Great Principles of our Salvation (IV): Saved by Grace, Faith, and Obedience
We need to understand the great principles of our salvation, but we must also apply them. When John the immerser was preparing the hearts of men to accept Christ, he pointed out the necessity of applying the great spiritual principles he preached. "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance," he proclaimed (Matt. 3:7-10). An intellectual or academic understanding is not enough. When Jesus came teaching, he himself said the same thing. "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Lk. 6:46-49). The same principle was reinforced by the letter of James "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad." James taught that personal application of the word is essential: "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." God will bless the "doer of the work" and "not a forgetful hearer." As examples, James used teaching on the tongue, benevolence, and purity from worldliness (Jas. 1:22-27).
It is right to see the application needed by others and to try to help them. But we are not ready to do that until we make needed application to ourselves. When the prophet Nathan told King David about a wicked deed of selfishness which had been done, David responded, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die . . . ." How quickly David saw the need of application to others. Nathan said, "Thou art the man" (2 Sam. 12:1-7). The great apostle Paul watched his own life, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27).
When God declares a man righteous, he can turn from his righteousness and fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). "But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, . .shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die" (Ezek. 18:24). "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). Those who have never obeyed the Gospel need to seek God's grace through obedient faith. Those who have obeyed the Gospel and obtained God's grace must continue in grace by obedient faith.
We are alive unto God so long as we serve Him (Eph. 2:1). But there is an "eternal life" to be given unto the faithful at the end of the road. Now, we have that eternal reward only by right of inheritance, not as a final or present possession. We can forfeit the inheritance. On Judgment Day, "then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Those on the left "shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt. 25:31-46). The Holy Spirit reminds us of that great host who escaped Egypt through the Red Sea by divine guidance in Moses. One might think this great host of Israel once favored so mightily by God could never fall under His wrath. "But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness" on account of sin. "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:112). Many who pass through the waters of baptism in the Gospel Age will never reach the heavenly rest because of falling into sin without repentance.
Paul spoke of "the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" (Col. 1:5-6). In his letter to Titus, Paul said those who are "justified by his grace" are "made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." But he immediately reminded Titus to warn the brethren "that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works" (Tit. 3:7-8). Peter held up before the brethren that "lively hope'="an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:3-5). We can maintain the hope and keep the inheritance sure only by continuing in obedient faith.
How To Be Saved From Past Sins and Come Into God's Family
Grace, faith, and obedience save us from our past sins and bring us into the family of God. This must be understood and applied. We can know whether we are in God's family or out of it, in our sins or out of them. As our study continues, notice grace, faith, and obedience in the passages given.
In Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15-16, we see God's grace in providing "the Gospel" and in this provision of the Gospel: "shall be saved." Men must believe (faith), and be baptized (obedience). Compare Luke 24:46-47. By God's grace, Christ came "to suffer, and to rise from the dead," and by grace "remission of sins" is granted. But the preaching of this grace includes the necessity of "repentance" (obedience). A study of John 3:3-6,16; 20:23 reflects divine grace in the work of "the Spirit," God's great love, the death of Christ, and remission of sins. The importance of faith is seen in the fact that our Lord explained a spiritual birth which demands true faith in the heart, mind, and soul of the sinner ("believeth"). But entering into the family or "kingdom of God" requires being "born of water." Men are not born into God's family or kingdom, they do not manifest true faith, they have not been born "of the Spirit," until they are baptized in water. Thus they are saved by grace, faith, and obedience.
The Gospel began to go into all the world on the first Pentecost after Jesus arose. God's grace was preached that day as reference was made to His plan or purpose, the death of Christ, and His resurrection. Grace was seen in preaching, the "remission of sins." Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was evidenced when many listeners "were pricked in their heart." Seeing their lost condition and believing God could save them, they cried out in anguish of heart, "What shall we do?" "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:23, 36-38). Thus, grace and faith without or before obedience did not save; all three were necessary. All three are referred to in Romans 10:8-10, where it is taught that men can be "saved" (grace); "for with the heart man believeth (faith) unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession (obedience) is made unto salvation." The confessing here is confessing "the Lord Jesus." God's grace saves when man's faith moves him to obey.
A good summary of all this is found in Galatians 3:2627. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." We are brought into grace ("into Christ," "put on Christ") by faith. It is "by faith," but not until we "have been baptized." Faith must activate obedience. We are saved from our past sins by grace, through faith, when faith moves us to repent of every sin, to confess Christ's name, and to be baptized. Thus we are made "children of God." Every reader can know whether he is lost in sin and whether he is in God's family, or not. Each one can make application unto himself: "Have I come into God's grace? Have I come by faith? Have I come by faith repenting, confessing, and being baptized?"
How To Stay Saved Unto The End
Grace, faith, and obedience keep us saved unto the end. First of all, we must walk in the grace of God through obedient faith in daily living. We must grow stronger or we will grow weaker and fall away. If we are to be "kept by the power of God through faith," it is obvious we cannot afford to let our faith decline and disappear (1 Pet. 1:5). Growing in faith will involve growing in moral courage or virtue, growing in knowledge, growing in self-control or temperance, growing in endurance or patience, growing in godliness, growing in brotherly kindness, growing in love or charity. "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful . . . give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:5-11). We can die unto God and lose the final inheritance by returning to "the deeds of the flesh": "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions (heresies), envyings, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (Gal. 5:19-21). Or we can grow in the Lord unto eternal life, producing "the fruit of the Spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).
What are some things that make us grow weaker and fall away? (1) False Doctrine. "Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." The safeguard is to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:17-18). Today, "love" is a cloak for a lawless spirit. In the name of "love," sound doctrine is watered down, ,fornication committed, rebellions started. "Grace" and "unity" have become watchwords for those who will not draw the line against false doctrine. People who live in sin are being told the grace of God will automatically save them.
