A friend recently asked my opinion about a famous Bible teacher charged with heresy because of his view of the relationship between faith and good works. Here is the substance of my response:
I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching this very topic (exegetical theology, systematic theology, and historical theology), and I wrote two dissertations relating to this issue and have finally come to believe that most of our Puritan forefathers understood it (or at least expressed it) better than we often do.
The best answer in this case is the simple answer: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone. We’re not saved by works, yet we are never saved without works. God does not look at our good works and justify us, but justification without good works is spurious.
We cast all of our faith, all of our hope, all of our expectations on the crucified and risen Jesus Christ who loved us, and gave himself for us. He accomplished our salvation at Calvary and from the empty tomb. When we are united him by faith (alone), we’re also united to resurrection victory, and that victory includes — in fact, necessitates — good works. If works are lacking, this omission only proves that we are not united to the crucified and resurrected Lord.
I’ve known people to go way, way into the weeds on this issue and come back no better than when they started — and often worse. Eternal life is not a reward for good behavior, but neither can there be a salvation minus good works.
As simple as it may sound, this is a good summary of precisely what I believe the Bible teaches.