Satan's seat is," yet praises him for being steadfast in his faithfulness to Christ, even when a faithful Christian named Antipas was martyred (vs 13). It appears that Jesus is commending this pastor for not letting the martyrdom of Antipas intimidate him into deserting his faith in Christ.
Yet, after praising this church leader for his faithfulness Jesus then says, "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (vs 14-16).
Once more we see that God recognizes the good works that this pastor has done but despite them God is not only displeased with him but commands him to repent or he will face God's wrath. And what was it that this pastor did that so upset God? He was allowing some members of his congregation to believe in "the doctrines of Balaam," which permits them to eat things offered to idols and to commit fornication. Worse yet, this pastor was also allowing others members of his congregation to believe in "the doctrine of the Nicolaitans," which was a doctrine that God hated!
What we see is that the angel of the church in Pergamos, while being personally faithful to Christ, was not being faithful in his duty in protecting his flock from following after false doctrines. God was upset with him for not making sure that those under his stewardship remained faithful to Christ. It can reasonably be assumed that if this pastor did not repent of his lack of duty as God's messenger that he will not be saved in the kingdom of God.
It has to be remembered that the people to whom Jesus is addressing in these letters are not those who are weak in their knowledge of the gospel of Christ or are new members who are struggling in their Christian faith. He is directing His warning to those who have previously proven their faithfulness in their commitment to Christ to the point where they were worthy to have been called and set apart to be an overseer, leader, teacher, and a messenger of God to those less strong in the Christian faith.
But then Jesus explained to this pastor, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (vs 17). These blessings seem to be associated with salvation but they are reserved only to those who overcome. Thus, after chastising this pastor for his lack of duty, Jesus showed him what he must do in order to inherit the blessings of salvation. The clear implication here is that this pastor was being overcome, or lax in his duties as God's messanger, and thus could lose his salvation if he didn't repent and change his ways.
The fourth letter Jesus dictated was to "the angel of the church in Thyatira" (vs 18). Jesus begins by saying "I know thy works." This again shows how much Jesus is aware of our works and how important they are to Him. He went on to say that He is aware of the works of charity, service, faith, and patience that this pastor has exhibited (vs 19).
Yet, notwithstanding all the good that this pastor has done, Jesus then says, "I have a few things against thee because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not" (vs 20,21).
Just as with the angel of the church in Pergamos, this pastor was allowing false teachings to be taught among his people. In this instance, the pastor was allowing a false prophetess named Jezebel to spread her false doctrine within his congregation. Worse yet, this prophetess was seducing the members of the church in Thyatira into thinking there was nothing wrong with committing fornication and with eating things that were offered to pagan idols.
From all indications, this woman was a professing Christian in the church at Thyatira. Many Christians say that professing a belief in Christ is all that is needed to become saved, but did she truly accept Christ or was her profession of faith merely lip service? Jesus said that He "gave her space to repent of her fornication" The clear implication here is that had she repented she would have been forgiven and been saved. It is just as clear that since she did not repent of her evil works that her salvation was in jeopardy. Thus we see that our works do have a direct effect on our salvation.
Jesus then called upon this pastor and the members of his church to repent of their wickedness or they would face His wrath. But then Jesus addressed those who "have not [embraced] this doctrine" and says, "I will put upon you none other burden [expect] that [which] ye have already [been given, which is to] hold fast [to the faith] till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations" (vs 24-26).
The blessing that Jesus promises to His follows in Thyatira are conditioned on them doing two things. The first is that they "overcome" and the second is that they need to keep God's work "unto the end." In the context of this letter, the word "overcome" is clearly linked to holding fast to the faith by not succumbing to the false teachings that were prevalent at that time. It seems clear that those who do not do these two things will not be entitled to this promised blessing, and both of these conditions are related to what we do or don't do.
In the third chapter of Revelation Jesus dictates a fifth letter, this time to "the angel of the church in Sardis" (vs 1). However, instead of praising this church leader for the things he is already doing, Jesus begins by warning him, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent" (vs 2,3).
In this letter, the Lord is telling the pastor who is over the church in Sardis that it is his duty to watch over and strengthen those who remain in his stewardship, especially those who are ready to die for the faith. It appears that there was a common problem at this time in all the churches that members were denying the faith and were being overcome by the philosophies of Satan, and the Lord had not found this church leader to be faithful in doing his duty as a messenger of God. Therefore, in this letter Jesus is personally reminding this leader to hold fast to that which he himself had heard and been given and that he was to repent of his lack of diligence in watching over and strengthening those over whom he has been given charge.
However, Jesus went on to say, "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (vs 4,5).
It seems that there were many members of the church in Sardis who were overcome by the temptations, intimidation, persecution, or the philosophies of the world and were not adhering to the true gospel of Christ as it had been taught to them. But this wasn't true of everyone in Sardis. There were some in that church who had not become defiled by the ways of the world and it is to these people Jesus promises that they will be worthy to wear white garments as they walk in heaven with Christ, that their names will not be blotted out of the book of life and that Jesus will confess their name before His Father .
