By Wm. E. Wallace
A major source of tension with denominational people is seen in the subject “salvation by grace.” Salvation by grace is certainly a prominent chain of Bible thought, and the subject constantly and continually brings dispute, debate and argumentation. Why should there be so much difficulty over such an important Bible doctrine?
Trouble arises because of the idea that salvation by grace eliminates the necessity of doing work or obeying commands in order to be saved. Those who contend for this idea about salvation by grace refer to Ephesians 2:8, Romans 3:24-29, Romans 4:4, Romans 11:6. On the other hand, we who accept obedience as being necessary for salvation refer to such passages as Matthew 7: 21, Acts 2: 40, Acts 9:6, Philippians 2:12, James 2:14-26 and I Timothy 4:16.
Are we to conclude that there is Bible justification for both doctrines? No, Bible doctrines do not contradict. No passage (teaching salvation by grace rules out the necessity of obedience to God’s commands.
There are numerous kinds of works condemned in the New Testament. There are works in which men boast. (Ephesians 2:8.) There are works which curse. (Galatians 3:12-13.) There are works in which we glory. (Romans 4: 2-4.) There are works of self-righteousness. (Luke 18:10.) There are works of man’s righteousness. (Titus 3:5.)
Salvation by grace through faith rules out those kinds of works. But salvation by grace through faith includes what God has done for man in order that man might be saved. God’s grace offers us a saviour–Jesus Christ. In faith we must accept him. God’s grace offers us a teaching–the gospel. By faith we believe it and obey it. God’s grace offers us a saved relationship–the church. By faith, seen in obedience, we enter it.
The works involved in accepting Christ in obeying the gospel and in entering the church are not works which are condemned as boasting, cursing, self-righteous and debt works. Baptism is not a work in which men may boast. Baptism is not a work which curses. Baptism is not a self-righteous or debt work.
Romans 4:4 contrasts grace and debt. Debt works involve something earned. The works of grace involve something unearned and undeserved. We cannot make God indebted to us: we cannot merit or earn what he offers to us, but we must reach out to accept that which he offers us. When we reach out to accept it, “we are working the work of God.” (John 6:29, 9:4.) God has something to offer us, something good and lovely, something which is free and undeserved, something given out of his pure generosity. God waits for us to accept it. He tells us how to accept it or receive it.
God’s grace offered Noah a saving plan– the ark. Noah believed then he worked the works of God’s graceful instruction in order to escape the flood. God’s grace offered Israel a victory plan for the battle of Jericho. Israel, moved by faith, worked out the plan of God’s grace and won the battle. God gracefully offers Us access to divine favor. (Ephesians 2:18.) We become recipients of divine favor as we purify our souls in obeying the works of God’s grace. (I Peter 1: 22.) Obedience to the commands of God’s grace does not disannul salvation by grace.
We are to be judged according to works (of grace). (Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6-7, Revelation 20: 13.) Thus, works are essential to salvation–the works which guide us toward heaven.
God’s grace appears to all men (Titus 2:11), as it did to all those Jews who were bitten of serpents. (Numbers 21.) But as those Jews had to act (look) to be healed, we must act (obey) in order to be saved. (John 8:14-16, Acts 2:40.) We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8), by blood (Romans 5:9), by faith (Romans 5: 1), by baptism (I Peter 3: 21), by working God righteousness. (Acts 10: 35.)
Faith saves, but not the kind the Pharisees had. (John 12:42.) Works save, but not the kind mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9. We are saved by grace through faith. The faith that saves is the faith that believes that Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 7:21.
Truth Magazine VI: 12, pp. 14-15