Eight Things That Save Mankind
Mankind always seems like we are trying to "boil things down" and "get to only what we have to know--cut out the fluff." It is a mistake to treat God's Word in that way. The ultimate writer of the Bible, the Holy Spirit (( Peter 1: 20, 21) is not an immature writer that man must correct. Our role should be to listen and learn, not to evaluate, for man is far from qualified to evaluate the Holy Spirit's writing.
There are 66 books of the Bible because there needed to be 66. Rather than trying to eliminate as many of those as man thinks is "possible," man should be reading as much of them as he can in order to learn. The Bible is God's description of the relationship He has had with man and what He wishes the relationship to be. Shouldn't we be grateful to have a God who even wants to communicate with His children?
There have been many debates over what saves a person's soul. Is it God's love, His grace, man's faith, baptism, repentance, confession of faith in Christ Jesus, man's affiliation with a particular church, or man's works? Probably the best answer is "All of the above-and maybe more." Let's look at each of these and see each is a part of God's magnificent plan to save man. If the plan of salvation was complicated enough that God had to design it, it isn't likely to be so simple that man can "boil it down." Salvation isn't a one-variable equation.
I. God's love.
See John 3: 16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (All quotations in this lesson are from the King James Version.) God's love for us is too profound for human words.
God's love waits for man to repent-but how long? See Matthew 13: 24-30. "Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. "
God has put His Spirit within man. He longs for man to allow the fellowship between man and God. See James 4: 5-10. God through His Son invites man to come to Him ( Matthew 11: 28-30). The final vision of man in the last chapter of the Revelation is that of man living once again in harmony with God in a garden spot, just as in man's beginning. It is not the will of the Father than any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. II Peter 3: 9.
Grace is usually defined as "unmerited favor." Grace is getting what you didn't deserve and mercy is not getting the retribution you did deserve. No discussion of grace would be complete without a reading of Ephesians 2: 8-10. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
Many stop short at the end of verse 9, thinking that they have found the perfect lazy man's solution. But God has graciously provided for us to live in good works (v. 10) to His honor and glory. Just getting "hired" in the Lord's kingdom is an act of grace! The sixth chapter of Romans refutes the idea of cheap grace. Cheap grace is the belief that because God saves by grace, He will be pleased with any half-hearted effort we make, and we can sin all we want to. We must not tax God's grace or make light of it. Romans 6: 1, 2 ff. Just because God is coming along behind us to "pay the credit card bill" of sin does not mean we should run up the balance as much as we can. People who understand grace hold down the "bill." To sin just because forgiveness seems easy is to crucify Jesus all over again. This shows a lack of faith in the God who once saved us (see Hebrews 10: 26-31).
In the judgement, we will all be seeking grace. After all, "all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3: 23. Jesus alluded to man's inability to totally save himself in Luke 17: 5-10. After having done all, we are still unprofitable servants. It is one thing to be saved by grace. It would be another to be saved by grace only. The words "grace" and "only" do not appear next to each other in any of the modern translations. There is no passage that teaches salvation by grace only.
Here's the problem with a "grace only" theory of salvation: Some, even many, are going to be lost. Matthew 7: 13-14: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. " Even in spite of grace, most will be lost. How can this be? Is God partial--a "respector of persons?" At least four New Testament scriptures point out that God is no respector of persons.
1. Acts 10: 34, 35 "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."
2. Romans 2: 11 is even more straightforward: "For there is no respect of persons with God."
3. Ephesians 6: 9 says "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him."
4. Colossians 3: 25 "But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. "
So the person who is saved in the judgement, and the person who is lost, will each have received the same amount of grace from God. The deciding factor is something else. The deciding factor will not be grace. Two of the four passages just cited mention man's works in deciding the outcome.
III. Faith -- faith not only that God exists, but that He can and will do what He said he would do.
Is faith necessary? Easily answered-see Hebrews 11: 6. "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." Hebrews 11 is sometimes called the Honor Roll of the Faithful. Faith is so important. Romans chapter 4 exhaustively describes the role that faith played in the righteous life of Abraham. Even such a pro-works section of the New Testament as James 2: 14-26 speaks of the importance of faith while clarifying that real, saving faith will show itself in works.
James 2: 14-26--"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
Faith and works are not opposites. Real faith always leads to action on the part of the believer. Works are the evidence of faith.
