John 5:28-29 -Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
One of the key doctrines of genuine Christianity is salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. God teaches us in the Bible that all of us have done evil before him, sinning and falling short of his glory (Romans 3:23). God also teaches us that we have earned an eternal death sentence for that sin, but that Jesus Christ died as our substitute to offer us eternal life (Romans 6:23). The way that we receive that payment for our sins and become right with God is by placing our entire faith for our entire eternity in Jesus and his finished work done on the cross. And the Bible is clear that this faith is what saves us, apart from any righteous works we might perform (John 1:12-13; 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9, etc.).
So, as a people who understand salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we should take a moment to seriously consider the implications of the passage above, John 5:28-29. John, the same biblical author who wrote for us that all who believe in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life (3:16), here tells us that those who have done good rise to life and those who have done evil are resurrected to judgment. The same author that preaches salvation by grace through faith here indicates that our works are somehow connected to the mix. How?
Like Martin Luther’s struggle between Paul and James, we find ourselves asking the question of whether or not faith saves or if works are necessary. And the answer that we must give here has incredible impact on our eternity. So, let me simply say, without hesitation, that genuine faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sins is what saves us. That faith, a gift to us from our God who breaks into our sin-deadened hearts to bring us life, is all that is required for us to be saved, because Jesus Christ, the infinitely perfect and infinitely valuable Son of God, has already done all the work necessary for us.
So what is this stuff written here about works? The answer has been given time and time again, but is worth repeating: “Genuine faith always works.” The simple truth is, if you have true saving faith in Jesus, that faith has come to you because your heart has been changed. If you live with a save, changed, converted heart, you will, without question, live a life that is marked by works of righteousness. Those works do not save you. Those works do not add any merit to you whatsoever. However, those works serve as an evidence for you and for the rest of the world that the faith that you claim is true, genuine, saving faith.
With such a theological discussion in mind, it is worth your time to examine yourself in light of the scriptures. Do you claim to have true faith in Jesus? If you do not have true faith in Jesus, you are not saved, you are still in your sins, and you are destined for an eternal hell suffering the wrath of Almighty God. If you do have genuine faith, your life will look different. Does your life look different? Is your life marked by a genuine interest in the word of God, the people of God, and the glory of God? Is Jesus Christ a treasure to you that outweighs the simple little treasures that the world offers? Is your life marked by love for God and for people? Is your life marked by a commitment to the church, which is called the Bride of Christ? Are you growing in your relationship with God? Examine yourself, and see if your life bears the marks of genuine faith, the mark of good works done for the glory of God.