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Salvation

God requires that you show your work

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Most of us at some point in our lives have sat in math class, staring at a sheet of paper containing all kinds of equations, some of which quite literally looked like Greek to us!

We spotted one of the problems, and we just happen to remember that the teacher worked it out on the board a while back, and the answer was 144. So we wrote “144” in the answer blank. But the problem was we knew the teacher wouldn’t accept the answer. She told us we had to show our work.

The reason for that, looking back, is pretty obvious. It’s not about just knowing the answer; it’s about understanding how to get to the answer. Because we probably won’t memorize the answer to every single math problem that comes our way in the future, and at some point, we’re going to have to work through the reasoning processes that help us figure out the answer on our own.

The case study in an obedient faith

So what does any of this have to do with following Christ?

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “ Abraham!” And he said, “ Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” — Genesis 22:1-2

To fully understand the gravity of this statement, you have to go back even farther, to chapter 15, when a childless, aging Abraham is reminded by God of the promise that he would become a great nation. Abraham asks how this is possible.

And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. — Genesis 15:3-6

Abraham believed against any rational expectation (Romans 4:19-21) that God would bless him with a child. This wasn’t just Abraham saying “Well, I guess it might happen, and if it does, that’s great.” He was convinced that it was going to happen, and it was going to happen the way God told him it would take place.

He was so convinced, that when God told him to go offer that son on an altar, he got up early the next morning and went to do just that. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham was so sure of God’s promise that he believed that if he killed Isaac, God would simply raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).

When Abraham took Isaac up the mountain, he told the servant that accompanied them, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” One way or another, Abraham was planning to come back down the mountain with his son, alive. And God rewarded that faith: “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”

Faith leads us to obedience, not rationalization

There are so many lessons here that it’s hard to pick just one, but the easiest is the one that we often don’t seem to understand from a theological standpoint. God expects us to show our work. And if we refuse to show our work, He is not going to consider us faithful.

The idea that we don’t have to do anything in order to please God other than to “believe” is one that has taken root over time in religious circles to the point that many think God expects nothing more from us than to acknowledge that he’s there, and maybe try not to kill anyone. Aside from that, they say, God saves us regardless of what we do, what choices we make and whether we do what He asks us to do or not.

The reality is that the belief/faith that the Bible speaks about doesn’t allow for this. Because first and foremost, belief is actually a work. It is something that we do! Jesus calls it a work in John 6:29. And over and over, Jesus insists that faith and inactivity are incompatible:

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great. — Luke 6:46-49

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. — Mat 7:21

The fruits of the spirit are not described as actions (Galatians 5:22-25), but they each inspire action. Does a long-suffering person lose his temper on a regular basis?  Does a person who is kind sit back and do nothing when someone is in need of help and he has the means to assist? When the Spirit of Christ is working in us, those actions ought to be part of our lives not because they are works that earn us approval, but because it’s who we are. And if those works aren’t taking place – if we’re not bearing fruit – then the obvious question is, “what is missing?”

If my faith doesn’t feel like work, it likely isn’t really faith.

Faith accepts God’s terms of salvation

Second, faith does not dictate terms. It does not impose on God the idea that He must save in a personal, unique way for me, as opposed to the way in which He has said He will save all who seek Him.

If Jesus taught that we must be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16) and we tell people, “Actually, he that believes and is NOT baptized” will be saved, how are we showing faith in the teachings of Jesus? Would we not simply say “Maybe I don’t understand everything about how grace, faith and obedience work together, but I know Jesus said do it, and so I’m going to do it and not question him?”

Instead, many teach that we can simply “invite Jesus into our hearts” with a simple sinner’s prayer, which is never once found or taught in scripture. (Please respond to this post if you can find it anywhere, I’d be happy to have that discussion!) The idea is that if Paul says we are saved from faith “apart from works,” then that must mean that there’s nothing I can do to affect salvation.

Faith and obedience can’t be separated

When we start discussing salvation with the premise that all acts of obedience should be lumped under the term “works”, and then say that as a result, Paul is discussing obedience in the book of Romans, and he is therefore talking about “salvation by faith apart from obedience” (as opposed to “faith apart from works”, Romans 4:5), we’ve made a false assumption and our entire premise is now flawed. I know this because in the same letter, Paul says as much:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. — Romans 6:16-18

Paul again says that the ministry of the gospel of Christ is to “bring the Gentiles to obedience” (15:18).  To make it even more clear, Paul goes so far as to spell out in Romans 10 how the concept of “calling on the name of the Lord” works through an active and obedient faith, or as he says in Romans 1:5, “the obedience of faith.”

