What the Bible says about
Salvation and Works
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Is there any doubt in our minds that we are within striking range of the return of Jesus Christ? The gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached for almost two thousand years, and prophecies made by Him and others regarding His return are being fulfilled. The crisis at the close is almost upon us. Mankind's only hope is revealed in the gospel, yet we find great ignorance regarding what His good news is.
The complete secularization of the Western, "Christian" world is almost accomplished, and doctrinal confusion abounds. It seems as though the vast number of professing Christians believe that all one must do is believe in the name of Jesus Christ to be saved. This is most certainly required, but Jesus Himself says in Mark 1:15 that one must believe in the gospel in order to be saved.
That is quite a bit different than merely believing in Jesus. While it is definitely true that Jesus died for our sins, the true gospel provides a great deal more instruction regarding Christianity and its purpose than solely Jesus' part in our salvation. It reveals that a Christian must play an active part in the spiritual creation that God is working in and through men.
One of the more effective deceptions Satan has palmed off on mankind is that all God is attempting to do is to "save" people. Most Christians somehow fail to think of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as actively involved in doing something more with those who are converted.
Consider this process, which most people believe: At some time in his life, the "saved" one had perceived the need to be forgiven of his sins. He then asked God to forgive him, and from that point on, because of Christ's blood, he was "saved." Is this true? Though this illustration has been simplified a great deal, it is nevertheless close to the prevalent belief.
We will add a biblical fact to that scenario. Almost all Bible commentators hold that the Israelite's experience of walking through the wilderness following Israel's release from bondage to Egypt is a type of a Christian's walk following his conversion. Walking is typical of laboring or working to reach an objective.
Did the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land - a type of the Kingdom of God - immediately upon release from their bondage? No! They had ahead of them a forty-year journey filled with trials. As they journeyed, God worked with them and supplied their needs, preparing them for their inheritance. Release from Egypt only began another aspect of God's work with them. To reach their objective, a great deal of labor lay ahead of them.
We all need to come to grips with the reality that our Creator is a God who works. He is not merely observing mankind, or worse still, having gone way off somewhere in the vastness of the universe, letting things run more or less on their own. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." More plainly, the Father began working in the indefinite past and has continued working right up till now. God is not sitting around passively saving people.
In Psalm 74:12, notice the psalmist Asaph's revelation of what God is doing: "For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." The salvation of human beings requires God to work, yet some seem to think that all He does is as simple as turning a "forgiveness switch," and the person is saved. However, in various places both the Father and the Son are called "Saviors." It ought to be apparent that saving a person from circumstances he needs deliverance from requires a savior to work. If a deliverer or savior does not make a strenuous effort, the one in need of rescue will not be saved.
Jesus testified that the Father was working at that very moment. The Bible provides abundant records of Jesus, our Savior, working on behalf of mankind: teaching, counseling, praying, healing, setting the example for His disciples, and obeying His Father flawlessly in order to be the sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Further, He says in John 14:10, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works." Jesus thus shows the Father to be His partner in His ministry.
In addition, when Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, He was made Head of the Church, as well as its High Priest. As such, He is responsible to the Father for working with the members of His Body, interceding on our behalf. He thus bears great responsibility for the salvation of its individual members and the success of the church as a whole. These vital tasks require His careful attention, especially as events near the crisis at the close of the age.
The conclusion is obvious: The work of God abounds with works for all concerned in seeking the objective He has set before us in His purpose. That objective is the Kingdom of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
The right works do not earn us salvation, yet we are created for good works. God ordained this from the very beginning. It is the right works that make life worth living, that prove to God our understanding of His purpose, and show His love in us. That love is then shown to the world and ensures that the proper witness is made for Him.
It is incredible but true that people worry and argue whether keeping the commandments of God are required as works. Of course they are! Remember, "By grace are you saved," as well as that we have been created for good works.
The book of Ephesians is about unity, about diverse people—the Gentiles on the one hand and the Jews, primarily the Israelites, on the other—living together as part of a common body. What we have in common is Jesus Christ; He is the Savior of both. What do we have to do so that we can live together? What will make life worthwhile? The right kind of works, righteous deeds and acts.
It is the same principle as in marriage. What enables two different people to live together in marriage? The right kind of works, that is, how they conduct themselves.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and 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)
These verses give great difficulty to those who believe in an unconditional salvation. It is very clear that anyone who fits this description will not be in God's Kingdom.
