What the Bible says about
Salvation by Grace through Faith
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Some ministers would like us to believe that justification and salvation by grace through faith just suddenly appeared when the Son of God lived and died in the first century. They imply that God changed His approach to saving men—that He was either losing the battle to Satan, or the way He had given man was just too hard. It also implies that men under the Old Covenant were saved by keeping the law.
Once a person has sinned, he is under the penalty of the law, and his righteousness is not sufficient to justify him before God. Since all have sinned, the whole world is guilty before God. It takes a righteousness apart from lawkeeping to do this.
Then Paul says that this righteousness is revealed in the Old Testament Law and Prophets! The teaching has been there all along, all through the centuries from Moses to Christ and down to our time! God never changed His course. In the first century, He only openly revealed the means, Christ, through whom would come the righteousness that will justify one before God.
Men have always been justified and saved by grace through faith. People who were saved during Old Testament times looked forward in faith to this being accomplished. We look backward at it as a promise and as fulfilled prophecy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is God a False Minister?
Grace reigns supreme over law, sin, and death. Because God is gracious and the supreme sovereign over His creation, and because He is supreme over law as its Giver and can resurrect whom He chooses, grace is His to give freely as He pleases. Grace is supreme over the others because God has willed it so and gives it to whomsoever He chooses.
Because grace is a gift, it can neither be demanded nor earned (it can, however, be requested). Therefore salvation must be by grace. Because of this, even the greatest sinner is not beyond the reach of His mercy. Conversely, because salvation is by grace, all boasting is likewise excluded.
For example, Isaac receives grace, but Ishmael is cast out with his mother. Jacob receives the inheritance and blessing, but Esau is in reality cursed. God chooses to have Christ born in the tiny town of Bethlehem, not at the Temple or even in the capital city, Jerusalem. He could have sent angels to announce His Son's birth in every capital of every nation on earth, or at least to announce it to the religious leaders among the Jews. Instead, He chooses to invite common shepherds and foreign magi for that peculiar honor.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three
Was Paul a novice in the faith when he wrote the book of Romans? God would hardly allow a novice to write Scripture. The apostle Paul was one of the most mature Christians who ever walked the face of the earth. But he saw himself being torn—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Paul was in the middle, having to make the choice. If he had not grown spiritually, he would never have seen the conflict; his mind would have passed right over it. Thus, on the one hand, Paul delighted in his understanding of the purpose and perfection of God's law, yet on the other, that insight produced much dismay in him because he could see how far short he fell, from time to time, of its perfection.
The existence of this inward conflict is not a sign that the person is not sanctified. As long as we are in the flesh, we will never be entirely free of this struggle. Human nature does not go down without a fight. It must be overcome! In a way, this evil entity within us actually becomes part of the means of our perfection.
Overcoming is a long process, and it requires diligent and humbling effort to subdue our human nature. However, we must never allow ourselves to fall into the attitude that all of our effort is somehow justifying us before God—even though it pleases God and gratifies us. The holiest of our actions, the holiest of the actions of the holiest saints, are still full of imperfections and defects. Even some of these are done from the wrong motive. They could even qualify as being nothing more than a splendid sin in God's sight. Nevertheless, we are saved by grace through faith. Even with that, God requires that we make an effort to do what we can on our part.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)
The word of Christ is what brought us out of the world and that to which we were converted. When we drift away from it, we become confused, and we begin dividing, bickering and fighting among ourselves. The solution is given elsewhere in the Bible: Get back to what brought us together in the first place—the combination of the word of Christ and devotion to Him, to the love that we had at the beginning (Revelation 2:4-5).
Genuine ignorance may be a defense before God, but neglect never is. We need to remember Hebrews 2:3, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" God can forgive ignorance because we cannot believe what we did not know, and even though we may be punished in our ignorance, it is far different from being punished when we know better. Yet, "to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). We are not in ignorance. If we are slipping away, it is because of neglect.
One way we can be unworthy at Passover time (I Corinthians 11:27) is by neglecting or forgetting what we are now. We need to evaluate faith in light of the Passover and the state of our minds and our hearts as we approach it. Moffatt translates Romans 10:17 as, "Faith must come from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ." We are saved by grace through faith, and faith comes from knowledge of God and His Word, so the importance of studying His Word, meditating on it, seeking practical applications for our life, cannot be overstated.
Along with obedience, practical application of God's Word is a must if we want to have saving faith. We must check ourselves before Passover to see whether we have passed up or neglected opportunities to make practical use of our faith. This means so much to our attitude, the way we approach life on a daily basis.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look
Justification is clearly an act of God's grace, because what we deserve from what we have earned—from what we have done, the conduct of our lives—is death. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1). Since justification, then, cannot be claimed as a right because we have sinned, it must be received as a gift. That fact that it is given makes it an act of grace.
It is not our hanging on to Christ (that is, the keeping of the law) that saves us, but rather Christ hanging on to us. That is, it is not what we do, but it is what He does continuously as acts of grace that saves us, because we deserve death. If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, Paul is saying in verse 21, "then Christ died in vain." If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, then Christ's sinless life and agonizing death were not necessary, because we can do it ourselves.
