Holman Bible Dictionary
The works of people testify to their faith or lack of it. Those who do the works of the devil show that they are of the devil (John 8:34-44; 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 ). Sinners are called to cast off the works of darkness (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:11 ), sometimes called wicked works (Colossians 1:21 ) or the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19 ). Because sinners cannot save themselves, they must rely on the grace of God, not on their own works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7 ).
Paul warned against relying on the works of the law as a basis for acceptance by God (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2 ,Galatians 3:2,3:5 ,Galatians 3:5,3:10 ). Sinners are accepted as righteous before God on the basis of God's grace through faith in Christ, not on the basis of their own works (Romans 3:27; Romans 4:2-6 ). One evidence of saving faith, however, is the existence of good works in the lives of believers (Matthew 5:16; Acts 9:36; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:10; 1Timothy 5:10,1 Timothy 5:25; Titus 2:7 ,Titus 2:7,2:14; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 2:12 ).
Some people think that Paul and James contradict each other in their teachings about works. James 2:14-26 says that people are justified by faith and works, not by faith alone. However, closer examination shows that James used the word “works” to refer to what Paul meant by “good works.” James and Paul were dealing with people who wanted to rely on works of the law for their salvation. James was dealing with people who professed to believe but whose lives did not show it. Paul, therefore, emphasized that sinners cannot make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the works of the law. Dealing with a different situation, James emphasized that true faith shows itself in good works, a point Paul that also made.
The Lord knows the works of His people. He commends His churches for their good works and rebukes them for the works that are not worthy of His people (Revelation 2:2 ,Revelation 2:2,2:5 ,Revelation 2:5,2:9 ,Revelation 2:9,2:13 ,Revelation 2:13,2:19 ,Revelation 2:19,2:23 ,Revelation 2:23,2:26; Revelation 3:1-2 ,Revelation 3:1-2,3:8 ,Revelation 3:8,3:15 ). God does not judge according to outward appearances but according to works (1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 20:12-13; Revelation 22:12 ). Although true believers are accepted into God's eternal kingdom by grace through faith, God will condemn those whose profession is proved false by their evil works (Matthew 7:21-23 ). True believers are saved because their lives are built on the solid foundation of Christ Himself. They will be rewarded for good works but any unworthy works will not survive God's judgment (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ). See Faith; Salvation .
Robert J. Dean
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Works'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/w/works.html. 1991.