Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.  For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.

 
 
 

Going to Jesus

Spiritual Light

Chapter Four:

Salvation and Works

John David Clark, Sr.
© 2008

Instructions in the Faith for Spirit-filled Believers

"I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."

 

Picture of John Clark Sr.Jesus earnestly prayed that the Father would make us all one, and yet God's people are divided by conflicting doctrines and traditions into a thousand different sects.

This book is the result of four visitations from the Lord Jesus to me over approximately four years, beginning in the summer of 1975. The first time that the word of God came to me, it was as if I had been sitting in darkness my whole life, without knowing it, and suddenly someone turned the light on. I think you will feel enlightened as well, as you read this book. Prepare for an adventure in faith.

Book Contents
Introduction
Introduction
Chapter 1
The Third Commandment
Chapter 2
The Sacrifice of Christ
Chapter 3
Conversion and Baptism
Chapter 4
Salvation and Works

Download pdf version:

My Credentials for Writing Chapter Four:

Salvation and Works

One evening at home, while I was still a seminary student, my wife and I decided to read the Bible. We chose to read Paul's letter to the Galatians, and when I read aloud the first words of greeting from Paul, I felt, as if a weight, the soberness of the holy Spirit settle upon me. I cannot say that I read the book of Galatians to Barbara; I preached it — all six chapters! But I did not preach it to her alone; I preached it to myself!

When I had completed my sermon, I could remember certain phrases I had used — I could even have written out some of the very words that came out of my mouth — but I could not have given an explanation of what those words meant if it had been demanded of me at gunpoint. I wondered at some of the things I had said, and I knew that God had visited me, but what did it all mean?

Some weeks after that precious experience, I recorded a sermon for our weekly radio program, and based my message on some of the things I remembered God had spoken through me that night at home with my wife. On the night that the program aired, I was visiting in the home of Brother Earl Pittman, who was listening intently to the message, leaning forward in his chair. At one point during the sermon, with great feeling, Brother Earl said, "Man, that is good!"

But I was sitting there, still wondering what I was talking about! I still did not understand my own message. So, I replied to Brother Earl, also with great feeling, "Well, explain it to me!"

But all Earl could do was look at me. He had been rejoicing in the message, but until that moment, when I implored him to explain it to me, I think he did not realize that he didn't understand it either! We both could feel the liberating joy of the message; there was no doubt that God was saying something very important to us, but what was the truth God was trying to show us that gave our hearts such inexplicable joy and peace?

In about six months or so, the Lord graciously allowed me to understand the message I had preached, and it is, indeed, a message that will bring great liberty and joy to God's people everywhere. In this chapter, I have explained in full this precious, hidden truth that is so great that it made Brother Earl, as well as my wife and I, rejoice in it before we comprehended it.

Chapter Four
Salvation and Works

Ignorant and Unstable

"For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them."

(Eph. 2:8-10)

"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which some things difficult to understand, which they who are ignorant and unstable twist, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."

(2Pet. 3:15-16)

There are, indeed, some things difficult to understand in Paul's letters, and Ephesians 2:8-10 is one of them. Those verses, as much as anything Paul ever wrote, have been twisted by "ignorant and unstable" men to the destruction of many a soul. Let's take a careful and prayerful look at these and similar Scriptures which will, I'm sure, open to you a new world of understanding of the Savior and of God's will for His people everywhere.

Stating The Question

In saying that our salvation is "not of works," was Paul saying that the behavior of believers is not taken into account, concerning their hope of salvation? Is he really saying, as some teach, that regardless of whether God's children do good or evil in this life, they will still receive eternal life with God? Of course not. Paul wrote:

But after your hardness and impenitent heart, you are treasuring up for yourself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God will give] eternal life, but unto those who are continuous and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [God will pour out] indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile, but glory, honor, and peace, to every man that does good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile."

(Rom. 2:5-10)

Clearly, eternal life will be given only to those who do good, and eternal damnation will be given to "every soul of man who does evil." How, then, could Paul say that our salvation does not depend on works? Furthermore, if our deeds do not determine whether we will be saved or damned, how could Jesus speak of the dead being raised, "those who have done good unto a resurrection of life, but those who have practiced evil unto a resurrection of damnation." (Jn. 5:29)?

Was Peter giving empty warning to believers when he wrote:

"But as he who has called you is holy, so you be holy in all your conduct, for it is written, Be holy, for I am holy. And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear."

