Friday, September 11, 2015

The Truth about Grace

The Bible is all about grace – the mercy of God to us sinners. However, it is also about obedience and sanctification. While we are saved by grace through faith alone, without the need for good deeds (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:27), we are saved through a faith that is not alone. While works are not necessary for salvation, we are saved through a faith that works. Consequently, James wrote:

  • But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:18; all verses are from the NIV)
This statement reflects the fact that faith produces fruit. One that doesn’t produce fruit is not a real faith but a dead one. If we trust in Christ, we will do what He tells us to do! This faith also endures to the end.

In contrast, pastor and dispensational theologian, Charles Stanley, believes that a saving faith need not endure:

·       The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand. (Eternal Security, 74)

Stanley believes that even the “believer” who becomes an unbeliever remains in Christ:

·       Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy. Christ will remain faithful. (93)

Of course, “Christ will remain faithful,” but to whom? Will He remain faithful to someone who had merely a passing “faith?” Or is the real faith – the Biblical gift of faith – one that will endure, however battered it might be?

According to Stanley, saving faith need not endure. Why not? He believes that if we have to do anything to maintain our faith, that means that salvation depends on us and, therefore, isn’t a free gift “lest any should boast.”

However, many verses insist that we must continue in faith in order to be saved:

·       “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

·       But now he has reconciled you… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel… (Colossians 1:22-23)

·       …show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:11-12)

In fact, if we fail to believe to the end, we were never saved:

·       We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. (Hebrews 3:14; 6)

A real faith is an enduring faith. If we don't persist to the end, we never had faith to begin with. How can this be? Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well that a true faith is like a fountain that continues to flow:

·       “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Jesus’ words demonstrate that the real gift of faith has legs. It is pregnant with living water and will never quit until we are delivered into our eternal home.

A real faith inevitably produces good fruit, as Jesus preached in His Sermon on the Mount:

·       "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:15-19)

A bad tree – the false prophets - does not produce good fruit. Instead, without true faith, they will face the fires. However, regarding the obedience of faith, McDavid, Richardson, and Zahl (MRZ) insist that a good tree need not produce good fruit:

·       "We pontificate about the proper response to the Gift, as if God is subject to our code of manners. At Christmas, for example, what if you forget to send a thank-you immediately? What if, when you do, it is a shabby piece of work? What if you never send one? Will the gift be revoked? Again, any gift premised on the recipient's correct response to it is not much of a gift at all.

According to MRZ, God does not require any response to His gift. Consequently, the gift of life need not produce any fruit.

This represents a mild form of antinomianism (“against law”). This understanding either rejects or minimizes the claims of the law for obedience. MRZ minimize obedience by claiming that faith’s obedience to the gift of God is entirely unnecessary.

According to dispensational theologian, Lewis Sperry Chafer:

·       Scripture is violated and the whole doctrine of grace confused when salvation is made to depend on anything other than believing. The divine message is not “believe and pray”…”believe and repent”…If they were as essential to salvation as believing they would never be omitted from any passage wherein the way to be saved is stated. (Major Bible Themes, 187).

Chafer and many others believe that if any requirement is added to grace, besides faith, then grace is no longer grace. However, the requirement of repentance for salvation is scripturally indisputable (Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

But is “the whole doctrine of grace confused when salvation is made to depend on anything other than believing?” Although there are confusing elements when we combine obedience to faith alone, the association of the two is undeniable:

·       Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

Paul declares that if we are saved by grace through faith, there will be the fruit of obedience “which leads to righteousness”:

·       The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

·       For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

A real faith must be accompanied by obedience! John also argues that the new life in Christ must be characterized by fruit:

·       If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

If we do not walk in the light, we are not purified from all sin. John is even more explicit in the next chapter that a changed life must be the product of a changed faith:

·       The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)

Jesus also declared that if we do not display the fruits of salvation, we do not have salvation:

·       "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Such evildoers never had saving faith. Clearly, “evildoers,” those who do not confess and repent of their sins, cannot enter the kingdom. These very same evildoers will be condemned:

·       "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29)

But doesn’t this requirement of holiness (Heb. 12:14) minimize grace if not do away with it entirely? Not if this requirement is met by grace! John explains that if we really have that gift of a new life and the indwelling Spirit, we will no longer continue in the practice of sin:

·       No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

·       We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. (1 John 5:18)

We cannot take credit for this, since it is the work of the Spirit. Paul even confessed that he gave the Spirit credit for all of his labors:

·       But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Granted – it is difficult to explain how our efforts are, before all else, the fruit of the Spirit. However, Scripture links God’s grace and sovereignty together with our efforts towards obedience without apology. Paul claims that we have a responsibility in regards to our salvation but then claims that even our obedience is the result of the work of God:

·       --continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

We even find this same perplexity in Hebrew prophecy:

·       They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” (Jeremiah 32:38-40; Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Israel will walk in obedience, not because they are doing something meritorious, but because of the grace of God. In light of this, MRZ and Chafer are not upholding grace but minimizing it and the extent of its work in our lives.

·       I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

It is grace that gives birth to obedience and the new heart that brings it about. Hence, our entire lives, not just salvation, are bathed in the grace of God. It is this grace that not only gives us a new heart but also fruitage. Our entire lives are the fruit of His workmanship:

·       For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

If we do not bear any signs of His workmanship, of good fruit, we are not His. However, often, we do not see it and are stricken because of this. Instead, we are far more conscious of our sins and spiritual failures. However, our Lord has given us assurance, even when we fall into such despair:

·       If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:9-10)

The requirement of obedience doesn’t eliminate grace. It complements grace! How? Without the requirement of obedience along with our constant failures, we would become insensitive to grace. Even worse, we would feel that we are entitled to grace. However, it is the grace of our Lord and his requirement that we live in obedience that silences pride and highlights grace:

·       Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

It is through the law and the obedience that it demands that we become conscious of sin and are humbled, thereby made fit for service. Peter had been humbled. Instead of obedience, he denied the Lord three times, probably remembering that those who deny Jesus, Jesus will deny.

However, it was to Peter that Jesus returned with the command to “feed My sheep.” Peter had been humbled by his disobedience, but now he was made ready to serve.

We too need to be humbled daily by the commands of our Lord. It is only through the tears of brokenness that we can glory in grace.

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