See also: Romans 3:27-28; Romans 4:5-8; Galatians 3:11
We are saved by faith, but real faith will be accompanied by works. Hebrews 11 describes many deeds that were accomplished by people who were loyal to God. In each case, it says that they did those things “by faith.”
The type of faith by which we are saved goes much further than just believing God exists. It is loyalty. In 1 Samuel 2:35, God told the priest Eli, “I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind.” Eli was being told that he would be replaced because he was not faithful. It is clear that Eli believed in God (1 Samuel 3:8-9). Eli’s unfaithfulness was not a lack of belief; it was a lack of loyalty. By allowing his sons to run rampant, Eli had chosen them over God (1 Samuel 2:29).
And 1 Samuel 2:35 indicates that this new priest to replace Eli would be faithful because of what he would do, not just because he would believe that God existed. Just believing in God’s existence is not enough to be faithful.
And just calling on His name is not enough to be faithful.
Works are an indicator of faith. If the faith is real, works follow naturally. An absence of works reveals that the faith is dead.
See also: James 2:14-26
Some might argue that saying faith requires works is the same as saying we are saved by works. But it is not the same.
Consider the following examples:
If a salesman’s job was saved by works, then he would have to sell a certain number of products every month or be fired. But if his employer was generous, he would keep his job as long as he put forth a good faith effort, whether he was successful in making his sales or not. However even a generous employer would let him go if he refused to work at all.
If a dog was saved by works, then his master would only keep him if he could perform all the tricks that his owner tried to teach him. But most masters would keep him as long as he is a faithful dog and tries to please them, whether he was smart enough to learn the tricks or not. However even a generous master might get rid of him if he refused to so much as try to obey.
If we were saved by works in gym class, we would only pass if we could do enough push-ups and run the mile fast enough. But most gym teachers pass their students as long as they make a good faith effort, even if they have no athletic ability at all. However most gym teachers do not pass their students who refuse to make any effort.
If we were saved by works, we would have a certain amount that we had to accomplish. For example, we might have to baptize a certain number of people, or read our bibles a certain number of hours, or give a certain amount of money to the poor. If we were saved by works, we would have some threshold to meet.
The only threshold we could meet to be worthy of heaven by our own works would be to keep all of God’s rules perfectly (Galatians 5:3). And none of us are capable of that.
If God expected us to earn our own reward through keeping his rules perfectly, then there would have been no point in Jesus dying on the cross for us (Galatians 2:21).
We are saved by God’s grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8). But can we really claim to be faithful to God if we refuse to even try to obey His instructions? Our salvation is not by our works; but if our faith is real, we will put forth an honest effort to work for the Lord.