(1Pet. 1:15-17)

In John's great vision called Revelation, Jesus told him that only those who obeyed his commandments would be permitted to eat of the tree of life and enter into the city of God (Rev. 22:12-14). Besides this, how many of the prophets and apostles warned God's people that a Final Judgment was coming upon all men and that this Final Judgment will be based on their works! David (Ps. 62:12), Solomon (Prov. 24:11-12; Eccl. 12:14), Jesus (Mt. 16:27), John (Rev. 20:12-13), along with every writer of the books of the Bible, taught us that our works will determine our eternal destiny.

How then could Paul say that salvation was "not of works"?

The answer is easily seen once the word "salvation" is properly defined.

Basically, what is taught by many of the religious in this culture is that when a sinner repents and is converted, he "gets saved" at that moment. Therefore, as the current persuasion holds, everyone who believes has already received salvation, so that the body of Christ is comprised of "saved" people. But in the Scriptures we see a significantly different understanding of salvation. For example, Paul wrote, "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed " (Rom. 13:11). If "salvation" means "conversion" as Christians teach, then what was Paul saying? Our conversion is closer than when we believed? Or, when Jesus said, "He who endures to the end shall be saved", was he teaching that whoever endures to the end will be converted"? Of course not.

These Scriptures obviously conflict with the popular misuse of the word "salvation", for it never uses that word as a synonym for "conversion". Paul understood conversion to be the first step toward the salvation of God, which salvation would be given only to those who were converted and afterward were faithful to God.

Old Testament Israel again provides the prime example of this truth. Leaving Egyptian bondage, the people were led by Moses through the Red Sea into the Sinai Wilderness. There, they grieved God with sin until He refused to allow them to enter the promised land of Canaan. Every Israelite male twenty years old and older was condemned to die in the wilderness.12 Forty years later, when they all had died, Joshua led the remaining Israelites across the River Jordan into Canaan.

This journey had six major steps:

  1. Egypt
  2. Red Sea
  3. Mt. Sinai
  4. Wilderness
  5. Jordan River
  6. Promised Land

In a spiritual sense, these six steps exist in the New Testament, with different titles:

  1. Sin
  2. Repentance
  3. Conversion
  4. Life as a believer
  5. Death
  6. Salvation

Salvation is our hope; it is something we turn from sin to obtain. We cannot say that we have received salvation simply because we have turned from sin, any more than the Israelites could claim to have entered the promised land simply because they had crossed the Red Sea! Our Promised Land of eternal peace and rest is certainly promised to us who have been delivered from the bondage of sin; still, we must faithfully follow the cloud across the burning desert of this life in order to obtain it.

Hebrews

So few people enjoy or appreciate the book of Hebrews that I have called it "the Leviticus of the New Testament." I have concluded, however, that a major reason for the difficulty in understanding Hebrews is the popular misconception concerning the meaning of the word "salvation". If someone were to say to the author of Hebrews, "I got saved last night," the author of Hebrews would probably wonder why that person was still here on earth, for the author of Hebrews unequivocally taught that "saved" people are those who faithfully served Christ all their days and now are with him. The rest of us are in the wilderness, on our way toward salvation.

Listen to this God-given exhortation to God's people concerning Israel in the wilderness:

"Therefore, just as the holy Ghost says, Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation and said, They always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways. So I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.

"Consider it, brothers, that there be not in any of you an evil heart of unfaithfulness, in departing from the living God. Rather, exhort one another each day, while it is called 'today,' in order that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we firmly maintain our confident beginning until the end. This is the reason it is said, Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.

"For who, having heard, rebelled? Was it not those who had come out of Egypt with Moses? And with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter into His rest, but those who disobeyed? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

"Therefore, let us fear, lest, having a promise left to us of entering into His rest, any of you seem to be excluded. For we have heard the gospel as well as they, but the word which was heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith by the hearers. . . . Therefore, let us labor to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall in the same pattern of disobedience."

(Heb. 3:7-4:2, 11)

Not all who were rescued from Egyptian slavery were allowed to enter the promised land, and not all who have been converted to Christ will be saved. Salvation will be given only to those who are faithful to their Deliverer and who do not harden their hearts against Him after He brings them out of bondage.13

This is the importance of "today" for God's people everywhere. Having yesterday obeyed God's commandment to repent and believe the gospel, are we still, today, yielding to His command? Or has the deceitfulness of sin subtly dulled our ears and hardened our hearts to what He would yet have us to do? In this sense, "today is the day of salvation" (2Cor. 6:2), for it is only our present spiritual condition that counts before the Lord. Or, as my revered father taught the flock of God under his care, "The only thing that matters with God is this day onward."

