By Mike Willis
In our previous articles, we have shown (1) man’s need for salvation because of his sinful condition (he is dead in trespasses and sins), and (2) God’s grace in sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of mankind. Let us move forward in our study of salvation by grace through faith by noticing the conditional nature of man’s salvation.
Conditions Do Not Nullify Grace
The Calvinists teach that salvation is not of grace if there is so much as one condition which must be performed by man in order to receive that salvation. Hence, they teach that man is saved by God unconditionally. We are charged with teaching “salvation by works” when we teach that man is saved conditionally.
However, “conditional salvation” is not “salvation by works.” Salvation by works is a biblical phrase used to refer to a type of salvation which comes through perfect obedience to God’s law. When one perfectly obeys the law of God (this can only be discussed hypothetically since only Jesus Christ ever perfectly obeyed the law of God), his salvation is earned; he has whereof to boast. In the event that salvation is earned, God grants salvation because of the perfect character of the persons who worked to earn his salvation.
“Conditional salvation” is not of this nature. Conditional salvation is salvation by grace. The man who receives his salvation conditionally, confesses that there is nothing which he can do to save himself. Furthermore, he confesses that he is a sinner doomed to hell because of his violations of God’s divine law. Hence, such a man has no room to boast in himself; there is no virtue in him meeting the conditions to obtain his salvation. His salvation is grounded, not in the conditions which he performs, but in the blood of Jesus Christ.
I think that we can establish these points more clearly by noticing some examples from the Old Testament of conditional grace.
a. Naaman being healed of leprosy. The record of Naaman being healed of leprosy is found in 2 Kings 5. The divine conditions for his cleansing were given by Elisha, the prophet of God; he said, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shah be clean” (v. 10). Finally, Naaman met the conditions and his leprosy was removed. Who would dare to imply that dipping seven times in the muddy Jordan River earned God’s gift of removal of his leprosy? Everyone knows that Naaman did -not earn his cleansing by dipping in the river; rather, these were merely the conditions for receiving God’s gift of grace.
b. The conquest of Jericho (Josh. 6). When the children of Israel approached Jericho, God said, “See, I have given into throe hand Jericho” (v. 2). Yet, the gift was not given unconditionally; the divine conditions were given as follows: “And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him” (vs. 3-5). Were the walls of Jericho caused to fall by works? Certainly not, for we read elsewhere of the kinds of deeds done by men to tear down the walls of a city. The walls of Jericho fell because God had given Jericho into the hands of Israel; however, this gift of God’s grace was given conditionally.
We could illustrate this same principle by a study of several other conditional gifts of God. However, these suffice to demonstrate that conditional salvation is not salvation by works!
The point which I am making with reference to the remission of the sins of the alien sinner needs to also be stated with reference to the remission of sins of the child of God who has fallen from grace. Some are stating that God’s grace is extended to the fallen child of God automatically (i.e., unconditionally). Because he is in Christ, they say, his sins of ignorance and weaknesses of the flesh are automatically covered. Some state that this occurs through the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believers’ account; others state that the blood is somehow automatically applied to the believer before and without his meeting any conditions for obtaining that remission (such as repentance, confession, and prayer). Furthermore, those who advocate this view charge that one teaches salvation by works if he teaches that a believer must repent, confess, and pray in order to have his sins forgiven.
I think that our readers are able to see that we are fighting doctrinal cousins when we are fighting those who teach initial salvation is given unconditionally and when we are fighting those who teach that the erring child of God is forgiven unconditionally. One notices this point even more clearly when he notices the similarities in the arguments used against conditional salvation by both groups. Here are some of the arguments which are charged by both groups: (1) You teach salvation by works; (2) Works nullify the grace of God; (3) You teach a Pharisaical type of righteousness; and (4) You teach legalism.
Conditional salvation does not nullify grace, whether we are speaking of the conditional forgiveness of sins for the alien sinner or for the erring child of God. Both men stand before God, not upon their own merit of perfect obedience, but upon the basis of forgiveness of sins which is obtained through the precious blood of Christ. Hence, conditional salvation is salvation by grace!
Frankly, I question the honesty of a man who charges that a system of conditional salvation makes salvation dependent upon perfect obedience. Yet, we hear that stated repeatedly. A man who stands before God depending upon the blood of Christ to wash away his sins cannot be honestly charged with teaching a system of perfect obedience. Yet, that charge is hurled at those of us who teach that an erring child of God is forgiven conditionally conditional upon repentance, confession and prayer. They state that you teach perfect obedience. Not true! I teach conditional salvation both for the alien sinner and the erring child of God.
Some try to avert the charge of unconditional grace for the erring child of God by stating that the condition which must be met for the automatic forgiveness to occur is a general disposition of faith. By this, they mean an attitude toward God which causes a man to generally walk in the light. They imply that when a man who generally walks in the light commits sin that he is forgiven of that sin automatically without repentance, confession, and prayer because he is generally manifesting an attitude of faith. My Bible states that the sins of a man such as described above are forgiven conditionally. Regarding such a man, John said, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:6-9). Notice that this salvation is conditional: “If we confess our sins . . . .” John did not say, If you commit sin while walking in the light, do not worry about it because you are already forgiven because you generally are walking in the light.” No, he said, “If we confess our sins . . . .” This, my brethren, is conditional salvation!
In closing, let me remind our readers what “salvation by works” is. Salvation by works, as used in the Bible, is a system of justification whereby a man is justified through perfect obedience to the law of God. This man is saved, not because he has had his sins forgiven, but because he has no sins. His salvation is not of grace because he has earned it through his perfect obedience to the law. No man can be justified by perfect obedience to the law because no one can obey the law perfectly! However, we must be careful not to label something as salvation by works which is simply conditional salvation.
Secondly, let us remember that conditional salvation does not nullify grace. This is true whether we are discussing the conditional salvation of the alien sinner or the conditional salvation of the erring child of God.
Continue with us in this study next week as we consider the conditions which are necessary for a person to be saved by grace through faith.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 27, pp. 435-436
July 12, 1979