Too many people want something for nothing in life, always looking to find a cheap shortcut and immediate gratification. Others have a solid work ethic and know well the feeling of joy and pride one has in a job well done.
I could tell that Jesús, a guy I reached out to yesterday in a Gospel conversation in the music section at a Target store, was one of those with a solid work ethic. And this affected the way he responded to my questions about eternity. To him, salvation seems simple - "You get what you pay for" he said. "Whatever you put into it, that's what you will get out. It wouldn't make sense for someone to sit around all day and get a paycheck, or to work all day and not get paid." he reasoned, "And God will reward us the same way."
He had put it so simply and in such stark terms of work and reward, that it felt silly to question him further. After all, aren't there verses in the Bible that speak about spiritual rewards for serving God? Doesn't it say in Hebrews 11 that " …he (God) rewards those who earnestly seek him.", or in Romans 2 " To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life."
Jesús was banking on the verse just before that, which reads " God will repay each person according to what they have done.” Based on these verses, it sure seems conclusive that we can earn our way with good deeds right into those pearly gates. And this might be where those who aren't diligent in the Word might stop. We need to read the whole Bible, and we need to put words like these into context.
I'm no Bible scholar, but I do know we need to let scripture interpret scripture. We need to take seemingly opposing verses from the Bible and find out their common denominator - what they both have in common and where they agree. How could a verse like this from Romans 3 - "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." fit in with "work out your salvation" in Phil. 2? Isn't a gift something that is given and received, not earned? Or what about this from Ephesians 2:8-9 - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast."
Receiving a gift and having nothing to boast about doesn't seem to have much to do with passages about work and reward. What do they have in common? We know both sides mention doing good works and eternal reward. What they don't always make clear is cause and effect. Do our good works cause us to be saved? Or does our salvation cause us to do good works? Ephesians 2:8-9 is such as important passage because it does make this crystal clear in vs. 10 - " For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Our salvation leads us to do good works. There is a cause, salvation, and there is an effect, good works. The other verses that aren't so clear need to be interpreted with those that are.
Faith for salvation and good works are so closely linked that we can't really have one without the other. Our good works don't save us, but they do give evidence that we are saved. If you don't have good works, or do you have faith misplaced on your own good works rather than on Jesus? Maybe its time to work out that salvation with fear and trembling.