It is the constant theme of every biblical teacher that members of the body of Christ are required to be faithful unto death in order to be counted worthy of salvation. This was Jesus' message to all seven of the pastors in Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21). And those exhortations were consistent with the message he gave while he was still among us:

"And then will many be offended, and shall betray one another, and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will deceive many. And because iniquity will abound, the love of many will wax cold. But he who endures unto the end, the same will be saved."

(Mt. 24:10-13)

Hope

If believers are not yet saved, one might ask, then what is the difference between saints and sinners? The answer is hope. To be without Christ is to be without any hope of salvation (cp. Eph. 2:12). But for Christ to dwell in us is to have hope of eternal life (Tit. 1:2; 3:7). Christ within us is a source of joy about which the world knows nothing (Rom. 5:2), as well as a source of boldness that the world has always misunderstood (Heb. 6:17-20), and that precious hope is a primary motivation for keeping ourselves from worldliness (cp. 1Jn. 3:2-3). Having the hope of salvation compels us to live so that we might receive it. Paul wrote:

"For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man sees, why does he yet hope for it? But if we hope for that which we do not see, then we wait for it with patience."

(Rom. 8:24-25)

Kept By Power

Because Paul wanted to see his converts saved in the end, he continually warned them to obey Christ and be separate from the world. The surest way to accomplish this separation was, and is to be filled with the Spirit of God, for it is only God's power by which the saints overcome the unbelief, lust, and fears of the world. Outside the keeping power of God's Spirit, we all are certain to fall for the clever devices of Satan, the errors of foolish men, and perhaps most dangerous of all, our own opinions and desires. Peter wrote:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and unto an incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, reserved in heaven for you who, through faith, are kept by the power of God unto the salvation ready to be revealed in the end time."

(1Pet. 1:3-5)

When Paul wrote that the gospel of Christ is "the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes" (Rom. 1:16), he was agreeing with Peter; that is, he was saying that salvation will be given to every believer who trusts in God's power until salvation comes. He was not saying that sinners are given salvation at their conversion. Paul exhorted believers to learn to rely on the power and wisdom of God's Spirit. Men may sound theologically profound and have impressive personalities, but God, and God only, is worthy of utter trust, and God only has power to save. He told the Corinthians:

"My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."

(1Cor. 2:4-5)

Salvation will be given to believers who walk in the Spirit and do God's will. In order to be able to live that way, we must let Christ live in us; we are incapable of godliness without God. But with God, we may have power over our own base desires, power to humble ourselves to do His will, and we may have this power in every situation we face.

Glorified

Salvation, then, is the hope and the goal of a believer's life, not their conversion. So, how did so many of us develop such an odd understanding of salvation as to confuse salvation with conversion? That is hard to answer. It may be in part because conversion is such a wondrous gift of God that it is a kind of salvation, if we define salvation in this case as "rescue". Indeed, the New Testament writers, in rare instances, do use the word "salvation" in this manner (e.g. 2Tim. 1:8-9; Tit. 3:5; Jude 5). Fairly common as well are references to a present state of "being saved," with the understanding that in these cases the definition of "saved" is "kept from committing sin by the power of the Spirit" (cp. 1Cor. 1:18). No biblical writer would ever have considered someone "being saved" if that person were living a sinful life. A believer who is practicing sin is being lost, not being saved.

Beyond all contradiction, however, the major biblical use of "saved" or "salvation" is in reference to being glorified with Christ at the end of the world. The primary emphasis of the biblical writers was the preparation of the members of the body of Christ to receive their inheritance: the salvation of their souls. The apostles never boasted of already being saved, although they humbly expressed their confidence that they would be saved in the end (e. g. Acts 15:7-11).

Two Rocks

This light on salvation will seem, for many, to contradict the two most quoted passages of Scripture concerning salvation: Romans 10:9-10 and Acts 16:29-31. These Scriptures provide two classic examples of misinterpretation of Scriptures because of tradition and neglect of context.

First, let's consider Romans 10:9-10, in its context:

"For Moses describes the righteousness that is of the Law, saying, The man who does those things will live by them. But the righteousness that is of faith speaks this way: Say not in your heart, Who shall ascend into the heaven (that is, to bring Christ down from above), or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead).

