I think that's an apt analogy.
The only works that relate positively in terms of Salvation is the finished work of Christ. Our works are an expression of the change that has taken place within our hearts and lives. As Christians I think we need to be careful as to how we approach that, and what that means. There are scriptural passages that make clear (particularly in James) that a faith that doesn't lead to change in heart and then a change in actions is dead and of no worth. We don't know and can't know a person's heart and so we tend to focus on those outward evidences and if we're not careful we can confuse cause for effect.
Honestly, there can be outward works without an inward change. Professionally, I spend a great deal of time and effort learning how to identify corelations between things and cause and effect relationships between things that result in changed behaviors and make for healthier organizations. We focus on behavior because it's what we can see and since it's all we see it's natural for us to be tempted to make it more than it is. It's just a lot easier to look at a person and their life and on that basis then decide whether that person is really a christian, or perhaps a back-slidden christian or whatever multitude of terms we want to use.
If you want evidence from scripture that outward actions are not necessarily indicative of inward change, just look at how Jesus interacted with many of the pharisees. Can you think of any other group that had more outward evidence yet Christ called them whitewashed tombs who looked good on the outside but inside were full of corruption.
Then too we have many differing views as to what those outward signs should be for those who have had that inward change. Some (including some here, and I'm not seeking to reopen that argument) look to things like the 10 commandments and decide that those should be the foundation or at least a strong indicator of how serious a believer is about showing their love for God and evidencing that change. Some go further and include dietary laws. Some focus upon the freedom we have in Christ and seek to remove the dynamic of rule keeping as in and of itself unecessary. It's a spectrum in which most believers fall somewhere in the middle. At one extreme is legalism. At the other extreme is antinomianism. Usually the arguments build from there between the two ends of the spectrum with nuances from either direction as to why this particular behavior or some other's absence is what should be being done.
What's so subtle, in my opinion and misleading is that it's not a question as to what end of the spectrum you fall on in this argument. I think the point is, the assumptions under that entire point of view are in and of themselves asking the wrong question and focusing on the wrong things. Go back and read the parables of Jesus himself. Look at how many of them were aimed at the Pharisees and that manner of living and thinking. Jesus came to free people from religious living following codes of conduct and radically changed the dynamic at work. Instead of coming to a temple where God physically resided (the holy of holies) and looking at the code of conduct (the Law) and examining oneself against that code (confession and self-examination) and then paying for that sin (sacrifice) by means of a priest (intercession) from which came posititional restoration (salvation) Jesus ripped the veil of that temple from top to bottom when he fulfilled that law and everything began to operate differently.
God now dwells within us. We are the temple(s) of God. We are all preists able to enter into God's presence because we're under the righteousness of Christ. The law no longer operates as a taskmaster rapping our knuckles when we mess up. The Law exists to show us our need for Christ; our sin which we cannot eradicate or remove from our hearts and lives on our own effort. That need in Christ is now gone, done and fulfilled. The purpose of the law has been fulfilled. It doesn't mean that the law is gone but it's a monument to that past system that has now been superceded by relationship with the God who gave it in this first place.
Some are more sensitive to these concerns than others. Paul had two things at least to say in the epistles and Acts regarding these types of situations. Those who don't recognize the work of Christ and who try to push down onto others legalistic living, such as the judiazers who tried to force circumcision and dietary laws onto new gentile converts, Paul had no patience with. He declared of them that he'd rather they mutilate themselves than continue to live under that old system when Jesus had ushed in a new age. Paul however recognized that there were true believers who wrestled with this whole element of freedom and who had sensitive hearts about things like eating meat offered to idols. He is not as condemning of them. He calls them weaker brothers and encourages others who realize that idols are not real and therefore there's no real harm in eating such meat to not use their freedom in front of those who wrestle with these issues. That's the "law" of love. We don't flaunt our freedom in front of those who wrestle. So apparently Paul sees a line. I think the line is when we move from looking at law keeping as the basis of our salvation rather than the fruit.
It's a matter of the heart. You can have 2 children in one family who both are well behaved and who obey their parents. Outwardly they are the same. They are both obedient. However each can function very differently in terms of how they generate that obedience. One can be terrified of the punishment that they will experience if they disobey. They can see their parents as severe, strict and punishing people and so they act in a manner so as to avoid that punishment. It's all about outward action and performance. That child acts respectful outwardly, but it's all about the performance. When not directly ordered to spend time in the presence of that child's parents they stay away and avoid just spending time getting to know those parents better. There's no real fellowship or love expressed beyond what is necessary to avoid punishment.
The other child in this same family loves their parents. They are convinced that their parents love them and care for them and so when that child "obeys" it's really not about the outward action so much as a genuine desire to be in a sustained relationship of love. That child doesn't worry about "punishment" because that child has complete trust that their parents will not do anything to them that is not rooted in love and genuine care.
That child doesn't need to keep a list of what they can do and what they can't do. For that child, the issue isn't what is allowable and what isn't allowable; the issue is what will bring joy to my parents and strengthen and maintain that relationship?
I think much of the confusion and source of fights and disagreement in the area of understanding what is necessary for salvation comes from confusing salvation with growing and maturing in that walk. We get concerned about outward performance. Or, we look at God and we assume some elements of God as out of balance with the love that I believe the Bible and Jesus shows is the primary characteristic of God that we need to be convinced of.
How do you see God?
Is God the loving Father that Jesus illustrated in his parable of the Prodigal Son who stands ready to run to you, arms extended to receive you when you want to return? Or is God like to ancient God Zeus (and I choose that image very deliberately) who sits upon the mountain waiting for you to trip up so you can serve as the target for his lightening bolt practice? The reality is that we all view God somewhere in between those two extremes, but Jesus appears to be telling us, and showing us by His sacrificial love, that God really IS that loving father who wants the type of relationship with us that is illustrated by that second child in the family I described.
All of these elements and illustrations are not unique with me or new. They are very Biblical. Knowing about them (head knowledge) and living them (heart knowledge) are very different things. The Pharisees had one and lacked the other. Jesus took them to task for it because they not only lived in that manner for themselves but they took others with them who trusted their leading.
I spent 20 years in formal ministry thinking I really understood this. The last 5 years outside of that are showing me I have very little real idea of what I talked about back then and I've been that first child who really just lives like a servant in the home, performing and outside the relationship of those parents who desire it so much, but my own misperceptions blind me to living in what is right there for me.
Anyway, sorry for the sermon but that's been rising up in me and I felt the need to get it out.
Dogmatism is the comfortable intellectual framework of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is more decadent than the worst sexual sin. ~ Dan Allender