By Cecil Willis
We are nearing the end of our studies on the subject of faith. At times, we have diverted from the theme proper, in order that we might, in our estimation, give some things that were of profit and value to you, and yet these things that we have discussed have been in some way connected with our major subject. We plan perhaps to have one more lesson upon the subject of faith. In our last article, we studied the relationship that exists between works and salvation. We pointed out that man is not saved by doing the works that he has chosen to do, and that man is not saved by his own meritorious works. We cited scriptures stating that man was justified by works. We learned that the works by which man is justified are the works of God. The works of God are the things that God has commanded. We had learned in the preceding article that man is justified by faith, but not by faith only. It is when that faith works that one is justified.
By entitling our lesson, “God’s Eternal Plan of Salvation,” we, or course, mean by that that God has always had the same plan of salvation. It is our purpose to point out that God has always justified man by the same principle. We might call our lesson, “The Principle of Salvation,” meaning the principle upon which God has always justified.
Some Unchanging Principles
Even though we are living in a world of change and variety, there are some things about this universe that do not change. Principles do not change. They are the same in every age. Applications of these principles might, and do change, but the principles remain the same. For example: God always has had the principle of modesty for men and women to observe, but the application of this principle changes. Even though we dress differently today than we did even a few years ago, still there is that unchanging principle of modesty governing our dress that governed our forefathers centuries ago. It seems that some of the world today has forgotten that there ever was such a principle, but principles are unchanging.
God always has had a principle condemning worldliness, but as the ages change, the application of the principle must change. Many of the things which are now to be condemned under the principle of worldliness were unknown a few years back. Everything wicked that may begin in the future will still be condemned under this same principle, for it will endure, even though the things to which this principle is applied many not long endure. God had always demanded that man be fair and honest with his fellow man. This principle is the same; whether the man is trading an ox cart, a camel, an ox yoke, or whether he is trading a Cadillac automobile, a jet airplane; whether he is dealing with an individual or a nation. The applications of the principles might change, but the principle remains the same.
So it is with salvation. God always has had a certain principle of salvation. There always have been certain conditions upon which God would justify man, and this is an unchanging principle. Man has lived in three great ages: the Patriarchial, Mosiacal, and the Christian Ages. In each of these ages, the salvation of men and women has been governed by the same unchanging principle, of salvation. The Bible very clearly points out what that rule of salvation is, and it is now our intention to study what the Bible says about men have always been justified. In this way, we can know that that unchanging principle is the same one to which you and I must comply. We also want to show scriptures teaching what one must do today.
The Principle of Faith and Obedience
The condition upon which God has always saved man has been that of faith and obedience. God has always demanded that man be a believer in order to be justified, but God has also demanded that this believer obey His commands. Just as with the other principles that we have observed, the application of this one has changed. God has not always told man to believe the same thing. The Patriarchs did not have faith in Christ, as we are to have faith in Him. The Jews under the Law did not have faith in Christ, as we are to believe in Him. They could not have believed in Christ under these old laws, for He had not yet come. They were to have faith in Him when He did come, but He had not come at that time, thus they did not have the same kind of faith in Christ that we are to have. The application of the principle has changed.
Still, as they were required to obey in every period of God’s dealings with man in order to be saved, God has not always required that man do the same thing. Under the Old Testament Law, men were required to offer animal sacrifices, burn incense, keep the Sabbath, and many things that you and I are not commanded to do under the Law of Christ. We are given different commandments. They had to obey the commandments the Lord gave them in order to be saved, and we have to obey the commandments that the Lord has given us in order to be saved.
Study the Great Honor Roll of the Bible, Hebrews 11, as composed by the Apostle, and see the principle upon which each was justified. Notice verse 4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Abel’s faith was realized in his obedience. Verse 7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear; prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” Now what did Noah do to be saved? He did the same thing that you and I must do. He believed and obeyed. It would be very foolish for one to try to apply the modern principle of justification by faith only to Noah or any other of the great men of the Old Testament. Denominationalism would say that Noah was saved by faith only. Was Noah saved when he believed, or when his faith led him to obey, to prepare, to build the ark? Certainly we all know that it was when his faith led him to work, to prepare the ark, that his faith saved him. It took faith plus obedience.
