I believe faith and works both play a role in salvation. Now before you label me a heretic or crypto-Catholic, please hear me out. Since the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, the church in the West has been divided between Protestants, who believe justification (becoming right with God) comes passively by means of faith in Christ alone, and Catholics, who believe that justification is a gift of God’s grace that is received actively by faith and baptism with repentance being a key element. (I know there are other theological differences. I also know that there’s a dispute about whether free-church Christians like us Baptists should be called “Protestants,” but even if not we are related closely to them theologically and historically.) To oversimplify the case, Protestants make good works a product of justification, whereas Catholics see good works also as part of the process of justification. (Never mind that Protestants disagree among themselves on whether baptism is essential for salvation.) However, for both Catholics and Protestants good works are essential, either as evidence (Protestant) or both evidence and ingredient (Catholic) of God’s work of conversion in a person’s life. Neither would say that good works are irrelevant.
An analogy might be helpful. Most would agree that love is a key ingredient in a marriage. In Western cultures we say you need to make sure that you truly love the other person before you marry. Someone who comes from a part of the world where arranged marriages are still common might say that you must love your spouse after you’re married, even if you didn’t love them before. Both agree that love is essential in marriage.
The Bible says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). It also says, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Which do I believe? Both.