Saved by Faith 


Which of these two competing viewpoints does the Bible teach: that salvation is by faith and not by works, or that salvation is by faith plus works? These two views are neither complementary nor logically reconcilable; if salvation is by faith and not by works, then it cannot also be by faith plus works. If I ask for a ham sandwich, with no cheese, and you hand me a ham-and-cheese sandwich, you are not giving me just exactly what I ordered but something different. The former view, stated explicitly in Paul's letters, was upheld by the Protestant reformers, but decisively rejected by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. Several of the new religious movements, including the 'Oneness' Pentecostals, take the far-Tiber side of the historic debate of the Counter-Reformation, siding with the Council of Trent in embracing salvation by faith plus works. The observer must surmise that, at some formative point in history, somebody was cribbing the answers out of an old catechism book!

While the order of salvation raises perplexing questions, the Bible ABC's are not at all difficult. 'Faith plus works' strikes a discordant note, because it just plain isn't what the book says:


Saved by Faith Righteousness from God
The Just Abraham
The Heart Ashamed
Tower of Babel Merited Favor?
What is Faith? What are Works?
Devils Antinomianism
Surely He has borne our Griefs Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Without One Plea Piece-Work
Everyone What must I Do?
What have you Got? Savior Will?
Altoona Ungodly
Justified by Faith Faith Plus Works
Whosoever Believeth Cannot Sin
Show Me The Work of God
Supernatural Lung Cancer
Wheelchair Watchmaker God
All our Works Nothing
Leopard's Spots His Mercy
Past, Present and Future


Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

Saved by Faith

The Bible says, in so many words, that salvation is by faith and not by works:



  • "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)...that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:4-9).




It's always a plus when a controversial Bible doctrine one seeks to defend is stated, clearly, repeatedly, and unequivocally, by the Bible itself. In fact, one may wonder why this doctrine is controversial at all, given its clear, repeated and unequivocal statement!

The promise is repeated: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36).

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47).

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46).

“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31).

“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43).

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16).

Since these verses do not explicitly append 'alone' to the promise, they are found unsatisfactory by Roman Catholic readers; however, if this explicit promise is dangerously incomplete, why is it so often offered?

Up

Righteousness from God

"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11).

This shows the source of the believer's righteousness, whatever may be its character, is unarguably from God.

The Just

The assurance that none who trust in Him shall be ashamed is given not only by the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament:



  • “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”

  • (Habakkuk 2:4).




This is no new theme:

"The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned." (Psalm 34:22).

"Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." (Psalm 2:12).

"He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he." (Proverbs 16:20).

While the basis of the old covenant might seem to be very different from the new, in fact both covenants ultimately come down to the reality that believers are in, unbelievers are out:


Corporate Personality"


Abraham

"And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6).

"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt." (Romans 4:2-4).

The Heart

"But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'...For 'whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.'" (Romans 10:9-13).

"And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls." (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21).

Ashamed

"As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'" (Romans 9:33).

Who, amongst those who believe on him, will in point of fact ever "be put to shame"? When the new religious movements teach that 'faith is not enough,' they are asserting that some of those who believe will be left ashamed. Who are the subset of 'those who believe' who will be left ashamed?

Tower of Babel

"And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”" (Genesis 11:4).

There is little human pride will not attempt, up to and including scaling heaven by main force. Our plight is that we are estranged from God, by our sins, which hide His face:

"Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.
"But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2).

The gospel is a message of liberty, not bondage: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32). This is the great promise of God: that Jesus paid it all, He carried our sins to the cross, and broke our shackles: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound..." (Isaiah 61:1).

Efforts to earn our way into heaven are vain, because works originating in human pride rather than faith are not counted by God as good works at all: "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith: for whatever is not from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23). There is only one way to be saved: "Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6). It's not the way of human pride and presumption, of imagining we can merit God's favor; that way does not lead through the door.

Grace: Merited Favor?

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23).

Thus the Bible; what does 'Oneness' Pentecostalism teach? The UPCI Articles of Faith teach that grace is withdrawn from the unworthy: "A Christian, to keep saved, must walk with God and keep himself in the love of God (Jude 21) and in the grace of God.  The word "grace" means "favor." When a person transgresses and sins against God, he loses his favor.  If he continues to commit sin and does not repent, he will eventually be lost and cast into the lake of fire." (The Grace of God, UPCI Articles of Faith).

If the UPCI correct in assuming God's grace to be merited favor...or is it unmerited favor?:

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).

God's grace is free: "For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely ['dorean'] by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation ['hilasterion'] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:23-28).

'Freely' means gratuitously, without cost or consideration.  Another Biblical instance of the word 'freely' is found in John 15:25: "But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause ['dorean']."  Salvation is a free gift: it's nothing we earn. What price could we bring to dicker for it; what do we have that God wants? "For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalms 50:10).  Could we demand it as our due, our wages owing to us from God's righteousness? To the contrary: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3:23).  God's righteousness would see us annihilated, not justified...unless He reckoned His own righteousness to our account: "...even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe." (Romans 3:22).

The other highlighted word, 'propitiation', occurs elsewhere in the Bible in Hebrews 9:5: "...and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat ['hilasterion']." The blood of the atoning sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat: "He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times." (Leviticus 16:14).  The atoning sacrifice of Romans 3:25 was nothing we offered ourselves, but a ram supplied by God: "And Abraham said, 'My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.' So the two of them went together." (Genesis 22:8).


