I have been really looking over Scripture lately, and it is true that there is a holiness that we must have in our lives if we are to go to heaven when we die. Please read that sentence over and over until you see what I am, and am not, saying.
What I am not saying is that we do good deeds to get justified, or that we do good works in order to get forgiven. We are justified by God's grace alone, through faith in the atonement of Christ alone. However, what I am saying, and something I think we can very easily forget, is that true faith works. What I mean is, saving faith desires to live righteously and fight against the sinful deeds of the flesh. As James says, "Faith without works is dead," and "works complete faith." The command by Jesus and likewise Paul was to repent, and "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." The good works that are the natural outflow of saving faith are the good fruits which Jesus and Paul speak of.
So it is true, then, that without these "good works," without bearing good fruit in our life, we will not be saved from hell. We live by faith, and faith expresses itself in works. Now it is certainly true that the works that we must have in order to be saved from hell are fundamentally different than the works that some try to produce in order to be justified and saved from sin. The works that we must have is rooted in saving faith and can only be produced by drawing from the Holy Spirit that lives within us.
So what I am NOT saying is that good works will earn us salvation. What I am saying, though, is that we will not escape hell without the presence of good works that are rooted in saving faith. While good works do not save us or justify us, their absence assures us that we do not have faith, and therefore, we do not have salvation. So just as it is fair to say that without faith we will not be saved, it is likewise right and fair to say that without bearing good fruit, without good works, no one shall see God and escape hell either.
The tricky part is that without saving faith, we CANNOT produce good works. Therefore, we must exercise faith in Christ in order to live for Christ and produce good works. But, once we have exercised faith in Christ, we are united with Christ, His Holy Spirit dwells within us and enables us to produce good works/bear good fruit.
The truth is that we are saved "unto good works." We are saved from sin in order to live for Christ, in order to bear good fruit to the Lord, rather than to sin. While a person may, in some sense, have faith in Christ, unless it produces good fruit, unless it produces good works, it is not a saving faith, and it is a dead faith.
So to close for now, I am not saying that the root of our salvation, the foundation of our salvation, is good works. Good works cannot exist as the root of our salvation, for those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8) and those who are in the flesh, still enslaved to sin never do anything that is good (Romans 3:12). However, good works DO exist as the NECESSARY FRUIT of our faith, the EVIDENCE of our salvation, and these good works have at its root saving faith, and our saving faith is in Christ and is given to us as a gift from God, not of works (Eph. 2:8-10).
If we take the whole of Scripture seriously, if we take Titus 2:14-15 seriously which says that Jesus Christ gave Himself for us so that "He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works," then we must live by the truth that good works is not coincidental to our salvation but is consequential of our salvation. It is consequential in the sense that, if we have salvation, we have good works, and if we do not have salvation, we do not have good works. Thus, it is true that if we do not have good works, we do not have salvation from hell, for faith that saves is a working faith, producing good works/good fruits of righteousness to God, living for Him and defeating the sinful deeds of the flesh by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
As James said, "I will show you my faith by my works," (James 2:18). If we do not have good works, we do not have salvation from hell nor salvation from slavery to sin. The beautiful truth is that the blood of Christ shed for our salvation itself produces within us faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and gives us a desire through regeneration to live for Christ and the ability through the Holy Spirit to carry out the desire to live for Christ, inevitably resulting in a lifesytle of good works. The absence of good works, of a righteous lifestyle in a person is evidence that such a person has not been saved from hell and will not be saved from hell, not matter what else he has.