Commandment Keeping and Boasting
Jesus declares that hypothetically if we were to keep all his commands that we would still have no right to boast. "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do"' (Luke 17:10).
Somehow the idea has found its way into religious thought that if people were to have to keep commandments to be saved, that would mean they would have a right to boast of their salvation. So, since the Bible declares that our salvation is "not of works, lest anyone should boast," we are saved by grace alone without any works of any kind on our part. The following verses are often quoted as proof:
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10, KJV).
It should be obvious that the kind of works under consideration here are works that would give one a reason to boast in his salvation. We might have a reason to boast if the commands or instructions for our salvation were ours. But they are not ours, they come from God. When we do them, it is God working in us by our doing His will and not ours. Whatever the "not of works" by which no one is saved may be — it is not that of not keeping God's commands. When we keep His commands, it is "not of ourselves" — it is of Him. When we obey His commands, we are His workmanship. We are not self-made, we are God-made, when we follow His instructions. The "not of works" in that passage is evidently "not of works of our own." Every command or work that contributes to our salvation comes from God. When we do them, we are not saved of ourselves or by works (of our own) but by the works of God. It is God working in us when we obey His commands. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).
Even the act of believing itself is a "work of God" that we must do to be saved. "Then they said to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).
When I obey God's commands to repent, confess with the mouth, and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 10:10), my salvation is not of myself. The whole process is a gift of God by virtue of His giving me the commands and the blessing involved in salvation from my past sins. When I obey the commands His grace teaches (Titus 2:11-12) to be faithful as a Christian, and to be
ultimately saved eternally in the end, I am doing His work. I can stand before Him in that day and praise Him for His eternal plan to save me and keep me saved by the power of His gospel. I will not be able to take one iota of credit, because it will have been by His power working in me. The only sense in which it can be said that I worked out my own salvation or that I saved myself (cf. Acts 2:40) will be that I submitted my will to His will and thus was saved by His power — His power to command, promise and to pardon.
We might would have a right to boast if we by our wisdom could devise a scheme whereby we could be saved and had the power to pull it off. Since that is not possible, we have to depend on God's wisdom and power to save us. Hence we have no right to boast but must give all the glory and credit to him because it is his plan we are following and not ours. We are his workmanship created in Christ unto good works.
The only kinds of works by which we are not saved, that Paul teaches, are works of our own and the works of the Law of Moses. The works by which we are justified in the New Testament are in neither category. They are the works in obedience to
the faith (Romans 1:5; 16:26). This is the kind of works that James speaks of when he wrote, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24; KJV).