Saved by the Blood"


At the last trump, shall we proudly march up to Jesus pushing a wheel-barrow full of our 'good works' and triumphantly heap them at His feet, demanding, 'Where's my reward?' We might just as well try to barter the Trump Tower for a pile of filthy rags and colored beads.  What we're offering is worthless!: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6).

Grace is not dependent upon our works: "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." (Romans 11:6).

What is Faith?

"Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God's grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire." (Martin Luther, Preface to Romans).

This uninspired author carries no special weight, but he did make a sincere effort to make sense of what the Bible teaches, which is salvation by faith. This undeniable Bible doctrine makes no sense if one plugs in, for 'faith,' the common Roman Catholic definition, i.e., assent to a proposition:

"We should note that there are two ways of believing. One way is to believe about God, as I do when I believe that what is said of God is true; just as I do when I believe what is said about the Turk, the devil or hell. This faith is knowledge or observation rather than faith. The other way is to believe in God, as I do when I not only believe that what is said about Him is true, but put my trust in Him, surrender myself to Him and make bold to deal with Him, believing without doubt that He will be to me and do to me just what is said of Him." (Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther, A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, Volume II, Kindle location 5180).

Christian faith is faith 'in,' more than faith 'that.'

What are Works?

"Yet the law of not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'" (Galatians 3:12).

Paul finds in Leviticus 18:5 proof that the law is not of faith but of works: "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD." That's all it takes for Paul to make this classification, that the law is not of faith: "...if a man does..."

Devils

"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19).

The devils believe...what? That there is one God! Just like one billion Muslims believe. Must those who uphold the Bible teaching of salvation by faith admit the devils are saved, because they believe that there is only one God...along with, presumably, the one billion Muslims as well? Surely we can join James in ridiculing the notion that 'demon-faith' saves. A mental or verbal affirmation that there is only one God saves no one. But is James' 'demon-faith' exactly what Paul is talking about? Or does it not matter Who or What you believe in, just so long as you believe...something?

Suppose I say, 'The late Madlyn Murray O'Hair believed taxes were too high.' (I'm just making this up, I don't know whether she believed taxes were too high, too low, or just right.)

Legalist: 'Aha! You claim Madlyn Murray O'Hair was saved!'

'What?'

Legalist: 'You just did! You said she believed!'

Believe in Whom? Those who repudiate the Bible teaching of salvation by faith are often found to define 'faith' as 'mental assent to a proposition.' There are several cases in the Bible where the word 'believe' is used in this weak sense: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him...I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you." (John 8:31-37). These 'believers' may have concurred with some aspect of Jesus' pronouncement of the kingdom, but can scarcely have placed their hope for life in Him, if they sought to kill Him! Jesus may, it is true, have turned His attention to a different audience segment at the end of the discourse than at the start.

Another case is that of Simon the sorcerer, who is said to have believed: "Then Simon himself also believed..." (Acts 8:13). But his scheme to purchase the Holy Spirit does not show good faith, and tradition recalls Simon as an arch-heretic. Saving faith is an allegiance, a heart-felt trust, not mere mental assent. Recall how Martin Luther defined it: "Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it." But in spite of generations of preachers expounding this message from the Protestant pulpit, there is continual pressure to revert to the 'demon-faith' definition, of a mental or verbal assent to a proposition. See, for instance, Deal Hudson:

"Not only is the role of reason in religion misunderstood, but so is faith itself. To most people, even many believers, faith is conceived as some kind of feeling or emotional state. Looking at the passion displayed by some Evangelicals, especially Pentecostals, it's easy to see how faith can be identified with these emotions. But, whatever strong feelings are associated with religious faith and practice, faith itself cannot be one of those feelings or one of those emotions. Faith does not give believers emotions; it gives them intellectual content for their minds. When a Catholic for example, recites the creed (a term derived from the Latin for 'I believe,' credo), a whole series of intellectual propositions are affirmed, beginning with God exists and created the world, Jesus Christ his only son was born of a young virgin, lived, suffered, died, and was resurrected from the dead. Volumes of religious content has [sic] been gleaned from the Bible constituting the fundamental beliefs, or creed, for the believer. To have faith is the mind's affirmation of those ideas, which is called a 'sacred deposit.'

"Faith has a content that can be put in sentences, and those sentences can be put in a creed or a catechism. The meanings of those sentences are recognizable to anyone who understands language, even someone who does not believe they are true. In this way, faith itself exists as a form of reason and rationality." (Deal W. Hudson, 'Onward, Christian Soldiers,' pp. 200-201)

Why is it so important to redefine 'faith' so that it does not mean trust or confidence reposed in God, but rather the affirmation of "intellectual propositions"? Because this is how they propose to use James as a crow-bar to eject Paul's teaching of salvation by faith from the Bible. And make no mistake, they are not enlarging or complementing Paul's teaching that salvation is by faith and not by works by amending it to read, salvation is by faith plus works; they are denying this teaching, which is quite plainly set forth in letters like Romans and Galatians. If salvation is by faith and not by works as Paul explicitly teaches, then it cannot also be by faith plus works. 'Plus works' affirms exactly what 'not by works' intends to deny.

James' letter does seem to have been written in response to Paul's letter to the Galatians, even in small points, whether James had this letter in front of him or had heard reports of its contents. Paul curses those who have taught the Galatian Gentile believers their men must be circumcised, a popular opinion at the time amongst the Jewish believers who were James' principal constituency: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8-9). James is duly appalled that any Christian could curse another: "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.' (James 3:8-10). Paul, incidentally, never does it again.

