Two thousand years have passed since Jesus came to give His life to save mankind; and yet, some Christians still have problems understanding the basic principles that define salvation. Are we saved by grace alone, or is it a combination of grace and works?
In order to understand what grace is all about, we must return to the book of Genesis. Revelation 13:8 declares that Jesus was “slain from the foundation of the world.” This means that God’s plan for the redemption of mankind was instigated before the world began. It was already in place when God’s first children, Adam and Eve, were birthed in Eden’s garden. Let’s return to the first illustration of grace in the Bible found in the third chapter of Genesis.
Many of you may know this story very well. God told Adam not to eat of the fruit of a certain tree or he would die. Adam and Eve only had to obey one simple commandment. They blew it, and when they realized that they were naked, they tried to cover their nakedness by sewing fig leaves around them in verse seven. Fig leaves of course, were never a permanent solution for the problem, because eventually they would dry up, become brittle and fall away. In other words, man’s attempts to cover their sin are worthless. The prophet Isaiah may have had this event in mind when he wrote, But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6).
God found His children shivering in the bushes and the first thing He did was to condemn the snake, the similitude of evil that had worked on Eve’s vulnerabilities and instigated her sin with his lies and distortion of God’s commandment. God tells the devil, “I will put enmity (hatred) between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (verse 15).
This is the first messianic prophecy in the Bible. God promises justice through His Anointed One who would wound the devil through the bruise of Messiah’s heel. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy exemplifies this first prophecy in Genesis. The redemption of the human race would be accomplished by Messiah’s sacrifice.
God’s next admonishments shows us that there are serious consequences for disobeying God. We will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Adam and Eve were told in essence that their comfortable life in Eden was over. Eve would have pain in childbirth and be subject to her husband, who in turn would now have to go out and work for a living “through the sweat of his face” (verse 16-19). They would be banned from the garden (verses 22-24) that God had planted for them, to now inhabit a world that they had given over to the devil through their disobedience.
Then God does something remarkable. An animal is slain and God made clothing for His children from the skins of the first sacrifice in verse 21. God replaces man’s frail attempts to cover his sin with a more permanent solution. In this act of God’s grace we are shown a similitude of the grace that is instigated by Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing that man can do to save himself. We cannot cover ourselves or remove our sins; it must be done for us through an act of God alone; only by a sacrifice instigated by God: Messiah’s sacrifice.
What fig leaf of your own making can you wave in the face of God to justify yourself before Him? Let’s take a look at the Apostle Paul’s explanation of grace in Ephesians chapter two.
For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).
That no flesh shall glory in His presence (I Corinthians 1:29).
Fig leaf waving is actually a pride influenced attempt at self-justification that is doomed to be rejected. The false prophets in Matthew 7 are guilty of this same offense. “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in your name have cast out devils? And in Your name done many wonderful works?” And Jesus says to these ones in verse 23, ”I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity.”
The atonement and salvation by grace alone has obviously been eroded from their theology. The only way Jesus can say He “never” knew them, is because they have never been saved in the first place. There is no work anyone can perform to justify himself before God. That’s fig leaf waving, doomed to wither up and disintegrate into the wind.
The Apostle Paul continues. –
For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10.)
For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
I don’t think it can get any clearer than that. - We are saved by grace alone, clothed in the soft, warm covering of God’s forgiveness provided for us only through Messiah Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing we can do to clothe ourselves, it must be by an act of God alone. Then through the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice, we receive His Holy Spirit, and through the Holy Spirit we become a habitation of God who dwells in us through His Spirit (I Cor. 3:16, II Cor. 6:16, I Cor. 6:19). That union with our Creator produces a transformed life over time and His influence causes us to naturally walk according to His word. The prophecy of this “New Covenant” is recorded in Jeremiah 31: verses 31-33. There would come a time when the law would be put in our hearts. It would be an internal transformation that produces a “New creature” (II Cor. 5:17). Therefore our “work” as believers is to “Abide” in Jesus which enables this transformation of our characters possible. Let’s take a look at John chapter fifteen.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me (verse 4).
I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in Me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing (verse 5).
There it is – without Jesus we can do no work that is acceptable to God, only those works or “fruit” that is produced through His grace working in us are the evidences of a genuine salvation.
If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (verse 6).
If we fall away from the faith and the doctrine of grace as it has been revealed to us by Jesus and His apostles, the Holy Spirit withdraws, which causes the withering, and these ones will be gathered by cults and false prophets resulting in a fiery destruction of their souls. The scriptures clearly teach that we must remain in the faith in order to receive the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls (Hebrews 3:14, I Peter 1:9, Romans 11:22).
Again, an abiding relationship with Jesus produces the fruit of a transformed life that exhibits a moral life and holy fruits described in (Galatians 5:22,23). The false prophets of Matthew 7, who were relying on their own works to justify themselves before God, were also obviously not exhibiting any character changes and were not living genuinely holy lives which is the natural response to a soul abiding in God’s grace. Because they were not relying on God’s grace alone to transform them they were also seen by Jesus as practicing “lawlessness;” and most likely they were practicing sins, thinking they were justified just because they were working for the Lord.
Whosoever abides in Him sins not: whoever sins has not seen Him, neither known Him (I John 3:6).
The Apostle John shows us that no one who continuously sins as the original Greek implies, has ever seen Jesus or known Him. We can sin through the frailty of our weak human flesh and receive forgiveness through a genuine repentance, but a true believer does not willfully, continuously and deliberately practice sin just because they are “saved.” We will know these ones by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). A saved soul practices righteousness in response to the Holy Spirit working in His life. We are exhorted in the scriptures to maintain good works, not for our justification, but for our rewards, because all must stand before the judgment seat of Messiah Jesus. (Romans 14:10-12) there our works will be tried by fire (I Cor. 3:11-15).
If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, (on the foundation of Jesus, verse 11,) he shall receive a reward,
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (I Cor. 3:14,15).
We had a man in our Bible study who was a professed Christian, but who continuously exhibited the fruits of meanness and unkindness. He knew who he was and wasn’t willing to change. He grabbed onto the doctrine of salvation by grace as his safety net and was willing to see his works burned. He pointed to verse 15, to assure himself that even though his works might be burned, he will still be saved. According to the Apostle John, those who are the Lord’s, “born” or birth from God, work righteousness as a result of a genuine salvation by grace.
And now little children, abide in Him, that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone that does righteousness is born of Him (I John 2:28,29).
Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are His. And, let everyone that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity (II Timothy 2:19).
In conclusion, we are saved by grace alone, and if we are saved we will respond to the grace that works in us resulting in a transformed life which is the evidence of a genuine salvation – by grace.
Copyright 2019 by H. D. Shively
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