Faith Works: a conversation

Jim: I can sense from the little I know about you that you sincerely believe in Jesus. Exactly what do you believe? What do you say that a person must do in order to be saved by Him?

Ken: Hmmmmm... there are Bible verses that speak of what a person must do.

Jim: Do you think that God requires anything from you besides simply believing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins?

Ken: Yes, we believe that He requires more than that.

Jim: That's what I thought. Let me share a little bit with you from the Word, then. Let's look at Ephesians 2:8-9. It says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." Have you ever read that?

Ken: Oh, yes, definitely...

Jim: Well, you can see right here that salvation is a free gift. It's only by grace through faith. And so there are no works required. If there were works required, someone could boast, right?

Ken: Well...

Jim: John 3:16 says, "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." It doesn't say anything about doing works, does it? All you have to do is just believe. This is grace. And Romans 10:9 says, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved."

Ken: Well, that's not the message we heard.

Jim: What message have you heard?

Ken: One thing that the apostle John tells me is that if I don't obey the Son, I won't see life. And, in John 3:36, just 20 verses after John 3:16, we read, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." And then, from Hebrews 5:9, it tells me that the Son "became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him."

Jim: Yes, but you can't just take a couple of scriptures out of context!

Ken: And in Acts 3:22-23, Peter quotes Moses concerning our Savior, "To Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you," and, "every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people." It seems like God is pretty serious about His Son being obeyed.

Jim: But you can't take those things and start making them prerequisites to salvation. Salvation is not by works, but by faith alone. You can't earn your salvation.

Ken: We're not talking about earning salvation. This salvation is about obeying the gospel, like it says in II Thessalonians 1:8, "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."

Jim: But that just means obedience in the sense that when you hear the gospel, you receive it by faith and accept its terms and believe what it says.

Ken: Not at all! What it means is that the good news doesn't consist of doctrines to be accepted in your mind, but rather commands to be obeyed in real life. God has a right to expect obedience, doesn't He? He's not unrighteous. He doesn't give commands that can't be obeyed by those who walk according to the Spirit, as we are reminded from Romans 8:1-10.

Jim: How can you say that? Nobody has ever been able to obey the Law!

Ken: Our Master did.

Jim: Yeah, but He was God.

Ken: He was a man: a Human being.

Jim: Then you're saying that He wasn't God? You're saying that he was just a perfect man who kept the Law?

Ken: We are saying that He is the divine Son of God. The Spirit we know says, "He came in the flesh," just as it says in I John 4:1-3. He suffered as a man; He loved as a man. But another spirit contrary is saying, "He did everything because He was God." And that Spirit does not confess His humanity, undermining obedience to Him by putting His example beyond the reach of us to follow. According to I John 4:1-3, that spirit is of the antichrist.

Jim: Well, all I'm trying to get at is this thing about having to keep the Law in order to be saved. Putting people under that kind of bondage is just what Paul was talking about in Galatians 1:6, when he said, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel." Paul goes on to explain that the "different gospel" he is speaking of is one that tries to find salvation through works of the Law, particularly circumcision. He says it most clearly in Galatians 5:4 and 6: "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace," and, "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith worked through love."

Ken: That's absolutely right. Jim, we aren't saying that a person has to keep the Law in order to be justified. We are saying that God requires obedience. As Paul said in I Corinthians 7:19, "Circumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commandments is what counts."

Jim: But salvation is a free gift -- saved by grace through faith -- it is not the result of anything we do. That's what it says in Ephesians 2:8-9. How can salvation still be a free gift, if God requires more than just believing?

Ken: Eternal life is a free gift. So, who is it given to? A lot of people have come to think that eternal life is like those coupons you find in a little rack at the grocery store. There's a sign saying, "Free -- Take One!" Anybody who comes along and wants a coupon can have one, even if they never intend to acquire the product that the coupon is for, they can still have the coupon. Like this example, some people think that all they have to do is pick up their Eternal Life coupon and they've got their ticket to heaven: they've got Eternal Life, and the devil can't take them to hell no matter how much they disobey God and obey the devil. Just believe that Jesus died for sinners. "That's me," they say, "I don't want to die for my sin. I'll be glad to let Jesus pay for my sins. What a relief!" Anyone who thinks eternal life can be earned doesn't know how much it's worth. It's not even within our buying power. It can only come to us as a free gift, bestowed by the gracious God on those who are powerless to get it themselves. But He doesn't give eternal life to those who "believe" that Jesus died for their sins and yet continue living in disobedience. That's why Hebrews 5:9 says, "He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation..." and why Acts 5:32 speaks of "the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him."

Jim: Well, I don't know about that. I think you're just interpreting one or two isolated verses to fit a doctrine of works. Start emphasizing anything other than grace and faith, and you'll find yourself in bondage to the Law to obey every jot and tittle.