Faith saves, but not faith only. The only place in the Bible where "faith" and "only" appear next to each other is in the verse that says that faith only does not save--James 2: 24. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Of the items listed in this web page--God's love, grace, faith, baptism, repentance, confession of faith in Christ Jesus, man's affiliation with a particular church, or man's works--only faith has an "only" next to it, and in that passage, we are told that salvation is not by faith only. So much for one of the best known of man's efforts to try to reduce God's complex plan of salvation to only one thing.
"So faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Romans 10:17. This is how we grow our faith.
"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (I Peter 3: 21, emphasis mine). So much for trying to dismiss baptism as a mere psychological transaction. Baptism involved enough water for two men to go down into the water (Acts 8: 38). Baptism involves enough water to depict a burial (Romans 6: 3-6). We don't bury people by sprinking or pouring a little dirt on their heads, do we?
Baptism is significant enough that Jesus mentioned it in both mentions of the Great Commission. Matthew 28: 19, 20 "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. " and Mark 16: 16 "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
It is at baptism that sins are removed (Acts 22: 16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.") At no other step along the way to becoming a Christian was anyone told in the New Testament that his sins had been forgiven. People in the first century heard God's word, believed it, repented of their sins, confessed Jesus as their Lord, and were baptized in order to receive forgivness of sins. It is at baptism that God adds people to His church (Acts 2: 41; 47). Only after baptism did any of them rejoice nor were they told they were on their way to Heaven. See the examples of conversion at Acts 2: 37-47; Acts 8: 5-12; Acts 8: 12-13; Acts 8: 26-40; Saul (Paul) as recorded in Acts 8: 18, 22: 10-16; Cornelius and his household in Acts: 34-48; Lydia in Acts 16: 13-15; Philippian jailer, Acts 16: 25-34; Crispus, Acts 18: 8; the baptism of Apollos was corrected to the proper name in Acts 18: 25, 26; the baptisms of the men in Ephesus were corrected in Acts 19: 1-7. The fact that the latter baptisms were corrected indicated that there was a right way and a wrong way to do it. Listed above are ten examples of conversion in the New Testament. They all followed essentially the same pattern: Hearing and believing and at least baptism in every case. In some instances, repentance and confession of faith in Christ Jesus were also recorded.
Salvation without baptism has numerous logical problems. The saved are in the church (Acts 2: 47), but without baptism, there would be some in the church who had never put on Christ (Galatians 3: 27). Without baptism, there would be those who were saved who never had their sins washed away (Acts 22: 16). Without baptism, there would be some who were allegedly saved but had never been born again (John 3: 7). Without baptism, supposedly we have people who are followers of Christ but who were never baptized into his death or resurrection (Romans 6: 3-6). Usually, when people quibble about baptism, the real problem is two steps earlier, with repentance. It has nothing to do with getting wet. There's a sin that they don't want to give up.
Repentance is a necessary pre-condition for baptism (Acts 2: 38). Any who would wish to begin a life with Christ must be ready to lay down his former sinful ways and accept the new way that Christ has for him (Luke 13: 3; 5). There would be little point in getting someone wet in baptism if he were going to continue in his sinful ways. Rather we are told that after baptism, we are to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4 "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.")
Act 17:30 " And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" Man can no longer plead ignorance as an excuse.
Repentance may be a bigger deterrant to becoming a Christian than baptism. Sin can have a way of clinging so closely (Hebrews 12, 1,2) and being so hard to get rid of. Being a Christian is a whole new way of thinking ("Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth," Colossians 3: 2). Repentance is not just being sorry for having committed a sin, or of having gotten caught. Repentance involves a change of heart, a change that leads one away from committing the sin ever again. One goal of the Christian life is to sin less and less. We may never completely escape occasional sin, but we can lower its frequency drastically.
VI. Confession of faith in Christ Jesus.
The account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8: 26-40 includes a verse that appears in some translations but not in others. If it is inspired, it is a literal wording for a confession of faith in Christ Jesus. "And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Confession does not rest solely on that one example. Jesus said in Matthew 10: 32, 33 "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." In context, Jesus may not have been talking about before baptism only, but also at other points in our lives. Romans 10: 9, 10 removes all doubt about the necessity of faith and of confession when Paul said " That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." In Acts 2, those who were about to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins were told to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ--a form of confession.
Confession has its limitations in salvation if it is not accompanied by works of salvation. Matthew 7: 21-23--"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
VII. Church membership
There is a popular doctrine today that "all roads lead to Heaven" and that "It doesn't matter where you go to church." There is not a shred of scripture to support that point of view.
