Some works-salvation teachers will try to soften—or obscure!—their message by saying that doing good works is necessary for salvation, but those works are not meritorious. In their view, requiring works for salvation becomes a problem only if you think you can earn your way into heaven.
Is that a possible Biblical position?
Consider what Paul said about wages and grace—
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt (Rom 4:4).
Here’s a straightforward principle—if someone pays you for your work, is that considered grace? No. If you work for someone, then he owes you for your work. When your boss pays you for a 40-hour week, he isn’t doing you a favor but paying what’s rightfully owed you. He’s in your debt.
In other words, Paul wants you to see there is a difference between working for pay and receiving a gift. And he makes no distinction between meritorious and non-meritorious works. As far as he’s concerned, all works are meritorious. All works are a matter of debt and payment. That sets up the other side of the antithesis:
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Rom 4:5).
You might expect Paul to contrast the worker with the non-worker. Instead, he contrasts the worker and the believer. Works have to do with wages. Faith has to do with grace.
So as far as Paul is concerned, there are two religious possibilities: either you hold to a works & wages system or to a faith & grace system. What you cannot do is have a hybrid system of non-meritorious works combined with grace. The one excludes the other:
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work (Rom 11:6).
So don’t be fooled—salvation by faith plus “non-meritorious” works is just another name for works salvation. It is contrary to grace. You should reject it, just as Paul rejected it, because if something is of works, then it is no longer of grace.
The argument for salvation by non-meritorious works is without merit.