On the larger issue of salvation by faith or by works, James seems to take a different tack than does Paul: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2:24). This verse is the Counter-Reformation Catholic's life raft. Can these two writers simply be offering two different opinions? The reader of the Talmud understands that the authorities whose opinions he is perusing do not agree with one another. But in a work like the New Testament, whose every word is God-breathed, there is no possibly of contradiction. The early church wisely realized that Paul and James are not, in fact, contradicting each other, though verbally they seem to be, because they are talking about different things. They are two ships passing in the night, they are not on a collision course, and each can take his rightful place in the canon. James provides a healthy correction, a protective side wall against which to skid if anyone reads Paul with the deficient concept of 'demon-faith.' The trouble is, some people want to insist upon that very definition, even though, as James points out, adopting it leads Paul's program of salvation by faith into absurd terrain. Moreover they want to adopt this erroneous definition precisely because its adoption creates a contradiction, which they then intend to use to eject Paul's teaching from the New Testament!

For two statements to present a contradiction, the word which is their common term must be used univocally, understood the same way in both statements. The astronomer who says, 'Mars is an arid rock,' and the literary critic who says, 'Mars loves Venus,' are not saying the same thing nor can their statements be easily reconciled. How, indeed, could an arid rock love the tempestuous Venus, or anything else? Yet each can rest comfortably in his corner of the faculty lounge, because they are not contradicting each other: they are ultimately talking about different things. Although the pagan mythographer did identify the god who loved Venus with the planet lately visited by landers and probes, the literary critic who advises his students, helpfully and productively, about the love-life of a conventional character who turns up in ancient poetry is really just talking about something else than what the astronomer is talking about. They do not need to get into a screaming match, shouting 'You lie!'; they simply mean different things by their shared term, 'Mars.' Since the common term is not used univocally, there is no contradiction.

When Paul talks about faith, he is speaking of Martin Luther's trust and confidence. Indeed it is difficult to see how the common New Testament concept of faith: "And Jesus said unto them, . . .for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matthew 17:20),— could possibly be imagined to mean affirming an intellectual proposition. James is aware of the more compendious definition of faith, because he says, "I will show thee my faith by my works." (James 2:18); works demonstrate true faith, not 'said' faith. But James is also capable of contracting the definition down to demon-level. Demons repose neither trust nor unshakeable confidence in God, rather they are His sworn enemies, they are not even on His side. The only faith they can claim is to give mental assent to a proposition, which is Deal Hudson's highest conception of faith. James means to say, 'Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by mental assent to a proposition only.' Yet neither Paul nor any else ever claimed (prior to Mohammed ibn Abdallah, who sometimes makes salvation contingent upon a certain verbal affirmation) that assent to an intellectual proposition saves. Although the same word, 'faith,' is used in both statements, it is used equivocally; Paul means by it, throwing oneself upon God with no other plea, James means assent to the proposition that there is only one God. Since these authors are ultimately talking about different things, James cannot serve as a fit crow-bar to pry the doctrine of salvation by faith out of the Bible; it stays.

Antinomianism

Those who believe in salvation by faith often hear tales about 'A sincere believer who turned to the Lord in faith, nothing wavering, and was left a child molester.' Don't believe it? Ever heard the question, 'So aren't you saying a believer who molests children will be saved?' Look at the sentence, 'The present king of France is bald.' While there are various ways of analyzing this sentence, one way runs thus,

a.) There is at present a king of France,
b.) and, he is bald.

But given the French predilection for guillotining their kings, there is at present no king of France. So when skeptics ask about a child molester who is also a believer, are they not asserting that a believer may be left as a child molester? What great promise of God does this assertion deny?

God gave us this promise: that those who turn to Him in faith will be given a new nature, renovated in the image of God: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:..." (John 1:12). Those who stand upon this promise not only have the merits of Christ imputed to them so as to be found guiltless though guilty, but also begin to feel the workings of God in their heart, remolding them to conform to His image. This rebirth is a supernatural work of God; there's no reason in the natural realm to suppose that turning to God in faith would produce any character reformation, the sole and only reason it does so is because God promised. And what He promises, He does.

Those who stand upon the promises of God find Him not to fail. It's when our faith fails that we sink. So where are the "believers" who have stood upon God's promise, but have found Him to fail: that He's left them mired in their sins? Aren't these rather 'disbelievers', not 'believers'? Believers who are also gross and unrepentant sinners is an empty set. Nevertheless, in spite of the Bible's clear teaching, you will find people who live like the devil but believe they're heaven-bound because they prudently purchased fire insurance at a childhood altar call. Such things ought not to be: "The great mercy of God has been preached unguardedly, and has led hundreds into licentiousness. . ." (Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students, p. 190).

Up

Holiness"


Surely He has borne our Griefs

Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not the part but the whole:

"Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all...by His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:4-12).

Where are they now? In a position to testify against us? It'll take some pretty sensitive sonar:

"He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19).

The Scapegoat, William Holman Hunt

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

God wants not fearful slaves, shrinking from the lash of punishment, but loving friends: "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." (John 15:15).

God's all-sufficient grace accounts for the peace known by the saints, who know they never could have earned God's favor.  This is why we can rest in the everlasting arms:

"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them." (Deuteronomy 32:27);
"For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." (Hebrews 4:3);
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).

Refugees from legalism report having felt fear, not confidence. This is one indication there is something Biblically 'off' with the 'Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan,' because believers ought to feel trust:

"Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." (1 John 4:17-18).

