What do our good deeds have to do with our salvation?

Tough Questions with RC Sproul

What do our good deeds have to do with our salvation?
From one
perspective our good deeds have absolutely nothing to do with our
from another perspective they have everything to do with it. This
is the core
debate that has been raging among Christians ever since the

I am persuaded that our good deeds never merit salvation. To
merit salvation
would mean to earn it or to deserve it. The deeds would have
to be so good, so
perfect, with no mixture of sin in them, that it would
impose an obligation
upon God to grant us salvation. I believe that the New
Testament is abundantly
clear that none of us lives a life that is good
enough to earn salvation. We
receive God’s salvation while we are sinners
(Eph. 2:1-6). That’s why we need
a Savior, an atonement—and why we need

People often say, “Nobody’s perfect.” We all agree on that. But
not one person
in a thousand realizes how significant that statement is.
Somehow they think
that God is going to grade on a curve and “as long as my
life is less sinful
than somebody else’s, then relatively speaking it’s good
enough to make it
into God’s kingdom.” We forget that God requires perfect
obedience to his law,
and if we fail to obey him perfectly, then we’re going
to have to look
elsewhere for a way to get our salvation. That’s where Christ
comes in. Christ
makes his merit available to us. When I trust him by faith,
then his
righteousness becomes my righteousness in the sight of God. So it’s
his good
work that saves me and that saves you—not our good

Nevertheless, in a response of gratitude we are called to obey.
Jesus said,
“If you love me, keep my commandments.” Martin Luther taught
justification is by faith alone. But he expanded the concept by saying
justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. A
who is truly trusting Christ and resting on Christ for redemption
receives the
benefits of Christ’s merit by faith. But if that person has true
faith, that
true faith will manifest itself in a life of obedience. Simply
put, I get into
heaven by Jesus’ righteousness, but my reward in heaven will
be distributed
according to my obedience or the lack of it.

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