For the attainment of the Kingdom, that is, man’s salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ rather clearly taught as essential two things: faith and works. Passages of the New Testament that emphasize one or the other have often been quoted to show that it is exclusively by faith or by works that one is saved. Yet the Lord Himself never excluded either in His teaching.
The essence of the “law of faith” Jesus expressed in these words: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) The disciples also taught after Him that faith is necessary in order to have eternal life: “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” (Jn. 20:31)
To the question directed to Paul and Silas by the keeper of the prison, “What must I do to be saved?” they answered: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:30,31)
St. Paul points out that it is by God’s grace that we are saved: “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.” (Eph. 2:8,9) He refers to the “works of the Law,” by which it was believed among the Jews that men were justified and by which they were identified with the chosen people of God in the Old Testament. These included circumcision and ritual sacrifices. He makes this reference clear in several places, for example in the third chapter of Romans.
There is no contradiction to this in what James the Apostle says in his epistle: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” He then goes on to show what kind of works are the natural consequence of belief in Christ’s teachings: “If a brother or a sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body…Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?” (Jas. 2:14-24)
The kind of works necessary for salvation, the “law of works,” is expressed by the Lord in two principal commandments, that of self-denial and that of loving God and one’s neighbor.
Just before He underwent the saving passion and death on the cross, Jesus said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mk. 8:34) This commandment has as its purpose the rooting out of us the very foundation of all sin: pride and self-love (Sir. 10:15), and consequently our purification from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” (II Cor. 7:1). It is to put off from us the old man according to our former life, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. (Eph. 4:22) It is this “old man” which can never enter into the Kingdom of heaven. (Jn. 3:5)
Self-denial, according to the teaching of our Lord, must manifest itself 1) by leaving our former life of sin and by a profound turning away or repentance of all sins, (Mt. 3:2); 2) by a voluntary renunciation of all the things of this world, however dear they may be to us, as for example, our eye or our arm, if we come to see that they seduce us and lead us to sin (Mt. 5:29,30), 3) by abandoning even a father or mother, or a family, if we perceive that otherwise it is impossible for us to withdraw from iniquity and attain salvation (Mk. 10: 22; Lk. 14:26); and 4) by constant efforts not to sin, not only in deed, but even in word and in thought (Mt. 5:28; 12:36).
The commandment to love God and our neighbor (Mt. 22:37-39) has as its purpose the implanting in us of the beginning of a new life, holy and pleasing to God, instead of the former life of sin (Jn. 13:34), of putting in us the bond of moral perfection (Col. 3:14), and of leading us, truly pure and renewed, to be one with God (Jn. 17:21).
Describing the characteristics of love for God, Jesus taught that it must 1) be sincere, whole, and perfect (Lk. 10:27-28); 2) manifest itself by submission to divine will in the observance of His commandments (Jn. 14:15,21); 3) constantly glorify God (Mt. 5:16); and 4) be so strong in us that we might be ready, in the name of God, to lose ourselves (Mk. 8:35).
Love of our neighbor is similar, for He taught that we 1) love all men, not just our friends, but even our enemies (Mt. 5:44-48); 2) not offend our neighbor in deed, or in word or in thought (Mt. 5:22; 7:1,2,12); 3) endure magnanimously all offences and forgive trespasses, not only seven times, but even seventy times seven times (Mt. 5:38,39; 6:14; 18:22); 4) always show mercy toward our neighbor, to help him in his needs (Mt. 5:7,42; Lk. 6:35); and 5) be ready, if it is necessary, to give our life for our friends (Jn. 15:13).
On the third Sunday of the preparation for the Great Fast, Meat-fare Sunday, we read from the Gospel of St. Matthew (25:31-46) of the Last Judgment. There we see how men shall be judged on that day, that it will be on the basis of how men have received and fulfilled both the law of faith and that of works. The Lord shows how intimately related are the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (v. 40) The consequences of not doing those works of charity that He enumerated, feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison are just as serious. In the Incarnation of the Word of God, His taking upon Himself human nature, He identified Himself with the whole human race, and literally when we do good or when we do evil to one human being, all men and even the God who became one with us, are affected.
We see how the Lord’s work of salvation has spared us the inevitable consequences of sin. His grace, His gift to us is this salvation. Yet it is also clear from what He teaches that man has the freedom of will to reject His gift to us, and, will deserve the results of sin and corruption. That is, Christ teaches the will suffer eternal torments should we choose to reject His grace.