(2) Worldliness. This danger ranks second to none! The Holy Spirit pleads for us to "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God . . . And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2). We are to be changed by the gospel not by the world, and conformed to Christ not to the worldly. As Cecil Willis said, "This is a battle we are losing." The sad truth is made plain by answering this question: where have brethren learned harmful habits like smoking, drinking, and some even taking drugs-from Christ or the worldly? Shamefully, every immodest dress style worn in the devil's family is worn by some in the Lord's (or at least, who think they are; 1 Jn. 3:9). Many congregations are waking up to learn that they have young people and young married couples gambling among themselves, going dancing, attending "night clubs," and having parties with social drinking. Some sing spiritual songs one day a week and listen to wild, lascivious music six days (or even seven!). Filthy language, reading, and movies characterize not a few. More and more on every hand, brethren are involved in unscriptural marriages, divorces, and remarriages. The church today is being hampered, hindered, and hog-tied by its worldly members. No wonder so many are so weak, and so many fall away! Those who would endure unto the end must awaken.
(3) Carelessness, Neglect, Indifference. There is an attitude neither for or against much of anything. Those whose service to the Lord is "neither cold nor hot" sicken Him; "so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew literally, the word is vomit) thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16). With T.V., ball games, week-end trips, and a thousand other diversions, it is easy to gradually slip into a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the assembly of the church. The indifferent spirit manifests itself in many ways: no active participation in worship, failure to teach and train children, no effort to teach the lost, etc.
(4) Failure to Develop Close Relationship with God. Paul was not interested in simply knowing "about" Christ-he knew several things about Him before obeying the Gospel. Before becoming a Christian, Paul "knew" or judged or thought about Christ "after the flesh"-in a superficial, unthinking way. "Yet now henceforth know we him no more"-Paul no longer looked upon Christ by outward appearances. He desired that he might truly "know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phil. 3:10). Paul had not merely "found a suitable religion" or "joined a church" of his choice. He had literally placed his heart, mind, and soul into the hands of Christ for guidance and safekeeping: "for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). Instead of drifting away from God until He seems like an abstraction, we can grow closer to Him every day. That is not mystical or mysterious. It is simple, if we only desire to live close to Him. We can talk to God in prayer, and listen to God in Bible study. Making this our practice constantly, we may know him better every day we live.
Not only in daily living, but secondly, in the affairs of the church, we must walk in the grace of God through obedient faith. As members of Christ's body, we are directed by our Head to specific responsibilities with other saints where we live. This joint or collective work pertains to the local church, the church which meets in each community or locality. As members of God's family, we must do all we can to please God in our collective responsibility.
In all matters of faith and practice, the church must be molded by the divine pattern, not by the pattern of this world's wisdom. We need nothing more than the Scriptures to set in order the church in organization, work, worship, doctrine, and discipline. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:1617). For instance, church organization is one area men have long considered "wide open" for the use of human wisdom-resulting in diversity, dissension, and division. But Paul carefully wrote Titus, not turning him over to his own wisdom, but revealing the wisdom of Clod "that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (Tit. 1:5-12). The instructions for church organization were given also to Timothy by the Holy Spirit through Paul, including the details of specific qualifications for church officers. Paul affirms that the things he wrote were more than mere suggestions, advice, or possibilities for consideration. "These things write I unto thee . . . that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3, esp. vv. 14-15). If divine authority is respected in these matters, God's people will be pleasing to Him, united, edified, and fully equipped. Obedient faith respects divine authority in all matters of faith and practice.
But in many cases today, obedient faith is being replaced by the spirit of lawlessness. The simplicity of local church organization is giving way to the power structures of centralization through human boards and "brotherhood elderships" in large city churches. The spiritual work of upholding the truth is being supplanted by activities which are social, recreational, and even political in nature. The simple and edifying worship of the New Testament is gradually set aside for worldly show and appeal to the flesh; the extremes of cold formality on the one hand and overheated emotionalism on the other are becoming more commonplace. Denominational doctrine is pouring into the church via denominational concepts of grace, faith, love, legalism, Gospel, justification, etc. Church discipline is being sacrificed for the goal of BIG numbers, BIG finances, and a BIG show of popularity. Such lack of respect for divine authority is not obedient faith and will not save. "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). There is no life through disobedience.
Let each of us ask this all-important question, "Am I walking in the grace of God through obedient faith?" Let each of us make application where we need to. We can know the answer to that question, and we cannot fool God about it! If we are guilty of disobedience, let us repent immediately rather than deceiving ourselves. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves . . . . If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart. this man's religion is vain" (Jas. 1:22,26). Having the promises which are so real in God's family, "let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). If we ~ are guilty of disobedience, it will not do to depend on some vague hope of automatic forgiveness; there is no such thing revealed in the Gospel. If we are walking in disobedience, a halfhearted "confession" of "If I have done anything wrong . . ." will not do. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things" (1 Jn. 3:20). To justify ourselves in sin is to seal our doom, for "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (Ja. 4:6).
If we are walking in disobedience, we are walking in unbelief outside the grace of God. If you have never repented, confessed Christ, and been baptized, do so now. It is not a matter of "If I have sinned you are lost in sin (Rom. 6:23; Acts 2:38). Christians who awaken to find themselves practicing sin may find grace to help in time of need. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9). No half-confessing, half-self-justifying confession will do; sin is sin, the wages death. The only real solution is this: "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded" (Jas. 4:8).
Let us ever be mindful of the great principles of our salvation-"so great salvation." "For by grace are ye saved through faith." "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (Eph. 2:8; Jas. 2:24).
Truth Magazine XXI: 32, pp. 504-507