The question has been around for a long time. Are we saved because of our works (i.e. good deeds, mitzvot, keeping of the commandments) or does our salvation come through our faith and hope in God's word.
Salvation by works is an external solution, which manifest itself through outward expression. Salvation through faith is an internal belief system that looks to God for 100% of the solution. While there are different theological opinions on the solution, there is agreement on the problem, which is that we are all sinners (Psalm 14:3), and the penalty for sin is death (Gen 2:16-17). We all need salvation.
From a salvation perspective, are our good deeds and keeping the commandments being viewed as righteous acts? While it certainly can be a good thing, at times, to observe, obey and embrace a biblical lifestyle (when done for the right reasons), overall, the problem is our sin, (intentional or unintentional) mixed in with the good.
From a human perspective we can reason that away as; since I am mostly good, that should be enough. But then you must ask the question, "How much good is enough good to get into heaven?"
But God looks at things from a Godly perspective not a human perspective. From God's perspective, this is what our works look like in the context of ourselves trying to earn our own righteousness.
If our righteousness cannot be earned through are righteous deeds, how then can it be earned? Are God's standards so high, so perfect that no one can make it on their own without His help?
We do know that God is perfect. He doesn't make mistakes even though we do not understand all of His ways. God is also sovereign, meaning that God either causes or allows all thing to happen. He clearly teaches us that His ways are not our ways. Since God is perfect and He will be the one creating Heaven then Heaven will be perfect also.
In our current state of being, we cannot go to heaven because we are sinners and to let a human who is still considered guilty of sin (unforgiven) into heaven is to allow for heaven not to be perfect which cannot happen.
So something needs to take place before we get into heaven to allow for the removal of the penalty of sin. During Temple times (up to the year 70 A.D.) a temporary alternative sacrifice was offered up to God. Even though this symbolically allowed the animal to receive the penalty of sin (death) for us, this was only a temporary solution. That's why new sacrifices needed to be offered every day. Because man's sin is new every day.
We cannot be saved through works because mixed in with those good deeds and obedience to the commandments is also our failure to obey all the commandments, all the time. We are constantly in a state of trying to do good, however we can only do so much good.
Receiving our salvation through faith is different from trying to work our way into heaven. Let us look at the first Jew, Abraham, the father of both the circumcised (Isaac) and the uncircumcised (Ishmael), and see how the Lord treated him.
He (Abraham) believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). The Holy One, blessed be He, accounted to Abraham the faith he had in Him as meritorious righteousness.(1)
Abraham's righteousness did not come from his acts of obedience to the Lord. Abraham was credited with righteousness because of his faith. He believed that whatever else happened, God would keep His promises in everything that the Lord had told him. This is what allowed Abraham to be so obedient to the Lord. Abraham's good deeds (works) were manifested in Abraham's life as an outward expression of his faith in God. That is how Abraham was able to almost sacrifice his son, Isaac. This occurred after his faith was credited to his as righteousness. Abraham had already been credited with meritorious righteousness before the birth of Ishmael and Isaac and before any covenant of circumcision was instituted (Genesis 17:11).
We all need to be like Abraham in this way. We need faith in God, so that this faith includes the belief that God will keep His promises. It would be a blessing to us to know what the complete Bible says about God's Promises Through Israel.
Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he (Abraham) did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:20-25).
Because Jesus lived a sinless life (He was perfect making Him the perfect sacrifice), He alone was truly righteous. He died on the cross as our substitutionary blood sacrifice (just like the animals in the temple days). He paid in full the penalty for our sins allowing those who believe in God's promise (John 3:16) to be viewed as sinless in the sense of qualifying to get into heaven. God's acceptance of this sacrifice is proven by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Not only does faith in this promise found in John 3:16 take away our sin, but because of it we are also credited with Jesus righteousness. Now, through faith in the Messiah And His Deity, we can approach the gates of heaven knowing that our sin debt has already been paid in full and that we can be viewed as righteous because of our Messiah's righteousness being credited to us as if it were our own.
When someone enters heaven this way (which is the only way), heaven remains the perfect place God designed it to be.
From the Amidah - Shemoneh Esrei: As an aid to remind Jews to await Messiah's coming every day, this prayer is to be said three times a day. Once in the morning service (shacharit), once in the afternoon service (mincha), and again during the evening service (maariv). In the prayer 18 Blessings (the Amidah), the 15th blessing reads "The offspring of Your servant David may You speedily cause to flourish, and enhance his pride through Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day long. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who causes the pride of salvation to flourish."(2)
The last phrase, "for we hope..," seems strange: what kind of reasoning is that? If we justly deserve the redemption, we shall merit it even without that hope; if we do not deserve it, of what avail will that hope be? The meaning becomes clearer when viewed this way.(1)
"Speedily cause the offspring of Your servant David to flourish..;" and if it should be said that we lack merit, cause it to flourish anyway - "because we hope for your salvation..;" that is, because we have the kivuy (hope). By virtue of that kivuy we deserve that You redeem us! (1)
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land....And this is His name by which He will be called, The Lord our righteousness (Jer.13:5-6).
Here some some of God's Promises you can count on.
Read more from JewishRoots.Net about Apologetics.
One of the purposes of God's laws was to teach us about our own inability to completely keep the law, thereby pointing us in the direction of looking to Him (God) instead of ourselves for forgiveness, mercy, grace and salvation. Learn more why the End Of The Law Is Righteousness To All Who Believe.
Articles related to Salvation that may be of interest may include:
1). Mashiach; The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition by Jacob Immanuel Schochet p.56-57. Referencing Tzemach David, quoted in Midbar Kedemot, s.v. kivuy (kof: par.16).
2). The Complete Artscroll Siddur p.109.