Later, the Lord further explained that those who are clothed in white raiment "are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them" (Revelation 7:14,15). There is no argument among Christians that being saved includes all of these things.
The clear implication of what Jesus said is that those who have allowed themselves to be overcome by tribulation and have defiled themselves by following after the false doctrines of the world will not have their names written in the book of life, will not be given white robes, and will not sit before the throne of God. Therefore, only those who have remained true and faithful to Christ's doctrine, regardless of the temptations, persecutions, and trials of their faith, are entitled to those blessings. Thus we clearly see how important what we do is directly related to our salvation.
It should also be noted that just because a person's name is recorded in the book of life, Jesus says that it can be blotted out, meaning erased or removed. This statement contradicts the idea that once a person has been saved there is nothing they or anyone else can do that can cause them to lose their salvation. This also gives added clarification to what Jesus meant when He told the angel in Ephesus that if he didn't repent quickly his candlestick would be removed.
The sixth letter Jesus dictated was to "the angel of the church in Philadelphia" (vs 7) and He says to him "I know thy works" (vs 8). This is one of the few church leaders that Jesus didn't find any fault with what he was doing, therefore He told him, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name" (vs 10-12).
Because this church leader had been faithful in keeping God's word, Jesus promised to help preserve him when "the hour of temptation" comes. Yet, as with the other church leaders, Jesus admonishes this pastor "to hold fast to that which you have been given," because if he does not allow himself to be overcome by the doctrines of the world whereby he denies the faith, Jesus will ultimately make him a pillar in the temple of His God and there he will remain forever. But then Jesus also warns this leader to be careful lest someone is able to rob him of his crown.
In the language of the New Testament, a crown is given to those who have been saved in the kingdom of God and have gained eternal life. But here Jesus warns this pastor that it is possible for him to lose his crown and thereby lose his salvation if he does not hold fast to the gospel and is overcome by the false doctrines of Satan. This is another clear statement by Jesus Himself that our salvation is dependant on what we do and that it can be lost or revoked.
In the seventh and final letter, Jesus writes to "the angel of the church in Laodiceans" (vs 14). It must be remembered that Jesus is directing His remarks to His messenger, to someone He has called to be in charge of overseeing a local congregation. This is not someone who has an insincere belief in Christ but is someone who has demonstrated his faithfulness in the past and has been found worthy by God to be put in a position of leadership and trust.
Jesus says to this individual, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would [that] thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (vs 15,16).
This is a harsh and stinging rebuke from Christ Himself to one of His own messengers! And notice, it comes because of the works of this church leader. Many biblical scholars have sought to say that when Jesus says He will spew this person out of His mouth that it doesn't mean this person will lose their salvation, but that interpretation cannot be sustained in the context of the statements Jesus has made in the previous six letters. The implication of these words clearly indicates that Jesus is not happy with this person and I can't imagine someone being allowed to live forever in heaven with God being unhappy with them.
Jesus continues His rebuke by saying, "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed" (vs 18). The way gold is refined is by being put into an extremely hot furnace where all the dross or impurities can be burned away. What is left after this process has been completed is pure, untainted gold.
In the same way, God counsel's this church leader that he needs to be "tried in the fire," whereby his impurities can be burned away until he becomes pure like gold. For Christians, tribulation is our trial by fire. If this leader is not overcome by tribulation and comes through it holding fast to the gospel of Christ then, he is worthy to wear a white garment, which is symbolic of living with Christ, which is the definition of being saved.
But what happens if this church leader is overcome by tribulation and does not pass the trial of his faith? Jesus warned, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne: (vs 21). Again, the condition on which we will be allowed to sit with Christ in His throne is by not being overcome by the ways of the world. That clearly indicates that it is very possible to be overcome, otherwise there is no reason to state that as a requirement for salvation.
The message of the second and third chapters of Revelation is very clear. Jesus Himself told the church leaders at Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Laodicea, "You have heard and received my gospel of salvation and I have called you to deliver that message to others and have put you in charge of watching over my flock, and charged you with protecting them from the false teachings of Satan. But you have failed me! You have left your first love, you have allowed my people to be seduced into doing those things that I hate! Unless you repent quickly of this evil, I will remove your candlestick from its place, I will smite both you and your people with the sword of my mouth, I will spew you out of my mouth, and you will lose your crown."
All of these curses are clear indications that God will reject these pastors for their lack of faithfulness in properly carrying out their assigned duties in protecting His message and the people whom God has placed in their charge, unless they quickly repent.
But to those who hold fast to the truth, who remain faithful to the end in the face of persecution and temptation, and who have not been overcome by the ways of the world, the Lord promises to write their name in the book of life, to give them access to the tree of life, to give them a white raiment, to make them a pillar in the temple of His God forever, to give them a crown of life, and allow them to sit with Christ in His throne.
Jesus concludes each of His seven letters by saying, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." In other words, Jesus is letting us know that what He has said to His "angels" applies to each one of us equally as well, and His message is that our works do matter.