Paul in Ephesians described how Christ felt about His church. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. " Ephesians 5: 22- 33.
"But," the world insists, "This is Christ's feeling about the Universal church, the church made up of all denominations and all beliefs. It isn't about some sectarian group."
If that is the case, someone should have told Jesus about it. In Matthew 16: 18 He said "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. " The rock he was speaking of was Peter's confession of faith, not upon Peter himself. Jesus spoke of building his church, not many churches. The term "'universal church" is not found anywhere in Scripture. Jesus' dying prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in John 17 was that believers might all be united, as one. If they were already united no matter what they believed or whose name they wore, why would Jesus have been worried enough to pray such a thing in the minutes before he was arrested and taken for crucifixion?
The inspired writer Paul evidently hadn't heard that there was supposed to be a universal church either. In I Corinthians 1: 10-16 by the direction of the Holy Spirit he wrote "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." The differences Paul spoke against were not just differences in name. They were differences in doctrine as well.
Can anyone read that and honestly come up with the conclusion that the name we wear as Christ's bride does not matter? Which of us as husbands wants our wives to wear some other man's name? The names that the early church had for itself were (1) the Way, Acts 9:2 (2) the church of Christ, Romans 16: 16 (3) the church of God, in I Corinthians 1: 2 (4) with several descriptions in I Peter 2 (a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; the people of God).
Church affiliation alone will not save. In the Revelation, seven churches in Asia were written about how they were doing. All began as legitimate churches of Christ. Four of the seven were told to repent; what they were doing wasn't good enough. These are churches of Christ that John wrote to! We have to do more than just wear the name. Begin by wearing the name, yes, but then go on to do what is right.
We are to teach no doctrine except that which Jesus authorized and left with the apostles. Galatians 1: 8, 9 "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." The Gospel which the church preaches must be the one that was "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude verse 3). We have no authority to deviate from that; Jesus is the one who has all authority in Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28: 18). A curse is pronounced upon any who would add to or take away from the word of God. Revelation 22: 18, 19 "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
If members of the church of Christ seem a little reserved about doing things in denominational ways, it is because they respect God's word. They respect and cherish Jesus Christ, who bought the church with His own body and blood. None of the men who started their own churches paid for those churches with their own lives. Even if they had, none lived a sinless life.
Members of the church of Christ view their membership not with arrogance, but as a matter of constraint. The Christ we live did not give us the option of starting some other church or wearing some other name. We wear His name because we have no authority to wear any other name. The wearing of the name is also a challenge. Just putting on the name is not enough. We have to be teaching what the Lord wanted taught and doing our best to live it. Will we experience some failures? Yes. Oh Yes! But that doesn't mean that we throw up our hands and begin wearing man-made names and teaching man-made doctrine. It just means that tomorrow, we try harder.
VIII. Works of Righteousness
James 2: 14-26 is not the only place that talks about works, but it does explain the relationship between faith and works well. "And why call ye me, 'Lord, Lord', and do not the things that I say?" said Jesus in Luke 6: 46. Paul said in Titus 3: 14 -- "And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful."
See the judgment scene: Revelation 20: 11-15. Will man be judged by what he had faith only in? Will he be saved by imploring the grace of God? Man will be judged by what he has done. This scene of the judgement and the three in Matthew 25 all show a high emphasis on works. Paul said to the Philippians in 2: 12, 13-"Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling." The Gospels are filled with exhortations to be sober and be watchful and be busy doing what has been commanded. We could pick nearly any place in those four books for an example, but Luke 12: 31-40 is a representative one. Also see Luke 14: 15-24. In this passage see the lack of faith on the part of the original invitees, their resultant lack of works in accepting the invitation, their exclusion due to their lack of faith, and the approval of those who would in faith accept the invitation.
Will our works earn our way to Heaven? No. A good way to summarize the teachings on works is that "Works won't get us to Heaven, but we won't be going to Heaven without them, either."
Answering Questions the Bible Never Asks:
We sometimes hear the question posed like this: "Which way would your rather be judged? By grace or by your works? By where you go to church or by your faith?" These aren't reasonable, Bible-based questions. The Bible nowhere indicates that we will ever be given choices about how we will be judged. Rather the scenarios of The Great Final Exam are already given in places like Revelation 20: 11-15, Matthew 25 (three scenarios), and Matthew 7: 21-24. Salvation belongs to God. Judgement will be played by His rules.
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