Acts 2:38 "Salvation Plan"


Without One Plea

The Biblical order is grace ----> faith ----> works.  Faith, the gift of grace, is the engine, works are the caboose. 'Oneness' Pentecostalism inverts that order, holding out the hope that, if you faithfully pay your tithes and wear approved styles of clothing, then maybe...just maybe...God will 'reward' you with salvation.  But this train doesn't run in reverse! The caboose makes a fine caboose, but a mighty poor engine. There's only one plea that can win acquittal, whether you've been walking with the Lord eight days or eight decades: "Could my tears forever flow, Could my zeal no languor know, These for sins could not atone — Thou must save, and Thou alone: In my hand no price I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling." (Augustus M. Toplady).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Notice the Biblical order: we are not saved by good works, which would require us to produce good works out of our own (non-existent) store of righteousness; we are saved "for" doing good.  From whence do works come, except from grace? To reverse the Biblical order and demand that works come before salvation is to demand that the train run in reverse, with the caboose pulling the freight.  It's God who works in us, producing works worthy of His approbation, otherwise unattainable by us.  It is only by the grace of God that we are empowered to do anything acceptable to God! Biblically, our good works are the fruit of grace, not a pre-condition for it: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23).  God works these things in us, since we have no power to produce them on our own.

The utmost legalism can produce is a grudging obedience. But that is not acceptable to God, who looks at the heart. Only God's writing on our hearts can enable us to do works acceptable to Him: "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33). Paul the Pharisee kept the law outwardly: "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel...concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Philippians 3:5-6). Though outwardly "blameless," Paul knew that in his "inward parts," he was not keeping the law, but was a rebel and a sinner: "For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good." (Romans 7:15-16).

There is no Christian sect that dispenses with faith, or counts it unnecessary. Even the most legalistic have nothing against faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ; they cheerfully number it as the first step on their 1,001 mile long march of salvation.  It's just that it's not enough, by their accounting methods.  All manner of things need to be added to it, though the list differs between Roman Catholics, followers of Alexander Campbell, and 'Oneness' Pentecostals. Faith, they tell us, is the first step, baptism next, then speaking in tongues...then come the 'holiness standards.' Has a woman been covered with the blood, but cut her hair short? Another one fallen into the pit.

But the Bible's own salvation plan is simpler.  It has one step, one plea, like the song says, "Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me..." (Charlotte Elliott).

Exalting our own efforts leads us away from God, not towards Him: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:17).  Salvation by works shoves God off the throne, and elevates sovereign, all-mighty man in his place.  But we can't save ourselves — if we could, we wouldn't be in this mess! Even our best deeds are stained with unworthy motives like filthy rags.  We can't lift ourselves up out of this mire and restore our broken fellowship with God, unless He lifts us: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44). The recreation and renewal of human nature is as much as divine work as the initial creation: "Man had as little to do with saving as with making himself: the creation of Eden and the cross of Calvary are equally the work of God; and Jehovah stands forth before the universe as not by one tittle less the Savior than the Creator of the world." (Thomas Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, Kindle location 1290-1298).

The One in whom we've put our trust is able to save us to the uttermost: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25).  At no time can we let go of His hand and trust to our own strength. It is an irreducible consequence of any faith plus works paradigm that the finished product of salvation is partly owing to the hard work and dedication of the recipient, and thus redounds to his credit. But, according to scripture, boasting is strictly excluded. Thus the boasting and preening of works righteousness leads nowhere but to disaster. Self-reliance is not the path of safety. God's offer of salvation rules out self-congratulation: "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith." (Romans 3:27). God is faithful to us if we are faithful to Him; it's only unbelief which results in our being cut off: "Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:. . ." (Romans 11:19-20).

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Piece-Work

We all know people who 'recycle' gifts, re-wrapping the unwanted Christmas presents they received from one and passing them on to another. That strikes some folks as tacky. But imagine an ungrateful receiver who takes the sweater Aunt Mabel lovingly knit for him up to the counter at the sweater factory and demands to be paid piece-work wages!

Think it couldn't happen? What of those who expect their good works to be rewarded by God? From whom did they obtain grace sufficient for those good works?:

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The good works of the saints are God's working in them: "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:8-10). Since good works are the fruit of God's grace, how could the saints demand to be paid...for what God has given them?

Given the gulf into which sinful man has fallen, it could not be otherwise. The demand that we save ourselves by our own efforts is like asking a chimney sweep to clean a dusty mirror by wiping it with his hands. There is no source of good in the universe but one, God: "And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." (Mark 10:18). This is where the good works which ornament the lives of the saints come from: from God, not from ourselves: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13). To be saved, we must look to Him, not to ourselves.

Everyone

"Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38-39).

To some readers, "everyone" means 'some: namely that subset of those who believe who also are baptized, speak in tongues, and do various other things.' Certainly whose who understand "everyone who believes" to mean 'some of those who believe' cannot be accused of a pettifogging literalism.

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Baptismal Regeneration"


What Must I Do?

"And he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'  So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31).

The Bible asks the question what we must do to be saved...and answers it.

"Here is the sum of the whole gospel, the covenant of grace in a few words: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Matthew Henry Commentary)

What have you Got?

The Bible asks, "...And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).

A good question! What of our own can we barter for our salvation? Belief?

But the Bible says belief is the gift of God, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;..." (Philippians 1:29).

