The most famous verse regarding salvation is probably John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (NASB).

There is no mention of works in that verse which may lead people to discount their value in salvation. But in Matthew 3:10, John the Baptist clearly emphasized the importance of works.

“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

He puts both together in his last testimony in Jn 3:36,

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Does this leave any room for the belief that only professing faith in Jesus, even if the belief is sincere, is enough to secure irrevocable eternal salvation? This verse seems to support the position that salvation also depends on a lifetime of endeavoring to be faithfully obedient to Jesus and his teachings.

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    Sincere belief in the Incarnate Lord entails also life in accordance to this belief. If I sincerely believe that alcohol ruins my health and I still indulge in drinking, my sincere belief avails for nothing. Similarly, if I believe in the Lord, but do not act according to His commandments and not grow in Him, which growth is not automatic but entails my free co-action with divine grace in me, then my belief will be my own condemnation and I will be punished by my own conscience, first of all, for being a hypocrite: believing in Christ but denying Him in deeds. Aug 22, 2021 at 19:54
  • When we want the light to come on in a room we can’t just think “let there be light” we must also flick the switch. Faith comes therefore before works. And faith without works is fruitless. Aug 22, 2021 at 22:50
  • @Dottard. Nice formatting revisions! Wasn't aware of a way to do that here. Aug 23, 2021 at 0:14
  • If two soldiers without faith genuinely repent in the minutes before a battle, and one is killed while the other lives, then the sinner who survived will go on to do works, which will provide evidence to his fellow man of the strength of his new faith. However, God is omniscient and does not need this evidence to know a man's mind, and will save both equally. Aug 23, 2021 at 14:54
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    Even Paul condemn faith alone. All the apostles consistently preached real righteousness or work based salvation. They all consistently condemn the faith alone that turns grace from law to grace to sin. This is an antibiblical doctrine that diminishes holiness. Focus on Christ and his teachings against sin. He died so that sinners may stop sinning. biblescan.com/search.php?q=judge+according+works
    – Michael16
    Aug 24, 2021 at 13:14

6 Answers 6


James showed the relationship between faith and work in James 2:

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

People cannot see faith directly but they can see the results of one's faith, i.e., his works.

John the baptizer said to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:

10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Did John the Baptist clearly preach that both faith and works are essential for salvation?

Yes, and not just any work but works that are consistent with faith. Works are the visible outward evidence of one's invisible faith inside him.

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    @MartinHemsley I think the opposite is also true. Focus on works can also "lull" people into a false sense of security, that they are being saved because they are "good people". A balance of both might be a solution; without faith you cannot be saved, period. The issue is just the understanding of works. To my understanding, your genuine faith absolutely has to reflect in your works. If it doesn't, thats an indicator that your faith is not sincere. I would agree that works are therefore (by extension) necessary for salvation, but they are not the measuring device, rather a necessary outcome.
    – CShark
    Aug 23, 2021 at 9:44
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    @MartinHemsley after thinking about it, no. I don't agree to that specific wording, because of two example cases: Is someone saved, who is a new believer but hasn't had the character change yet to do works? Is someone saved that repents on his deathbed and comes to faith, but can't do anything anymore? In both cases I'd argue they are saved, and that their works are completely irrelevant to that fact. It is faith (immediate, punctual) that saves, not works (continuous process, that comes out of faith). See for example the thief on the cross, he didn't have time to do works and was saved.
    – CShark
    Aug 24, 2021 at 7:00
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    I agree to the idea though (faith has to have visible effects over time), although I would be careful how I teach it. While the presence of works hints to saving faith (James), it not always does (Pharisees) and the opposite does not imply no faith (fallacy of the inverse). It is therefore only a proof if someone challenges you (as in James) and for your own measurement, but not something I can judge other people by, and it is also not the thing they need to work on if there were a problem. As I said, it is an important mark, but not the primary one.
    – CShark
    Aug 24, 2021 at 7:08
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    I explained to someone else here somewhere that the thief did do works commensurate with his repentance. But why look for the rare exception cases? God can worry about that. I’m more concerned about what we tell the people about the urgency of actually doing something for Christ on earth as he commanded. It seems like not enough Christians are really getting it especially with the prevalence of hyper-grace preaching. Aug 24, 2021 at 7:34
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    We shouldn’t judge, but we should warn. And it is absolutely something they should work on if there is a problem. You can’t separate the two which is why both are necessary. True faith leads to God-honoring works if there is an opportunity. Jesus told the religious leaders in Mt 5 “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” They had works, but not the kind that indicate salvation. By their fruit you shall know them. Aug 24, 2021 at 7:38

There is a difference between saying faith and works are essential for salvation and saying you are saved by faith plus works.

