This subject is perharps one of the most argued in the church through out the ages and has also been a very divisive issue; since the bible seems to support both arguments. But we have to keep in mind that the bible does not contradict itself, we have to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and to show us what it means. I would like to explore with you what the bible tells us in a prayerful spirit.
New International Version (©1984)
And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:6
Here the Apostle Paul was writting to a group of Jews that still wanted to earn their salvation by practicing the ceremonies, rituals of the Mosaic Law. In other words they still wanted to practice tevilah (water baptisms), circumcision, different feasts days, obstaining from pagan food among other observations of the law. Here we have Paul telling us that these observances are not necesary for salvation anymore since the Jews still wanted to practice them. Now Paul was not going to make any laws against practicing them since he himself practice a few rituals under the new covenant he circumcised a boy (Acts 16:1-3) and he also practice a ritual of purification (Acts 21:26). But then he explains why he did this in 1 Corinthians 9:20
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
So we see that practicing the law itself was not at all a sin, the problem was that they relied on their Mosaic works to be saved. And that was the mistake that Paul was trying to prevent. But then we see in James 2 something that seems to be contradicting Paul.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is uselessd?
Here we have to take into account what the deeds are and we see in James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Then we see that earlier in chapter 2 that James was also writting against showing favoritism towards the rich. It is very clear that the deeds that James is refering to are to be compasionate towards the needy, not the rituals of the law. Here we have Paul saying that deesds are not necesary and James saying that they are. The deeds are not at all necesary for salvation neither it is a sin to practice them with the full conviction that because we practice them they will not save us. But the deeds of loving each other and turning the other cheek and helping the less fortunate are a sign that Jesus left for the world to know that we are Christians the we are His followers.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
We Christians should not do the deeds for salvation we do them because it is a consequence of our spiritual birth in Christ, this way people know that we are no longer dead in our sins, we do them because we live in the new kingdom, because we live in the light.
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 1 John 3:14
The apostles all agreed that our salvation was not because of any Mosaic ceremonial ritual we could ever practice.
No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Romans 15:11
Thanks to our salvation is that we do good deeds so that we do not deny our Lord with our deeds.
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good Titus 1:16
Jesus clearly explained it in Matthew 7
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
There is no ceremony that we can practice, feeding the poor or even dying as a living sacrifice will not qualify as an act for salvation. But instead our goods deeds are only a consequence a testimony of our already acquired Salvation thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. So it is only natural that if we are Christians we will give Christian fruit (deeds).