"But what does it say? The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart; that is, the word of faith, which we preach, that if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and will believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

 

After Moses gave Israel the commandments of God at Sinai, he led them in their forty years of wilderness wanderings until they approached the border of the promised land. There, within sight of "Canaan's fair and happy land," Moses was to die, but not before delivering a final, lengthy sermon to the nation. The entire book of Deuteronomy is comprised of little else besides this last sermon of Moses. In it, he not only reviewed and restated basic elements of the Law (hence the name "Deuteronomy" meaning "second law"), he also summarized Israel's wilderness experiences, along with giving many new commandments and exhortations to obedience when they crossed Jordan to possess Canaan. And when Moses had reminded them of all they had learned and experienced, he took a few moments more to make clear to Israel that he had given them all they needed to know in order to do the will of God. God's word was now in their hearts, not hidden in some distant place; therefore, they could do God's will and had no claims on ignorance. Moses said (Deut. 30:11-14),

"For this commandment which I command you this day is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, Who will go up for us to heaven and bring it [the commandment of God] unto us, so that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it."

 

The heathen nations around them would have to hear the commandments and study them if they were ever to know God's will. But Israel had lived with God's commandments forty years now, and knew them, and had no need to search for them.

What Sinners Cannot Do

This was, as well, the spiritual condition of the Roman believers to whom Paul wrote. Just as Moses was speaking to people who had received and learned the Law, Paul was speaking to people who had received and learned Christ (cp. Rom. 1:7-12). Thus, when he (quoting Moses) told the Romans, "Say not in your heart, 'Who shall ascend into heaven?'" it was because Christ was already in their hearts that they needed not send to heaven. These Roman believers, like the Israelites in Deuteronomy, already knew God's commandments; they already knew what was required of them in order to be saved in the end.

"The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart; that is, the word of faith, which we preach."

(Rom. 10:8)

The "word of faith" was already living in the hearts of the people to whom Paul was speaking. They already knew the will of God for their lives. It was not something hidden or distant from them. It was simple and clear to their minds. The word which God had planted long ago in the heart of each of these saints was "That if you [saint of God] confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you [saint of God] will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).

So, in Romans 10:9, Paul was not explaining to sinners how to be converted; he was reminding the saints of what they must do to be saved! Sinners cannot confess Christ. The very act of sin denies him (cp. Tit. 1:15-16). The only confession a sinner can make is the confession of sin! The saints, those in whom Christ dwells, are the ones who are to confess Christ, and they are to do so "unto salvation"; that is, to the end.

Consider this question Paul asks in verses 13-14a:

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?"

 

In other words, an unbeliever cannot do what the Bible refers to as "calling on the name of the Lord." The biblical phrase, "calling upon the name of the Lord", is used exclusively of communication of believers with God (e.g. Acts 9:14; 1Cor. 1:2; 2Tim. 2:22; 1Pet. 1:17; see also Zeph. 3:9). What Paul is saying is that only the born-again people who keep communicating with God will be saved in the end, for they alone (by God's Spirit - Rom. 8:15) are able to call upon the name of the Lord.

The confusion of "saved" with "converted" during the twentieth century led to a tragic misunderstanding of Romans 10:9-10. In the last half of that century, this error actually became standard among millions of believers. It was not used as an exhortation to believers to be faithful unto salvation, but as an exhortation to sinners to do something they cannot do (confess Christ) in order to receive what sinners cannot receive (salvation).

It is not impossible for sinners to repent and be converted; it is impossible for them to be saved - unless they first repent and are converted. When Paul wrote that "Christ came into the world to save sinners" (1Tim. 1:15), he quickly added "of whom I am chief." He had in mind the mighty love and mercy of God in Christ's coming and dying for sinners so that they might find forgiveness and, at the end, be saved from the destruction of the world and the wicked. Paul was not saying that he was still practicing sin or that sinners could expect to be saved at the end of the world. Instead, he was recalling the evil person he had been and the blasphemous acts against God he had committed before Jesus stopped him. No sinners will be saved at the final judgment. Peter points this out with a question:

"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God. And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of those who obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"

(1Pet. 4:17-18)

When the twentieth century tradition of defining conversion as salvation is combined with Romans 10:9-10, those verses do seem to be instructing sinners as to how to be converted. But when we rightly understand what salvation itself is, and when we understand the Old Testament context of Romans 10:9-10, it is easy to see that Paul was speaking to the saints at Rome concerning something that yet lay before them! Those verses are not for sinners; they are for the children of God, those who have repented of their sins and have been converted.

Acts 16

Having said these things concerning Romans 10:9-10, the famous verses from Acts 16:30-31 should need but scant attention. The context (vv. 16-34) clearly shows that the jailor's question, "What must I do to be saved?" should not be taken to mean, "What ,ust I do to be converted?" Feeling the tremendous force of the earthquake, he thought his city (and himself in particular) was being destroyed by God for their mistreatment of Paul and Silas. Consequently, in this scene, he came running into the innermost prison to plead with Paul and Silas for instructions on how to escape the wrath of their God. Paul's response was complete:

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your house."