John wasn't saying they needed works plus repentance. He was saying their actions weren't consistent with the actions repentance produces.

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:8–10, ESV)

John 3:36 is antithetical (opposite) statements. Thus, the opposite of faith is disobedience.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)

ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον· ὁ °δὲ ἀπειθῶν τῷ υἱῷ οὐκ ὄψεται ζωήν, ἀλλʼ ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἐπʼ αὐτόν. (NA28)

It is faith that saves a person not works. However, one's actions demonstrate that one is saved. So, in that sense if you say John the Baptist (even Jesus and Paul) taught that faith and works are essential for salvation, the answer is yes, but works aren't what saves a person. It is faith, and faith produces obedience.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15, ESV)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12, ESV)

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8–10, ESV)

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12–13, ESV)

  • If we can’t be saved without works then logically are we not also saved by works? If we are not “working out our salvation” can we be saved? We can not truly be saved by either one alone. In other words, we can’t earn our salvation by works alone or by faith alone. It is quite possible that someone sincerely puts their faith in God and in his Son, and yet for whatever reason, chooses not to be or stop being obedient to the will of God. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe and tremble, but they don’t do the works of God and are therefore not saved. Aug 22, 2021 at 22:00
  • “It is quite possible that someone sincerely puts their faith in God and in his Son, and yet for whatever reason, chooses not to be or stop being obedient to the will of God.” Is this necessarily true, though? Aug 23, 2021 at 3:57
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    @MartinHemsley while acknowledging that God exists, those demons do not "put their faith in" God and in his Son. THAT is the difference.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 23, 2021 at 4:15
  • Many examples in the NT of falling away. 2 Peter 2:20-22 - For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. @ RonJohn This is true but even putting one's faith in God is not enough if one later falls away from the faith and doing the works of God. Aug 23, 2021 at 4:30
  • The only action this man had was to express his faith. -- One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43, ESV)
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 23, 2021 at 9:53

John chapter 3 is a key section but you only quoted a little bit of John the Baptist in the last verse:

"I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:28-35

John the Baptist's ministry was to prepare the way of the Lord, to point to Christ, to go before the promised Messiah to get ready those of his Jewish people who would then be prepared to respond to Christ in faith and thus be saved from the wrath of God. John's preaching is mentioned twice. The first preaching was in the wilderness. Then there was baptism in Jordan, with confession of sins. Note this point:

"Forgiveness of sins is not mentioned. Confession of sins is entailed in receiving John's words and being baptised as a result. This baptism was unto remission of sins. It, itself, is not the actual remission of sins. Under John's ministry, sins are exposed; sins are admitted; sins are confessed. No more... The baptism of John was administered only to those who went out of Israel, Israelites, and attended his baptism in Jordan... His preaching exposed conditions and his preaching heralded the One who could answer those conditions." (The Beginning of the Gospel, pp39-40, Nigel Johnstone, Belmont 2012)

John was the culmination of all the prophets who had gone before him, being the link from the old to the new. He had to preach repentance to prepare people to receive the Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant. People had to confess their sins and be baptised in recognition that their sins were exposed. He came to turn people from darkness to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ (John 1:7). Those who turned to the Light John pointed to could then receive this Light and have the power to become the sons of God by being born again (John 1:12-13). What was this new birth and this repentance?

"Being born again necessitates a preparation by God Almighty himself, by the words of the preparative messenger which he, himself, authorises and sends. Receiving these words, there will be a cleansing that will separate a soul and remove from that soul that which prohibits the growth of the word within it. This, and this only, is the beginning of the gospel." (Ibid. p 75)

"Repentance is to have the mind itself changed, not merely its contents. Repentance is to have a different mind, with a different way of working. The beginning of the gospel is the changed mind which results from the ministry of a preparative messenger... When God gives a man a new mind, in which he writes his laws; and a new heart, in which he also writes his laws; then, in such a condition, after such a baptism, is a man ready to receive the messenger of the covenant... The ministry of John the Baptist, the preparative messenger, is a ministry that prepares the heart and mind for the coming of Christ to the soul, as conveyed in the gospel. It, itself, does not convey Christ. It prepares for that event. And if the preparation is not received, nor will Christ be received. (Ibid. pp 45-46)

The principle is the same for all who, throughout the centuries, will be saved. John's preaching was the beginning of the gospel. In Matthew 3:10, John was not preaching 'good works'! He was warning religious hypocrites that their unfruitful faithlessness, and their legalistic bad fruits would lead to them being chopped down very shortly. John's message had to be received and acted upon if anyone was to then discover Jesus Christ to be the Salvation of God. John was a voice of preparation, and he pointed to Christ for salvation.

