The Greek term translated "works" is "ergos". It can best be understood and defined by looking at it from the negative or "bad" works. What is "bad" or "sinful" works? Jesus defines this in Matthew 15:19 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: Evil works have their source with the heart and first consist of evil thoughts. This is why Jesus can claim that adultery and murder are violated by evil thoughts regardless if the external actions take place or not: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger......28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. That is why God looks upon the heart and why it is the tree (heart) that determines the nature of the fruits: Mt 7:16 You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Mt 7:17 Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. Mt 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. Jas 3:12 Can the fig tree, my brothers, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Thus "works" are the fruit of the heart, which include the intent/motive of the heart as well as "evil thoughts" manifest in evil words and evil actions. Now, what is the standard to define works as "evil" or "good"? Those who do not have special divine revelation that standard is their conscience as the conscience does "the work of the Law" in that it provides a standard of approval or disapproval of your intents, thoughts, words and actions. For those who have special revelation (The Scriptures) then these scriptures provide training for their conscience, and in addition to the conscience provide a standard of right and wrong. Hence, "the works of the law" simply means the works approved or disapproved by the Law's standard of righteousness. Hence, "works" refers to the heart intent, thoughts, words and actions approved or disapproved by some kind of standard (conscience, special revelation, cultural standards, etc.) Now, consider Abraham, who did not have the Scriptures, did not have the Law of Moses, but Romans 4:1-5 speaks of his faith in contrast to his "works" as THE EXAMPLE, because in regard to his faith he is the example of "all who believe" regardless if they lived prior to Abraham (like Adam, Eve, Able, Seth, Noah, etc.) or after Abraham (like Moses, John the Baptist or us). Romans 4 is definitive concerning HOW Abaham was and was not justified before God. 1. He was not justified by his works - intents, thoughts, words and actions derived from his heart (good or bad)- but "without works" good or evil- Rom. 4:1-5 2. He was not justiifed by divine ordinances (sacraments) but before and thus without divine ordinances- Romans 4:9-13 3. He was not justified by Law keeping - Romans 4:14-15 4. He was justified by faith which is of grace - Rom. 4:16-21 a. Grace that makes the promise sure to all the seed b. Grace that brings life out of death - supernatural power - v. 17 c. Grace that depends upon God's promise not our abilities - vv. 18-20 d. Faith that is fully persuaded in God's power to provide God's promise 5. This is how we are justified by faith in the gospel promise without works- as was Abraham - Rom. 4:22-25 Abraham was not justified by his works - intents, thoughts, words and actions derived from his heart. The fallen man's heart is desperately wicked and thus all his intents, thoughts, words, and actions are sinful in God's sight as an "evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit" and thus one must first be "created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works." There is NONE GOOD, NO, NOT ONE and there is NONE that DOETH GOOD, no, not one, and there is NONE GOOD but one and that is God, because the only right HEART INTENT for thoughts, words and actions is FOR THE GLORY OF GOD and no human is born with the right heart intent becuase the fallen human heart by nature comes into this world with a complete and total SELF-ISH and SELF-CENTERED heart intent. Justifying faith is the manifestation of a "good tree" or a NEW HEART and only if the tree is first good can it produce good fruit. Thus, as with repentance, so faith is a gift of God that does not originate with the fallen human nature (Acts 11:17; Eph. 2:8) but with the regenerate nature. Justification originates with the believing heart God gives and confession of faith is the manifestation of that new heart - no chronological distinction, only a logical distinction. God turns us and we are being turned. The doctrine of works is the doctrine of "personal acheivement" which is the basis for all boasting.