Verse 8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” What did Abraham do to be justified? In the book of Romans, the salvation of Abraham is attributed to his faith. James says: “Was not Abraham our father, justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” (Jas. 2:21). Here , in one verse we see the harmonization of these two statements. By faith, Abraham obeyed. He was justified by the principle by which all the other righteous men of the Old Testament were justified, and by the same principle by which you and I will be justified, if we are ever saved. The faith that saves is the faith that obeys! Abraham believed to be saved, but he was not saved until he obeyed. “By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son” (v. 17). Once again, the faith of Abraham was called upon to obey in order to justify him.
“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked unto the recompense of reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:24-27). In order for Moses to be saved, his faith had to act.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encompassed about for seven days.” When the children of Israel took the city of Jericho, it was only after they had marched around the city as God had prescribed; -only after they obeyed-that the walls fell down. They had to do two things. They had to believe and obey. This is once again the application of God’s eternal principle of salvation.
In summary of the things we have learned from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, notice: By faith Abel offered; By faith Noah prepared; By faith Abraham obeyed; By faith Abraham offered; By faith Moses forsook Egypt; By faith the Israelites encompassed Jericho (and the walls fell). In every one of these instances it took the principle of salvation applied to save them. It is true that each of these individuals did different things. They were given different commandments. But they each followed the same principle. They each believed and obeyed. This is the principle of salvation. It takes the same thing today to be justified.
Summary of New Testament Teaching
The New Testament plainly states the principle of salvation. In Galatians 5:6, when Paul had been talking to the Jews and telling them that the works of the law would not justify them, he said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.” Paul says it takes a working faith to save. The entire passage from James 2:14-26, that we studied in our last article, points out the truthfulness of this principle. James says that the faith that does not work is dead-it is barren-and that our faith is made perfect when it works. Unless our faith works, it does not produce salvation. Today, we have the principle of salvation governing us that applied to men centuries ago. Principles do not change. We must believe and obey, just as men had to do. in the long ago.
Today, under the Christian age, we have different commands to obey than they had then. Yes it is still just as compulsory that we obey as it was for them. Passages might be multiplied demonstrating that one must be a believer in order to be saved. The Hebrews writer says “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” (Heb. 11:6). This is the first part of the principle of salvation. The other things that we are to do, today, are also plainly taught. One of the commandments is, that one must repent of his sins. This means to change his mind about sin, and to turn away from it. “I tell you nay, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Peter said, “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). An individual cannot receive remission of sins unless he repents. This is one of the prerequisites of the remission of one’s sin. Peter commanded the Jews on the day of Pentecost to “Repent ye, 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 Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Repentance must precede the remission of sins. It is one of the things that one must do in obeying the Lord.
Another commandment of Christ just as plainly taught is that one must be baptized in order to be saved. Christ said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). In the passage we cited just a moment ago, Peter told the Jews on Pentecost to do two things in order to receive the remission of sins. They were already believers or they would not have been pricked to the heart by Peter’s charge that they had killed the Son of God. Peter told them to repent and be baptized in order to receive the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38).
When the Lord commanded that one repent and be baptized upon a confession of his faith, this was no more than the application of God’s eternal plan of salvation. He has always had commandments that men must obey in order to be saved. These commandments have varied throughout the years, and yet the same things have been required: faith and obedience. Today man is called upon by God to believe in Christ, and to obey. These commandments to be obeyed, we have just cited. You must repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to receive the remission of sin. Remember friends, that principles do not change, and God is not going to alter any principle in order to save you. If you are saved, it must be by this eternal plan of salvation that God has given. We are pleading with you to accept the gospel and obey it, live faithfully, to all its requirements, and finally inherit eternal life through faith and obedience to God’s righteous commandments.
Truth Magazine XIX: 44, pp. 691-694
September 18, 1975