What the Bible says about
Salvation, Working Out
(From Forerunner Commentary)
There is no question that God can save us. Of course He can make us inheritors of "the land" and give us eternal life. All these are beyond question! He has the power to do this, and He has the will to do it. He certainly wants to do it—it is part of His purpose.
Even so, we can stop the process. We can choose not to be sanctified. This is why Paul says, "Work out your own salvation." We learn from the analogy of Israel in the wilderness how the first generation of those who came out chose—they made the choice—to die in the wilderness. It was not God's purpose that they die there. He had the power to get Israel into the land. Indeed, He did it. Yet, their lack of faith, their disbelief, their stiff necks, the fact that they never got rid of the patterns of thinking they had in Egypt, they would not yield, they refused to make the right choices (as Joshua and Caleb did) were the deciding factors in their bodies being scattered all through the wilderness. God had it written down as a lesson for us (see I Corinthians 10:1-11). He is saying, in effect, "Choose life. Don't choose to do what these people did—in lusting, tempting Me, and so forth."
So, who can we possibly blame if we do not make it? Has not God called us? Has He not given us His grace? Has He not given us His Spirit, a new heart, the divine nature, access to Him, the promise that He will never give us any trial that is too great for us? And let us not forget he additional promise in Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." He has given us all the tools, so now the onus is on us.
God is not demanding that we do everything perfectly from day one, but He does want to see evidence that we want to be there! He wants to see that we are making efforts to walk the talk. He wants to see that we are not going backwards. He wants to see us move off dead center and that we begin to grow on a steady, consistent basis—regardless of how fast it is. He wants to see that we are using and applying what He has given to us, and He is willing to add whatever we lack! He will give us the gifts that we need in order to serve Him. If we do what He wants us to do, the changes will take place.
The mainstream Christian approach leaves one with the impression that salvation is complete at the point of justification. But that is completely out of step with Colossians 1:22, where Paul writes, "if you continue in the faith. . . ." Israel had to walk to the Promised Land, and as they walked, God prepared them to inherit the land. In this way, they became sanctified. Sanctification is what gives evidence ofgrowth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)
The objection people have regarding Hebrews 11:5-7 is that the mention of works and reward in the same breath suggests legalism and working for salvation. Is that so, or is it a misconception on their part? The latter. They misunderstand the salvation process because they do not allow the Bible to interpret itself.
God says in Genesis 15:1, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." His encouragement applies to us as well as to him. God Himself is the reward of those who seek Him. "Those who seek Him" is limited to those God invites to approach Him and who believe enough to take advantage of the opportunity and thus stir themselves up to draw near. The invitation itself is an aspect of God's grace.
Romans 4:4 makes it clear that earning access to God is impossible because it would put God in man's debt. No, access to Him is the result of freely given grace. The pairing of grace and reward is no more inconsistent than God's almighty sovereignty and man's responsibility being linked, or Jesus being both our Lord and our Servant. There would be no reward if God did not first give grace.
Another pairing we need to consider is found in Colossians 3:23-24: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Is not salvation a free gift? Yes, but as servants of Christ, we work, and our reward is eternal entrance into God's Kingdom. Add to this the idea found in Isaiah 55:1, that we are to "buy . . . without money." Salvation, then, is both a gift and a reward.
It should be clear that, in terms of salvation, gifts and works are nothing more than opposite sides of the same coin. Both are involved in the same process—salvation—but they are seen from different perspectives.
One thing is certain: There will be no lazy, neglectful people in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:26-30). Why? Because God is preparing us for living with Him eternally, so we must be created in the character image of Him and His Son, or we absolutely will not fit in. We would live in absolute, eternal misery. Jesus stresses that diligent work is part of His character when He says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Creators work!
Luke 13:24 adds strength to this point: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able." The Greek word translated "strive" is actually the source of the English word "agonize." In addition, Jesus urges us in John 6:27 to labor "for the food which endures to everlasting life." God chooses to reward such strenuous efforts, not because they earn us a place in His presence, but because He deems it fitting to recognize and bless them. The Bible shows salvation as a reward, not because people earn it, but because God wants to emphasize the character of those who will be in His Kingdom and encourage others to be like them. The citizens of that Kingdom are workers like the Father and Son.
A second reason why reward and salvation are linked is because salvation, like payment for a person's labor, comes after the job is finished. Among the apostles, nobody worked harder for God than Paul did. At the end of his life, he writes:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:7-8)
Just as wages for work performed are paid after a job is done, God's major blessings are not given completely until our course is finished.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
2 Peter 3:9
The subject of God's sovereignty has sparked endless thoughts, conversations, debates, and commentary. Most professing Christians will at least agree that God is sovereign, but there is a wide range of beliefs with regard to just how involved God is in their lives. Some believe—and act—as if God wound up His Creation, set limits on it through a set of immutable physical and moral laws, and now merely watches things progress. On the other end of the spectrum, some believe in predestination and sovereignty that relegates humanity to a collection of pawns with every move on the chessboard already planned out for them in advance. In this view, the statement that God is "not willing that any should perish" is seen as proof positive that all of mankind will eventually be saved.
The root word will in II Peter 3:9 primarily means "to have a purpose," "to be minded," or "to will deliberately." The secondary meaning is "to desire." Is it God's eternal purpose that none should perish? Has He already ordained that none will be lost? Or is it only God's desire that none should perish, with the recognition that some will?
