When Paul explains the characteristics of the false prophets (teachers) to Titus he says that “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” There are several ways to understand this statement and the Greek doesn’t help understand which one. Grammatically it could mean either thought. First, Paul is talking about all the characteristics that he has listed like their rebelliousness, or their ulterior motives, or their greedy practices. If this meaning is the correct one Paul is say that these false teachers, professing to know God, can be recognized by how they live. That seems to be a correct interpretation. But so does the other one. It says that it is the focus on the “works” they perform, like circumcision that illustrates how they deny the ultimate work of Christ on the cross for the sinner. When works replace faith as the means of salvation it is basically a “denial” of the work of Christ, and suggests that His work on our behalf is insufficient. We must add too what Christ has done for us to make it sufficient. I think the second view is accurate as well. (It might be that the writer intended both!)

When the Galatians were being sucked away by their own set of false teachers, Paul asked them a very pointed question. He writes in Galatians 3:2, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” The assumed answer to this question is that the Spirit comes through faith in Christ not by keeping the law. But we just natural tend towards wanting to earn our salvation. Take the prodigal son. He returns to the father, confesses his sin, asks for forgiveness and says, “make me as one of the hired servants.” Hired servants are those who work for what he receives. Like us, he was convinced he had to “do” something.

Let me remind you that the “work of God” is this, “to believe in the one He has sent.” Arthur Pink puts it this way: It is not what we can do for God but rather what God has already done for us. All that is required of us is that we believe it. The Philippian jailer had asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” It was the question of the crowd that had sought Jesus. Paul answered just as Jesus had done before him: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Jesus is the One whom God has sent into the world to meet our deepest need. “The work of God” is to “believe” on him. What God requires of us is that we give up trying to please him by our own efforts and instead commit ourselves into the hands of our Savior.

“…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16