Jesus submitted to John's baptism to authenticate John's preparatory ministry. Once that was done, all was fulfilled - Malachi 3 had happened, and thus the old covenant era was ended, John being its last herald. But the ministry of John the Baptist is relevant to every soul of man in all creation. He preached and baptized in the wilderness - representing the wilderness of the whole world. If a man exists, then John preaches to him, whether he will hear or not. This ministry of preparation shall continue to the end of time, wherever the Gospel shall be preached.

In Revelation chapter 14 an angel flies in mid-heaven "having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come, and worship him that made heaven and earth and the sea and the fountains of waters" (vss 6-7).

The angel who flies in mid-heaven, before the risen Christ returns, commands everyone to do what we ought to do, not to do 'good works'! Everyone ought to fear God and give glory to him! But those who will not obey the beginning of the gospel will never obey the Christ who IS, in his person, that glorious means of salvation. Therefore, the beginning of the gospel, which John preached, was to confess our sins to God and repentantly turn to God's means of salvation - the Messiah. They will become part of the "bride of the bridegroom" - the one John, as friend of the bridegroom, pointed to.

Biblical repentance prepares us to receive God's only means of salvation, achieved through the finished work of Christ on the cross. True faith, that can be seen in works that truly glorify God and not ourselves, is a gift from God, so that it is all of God, and not of us.

  • In Mt :3:10, John did not say every tree that produces bad fruit will be chopped down. He said that every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cast into the fire. He was preaching good works. You have to produce good fruit to not be cast into the fire. Obviously that will happen to those who produce bad fruit, but we must go beyond abstaining from evil. Yes, he prepared the way for Christ but he was not preaching a different Gospel. Your statement “John's message had to be received and acted upon if anyone was to then discover Jesus Christ to be the Salvation of God,” is correct. Aug 29, 2021 at 8:28
  • If they didn’t believe John, they wouldn’t believe Jesus. I have a different view on the significance of Jesus’ baptism but what is more important is your misinterpretation of Revelation 14. Worship is a work and worship of the beast is an evil work which will be punished severely. But read a little further down and it becomes even clearer. 12 Here is a call for the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven telling me to write, “Blessed are the dead—those who die in the Lord from this moment on.” Aug 29, 2021 at 8:29
  • “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds will follow them.” When you say true faith is all of God, does that mean for you that we have no role to play in faith? @Anne Aug 29, 2021 at 8:31
  • Of course Christians have a role to play in faith, once the gift of saving faith has been bestowed upon us by God. The idea that a newly saved person just sits back whilst being taken to heaven is close to blasphemy. That person is transformed and renewed in mind and actions. They then start to live as a saved Christian should live, as part of their witness, and all to the glory of God. From the moment of being justified by God, they have to live sanctified lives till the day they die. That is their 'role', now this faith has begun. They live by faith (Gal. 3:11).
    – Anne
    Aug 29, 2021 at 12:55
  • Would Jesus constantly call us to put our faith in him if we had no choice in the matter? More importantly, would he punish us for not doing something he didn't give us the ability to do? Living as a saved Christian is a choice we must make every day. Our 'role' is to do the works of God and live sanctified lives until we go to meet the Lord and receive our rewards for what we have done. Aug 29, 2021 at 16:37

The word “works” is confusing in that it can refer to the self-willed acts of righteousness for which we expect reward. In the OT we see that this kind of righteousness holds no value to God.

If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, Or what does He receive from your hand? –Job 35:7

In the NT, the same message is carried forward in the epistles of Paul.

Who has first given to Him, that it would be paid back to him? –Rom 11:35

Now to the one who works, the wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due. –Rom 4:4

Such works, characterized by self-reliance, are antithetical to faith.

Where then is boasting? It has been excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. –Rom 3:27

In Matthew 3:10 John the Baptist instead uses the analogy of a tree and its fruit. The concept of fruit conveys more clearly what it is that God desires from us. It is through our connection to Christ and Christ to God that God’s grace flows to us and bears fruit. This fruit is not of our own making but the work of God’s grace bearing fruit in our lives.

Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. –John 15:4

It is in producing good fruit, which comes from our remaining in Christ and from his words remaining in us, that the Father is glorified. Every branch that does not remain in Christ, like the tree that does not bear good fruit of Matthew 3:10, is at risk of being gathered and burned.

