(This was the basis of a paper for graduate school.)
Works are not needed for salvation. Salvation can only come through faith in Jesus Christ and the saving grace his death and resurrection provide. But what do works mean for a Christian? It is said that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). What is the purpose of these works for a Christian?
Matthew 5 might be the most important reason for good works given in the Bible. Its summary is here: “Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16, The Message). What we have here is servant evangelism. It is not some new, modern way of doing evangelism. This is what Jesus taught. Investing in people’s lives allows the non-believers to “meet” Jesus in a completely loving way. Today, perhaps more than ever, this is an especially important part of being a Christian. Doing good works for others may give you the opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is untrusting or dissatisfied with religion. Showing that you truly care opens their hearts to hearing the truth. By investing in others, you are potentially growing the Kingdom.
Hebrews 10:24 tells us that we are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Another reason for works is to encourage fellow believers. By raking the leaves of an elderly widow, bringing dinner to a grieving family, watching a sick friend’s children…by doing this things you are reminding them in a tangible way that Jesus is with them. While it may be your body that is doing these works , it is Jesus within you that spurs you to compassion, to put love in action.
In 1 Timothy 6, Paul is telling better to instruct the believers to do good works. “Command them do do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18). Paul continues that good works are important because in doing them they are laying up “treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age” (1 Tim 6:19).
A by-product of good works is a future, heavenly reward. Luke 6:35 says, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” In Mark 9:41, we are told that if we give “a cup of water in (Jesus’) name” because we “belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 6 also tells us that we will receive rewards for giving to the needy, praying for others, and fasting. These treasures will be bestowed in heaven.