 

No doubt, the jailor was at that moment willing to do just that. My guess is that at that dreadful moment, he would have been willing to believe anything Paul said. It is only conjecture, but when Paul told him to believe in Jesus, the terrified man probably replied, "I do believe! I do believe! . . . Who is he?"

The jailor needed to know who Jesus was and what he demanded of him. Paul must have thought so, too. Verses 32-34 tell us that Paul went to the jailor's house and "spoke unto him the word of the Lord." Subsequently, the jailor and his household were baptized (with the Spirit).14 Thus the jailor began "believing on God with all his house" (v. 34). And having begun to believe, the promise that he should be saved was his, if he continued in the faith.

Paul and Timothy

A good way to demonstrate the differing attitudes of biblical saints and modern believers concerning salvation is in this manner. Paul wrote to his beloved fellow-laborer Timothy:

"Take heed to yourself, and to the doctrine; continue in them. For in doing this, you will both save yourself and those who hear you."

(1Tim. 4:16)

Had Timothy been a typical modern believer, he might well have written Paul this response:

Dear Brother Paul,

I know I'm already saved, and nobody can make me doubt that! Don't you remember? You taught me that salvation is not of works (Eph. 2:8-9)?

Love,

Timothy

Saved Through Faith

We are saved by grace through faith; therefore, faith is a very valuable possession. But faith may be weakened or lost through disobedience, neglect, or deception. And with the loss of faith, the hope of salvation is also lost.

Another word for "faith" is "confidence." And, as with faith, confidence is not something we may simply decide we are going to have. It is not something that is of the will of man. Rather, it naturally arises from a clean heart. Guilt replaces faith when disobedience occurs, for guilt itself naturally arises from an unclean heart. Saving confidence, or saving faith, is, therefore, a quality that exists only in the hearts of children of God who live clean, obedient lives.

As a young boy, my father was commanded by his father to have the kindling chopped by the time he returned from work. During the day, he not only chopped the kindling but he also shucked the corn. At sunset, he eagerly was waiting for his father to come home to see what he had done. This eagerness is the biblical equivalent of faith, or confidence. His heart was clear. He obeyed his father's commandment, and then he had "gone the second mile" to do things he knew would please his father. John wrote:

"Loved ones, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God, and whatever we ask, we receive from Him because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight."

(1Jn. 3:21-22)

The opportunities we have to obey God and then go the second mile to please Him are precious, fleeting opportunities. To neglect to do good is to become destitute of faith, for faith is the spiritual result of doing good. Consider this fatherly, compassionate exhortation found in Hebrews:

"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompense of reward. For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul."

(Heb. 10:35-39)

This "saving of the soul" is what we hope and live for. It is the reward of righteousness. It is eternal life and rest. Accordingly, it is the one blessing Satan most envies.

It was not without purpose that the leaders of the earliest saints strictly warned them to be diligent in prayer, faith, goodness, and love, and to be perfect and pure and free from every ungodliness. They knew our salvation depended on it! During and since that time, it has been one of Satan's highest priorities to convince us that this is not true.

If he can convince us that salvation will be given without regard to the quality of our lives, then half the battle of drawing us into godless living is won. If he robs our hearts of the understanding that "the wages of sin is death", then he can easily rob our hearts of the fear of God. And if the fear of God is not a part of our lives, evil will not seem as hateful as it is, for the fear of God creates hatred for evil (Prov. 8:13). And if Satan can deceive us into believing that sin is not as dangerous as it is and that holiness is not as precious as it is, his desire to moderate our zeal for righteousness and obtain salvation will eventually be accomplished.

Your salvation depends upon your deeds in this life. That is the message most hated and dreaded by Satan, for that is the only message which will stir people to seek a holiness before the Lord that they can know about. If people really believe that the kind of life they live will determine their eternal destiny, they will fear to do evil, learn to despise it, resist it, stand up against it, and condemn it, and that is exactly what Satan does not want.

For this reason, he persecutes every person whose life and voice speak out against sin. Jesus told his brothers (Jn. 7:7):

"The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it, that its works are evil."

 

Yet, in the face of the hatred of the world and the suffering which will ensue15, Paul steadfastly commanded God's children to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).

What many believers have been lulled into neglecting is the hatred of evil and the denunciation of it, both by word and deed. That is an essential element of true holiness. There is no holiness without it. And if no holiness, then no hope of ever seeing God (Heb. 12:14).

