"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Christianity A La Carte: Salvation Without Lordship

In our discussion about how glory and belief are intertwined, I made an assertion to the tune of "you will have works if you are truly saved," and stated simply that it was a separate topic.  Here, friend, is the separate topic. 

Effectively, there are those who maintain that the grace of salvation, dependent solely upon the work and discretion of God Himself, costs us nothing, and, as such, requires nothing from us but perhaps an assent of gospel truth, and an acceptance of salvation.  Anything else would add an anthropic element to the gospel:  we crowd upon the grace of God with some sort of required human work, thus removing the graciousness of God's grace.  On the surface, this appears as good sense, but we must take care.  True, we cannot earn our salvation with goodness; to suggest otherwise is to diminish the unique value of God's gracious gift.  However, somtimes the idea is moved much further:  it is said that we cannot expect Christians to live righteous (or even repentent) lives, because to affix such expectations to life in Christ would be to attach external requirements to the gospel, and thus render it more man-centered than Scripture can support.  "If you say you must do certain things as a believer," they cry, "then you are saying you must earn your salvation.  All you need to do is believe."

As I write this, it seems so ludicrous as to not require refutation, but this, alas, is not the world in which we live.  There is no longer any falsehood in all of Christendom which we might regard as so foolish that we need not decry it.  So let us begin, and if we find our hearts and minds familiar with these ideas, as many might, then at least we might rejoice once more at their powerful truth.  Here are some lines of reasoning to refute this thinking.

1.  The Divine Revelation of the Relationship Between Faith and Works
James, who was tolerably active in the church, and had at least a passing acquaintance with the Christ (note sarcasm), said this:  "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?...But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'" (James 2:14, 18) This is simple and wonderful - saving faith does not, does not, does not fail to produce good works.  As a believer, my works should demonstrate the reality of my faith, according to James.  These works do not produce salvation; rather, it is salvation that gives rise to the works.

Paul testifies along this same thought that we are saved by grace through faith (familiar lines in Eph. 2:8-9), and continues, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (v. 10) Paul upholds salvation by grace, and then in the next sentence explains that this salvation, by God's expert work, leads us into good works.  The Father has decreed that the Christian life should be freighted with righteousness!  Does your life possess a focus of righteousness, my friend?  What does it mean if it does not?

2.  The Unchanging Character of God
Joshua 5:6a:  "For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the Lord."  The Lord has never cared for sin (to clothe it in the mildest possible terms), and it seems unwise to suppose that He is indifferent to its motions in those whom He has saved from its consequences.  His will is indeed our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3a), which is not at all surprising.

3.  The Impartation of New Life in Christ
At the start of Romans 6, Paul voices the opinion of some that grace permits sin, and then dismisses it not only as the gravest absurdity, but as an actual impossibility:  "May it never be!  How shall we how died to sin still live in it?" (Rom. 6:2) We who have been saved, says Romans 6, have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, and the strength of this identification with the Savior shatters our enslavement to sin.  Marvel how Paul later describes himself in Christ, in spite of sin and temptation, "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man." (Rom. 7:22b) This new life, while retaining a capacity for sin, nevertheless has lost its appetite for sin.  Do you see this hunger for purer things in your life?

4.  The Equality of Belief and Obedience
John the Baptist renders a great service in simply equating belief with obedience:  "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36) To John, one either believes and has eternal life, or does not obey, and receives wrath. (Take care with your Bible translation - some translate "obey" as "believe," but the word is not the same as the "believe" earlier in the verse.) The writer of Hebrews further declares that Christ "became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." (Heb. 5:9) Do you perceive the importance and essential quality of obedience? 

5.  The Assurance of Obedience
Is still more clarity needed?  Is your heart yet doubtful?  Let us learn from the apostle John:  "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar." (1 John 2:3-4a) "No one who is born of God practices sin." (1 John 3:9) "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3) Taking these as a whole, we see that true believers do not, and indeed cannot, make sin a continual lifestyle.  They have a spiritual buoyancy:  though they will at times sink into the viscous, black muck of temptation, yet they will spring out again, crying for divine cleansing.  Obedience can be assumed or pretended, at least for a season, but the true longings of the heart cannot be falsified, so again I ask, do you desire righteousness, deep down in your very bones, friend?  Does Christ-likeness remain your earnest quest?

Obedience, brothers and sisters.  Jesus has set Himself up to be our Lord, and His Word reveals that He will not trouble to be our Savior if we do not welcome His lordship as well.  Again, our obedience does not buy salvation, which would be a grievous blow indeed to divine grace, but it is a ringing declaration of the heaven-and-earth transformation which His gracious and unspeakable salvation has wrought within our unyielding, undeserving souls.  We obey because He has saved us, and if we find obedience repugnant in our quiet and honest reckonings, then we have not yet approached the point of salvation.  If this describes you, I beseech you to apply to the Lord - ask Him for the humility of spirit which will allow you to repent.  You cannot have it on your own.

Far from detracting from the glory of His grace, the requirement of obedience in fact sets it firmly upon a loftier, more stunning peak than we could have envisioned.  Praise be to the God who transforms those whom He adopts!


Gregg Metcalf said...

Well said!

Josh said...

Thanks, Gregg! I praise Christ for not saving us and leaving us as we are.

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