It is by faith that we approach God to receive His blessing of a new heart: "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6).  But wait — where does faith come from? Do we here have something to boast in? — something of our own we can bring to God and lay at His feet, demanding our reward? How can that be, when faith itself is a gift of God?:

"On the contrary, It is written (Eph. 2.8,9): 'By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves...that no man may glory...for it is the gift of God.'...Hence we must assert another interior cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith.  The Pelagians held that this cause was nothing else than man's free choice.  And consequently they said that the beginning of faith is from ourselves, in so far as, namely, it is in our power to be ready to assent to things which are of faith, but that the consummation of faith is from God, Who proposes to us the things we have to believe.  But this is false, for, since man, by assenting to matters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must exist in him from some supernatural principle moving him inwardly, and this is God.  Therefore faith, as regards the assent which is the chief act of faith, is from God moving man inwardly by grace." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II of Second Part Q. 6, Article 1.).

The Bible says that faith is the gift of God: "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." (Romans 12:3). The Bible also says repentance is the gift of God: "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18). There is a real Bible truth at the heart of this,

"True faith is obtained by no strength or merit of man, but is poured into him of God, as I declared in my last sermon; and though man obtain it by hearkening unto the word of God, yet nevertheless it is wholly imputed to the grace of God; for unless this grace do work inwardly in the heart of the hearer, the preacher that laboreth outwardly doth bring no profit at all."

(Heinrich Bullinger, Sermon on Faith, Luther, Martin; Calvin, John; Knox, John; Latimer, Hugh; Zwingli, Huldreich; FenÚlon, Francois (2017-03-12). The Great Orators of the Reformation Era (Kindle Locations 1122-1124).)

It must be admitted however that this point get carried to an unbiblical extreme by some. There is no denying that the beginnings of faith present difficult questions of priority,

"Faith is the indispensable condition (so far as adults are concerned) of this indwelling of the Spirit. And the indwelling of the Spirit is the source of all spiritual life. Faith is indeed the fruit of the Spirit, and therefore the gift of the Spirit must precede the exercise of faith. It is nevertheless true that faith is the condition of the indwelling of the Spirit, and consequently of spiritual life. Life must precede breathing, and yet breathing is the necessary condition of living."
(Hodge, Charles (2015-02-13). Systematic Theology: The Complete Three Volumes (Kindle Locations 27102-27105). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.)

Without delving into this chicken-and-egg conundrum, at a minimum no believer can claim to be a self-made man. Why rush to trample underfoot God's gifts while piling up the scaffolding for a Promethean project of scaling heaven by your own might? Did that work in Babylon?

This is why the direction in which to look for salvation is upwards: "Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me." (Micah 7:7).



Savior Will?

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37).

There is something that frustrates God's will, because it is God's will for all to be saved, yet not all are: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 1:3-4). Hearing this, some leap to the conclusion that it's the human will which saves. They're leaning on a broken reed indeed!

Sin afflicts what part of the human constitution? The will: "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:1-2). People desire what is wrong, and this wrong desire gives birth to crimes and misdeeds. Crimes committed under duress, when the robber puts a gun to your temple and orders you to hand the note to the bank teller — are not counted as such, because they are involuntary.

So it's the will which is ruined by the disease of sin. So what do some 'physicians' prescribe as the remedy for sin? The human will, of course. They perceive sin as something 'out there,' external to the human psyche, not itself a disorder of the will.

God's grace is the remedy for this diseased will, not more willing. Nor is His therapy plan a gentle one of coaxing the old will back to health. No, He proposes a heart transplant: take out the bad one, put in a good one!: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26).

The Bible speaks of the will as the 'heart', the place where the intentions reside: "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself." (Daniel 1:8); "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." (Matthew 15:19). Some readers understand this as bad physiology, but I don't believe if you eavesdropped on a pair of neurologists having a heart-to-heart talk in the hospital cafeteria, they would say anything different from, 'I feel in the bottom of my heart,' etc. Nobody ever says 'I feel in my brain,' because you don't feel anything localized in your brain except a head-ache, whereas intense feelings — whether fear, or love — are often accompanied by sensations in the heart, such as racing or pounding. So you feel your feelings in the heart, not the brain.

God's remedy for the heart disease of sin is a new heart. So when His children run to do His will, which heart directs their way: the old, sin-sick one surgically excised, or the new one God's supplied? And if the new, divine gift, of what do they have to boast?

Let's put our faith in Him rather than in the human will — i.e., in ourselves! There's only one Savior, and it isn't us: "All flesh shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." (Isaiah 49:26).

While creaturely free will cannot be our Savior,— what is this but to trust in man?— some people deny altogether that there is any such thing, that free will is an illusion. Is this Biblical?

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Free Will"


Altoona

"To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever ['pas,' all] believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43).

The Bible teaches that all who believe in Him - not some, but all - shall receive remission of sins. The Bible also teaches:

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21).
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:..." (Hebrews 12:14).

A contradiction? Some think so, and they resolve this purported contradiction by amending Peter's words like so, 'whosoever believeth in him [and not only believes but in addition is baptized, and not only believes but in addition doeth the will of the Father, and not only believes but in addition pursues holiness, etc., etc.,] shall receive remission of sins.' Thus they're always saying, 'Faith is not enough.'

But a Bible which is pure, in which is no error, requires no correction: "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." (Psalms 12:6). Peter's statement is categorical: "whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." If it's true, then there are none who believe who shall not receive remission of sins. The proferred 'correction' does not refine, but simply negates Peter's statement.

Let's set up a brain-teaser of the form, of those seated in the bus terminal,

a.) Whosoever is named 'Edna' shall get on the bus to Altoona;
b.) None not wearing a red dress will board the bus to Altoona;
c.) Without a ticket marked 'Altoona', none shall get on board the bus to Altoona.