Error In The Name of Truth

But not all that at first appears evil may be evil, and not all that appears to be right is always right.16 We must bury ourselves in the love of God and wisdom of His Spirit in order to learn what is truly good (that we might do it) and what is truly evil (that we might hate it). Paul said that Satan disguises himself as "an angel of light" (2Cor. 11:14). In other words, he propagates error in the name of the true Lord. And the sole reason for his disguise is to gain influence among God's people. Any doctrine or tradition that leaves room for any work of darkness is of him.

There are many conflicting doctrines held as true by the multitude of sects within Christianity. Most of them are not directly from Satan. They are simply misunderstandings and opinions of men, which are not usually binding on the soul and are often outgrown and eventually forsaken. But there is a spirit of bondage that comes with the present confusion of salvation and conversion which men did not invent, and which bondage men are hardly able to escape.

One brother confessed to me that when he first heard this message, a spirit of fear troubled him. He was afraid the Lord would be angry with him if he confessed that he had not yet received his salvation, that it was the reward toward which he was striving in Christ. But it wasn't the Lord's anger he was sensing. And he is today more prepared to receive salvation than he was when he claimed he already had it. And had he not been taught that doctrinal error in the name of Jesus, it would not have bound him at all. For it was his love for Christ and his desire to please him that was compelling him to cling to what he thought Jesus wanted him to believe and confess.

Full Circle

Still, all false doctrines, whether of men or of Satan, have one common characteristic. They all excuse or condone at least one spiritual blemish in the lives of their adherents. Sometimes it takes a while for those blemishes to be made manifest, but they will show. As a result, the adherent to any false doctrine is made vulnerable to the influence of at least one unclean spirit. It is a dangerous thing to believe a lie about God.

Jesus said that if we continue to follow him, we would come to know the truth, and the truth would set us free (Jn. 8:31-32).17 The truth neither condones nor excuses any sin among the saints, because the truth is that Christ is sufficient for your perfection in this present world (cp. Tit. 2:11-14).18 The truth leaves no room for demonic influence because "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1Jn. 1:5b), and "... as He is, so are we in this world" (1Jn. 4:17b).

As all the New Testament Scriptures show, the doctrine of the apostles is that the saints are to be God's light to the world, and any saint who will not be what the Father has commanded him to be will not be saved. Jesus warned his disciples:

"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning. And you yourselves be like men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding, so that when he comes and knocks, they may open for him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he comes will find watching. Truly, I say unto you, that he will gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he comes in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have allowed his house to be broken through. Be you therefore ready also, for the Son of man is coming at an hour when you think not. Then Peter said to him, Lord, do you speak this parable to us, or also to everyone? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. Of a truth I tell you, that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But and if that servant should say in his heart, My lord delays his coming, and begins to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not look for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers."

(Lk. 12:35-46)

Obedience or disobedience will be the determining factor in the judgment of every child of God. Salvation or damnation rests in the moral quality of each saint's life. And so, we are now come full circle and are returned to our original question: If we must live holy lives in order to receive salvation, how then could Paul say that salvation is "not of works"?

Paul's Greatest Challenge

Let us understand what kind of works are of no use to help us attain to salvation. There are many different kinds of works mentioned in the Bible: works of the flesh, works of the Spirit, works of the devil, good works, and others. So, let's allow Paul himself to tell us what kind of works, or deeds, are no longer of any use for justification before God:

"Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight."

(Rom. 3:20)

"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law."

(Rom. 3:28)

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; for by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."

(Gal. 2:16)

In saying that salvation is "not of works," Paul was not saying that salvation is not of good works. Paul's message was that the ceremonial works prescribed by Moses' Law were no longer of any value; they were dead works, useless in the soul's preparation to meet God. In order for anything to be a work of the Law, these four criteria must be met:

  1. It must have been ordained by God for men to do or to make.
  2. It must have been ordained during the time in which the Law was in effect (from Exodus 20 to Acts 2:4, though it may have been practiced before or after).
  3. It must be ceremonial in nature or purpose.
  4. It must point to a spiritual reality.

Physical circumcision, for example, is a work of the Law. Though given to Abraham before the Law (Gen. 17), it was also commanded by the Law (Lev. 12:2-3), as a ceremonial act that showed a man's connection to Abraham. It also represented spiritual circumcision in the heart, as Paul explained to the believers in Rome (Rom. 2:28-29).

Using the above criteria for works of the Law, take some time to determine for yourself which of the following are works of the Law and which are not:

  1. the veil in the temple
  2. Moses's rod
  3. the Day of Atonement
  4. the opening of the Red Sea
  5. holy water (Num. 5:17f)
  6. David's sling
  7. the passing of the wine and bread at the last supper
  8. manna
  9. the washing of the disciples' feet (Jn. 13:4-15)
  10. the golden calf (Ex. 32)
  11. robes and costumes for worship (Ex. 28:1-4f)
  12. the cloud of glory (Ex. 40:34-38)
  13. the Passover
  14. the rainbow
  15. water baptism

For reasons which will be made even clearer as we continue, the correct answer is that all the odd numbered items are works of the Law and all the even numbered items are not.