It should be plain that it is at least God's desire that none should perish. Psalm 74:12 says that God is "working salvation in the midst of the earth." II Timothy 2:4 likewise says that our Savior "desires [will[s] (KJV); wishes (Amplified)] all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Undoubtedly, mankind's salvation is one of the things that God is working toward—though certainly not the only thing. But has God already set it in stone that all of mankind be saved?
If II Peter 3:9 were the only scripture on the subject, the scales would be tipped in favor of this proposition. But a number of other scriptures must be factored into this equation. Innumerable verses exhort us to be zealous and faithful in our responsibilities and obedience. Earlier in Peter's second epistle, he tells us to make our calling and election sure, implying that they are not sure right now (II Peter 1:10). Paul exhorts us to work out our own salvation—with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). The book of Hebrews is written to stir up Christians who were slipping away and neglecting their salvation (Hebrews 2:3). Why would such an exhortation even be needed if salvation were universally assured?
Furthermore, we know that God's threat of punishment in the Lake of Fire is not an idle one—He would not warn us about it if He were not prepared to follow through (Hebrews 10:26-31). Six times in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ warns of a rejection by God that involves "weeping [or wailing] and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). He gives all these warnings, even though He is still "not willing" that any should perish. But it is already recorded definitively that at least two men will not be saved: the Beast and the False Prophet (Revelation 20:10). It certainly is God's will—His desire—that all come to repentance, but He is not going to force it on anyone.
Human nature does not willingly accept God's sovereignty. Most people will fight tooth and nail rather than accept that they do not have complete control over their own lives. Others will accept God's sovereignty but then abuse its ramifications by diminishing their own responsibility in the sanctification process. They may believe the events of each day are already ordained ahead of time, even though the Psalmist beseeches God to "teach us to number our days [set them in order], that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). We are told to set the priorities of our days, rather than assuming that God will do it all for us, or assuming that, if something happens, God must have willed it. Such an approach by men unwittingly involves God in their own sins—if He has predetermined all the events in a day, He must have also "willed" each sin.
Another abuse of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God comes when its application blots out the instructions that God has already recorded. Some willingly acknowledge God's sovereignty without also paying heed to the fact that God works in set patterns. His standards are identifiable, and consequently, those individuals who are being called to salvation at this time are also readily identifiable by the conduct of their lives. It is a serious presumption to believe that because God is sovereign and can work through any situation that He will work through any situation.
Throughout the Bible, there is a tension between God's sovereignty and mankind's choice. Both factors are intricately involved in the salvation process. While God's sovereignty is categorically the stronger of the two, there is a danger when one focuses on it to the exclusion of the part we have to play. God unquestionably desires everyone to be saved.
What is more, He desires that everyone also come to be "a perfect man," according to "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13), which requires tremendous spiritual growth. He desires sons and daughters in His image, and He is working to this end. This requires tremendous effort on the part of the individual, in conjunction with everything God willingly supplies. But the choice to have a place in His Kingdom is one that He has set before us—not forced upon us.
David C. Grabbe
An Abuse of Sovereignty
1 John 3:1-3
The goal is salvation, a concept that needs to be rescued from the small ideas man has assigned to it. Protestant religion has degraded it by talking about it incessantly. But salvation is such a majestic idea! It denotes the comprehensive process of God's purpose by which He is justifying, sanctifying, and transforming His children. John shows us the transformation. God does this by calling us, granting us repentance, forgiving our sins, accepting us as righteous in His sight through Christ, and then progressively changing us through His awesome creative power, by His Spirit, into the image of His Son, until we become like Christ, made like God God, with new bodies in a new world, the new heaven and the new earth. It is deliverance from the degrading, mean lives in which we have been held captive in this world! It is living in the Kingdom of God, its goal!
We must never be guilty of minimizing the awesomeness of such a great salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
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
Works are very important to the book of Revelation—seven times in chapters 2 and 3, and four or five other times in the rest of the book. Christ's concern is that His people are working.
The main purpose of the book of Revelation is not merely to give us insight into what is coming. It is also to convince the Christian that his loyalty, his devotion, his steadfastness, his suffering, and perhaps even martyrdom, is not in vain—that he is assured of a wonderful future. The reason for the stress on works is that character is not formed merely by knowing something but by knowledge combined with putting it to work until it becomes a habit. Over time, habit becomes character, and character follows the person right through the grave!
If we are not working, emphasizing loyalty to the Person of God and to His way, making every effort to overcome Satan, the world, and the self-centeredness within us, resisting with all of our being the temptations to do what is natural, carnal—if we are not expending our energy, and spending our time working out our own salvation with fear and trembling—it is very likely, then, that we are not going to have the character necessary to go through the grave. The wrong works will follow us, and we will not be prepared for the Kingdom of God.
Thus, what a person has done, that is, what he has worked on in this lifetime, follows him through the grave—either into the Lake of Fire or the Kingdom of God.
The book is designed to focus attention on what is of greatest concern to Christ for His people. He wants to ensure that they do not give up or become weary due to the great pressure of the times, and that they instead endure, persevere, and be loyal and steadfast to the very end.
His concern at this time is not preaching the gospel as a witness, but the salvation and continued growth of those He already has. The quality of the witness is directly tied to the quality of those making the witness. What good is it to have this wonderful, awesome message—the gospel of the Kingdom of God—carried by those who are poor examples of what it says? Christ's first priority is to ensure the spiritual quality of those who make the witness, and then the quality of the witness is ensured. We cannot let the cart get ahead of the horse. The one naturally follows the other. First things first.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
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