Ken: So, have you come to know the Son of God apart from obedience to Him?

Jim: Yes, I have. I've come to know Him through faith.

Ken: How do you know that you've come to know Him? Is that just your own subjective feeling? Suppose someone told you that you may have assurance of knowing Him is if you obey His commands?

Jim: I'd say the same thing I'm saying to you now: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law," and also "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Ephesians 3:17.

Ken: What do you believe about this passage? I John 2:3-4. "We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, 'I know Him,' but does not do what He commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." Do you think that John is talking about works here?

Jim: Let me see that...

Ken: You see, we don't believe that anyone is justified or comes to know Him through works of the Law, any more than you do. The apostle John certainly didn't put people under the Law.

Jim: But, I don't... I mean, I've read that before, but I never...

Ken: The "other gospel" that Paul opposed was one that tried to make people conform outwardly before they were changed inwardly, saying that circumcision was necessary in order to be saved. That doesn't mean that God didn't command us to do certain deeds, however. His commands are not optional. There's a penalty for disobedience.

Jim: I think I can see where I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying that you had to obey before you were justified. But you're saying that He expects obedience after you believe.

Ken: Not exactly. Believing isn't just an act of the mind, the will or emotions. You must trust absolutely in the Son of God and His message. In making that choice to trust, you are choosing to obey. And the first things you must obey is what our Master said you must do in order to be His disciple. In that obedience, you find life. Of course, you must receive His sacrifice. But you can't have it unless you receive His headship over your life. His headship means your own course must end by complete repentance -- turning away from what you are and where you were going. We should not forget that the kind of "belief" that isn't expressed in obedience carries with it no real assurance of salvation. James 2:14 says, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?" And again in verse 24, he says, "You see that a person is justified by what he does, and not by faith alone."

Jim: What, then, does a person do to be saved?

Ken: It really isn't complicated. Romans 10:13-14 says, "Everyone who calls upon, invokes, the name of the Lord -- brings as his surname the Lord's own name -- will be saved."

Jim: That's it?

Ken: Keep reading; the next verse, verse 14, through verse 15: "And how can they believe in the One whom they have not heard? And you can they hear without someone declaring to them? And how can they be declaring [the evangel of good news] unless they are sent?"

Jim: Hmmmmm... So, how do we know whether someone is sent or not?

Ken: If someone is sent, he will be carrying out the commission of Mark 16:15: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." It's also written in Matthew 28:19-20, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all national, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..."

Jim: That's a bit more than I first heard.

Ken: Today you see many people preaching a message that calls their hearers to believe, to ask Jesus into their heart, to say a sinner's prayer, etc. But few say, like the man preached to Paul in Acts 22:16, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name..."

Jim: Can't a person be saved without going through the ritual of baptism?

Ken: If baptism is a ritual, the only thing it could do would be to sever you from Christ -- like the ritual of circumcision. But if you obey the gospel in appealing to God for a clean conscience, baptism washes away your sins in the blood of the Lamb. Look at Acts 2:38, and see the place of baptism for those receiving the good news: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." If baptism would seem minor to you, certainly becoming a disciple isn't minor. And who today proclaims a message that calls people to do what the Son of God said they must do in order to be disciples?

Jim: What do you mean?

Ken: In Luke 14:33, He says, "No one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions." And there are many things that our Master has commanded of us, because He loves us and desires that we be with Him where He is. In fact, Matthew 10:37-38 makes clear that if anyone doesn't find God's only Son worthy of abandoning everything, then that person is not worthy to follow Him.

Jim: But we were saying that eternal life is a free gift!

Ken: Eternal life results from a gospel that people actually leave possessions and relationships for. Giving up all is our response because the message and the messenger are bringing us out of the kingdom of darkness where everyone lives for self (like the Prince of Darkness does), and into the Kingdom of God where you love no longer for yourself, "but to Him who dies and rose again on your behalf." [II Corinthians 5:15] This seems like foolishness to some people, but it is the practical reality from our Master's words, "deny yourself and take up your cross." It is also the historical reality of disciples who obeyed those words and were saved.

Jim: So, who is truly sent to preach the gospel these days? The way you're talking, things look pretty gloomy.

Ken: One thing is for certain: Those who are sent don't put their own name, or any other name, other than the name of our King, on what they are doing. The Master said in John 7:18, "He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself; but he who works for the honor of the One who sent him is a man of truth; their is nothing false about him."

Jim: How can we know the message of a preacher is true?

Ken: Our Master has a wonderful answer for that question. He said in John 7:17, if any man is willing to do God's will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself." The Spirit of God searches hearts for people whose heart will turn toward the Father through the Son. He wants to help and empower them to do His will. For anyone who truly sets course to do God's will alone, then it says from John 7:17, God will see to it that such a person recognizes the messenger He is sending.