Justification is not vindication or exoneration. Both of those words connote that a person was right all along, but the true facts were hidden from those who were doing the judging. In some cases with men, vindication is possible because people are judged unrighteously. Their judges are not using righteous judgment.
But God never judges unrighteously! He knows all the facts. He knows our heart. He knows everything about us in every situation that we have ever been in, so He cannot vindicate us because we are not clear of guilt. He cannot exonerate us because we are not innocent. Justification is more than that. It is setting us right or calling us righteous though righteousness does not exist in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
These verses confront us with a list of spiritual-sounding words: grace, saved, faith, gift, works. Even those who have been in God's church for many years and who may clearly understand each of these words individually are slowed down in comprehension when faced with such terms presented one after the other.
So, let us take a very brief Greek lesson. Here are the key terms contained in this scripture in English and Greek, the Strong's Concordance reference number, and, to make the meanings clearer, other English terms translated in the New Testament from the same Greek words:
- Grace (#5485): charis (khar'-ece). Also translated as favor, thanks, thank, pleasure.
- Saved (#4982): sozo (sode'-zo). Also translated as make whole, heal, be whole.
- Faith (#4102): pistis. Also translated as assurance, believe, belief, those who believe, fidelity.
- Gift (#1435): doron. Also translated as present, offering.
- Works (#2041): ergon. Also translated as deed, doing, labor.
Ergon is the original Greek for the English word "works." It does not appear to be a very difficult, ambiguous, or confusing term. But what do the many people and churches who claim that works are not required perceive "works" to be?
Opinions vary. One group perceives works to mean the whole law in general. A second group perceives works as specific portions of God's law, which they look upon as being "Jewish" or"Old Covenant," or that they are just not willing to keep and teach. A third group, amazingly enough in their rejection of it, perceives this term as meaning works of charity in general!
Individuals or groups who choose to substitute the word "law" for the word "works" in Ephesians 2:8-9, and who thus say that New Testament Christians do not have to keep God's law, do not appear to mean it totally and literally. Instead, most of them reserve the right to choose which parts of the law they wish to keep ("You shall not kill," "You shall not steal," etc.) and those that they do not wish to keep ("Remember the Sabbath," holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc.). God has nowhere given authority to His people to be selective in these matters, thus this stance toward the law is inconsistent and even hypocritical.
The church of God has always agreed one hundred percent with those who say that salvation is a gift, and that a Christian cannot earn salvation by charitable works or by obedience to God's law. However, obedience is a condition we must meet before God will give us His free gift of salvation. New Testament evidence is overwhelming on the matter. Here are just a few verses:
» And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, which God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)
» He who says, "I know him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:4)
» So He said to [the rich young ruler], "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)
» If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9, does not say that works are not required at all. The purpose of his statement is to show that works do not save us, but that grace and faith do! In fact, the very next verse, verse 10, shows that God calls members of His church for the very purpose of performing good works: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
The apostle's language is very clear. God desires us to walk in good works, and He has prepared our spiritual educational process so that we will learn to do them. Doing good works in the name of Jesus Christ is a major part of the purpose for the life of each true Christian. We cannot truly be Christians without them!
Faith Without Works
Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.
Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.
Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.
Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.
II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.
The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.
In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
To each church in the letters in Revelation 2 and 3, Christ says, "I know your works." People with an incomplete knowledge of Christianity will argue almost endlessly and quite vociferously that no works are needed for salvation. These people are simply, if energetically and zealously, confused.
Salvation is indeed a free gift; it cannot be earned by anyone's works. But that does not mean Christianity has no works. Why would Christ say, "I know your works," if He did not expect people to have them as part of their way of life, as part of Christianity, and if He was not, in most cases, disappointed at the way that the people were working? Christianity does have works as a major part of its makeup.
Herbert Armstrong used to explain salvation and grace and works in an understandable and accurate way. He said, "If I freely offered to give to you one million dollars, but you have to meet the condition of walking across the room to get it, you haven't earned the money by simply walking across the room. You worked during the walk, you met a condition, but the money was still a gift. If the gift had not been offered in the first place, no amount of walking across the room would have earned it. You could have walked from here to Tokyo if you wanted to, and it still would not have earned you that gift. The gift had to be freely offered first."
Think of this in terms of eternal life. No amount of work, no degree of quality of work, can earn that gift for us. We do not have immortality inherent in us, for immortality is something that must be given as a gift. This is what God offers us. He offers us the opportunity to be born again into the Kingdom of God, thus receiving the gift of eternal life. It must be given and received as a gift. However, it is given on the conditions of faith, repentance, and remaining loyal to Him and to His way.
It is in the area of loyalty that works play a major role. We show our loyalty by the way we talk, what we talk about, who we fellowship with, and what we do with our time, our knowledge, and energy. In short, we show our loyalty by our works—that is, by our conduct—and what we produce with what we have been given.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Works
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