Good works vs. Bad works
About a week ago, I found myself in quite the lay Christian apologist' version of a day in wonderland. A debate with a Muslim, a proponent of Islam and as a professing Christian, it was my duty to talk of Christ and my hope in Him to this man in hopes of bringing him to the truth.
Muslims and Christians though having some few similarities, the differences between them are many, huge and can't be reconciled to each other.
Christianity vs. Islam
Where Christians believe in the person and work of Christ, that is, His life, death and resurrection for atonement, the remission of sin and eternal life, faith in His righteousness and Him as the only begotten Son of God; Muslims believe in the Five Pillars of Islam and the deed of good works to earn eternal life and demote Jesus to a mere prophet who didn't die on the cross but was spared from it. So to those who believe in pluralism, this is as far as east is from west.
To start off, I assured him that I believe wholly in the Bible as God's inspired Word without contradiction or fault and he said likewise with the Qu'ran.
Can Good works save?
During the procession, we got to the part about good works and he told me that by cancelling out his bad deeds, they were his ticket into paradise. I begged to differ and asked “How much 'good' is good enough”?
On the side of Christianity, good works are as dirty filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) to God. Using them to bribe Him for admission into heaven is out of the question. God is infinitely and perfectly holy and demands perfection from us. He says in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”. God demands holiness, not good deeds.
The Bible specifically states in Matthew 5:8 that “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” It doesn't say that “Blessed are those who do good deeds, they shall see God” but only the 'pure in heart' are blessed and that they shall see God.
Though good works do go hand in hand with faith in Christ, they don't bring forth faith, faith brings forth good works.
If God was to justify the wicked because of their good deeds and let them enter His heavenly courts without satisfying His wrath, He would be as unjust as the plethora of unjust judges in this world who pervert justice and an abomination to Himself. The problem with humans is not that we do bad deeds and need to cancel them out with good ones in order to be good people, but it is that we are totally depraved (moral inability) inherently sinful bad people who through the so-called good deeds try to cover up our fallen nature. We need a Saviour, not good deeds.
Trusting in Christ
As Christians we take comfort in the fact that Christ came and conquered. He worked vicariously on our behalf, for our own good and for His ultimate glory. He lived perfectly the way we couldn”™t. He was sinless, God in the flesh. The Word came as a human to accomplish the mission He was sent forth for. To abolish the enmity that was between us and God. He intercedes for us. His works ensured life for us. He suffered the wrath of God for us. His cross was blood-stained for us. His blood cleans and purifies us. His death paid the cost that we had piled up in sin. So yes, we are saved by works, His.
Soli Deo Gloria