From the WELS:
Some believe that we are saved by good works, period. For them, faith in Jesus as Savior is nice, but not absolutely necessary. Others believe that we must start the process by trying to do good works, but we won’t be able to do enough. That’s where God’s grace in Christ “kicks in” and takes us the rest of the way. Others believe that God’s grace gets us started, but then it’s up to us to complete the “salvation process” by doing good works. Still others believe that the one good work that we can do is to invite Jesus into our heart. They believe that no other good works will save us, but this one will.
All possible views of the way of salvation can be reduced to just two. That’s because all the views listed in the paragraph above have something fundamental in common. They all make our salvation depend on something we do. Whether the good works are supposed to be done before,after, or apart from our believing in Jesus as Savior really makes no difference. Mixing salvation by grace with salvation by works always yields salvation by works, just as mixing milk and poison always gives you poisoned milk, or multiplying a negative and a positive number always yields a negative. There are only two ways of salvation: trust in God’s grace to do it all, or rely on your own ability to do enough good works (See Galatians 2:16, Romans 4:4-5, 11:6, etc.). No compromise between the two ways is possible.
Why is this important? First, understand that how many good works someone “feels” that he or she has done or can do has no importance at all. The only thing that matters is how many good works God demands, and God demands absolute perfection (Matthew 5:48). What Luther recognized about himself is true of all of us. None of us has or can live the perfectly righteous life that God demands (Romans 3:9-20, 23, etc.). But depending on our good works to save us, even a little, obligates us to do the impossible—i.e., to keep God’s whole Law perfectly (Galatians 3:10, 5:2-4,etc.) In other words, to depend on our own good works to save us, even partially, is essentially to throw our salvation away. It’s like refusing to let a helicopter carry us across a canyon because we would rather try flapping our arms and flying across. Whether we try to fly all the way across, or only part of the way, the result will be the same.
There are other reasons why this matter is important. If our good works can achieve salvation for us, even a little bit, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). To trust in our own works to save us, even a little bit, is to rob God of the glory he deserves for accomplishing all of our salvation from beginning to end. Perhaps worst of all, it destroys the certainty of our salvation that God wants us to have. If our salvation depends on us, even a little, it immediately becomes uncertain. But if it depends 100% on God--and it does--then we can be absolutely sure it will get done.
Amen to that. Have a great weekend. See you Monday.