If it were not possible for us to fall away, why would Paul even write as he did in I Corinthians 9:27? "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [castaway, KJV]." He also warns in Colossians 1:22-23:
In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight - if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
John W. Ritenbaugh
After Pentecost, Then What?
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)
Holiness starts in one's relationship with the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Justification through God's merciful act of grace opens the door of access to Him, as well as the door to the Kingdom of God. Justification is entirely an act of God, a legal action on our behalf that we accept by faith because He does not lie. Others do not easily discern our justification, since in most cases it has no outward manifestation.
While sanctification unto holiness begins at the same moment as justification, it is a progressive, creative, time-consuming work of God within us. Unlike justification, sanctification cannot be hidden because it appears in our godly conduct. By it, a witness is made that God dwells in us. Where there is no holiness, there is no witness to glorify God.
So we see that justification and sanctification are two separate matters. They are related - indeed, they cannot be separated - but we should never confuse them. If one partakes in either, he is a partaker of both, but we should not overlook the distinctions between them.
Christians cannot take sanctification for granted. We must pursue it until we are assured that we are sanctified. Our course is clear: We must go to Christ as forgiven sinners, offering our lives to Him by faith, crying out to Him for the grace we need to enable us to overcome all the flaws in our characters.
The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:19, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." The same apostle adds in Ephesians 4:15-16:
. . . but, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Close communication with Christ is the source of the perception, motivation, and energy to discern flaws and overcome them. It is a biblical principle that whatever God requires, He provides what we need to accomplish it. Thus, we are to draw from this inexhaustible well and be renewed every day in the spirit of our minds (verses 23-24). In John 17:17, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus asked the Father to sanctify us by His truth. Will God not answer that prayer, especially when we desire to be sanctified to be like His Son? He most certainly will answer it so that our sanctification will continue.
Perhaps a word of caution is in order, and with it an admonishment that we also ask for patience. Growth does not always come quickly. In addition, as we grow in knowledge, at the same time we become more perceptive of our flaws. The more we know, the more flaws we see, and this can become humiliating and discouraging. The humility it produces is good, but the discouragement is not so good if it halts our growth.
Paul faced this, writing of it in Romans 7, but he most certainly did not let it stop him. By the time he finishes his discourse, he declares resoundingly that he knows he will be delivered by Jesus Christ. Sinners we are when we begin, and sinners we find ourselves to be as we continue - we will be sinners to the very end. Salvation is by grace, is it not? Our absolute perfection will not occur until we are changed "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (I Corinthians 15:52).
While reaching for God's holiness, we should not let our goals ever be anything but the highest. We should never let Satan convince us that we can be satisfied with what we are right now.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Six)
Since all are to be judged according to their works, what if one claiming to be Christian has no works to show when God clearly expects them? James 2:19-20 clinches the argument: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?"
This entire issue is actually quite simple. No amount of works can justify us before God. Justification by faith in Christ's atoning blood makes one legally free to access God and to begin a relationship with Him. However, from that point on, works are absolutely required for sanctification unto holiness - to the extent that, not only is one's reward contingent upon them, but also salvation itself. Will God reward one who can show no works at all, or provide salvation to one whose faith is so weak it produces bad works? Such a person would be totally out of place, unfit for living eternally in the Kingdom of God.
Ephesians 2:8-10 makes this reality even stronger. Even though we are saved by grace through faith, the very reason we are created is for good works that God Himself prepared beforehand for us to walk in. The gospel of the Kingdom of God provides the reasons for which works are required - the major one being to prepare us for living in God's Kingdom.
God intended Israel's forty-year journey through the wilderness to prepare them for living in the Promised Land. However, even though Israel had the gospel preached to them and had godly leadership provided by the likes of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, in their stiff-necked unbelief they refused to submit in obedience to God's commands. They thus failed to receive the necessary preparation for using the Promised Land rightly, becoming an eternal example of why works of preparation are needed (Hebrews 4:1-2).
Can we learn a lesson from their examples? When God brings us out of spiritual Egypt, He is not done with us yet. In fact, a great deal of spiritual creating within us remains to be accomplished before we will be fit to live and occupy a working position in God's Kingdom. We are being created in Christ Jesus, created in His image. Can we honestly say we are already in His image when we are merely legally cleared of sin? Absolutely not! As great as this is, it is not the end of God's creative process. God is not merely "saving" us. His purpose is far greater than that.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Six)
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