If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. –John 15:6-8.

  • Many words can be confusing or misconstrued which does not mean that we should stop using them. Paul is making the distinction between salvation by faith vs. law. Abraham believed in God for a child but he also did his part. Paul encouraged believers to pursue sanctification. Rom 6:19 ...For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. Our principle work in bearing fruit is to remain in Christ. Aug 23, 2021 at 17:16
  • @MartinHemsley - a similar question about keeping the law - hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/60694/33268 Aug 25, 2021 at 9:42
  • In the OT we see that this kind of righteousness holds no value to God. Up-voted +1. Agreed.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 3, 2021 at 0:00

Your interpretation of the gospel that John the Baptist preached is on track. Works certainly did play a significant part. The ‘faith’ needed for that gospel was certainly both accompanied and evidenced by ‘works’. But, even here, it wasn’t the ‘works’ that ‘saved you’, it was belief.

The first ‘work’ that was needed was [water] baptism. This visibly ‘showed’ repentance.

MARK 1:4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This was a different ‘baptism’ to Paul’s gospel ..

ACTS 19:3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.

John the Baptist and Jesus (in the earlier part of his ministry) preached the Gospel of the Kingdom. Specifically the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus came to bring to the Jews.

Righteousness in this Kingdom comes by believing - essentially it was righteousness (salvation) that comes with or under the Abrahamic covenant. In this, Faith is accompanied by works - This was a Gospel for the Jews, for Israel. But to participate in this Kingdom, they first needed to be ‘released’ from being under the Mosaic covenant (Law) - which Jesus came to accomplish. This Kingdom was for ‘on earth’, for people living ‘in the flesh’, and because is was for ‘people living in the flesh’ - works was part of it!

Which is *also true under Paul’s Gospel, aka the Gospel of Grace, Paul ‘preached’ the Kingdom of God. The difference is that under ‘Grace’, the ‘spirit’ (not the flesh) is the ‘source’. Righteousness comes by being (spiritually) ‘reborn’. By Faith. Not the same faith as Abraham (believing), but by ‘spiritual faith’. (Revelation, that is, ‘seeing’ with ‘spiritual eyes’.)

Both ‘gospels’ provide righteousness (salvation). Both result in ‘good works’. But ‘works’ in one has far more ‘weight’ because it has to be ‘seen’ with natural (physical) ‘eyes’ - because everyone is ‘in the flesh’.

Essentially we are ‘bordering’ on the debate between the difference of the two Kingdoms, the Kingdom of Heaven vs the Kingdom of God. Both provide righteousness, but ‘differently’. Which leads to those differing views of ‘faith’ and ‘works’.

  • Is not believing the first work? The"weight" of our work will be judged by God in the end. Aug 22, 2021 at 22:03
  • @Martin Hemsley Is believing a (the first) work? IIUC - This can’t be substantiated via scripture, although it probably could be apologetically answered. For believers, work is judged (1 Cor 5) after ‘physical death’, to determine rewards, not to ‘judge’ salvation. For those in the Kingdom of Heaven, ‘doing the right thing’ is expected, and brings benefits. ‘Doing the wrong thing’ is dealt with, it has consequences. But remember that in the Kingdom of Heaven, you are all ‘physically’ alive.
    – Dave
    Aug 22, 2021 at 22:26
  • John 6 28 Then they said to Him [Jesus], "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent" Rev 2 22 Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works. Aug 22, 2021 at 23:00
  • @Martin Hemsley Yes. Thanks. I stand corrected regarding the ‘first’ work. And, the church of Thyatira certainly did not have a ‘spiritual’ (born again) foundation. So therefore their ‘works’ were judged.
    – Dave
    Aug 22, 2021 at 23:30
  • Ro 2 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism. Aug 23, 2021 at 0:02

John and James, the sons of thunder and Christ himself left nothing of ambiguity out there Absolutely...faith without works is dead. Faith is essential to salvation and deeds are essential to faith; therefore deeds are essential to salvation. "If you love me, you will keep my commands" (do what I say - peter, feed my sheep). No, Lord...do it yourself. Yeah...NO. I don't think that flies.

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    Thank you for your input. However, John the Baptist was not the same as the brother of James (a son of Thunder). And the James, the author of the epistle by that name, was also not a Son of Thunder. Having corrected that, your response on the necessity of "works" as a result of becoming a Christian is important, as the people you quoted stated. Do a little more research on you next answers, and it will benefit all. Peace.
    – ray grant
    Mar 24 at 22:28

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