Acts of Faith and Good Works

Acts of Faith and Good Works

Understanding the Difference


In order to understand the concepts of 'steps of faith' and 'progressive revelation', please read the article entitled 'Grace, Revelation and Faith' prior to this article.

Over the past couple of years there has risen an idea among evangelicals that if one preaches repentance, turning away from sin, seeking, or surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, they are preaching a works-based salvation. In short, they believe that any form of action on the part of a sinner towards salvation is a salvation of works and not of grace and faith. This view reveals a total ignorance of the difference between acts of faith, works and deeds which has led many to preach, among other heresies, that repentance is unnecessary for salvation. In this article we will explain the biblical understanding of these words in order to clarify this dangerous confusion.

1. Acts of Faith

Acts of faith are neither works nor deeds, rather, they are simply responses to revelations and commands from God. I use the words 'works and deeds' in the sense of the false belief that we can do specific things to earn our salvation, an idea completely opposed in Scripture.

Biblical faith is made up of two things: revelation from God, and an act of trusting on our part. Hebrews 11 shows several examples of this. God 'called' Abraham to leave his home and Abraham trusted God and 'went'. If Abraham, after hearing the call of God, had stayed where he was, this would simply be a revelation without action. The same chapter tells us that God 'warned' Noah about the flood and told him to 'build' the ark.

The warning was a revelation, and the building was Noah's act of faith. Acts of faith are also most commonly used in the context of believing on Christ. Repentance, prayer, confession and surrender to God's will are all acts of faith and commands to obey, but none of these are good works or deeds which can earn salvation, for salvation can never be earned. As explained in our previous article (Grace, Revelation and Faith), these are steps of faith we take as God reveals Himself to us, and reveals our hopeless state of sinfulness as He leads us to the cross of Christ.

And what about seeking?

Sinners are commanded to seek God (2 Chronicles 15:2, 12), and to seek earnestly with all their heart (Jeremiah 29:13, Hebrews 11:6) and that this seeking will be rewarded. In practical terms, how can a person seek with all their heart? This will require taking action such as reading the Bible, going to a Church service or Bible study, praying, and finding people to explain the gospel. All of these are acts and steps of faith, and neither works nor deeds. God has commanded we seek, and we act in seeking. Our act is in response to a command to obey. God promises that these steps of faith will result in salvation, in finding Him.

But take note!

The command is to seek with 'all our heart' and to 'earnestly seek'. The intensity of seeking reveals the heart of the seeker. Salvation is not promised to those who seek with a mediocre attitude, indeed, mediocrity is to be lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, and God says to such people, 'I will spit you out of my mouth' (Revelation 3:16).

Seeking God is a command, a command which promises the seeker will be led to the cross and find salvation, a priceless gift which can never be earned. If seeking God was a form of good works, and salvation could be earned apart from the cross of Christ, the Lord would not command it as a prerequisite to salvation.

The same can be said of repentance.

Repentance is commanded by God and this command precedes believing by faith (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3). Repentance is also a command to turn from sin and turn towards God (Acts 3:19, 26:20). When speaking about sin, repentance is much more than a 'change of mind' as some teach, although it is used in this context, and again, it is an act of faith, required for salvation

Surrender to Christ as Lord

Some also teach that surrender is a form of works and rebuke what they call 'Lordship salvation'. Scripture declares that before we are saved we are at war with God in our rebellion, we are His enemies (Romans 5:10, Colossians 1:21). To use a military analogy, surrender means to lay down our weapons, to end the rebellion, to bend the knee. This is an act of faith and trust in God's mercy, the exact opposite of continuing our deeds of rebellion against Him. When we surrender, we 'receive Christ as Lord' and then 'continue to live in Him' (Colossians 2:6). Notice that receiving Him as Lord precedes continuing to live for Him.

Unsaved people are ruled by their fallen nature, their ego, they live under the false belief that they are ruling their own lives when in fact they are slaves to sin. Surrendering this self-rule to the Lordship of Christ means a change of ruler, a change of ownership, and Scripture clearly states that to be in Christ we must 'belong to Christ' (Romans 8:9) and become 'God's possession' (Ephesians 1:14). Surrender is an act of faith, it is to give ourselves to Christ, trusting in His promise and will for our future.

2. Good Works and Deeds

There are three ways that works and deeds are spoken of in the New Testament.

1. Works or 'acts or righteousness' intended to impress other people.

Jesus condemned this practice in Matthew 6:1-4, as well as acts of prayer and fasting for the same wrong reason. This form of works is tied to the sin of pride and results in hypocrisy and condemnation.

2. Works as a means towards salvation.

Many Jews living under the old covenant believed that their works contributed towards their salvation. Some of them asked Jesus, "what must we do to do the good works God requires?" Jesus replied, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John6:28). Understand that the word believe means to act in faith and to 'cast our whole weight upon', to trust. Others believed that Abraham was saved by his works, but Paul explains that he was never justified by his works, but by faith, as we have already explained. Good works may be commended by God as showing a loving or kind heart, but they can never attain salvation as God's standard is perfection, and perfection can only be granted by grace, through faith in the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:14). No person under the old covenant was saved/justified by works of the Law (Galatians 2:16) but by faith in God's promise of the coming Messiah.

3. Good works and deeds as evidence of salvation.

The evidence that salvation has truly occurred is in a person's changed life. This fact is beyond question throughout the New Testament. Jesus spoke of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. The sheep did good works without seeking a reward, but the goats never even recognized the need as they were so self-absorbed. All called Jesus 'Lord', but only the sheep were His disciples, their good deeds were evidence that they were true disciples. James tells us that faith without deeds is a dead faith, a useless faith (James 2:14-26). Paul connects deeds to repentance when he says "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20).


There is no salvation without an act of faith on the part of sinners. Martin Luther used the analogy of getting on board a ship when one was terrified of crossing the ocean. Christ is that ship. Others use the analogy of getting on board a plane and trusting the pilot. Christ is the pilot. But some love sea voyages and others love flying, so I like a different analogy. Imagine there is a great chasm between two hills with a drop of 100 meters onto sheer rocks. There is a tight rope stretched between the hills. A tightrope walker pushes a wheelbarrow across this chasm every day and never falls. He asks us if we believe he can cross and never fall and we reply 'yes' as we have seen the evidence. He then asks us, "if you truly believe, then get into the wheelbarrow and I will take you safely to the other side". Getting into the wheelbarrow is an act of faith. In this analogy, Jesus Christ is the tightrope walker.

To act in faith is simply to believe what God has commanded or promised and to act, to take a step proving that we believe and trust Him. Without this action there is no Biblical faith, just an intellectual belief which is dead and dormant, and 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (Hebrews 11:6). God commands that we seek, that we repent, turning from sin and toward Him, surrendering our self will to His will, and trusting Him for our future. None of these are works of righteousness, but sinners commanded to repent and believe. Salvation is totally by grace, a gift of the status of perfection which no fallen sinner can ever attain (Hebrews 10:14).

Those that surrender to Christ as Lord find that in surrender they have the victory, a victory already won by Christ. In dying to self they are reborn to live continually with Christ as Lord. He takes away our stony heart and puts a new heart within us, His heart, a heart that desires to do good deeds, deeds of righteousness. These deeds are never done to achieve salvation, keep salvation, or pay God back for salvation, for salvation has already been given, an irrevocable act of grace that can never be earned, kept, or repaid. Rather, we do good deeds because He lives within us, His love, compassion, and kindness compelling us to live as He lived.

Author: Steve Copland