One proposed resolution 'corrects' the first statement to read, 'Whosoever is named 'Edna' shall get on the bus to Altoona, if and only if Edna is also wearing her red dress and has a ticket marked 'Altoona.' If Edna is not wearing a red dress, she will be barred from boarding the bus. Some 'Ednas' -- namely those without a red dress or a ticket -- will never make it.' Notice the 'correction' negates statement a.). Statement a.), a categorical statement that all 'Ednas' will board, cannot be reconciled with the prediction that some 'Ednas' will not make it.

Is it really necessary to negate one statement to preserve the others? Under what conditions can these statements all be true? If every woman in the bus terminal named 'Edna' is also wearing a red dress and if every woman in the bus terminal named 'Edna' also has a ticket marked 'Altoona,' the statements may stand as written. Look, there are the five 'Ednas' standing in the bus terminal, each of whom is wearing a red dress and each of whom holds a ticket marked 'Altoona'. We could even make it more restrictive, and say, 'Only those named Edna will board the bus,' like the Bible says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6). Since we're describing the same group of people each time, no statement need be negated to preserve the truth of the others.

As is common with brain-teasers, this one asks too much of coincidence to be credible; why should all the people going to Altoona be named 'Edna'? But suppose there's no coincidence to it at all. Suppose all named 'Edna' also, without fail, are wearing a red dress: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." (Romans 8:29-30). Suppose not a one is lost along the way: "...that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, 'Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.'" (John 18:9).

What is this but the Bible doctrine known as the perseverence of the saints? You can look at the saints from whatever perspective you like, as they're lifted from the miry clay, or as they stand in glory before their Lord, without spot or wrinkle. Yet it's always the same group of people, not a one is lost. God is mighty to save - not to suggest, not just to guide, but to save to the uttermost: "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25).

Ungodly

"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness..." (Romans 4:5)

Salvation is God's free gift, not to saints but to sinners: "the ungodly."

By our own lights, we may declare ourselves acquitted by right. But as Jesus taught in the matter of adultery, God expects obedience from the heart and mind as well as externally, "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:28).

"For although the law leads and drives away from evil to good works, it is still impossible for man to do them willingly and gladly; but he has at all times an aversion for the law and would rather be free. Now where there is unwillingness, there can never be a good work. For what is not done willingly is not good, and only seems to be good." (Martin Luther, A Treatise on the New Testament, That is the Holy Mass, Chapter 1. Works of Martin Luther, Volume I, Kindle location 3836).

By this standard, the verdict on all is condemnation:


All Have Sinned"


Justified by Faith

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:1-2).

 What does 'justify' mean? It can mean different things in different contexts. One meaning of justification is the legal act of acquittal.

"He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord." (Proverbs 17:15).

If, in Proverbs 17:15, 'justify' means to 'make just,' it is hard to see why such a wonderful act would be "an abomination." Rather, we are talking about reaching a verdict, in this case, the wrong verdict. One might say, 'to vindicate.' Here in Romans the faithful have been acquitted, found guiltless, on the basis of their faith which places them in Christ. Notice how Paul contrasts 'justify' and 'condemn,' putting these two judicial acts on a plane:

"Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life." (Romans 5:18).

Just as no one would think that 'condemning' a man means to make him wicked, but rather to find him so, so justification delivers the verdict of 'acquitted' on the strength of Christ's righteousness.

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  • “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”


  • (John 5:24).




Faith plus Works

Some hope to wiggle around the Bible teaching of salvation by faith by defining 'faith' to mean 'faith plus works,' or 'believe plus do.' This does not seem credible given the many instances in the Bible where faith is opposed to works, which would not be possible if 'works' were in fact a subcategory of 'faith':

"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.'" (Romans 4:2-8).

Let's plug in our new and improved definition and see how it works: 'But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith plus works are accounted for righteousness...' 'Improving' the passage in this way renders it self-contradictory: 'But to him who does not work...his...works are accounted...'

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Whosoever Believeth

When God makes a promise, you can take it to the bank:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11).

He is no Florida real estate promoter, whose promise of '10 acres' needs the qualifier attached: '...at high tide'! So when God promises that "whosoever believeth" shall be saved, that means just that: not a fraction, not a subset of those who believe, but all who believe, shall be saved. And did God say it? Oh, yes!:

"...that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:15-16).
"And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:40).
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?'" (John 11:25-26).

Cannot Sin

Of what sin can anyone convict those whom God has found guiltless?:

"Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9).

Who are they who are born of God? Those who believe:

"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him." (1 John 5:1).

When the Bible speaks of believers being 'born again' and 'born of God' it refers to God's supernatural work of regeneration, which is imaged by baptism. And that great work is contingent on belief and belief alone: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:..." (John 1:12).

An old theory proposes that Christ's sacrifice on the cross bought for believers, not freedom from sin, but freedom to sin or not to sin: the same freedom Adam and Eve surrendered in the garden. 1 John 3:9 fails to confirm this suggestion, because it does not say that believers can sin but don't, or that some believers sin and others don't, but that those born of God,— which is to say, believers,— cannot sin. This is both an awe-inspiring promise of the perseverance of the saints. . .as well as an alarm siren to those in whose lives the unfolding of this promise is not evident.