The works of the Law were prophecy without words, prophecy acted out rather than spoken. What they symbolically prophesied was the kingdom and glory of Jesus Christ; and when he accomplished his work, the purpose for having symbolic works is finished. Therefore, as Paul emphasized, for believers now to perform works of the Law implicitly denies their fulfillment in Christ.

Paul's greatest challenge, and perhaps ours today, was to communicate to the hearts of God's people that Christ alone is sufficient. Those who were trying to lead Paul's Gentile converts into the Law's symbols were, as he said, only trying "to make a fair shew in the flesh" (Gal. 6:12). But more than that, those who had been spiritually circumcised in heart, who then submitted to circumcision of the flesh, were saying in effect that Christ, the fulfillment of that Old Testament symbol, was insufficient. This is why Paul asked the Galatians "having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?" (3:3).

The entire Galatian letter has to do with this crucial question. Paul had started this Gentile assembly in the liberty of the Spirit, but others came behind him bringing the message Paul battled throughout his ministry; namely, that it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be saved in the end (cp. Acts 15).

What Paul could not get so many of his sensitive Jewish brothers to understand was that Christ had not destroyed circumcision; he had perfected it. He had not destroyed the sacrificial system; he had become the perfect sacrifice. He had not destroyed the High Priesthood; he had simply become the perfect High Priest. And so it was with every other work of the Law. To be in Christ is to be beyond those carnal symbols. And to have been taken by the Spirit beyond the works of the Law, and then turn to them, is to go backward and declare that the Christ you met was insufficient - to "fall from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

Remnants of Works

All those things being understood, let us look at some ways in which present day believers are still clinging to remnants of works of the Law which Christ fulfilled.

First, and most prominent in our day, is water baptism. It was a work of the Law. It was ordained by God during the time of the Law (e.g. Lev. 14:8; Mt. 3:1), being a symbolic religious ceremony which pointed to the spiritual baptism of Christ.

The earliest believers, composed exclusively of Jews, rightly continued baptizing in water, as well as circumcising, offering sacrifices, and following every other precept of the Law. But Paul's message to the Gentiles was that in Christ, there is but one baptism (Eph. 4:5), and that this one baptism is in spirit (1Cor. 12:13). Having received the spiritual baptism of Jesus, the reality to which Old Testament water baptism pointed, where then is the need for a fleshly baptism? Paul's message, for which he was persecuted by both saints and sinners alike, was that the only baptism that counts for salvation is Jesus' baptism of the holy Ghost (cp. 1Pet. 3:20-21). And to practice the symbol after being baptized by Christ is to imply an insufficiency in Christ's fulfillment of that work of the Law.

Another example of a ceremonial work such as the Law commanded is special robes for worship. Our robe for worship now is to be the righteousness of God. Choir robes, nuns' habits, clerical collars, ministerial drapery, are all extensions of the era of symbols, a step backward from Christ. And whoever is involved in the use of such things simply has not realized the commanding sufficiency of Christ's fulfillment of the Law.

The Substance Intended

Christ was the master of communicating heavenly doctrine using earthly motifs. But it is both the blessing and the burden of God's teachers that in communicating to humans, earthly words and ideas must be employed. A blessing, because familiar earthly realities may communicate the loftiest eternal truths to the simplest folk. A burden, because most of the time most of the people will seize upon the vehicle used rather than the substance intended.

Consider the washing of the apostles' feet in John 13:4-15. Peter asked, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus responded, "You do not now understand what I'm doing, but later you'll understand." Peter obviously knew that Jesus was washing his feet, but he did not understand what Jesus was really doing. Jesus was simply using the earthly example of feet washing to communicate a heavenly message which would be understood by them only at a later time, when the Spirit came. He was not ordaining foot washing ceremonies; he was trying to communicate a spiritual truth to carnal minds!

Such is exactly the case with what is referred to as "holy communion." Jesus never intended for his followers to re-enact the physical last supper. His giving, and their consuming, of earthly bread and wine was merely the earthly vehicle used to communicate a spiritual reality which they would understand only after he was gone and the Spirit had come. The disciples did not know what Jesus was saying when he told them to eat his flesh and drink his blood (Jn. 6:53-56) any more than they knew what he was doing when he washed their feet. This is what he told his disciples they had to do to inherit eternal life:

"Therefore, Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I tell you, if you don't eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."

