As soon as you mention "works" associated with the Kingdom there are people who start hyperventilating. There are a great hoard of grace zealots who bounce on anyone who dare mention "works". I am in agreement that we must defend, teach and hold up the cornerstone of apostle Paul's great revelation on grace but we must also recognize that we have been left here to "do". So I want to consider this in two parts.
First, let's consider that apostle Paul was so completely comfortable with grace and works that he could actually mention the two in the same breath:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Let's start with grace.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith."
We have said it before and we will continue to say it: there is nothing you can do to save yourself. The only way to salvation is through Jesus. The only access to the Father is through Jesus. The only method of entering eternal rest is through Jesus. The only path to the blessings of God is through Jesus. And Jesus was a gift. We didn't ask for him. We couldn't imagine him. He was not someone we earned. Jesus was given in love, despite the fact we were the enemies of God.
" - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -"
What is Paul talking about here? What is the gift of God? Grace or faith? Considering that we already know that grace is not from ourselves and that grace by definition must be a gift, Paul can only be talking about faith. Faith is not found in us. Faith is not from us. Faith is a gift of God. We really can't do any of this on our own. There is no good thing in us to earn any favour from God. We can't even muster up enough faith for our salvation. God has done everything for us just as we have to do everything for a new born baby. Let that reality grip you: even faith is a gift from God.
"not by works, so that no one can boast."
We are saved by grace and not by works so no one can boast and God receives all the glory. I don't know about you but I know this fact to the core of my being. From the top of my head to the very inner place of my soul I know that I could never earn any favour from God. I know my former rebellious nature. I still feel it's shadow with every temptation I face. I know every day that it is God who is working out his will in me and I gladly surrender to him. I do this because I know the alternative, the thing from which he saved me, and I do not want to go back there.
I find it amazing that he has even provided me with the faith I need to receive his grace. He really has done everything and we have done nothing. "Not by works" and yet Paul continues, "created in Christ Jesus to do good works", and that is where many people get confused. Having addressed grace and faith today, I want us to consider this thing of "works" tomorrow.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 1:2)