Those who preach the Bible doctrine of salvation by faith are often accused of antinomianism, as was Paul himself. This caricature of Bible doctrine asserts, 'Only believe, and you are free. . .to sin. You have purchased an eternal fire insurance policy in answering an altar call, so have fun.' One would like to think that this is always a false accusation, but some church-goers themselves recall having believed in 'easy-believism:'

"I had been taught of my radical assurance of salvation in Christ. When I was in my early twenties my girlfriend and I were about to go into some heathen concert and some anonymous evangelist come up to me and asked me about my salvation saying, 'If you were to die today do you know where you would go?' I promptly and clearly said 'yes.' And he asked the standard follow up question, 'Why?' I again said with great certainty, 'I gave my life to Jesus at First Baptist Church, when I was 13 years old.'" (Billy Stevens, Why I left Calvinism, Kindle location 164).

A 'believer' who cannot answer John's challenge correctly has no reason for confidence, because a sound tree cannot but produce wholesome fruit, and his life convicts him as a liar.

Show Me

James makes a demand in his letter, "But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18).

Oddly enough James' demand is often misheard, as if he had said, 'Show God' instead of 'Show me.' God's sources of information are more comprehensive than our own:

"The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
"...then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of the sons of men)..." (2 Chronicles 6:30).
"As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever." (1 Chronicles 28:9).
"O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off." (Psalm 139:1-2).

God's knowledge is so comprehensive, He not only knows what we are thinking, but what we will be thinking!: "Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought:..." (Ezekiel 38:10).

While God knows our thoughts intimately, one human being can only infer what another is thinking indirectly, by evidence. A man may testify to his thoughts: but is he lying? As James points out, what a man does is more compelling than what he says. But does God, who knows our thoughts afar off, require evidence?

James' question falls under the category of 'epistemology,' - of how we can know that something is so -- versus 'ontology,' -- of what is. Only in trampling the distinction between these two fields can one make James contradict Paul. For God, of course, epistemology is a little different than it is for us; after all, that which God knows as real is real: "...even God, who...calleth those things which be not as though they were." (Romans 4:17). Within the category of epistemology, there's a hierarchy that runs from God, omniscient, at the top, to human knowledge of the contents of other minds at the bottom. Placed midway are the contents of our mind, which we can know by introspection.

In James's letter, works are offered as sign or evidence of faith. One can check for life by placing a mirror beneath the nostrils of the decedent; if he is alive, his breath will fog the mirror. So, the proponents of 'faith plus works' sagely advise us, respiration must be 'added to' life to produce 'life.' But respiration is not something 'added to' life, it's a sign of life. Life doesn't need anything else to be life. Should respiration fail, the source of life starts over from scratch: "So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army." (Ezekiel 37:10).

The Work of God

"Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (John 6:29).

When the crowd asked the Lord about the "works of God," they wanted to know about works pleasing to God. But the Lord's answer was not about works pleasing to God, but the work done by Him: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise." (Jeremiah 17:14).

Supernatural

God made promises to His people whose fulfillment is not in the natural realm, but in the supernatural. Why on earth should calling out to God in faith cause any change at all in our standing with God? Yet the Bible says, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21). Why should the blood He shed wash away our sins?: "And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,..." (Revelation 1:5). Some can't think of any reason why these things should be so, so it goes right by them, and they revert to the natural human understanding that we must work out our own destiny, no one is going to save us but we ourselves. There is no reason one can think of why calling upon Him who hung upon the cross should save us, except that...God promised, therefore it's so.

Lung Cancer

Cigarette smoking causes cancer. Cigarette smoking causes stained teeth. Does it therefore follow that stained teeth cause cancer?

It's silly to suppose, but some reason just like this. They read that grace through faith causes salvation. They read that grace through faith causes good works. They conclude that good works cause salvation.

Wheelchair

Prosperity preachers are sometimes accused of blaming the handicapped for their afflictions. They look, it's alleged, at Joni Eareckson Tada in her wheelchair and say, 'That woman has no faith.' While I doubt anyone actually does that, defense against the charge may be found in those Bible incidents where disease is reported to be in God's will:

"And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure." (2 Corinthians 12:7).

What would be needed to draw the conclusion properity preachers are alleged to draw, 'That woman has no faith'? What is needed is an unconditional Bible promise that it is always God's will for those who ask in faith to be healed. Then, it would be a legitimate inference to look at a woman in a wheelchair and say, 'That woman has no faith.' The reason would not be that 'faith' means 'getting up out of a wheelchair,' — 'faith' does not mean 'getting up out of a wheelchair,'— nor that it lies within the sphere of human power for the disabled to get up out of a wheelchair unaided, because it does not. Rather, if God said, then God's supernatural work of healing could be expected in all cases where invoked. But as shown, physical health is not an unconditional promise of God.

Is there such an unconditional promise in the Bible? Yes, the promise of the new birth, a new heart, a new nature, is given to all without stint, as the song says:

"Did ever saint find this Friend forsake Him? No, not one! no, not one!
Or sinner find that He would not take him? No, not one! No, not one!
Jesus knows all about our struggles, He will guide till the day is done;
There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus -- No, not one! no, not one!
(Jonathan Oatman, Jr.)

Because this promise is to all, and its guarantor is God, who cannot lie: "...in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began..." (Titus 1:2),-- then all who have stood upon the promise have seen it fulfilled. This is how James can boast, "I will show you my faith by my works."

Watchmaker God

God is not passive in salvation but active. God gave us the grace to fear: "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved..." (John Newton). Legalism posits a watchmaker God, who paints the game-board, lays down the rules and then withdraws. Some people show interest, on their own initiative advancing to meet Him. That's OK with Him; He passively permits it. How different is the living God of the Bible! He runs to meet the prodigal: "And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." (Luke 15:20).

He sweeps until He finds the lost coin: "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?" (Luke 15:8). What a wonderful God we serve!



All our Works

"LORD, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our works in us." (Isaiah 26:12).