 

Anyone can see that Jesus was speaking figuratively here. But on that day, many of Jesus' disciples did not see that, even though the Lord promptly added this explanation:

"It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is worthless. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life."

(Jn. 6:63)

It is the Spirit that the saints drink together (1Cor. 12:13). And our fellowship with one another is the spiritual bread that we eat together!

"I speak as to wise men; carefully measure what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not our sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not our partaking of the body of Christ? For we, being many are one loaf, one body, for we all share in the one loaf."

(1Cor. 10:15-17)

Lived For Us

The time is passed when we should have understood these things and should have been enjoying the liberty of Christ from ceremonial works. We should have already understood what "works of the Law" means, and should have spent the time and money wasted on them in prayer or study or almsgiving or some other work that will count for good when we face God. The only thing worse than having been entangled with those dead symbols for so long is to continue to be entangled with them.

It is rightly proclaimed that Jesus died for us. But how few understand that he also lived for us! Born under the Law for us, he was circumcised the eighth day for us, was baptized in water for us, kept the holy days and feast days for us, and fulfilled every other work of the Law for us. And once we are baptized by the Spirit into Christ, God not only considers us to have been crucified with him (Rom. 6:6), buried with him (Rom. 6:4), and risen with him (Col. 2:12), He also considers us to have been circumcised with him (Col. 2:11), and to have fulfilled the Law in every other respect.

Because of Jesus, we do not observe feast days, do not circumcise in the flesh, baptize in water, or perform any other work of the Law. Jesus did all that for us. His doing those things means we need not do them, just as his dying for us means we need not die for our own sins. He is our righteousness. And he is sufficient.

To refuse Christ is to imply that his work was not godly. To come to Christ and then partake of carnal religious symbols is to imply that his work was not godly enough.

Free to Obey

It is this message of liberty from works of the Law that was "twisted," in Peter's words, by "ignorant and unstable" men into a doctrine completely contrary to everything the Scriptures and the Spirit teach, a doctrine with an appeal which has not died.

On the basis of Scriptures such as Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul's message of the worthlessness of works of the Law has been misrepresented to mean that works of any kind are worthless, and that the reward of salvation will be given to anyone who has been converted, whether he lives a holy life or not. Those "ignorant, unstable men" were persuasive, however, and won converts, while the apostles labored to keep their alluring error from spreading, Jude wrote:

"I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not."

(Jude v. 5)

Paul warned the Corinthians not to listen to clever speakers who said that one could live an ungodly life and yet inherit God's kingdom:

"Or do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God's kingdom? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor catamites, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor greedy folk, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor the rapacious, will inherit the kingdom of God."

(1Cor. 6:9-10)

It was never imagined by Jesus, Paul, Jude, or any biblical writer, that the reward of salvation would be given irrespective of one's works. Certainly, believers have been freed by the sacrifice of Christ from works of the Law, but believers are not freed from the obligation to work. The body of Christ is indeed free from the handwritten ordinances of the Law, but that does not mean that we are without standards or that we may make up our own. That we are delivered from the Law of Moses does not mean that we are lawless.

By the power of the Spirit, God's people are free to obey God. No man without a Spirit-renewed mind can obey God "because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Rom. 8:1-9a).

Conclusion

God's children are free to renounce two pernicious digressions from the truth. First, we must refuse fleshly ceremonies that waste our time and money. Water baptismal services are a waste of time. The baptism of Christ is sufficient. Bread and drink should be consumed at home or given to the poor; when we come together, let us partake of the Lord's supper, which is the communion of his blood (his Spirit) and the communion of his body (our brothers and sisters). Money spent on uniforms for worship is wasted - let us "put on Christ", and then come together to worship. And this we will do when we truly realize that Christ alone is sufficient!

We need desperately to move from shadows to the light of the Son, and then to stand firm in the liberty of Christ. The world needs to have grace ministered to it; neither ceremony nor symbol can cleanse a soul.

Secondly, we must learn, and teach, that the wages of sin is death - for the saint as well as for the sinner. We will be saved or lost depending on our works. If we, through the strength of God's Spirit, live holy lives, we will someday see our God; but if we do not do God's will, we will be damned. The body must escape those alluring doctrines which would have us believe we may live un-full-filled spiritual lives and yet be saved in the end. "For if you [God's people] live after the flesh, you will die, but if you [God's people], through the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:13).

Peter will conclude this message with this inspired exhortation found in 1Peter:1:17-18:

"And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear, forasmuch as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain way of life received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."

Amen

Go Top