And what a difference it is!
Have you ever placed John 5:26 next to John 5;28, 29 in juxtaposition to one another? No? Then let’s do so—right here and now.
The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear will live.
. . . the hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice, and will come forth—those who have done good to a resurrection of life and those who have practiced evil to a resurrection of judgment.”
There are similarities: in both, Jesus speaks of a coming hour. In both people hear Jesus’ voice. In both, those who hear are dead. In both they come to life.
There are differences: In one, those who hear live; in the other they are resurrected to life. In both, people are dead, but in only one are they said to be in their graves. In one, the hour for life is present (“now is”); in the other no such time frame is given.
The first is speaking of spiritual life—the resurrection of the soul in conversion. The second is speaking of physical life when the body that was buried comes alive again. The first speaks of what is necessary for those who are raised to life (as over against “judgment”)—namely, a new birth (new spiritual life). The second speaks of what happens to those who do not have spiritual life.
“But does the second verse teach that people are saved by their good works? I thought they were saved by faith apart from works.”
No. People are saved by faith apart from works (through works inevitably follow salvation). But they are judged by their works. In the judgment, one will be sent to hell (the “second death”), the other will enter into eternal life (Heaven). The way in which the two are distinguished from one another is by their works (his works are evidence of whether or not one has been saved). Judgment means “separation.” The sheep are separated from the goats by their fruits (works).
The way to eternal life has been opened (it “now is”); the way to eternal bliss in a new body that is like Jesus’ resurrected body is yet future.
Do your works demonstrate that you have been resurrected to newness of spiritual life? In other words, do they demonstrate you have been saved? Or do they evidence the fact that you have never been born again? That is what these verses are all about.