God's children eagerly run to do good works -- but not because they hope thereby to earn their way into His favor. They've already been granted His unmerited favor, not by any righteousness of their own, by solely through His free gift.  We're called to good works: "...looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." (Titus 2:13-14).  In point of fact, it's His grace which enables us to do anything good at all. Proposing to earn God's favor through our works lands us in this endless loop: God will reward us for our good works with salvation...works which themselves issue from God's free gift of saving grace!

Nothing

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5).

Some think that there is one, or several, things that the believer can do without the Lord: baptism, for instance, or other works of obedience. But the Lord said, "nothing."

Leopard's Spots

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil." (Jeremiah 13:23).

Salvation-by-works schemes require sinners to pull themselves up by their boot-straps. Only once they change will God regenerate them. The 'Oneness' Pentecostals, who preach that water baptism is the 'birth of water' of John 3:5, offer this 'new birth' only to those who have already changed:

"The word "repentance" comes from several Greek words which mean, change of views and purpose, change of heart, change of mind, change of life, to transform, etc...The scriptural mode of baptism is immersion, and is only for those who have fully repented, having turned from their sins and a love of the world." (UPCI Articles of Faith).

Jeremiah 13:23 shows the futility of this scheme. Only God can save, only God can change the captive heart.

His Mercy

"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7).
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Past, Present and Future

The tenses scripture uses in talking about salvation and redemption are three in number: past, present and future. Here are some examples of past tense:

"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2).
"And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:17-19).
"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever..." (1 Peter 1:22-23).
"...but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began..." (2 Timothy 1:8-9).

Salvation is also spoken of in present tense:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18).
"For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:15).

...and, of course, in future tense. Some find only this usage proper; but they are correcting the Bible.

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Fathers Know Best

“And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 32, p. 34 ANF_01).
“'Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My words, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into condemnation, but hath passed from death to life.' Thus believing alone, and regeneration, is perfection in life; for God is never weak. . .He knows, therefore, whom He has called, and whom He has saved; and at one and the same time He called and saved them.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 6, pp. 418-419 ANF_02).

Different views on salvation have been expressed during the two millenia of the Christian era. However that salvation is by faith alone has not gone unnoticed nor undefended.

The Protestant Reformation was founded on a revival of Augustine's teaching on faith and salvation. These Reformation authors in fact have the bad habit of quoting this party as if his opinions were authoritative. The Catholic Church, wishing to quash this rebellion against its authority, then faced the difficult task of declaring Augustine to have been a heretic, without saying so:

"The Council of Trent had a very difficult task to perform. In the first place, it was necessary to condemn the doctrines of the Reformers. But the Protestants, as well Lutheran as Reformed, had proclaimed their adherence to the Augustinian system in its purity and fulness; and that system had received the sanction of councils and popes and could not be directly impugned."
(Hodge, Charles (2015-02-13). Systematic Theology: The Complete Three Volumes (Kindle Locations 15168-15170). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.)

To the Bible believer, the decisive question is, not what did this man teach, but what saith the scriptures. Politically it was impossible not to condemn the Protestants, yet condemning Augustinian teaching on salvation was a clear innovation, even though it must also be said that other voices had put forth other ideas down through the years.

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TULIP

You will find that when your interlocutors fail to come up with the right answers to the easy questions, they jump up and somersault immediately to the hard questions. And indeed there are difficult questions associated with salvation. Explain to them that you are simple and thus constrained to stick to the original question, because that one isn't hard and there is only one right answer!

The great Genevan reformer, John Calvin, set forth a theory which his followers would later summarize as 'TULIP:' Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance. Are these teachings fully ascertainable by Bible study, or is this yet another man-made system, too clever by half? Is James Arminius' rival theory any improvement, or are both failed efforts to catch eternity in a bottle?

TULIP: is it Biblical?
TULIP: Is it Biblical?
T - Total Depravity U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of the Saints
Post-Mortem

A rival philosophy to Calvin's, Arminianism, employs a concept, 'free will,' whose origin lies in legal and philosophical speculation. Since this concept is not discussed at any length in the Bible, fitting it into the Biblical framework is an exercise in improvisation. Calvinism starts with a Biblical concept,— that God is judge,— but then insists that, if God is judge, He must be a judge only, and thus there can be nothing in sinning humanity that can excite His interest, sympathy or friendship. There is only one human factor of which He can take notice: moral worth,— and since sinning humanity has none, His selection of His saints must be altogether arbitrary, dependent in no way upon any characteristic belonging to them. God's own stated criteria: poverty, for example,— the Calvinists notice only long enough to discount, insisting God does not actually prefer the poor, but only chooses them to spite human opinion. To the outsider it seems their system rests upon the equal hatred principle: because there is nothing in an unsaved person for God to love, He must hate them all equally; he cannot prefer one to another.

Let me offer a thought experiment to show how this plays out: if, walking down the street, we pass by two beggars, one emaciated and pale, and one plump and ruddy, into whose tin cup would we be likelier to toss a quarter? The needier one, I should think. Yet Calvinism will not allow God to do what we all do: His hands are chained, He cannot show compassion toward the needier, because 'neediness' is not a moral excellence (true), no unsaved person possesses any moral excellence (true), and so therefore God is not allowed to lavish His compassion on the one who needs it more (say what?). If a way could be found to compel God to act only according to His attribute of justice, then perhaps this template could stand. But who can prevent God from acting from His attribute of compassion? And why must compassion be blind? Both of these man-made systems depart from the Bible and must be viewed with suspicion.

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