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. — Romans 10:12-17

Over and over, the Bible speaks interchangeably of the concepts of unbelief and disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19, for one). James talks about the idea that faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26).

So why the apparent contradiction? Because so many use Paul’s treatise on faith as a theological discussion on the method of salvation, when what Paul is really discussing is the reason for salvation. We are saved not because WE willed it, or because God looked at our lives and considered us worthy of salvation, but because God made a way for us through Jesus Christ—”not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

The obedient conversion of Paul

Paul didn’t nullify Jesus’ command that his disciples be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). In fact, he confirmed it in the story of his own conversion, when he recounted Ananias’ statement: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

That’s not a “sinner’s prayer.” Paul had been saying the sinner’s prayer for three days (Acts 9:9), fasting and begging forgiveness for his blasphemy and murder. The answer to that prayer was a man from God telling him to give his life over to Jesus, submitting to his will. That submission started by obeying the command of God without getting into a debate over whether it should really be required of him or not.

It’s God’s plan, and God gets to dictate how it works. He is not bound by the theological conclusions that men come up with because they cannot reconcile a salvation that is not earned and yet still requires obedience—a salvation that offers mercy and forgiveness for those who walk according to the spirit and not according to their own will and sinful impulses.

God does not expect us to be perfect. But He expects that when He says something, we believe it and we do our best to follow it. Submit to God’s will—all of it. Allow the word of God to shape you, rather than you shaping the word of God. Seek the will of the Father, just as Jesus did.

Show your work.

 

A lie in my right hand

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In Isaiah 44, the prophet tells the story of a man who goes to his forge and builds an ax, another draws up a plan, takes the ax, and goes out to a stand of trees which he has grown and cultivated. He picks one that is just right for his purposes, he cuts it down, and he uses part of it to start a fire and bake his meal.

The other part, he forms into an idol, and he bows down and worships it, asking for deliverance. Isaiah is of course speaking about Israel in the years preceding Babylon’s invasion of the land:

No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” — Isa 44:19-20

Can we see what a desperate situation that would be for someone? The thing I depend on the most is a lie — the thing on which I base my decisions, on which I depend for support and strength. And I simply can’t see it.

Can we have a deluded heart today?

What do idols have to do with me? No one is worshiping Moleck or Baal anymore – at least not that I’ve heard. But I’m concerned that with many people today, the idol in this story is the “deluded heart.” Our feelings. Our intuition. The gut instinct that seems to guide so much of what we do. There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with following instinct, and many people live their lives by it (for better or worse). But most of those people would probably acknowledge that there have been times when their instinct has failed them, and they made a wrong choice—or at least a choice that didn’t deliver the intended results.

How many of us have said to ourselves as we stood surrounded by a pile of pasteboard, screws and tools, shaking our head and saying “I was SURE I could get this thing put together by myself!” Or in a more serious context, how many of us have talked to friends about people they’re dating, and they tell us: “This one’s the one, I can feel it. And THIS time, I’ KNOW it!

Those are the failures we learn from (or don’t!): the ones where we see the outcome, realize our mistake, and file it away under “never going to try that again!”

Jesus talks about a much more important failure, and it speaks to the man who places his faith in the lie in his right hand:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ — Mat 7:21-23

Think about the implications of that statement. These are people who seem to genuinely believe they worked miracles in Jesus’ name. They clearly know who Jesus is. They believe he is who he says he is. And Jesus says, “I never knew you.”

Feeling it doesn’t make it true

We live in a culture where many people’s religion is guided by what they feel. We “feel” that God is with us. We “feel” the Holy Spirit surrounding us. We “feel” God’s hand guiding what we do. The doctrine of a salvation “better felt than told” has been around for a long time, and we now live among millions of people who call themselves Christian, and many of them base their relationship with God strictly on the idea that “I asked Jesus to come into my heart just like my pastor told me, and I know that’s what happened.”

Never mind that there are no examples in the Bible of anyone ever being added to the Lord’s body of saved believers (Acts 2:37-41) by simply asking for it to happen.

Please don’t be offended if I’ve described your situation. I’m just trying to point some things out for you to consider. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church—which included Christians who were convinced that they were right and Paul was wrong and they didn’t need to listen to what he had to say—and he told them “examine yourself, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We don’t need to live in a constant state of doubt, but when someone comes to us and says, “Are you sure this is right?” our answer can never be, “Yes, and I don’t need to study it anymore to know that!” And it also shouldn’t be, “Yes, and here’s the verse that says I’m right, so end of discussion!

Paul was utterly convinced he was justified in serving God by persecuting the church, right up until he found out he was wrong. Peter was convicted strongly in his heart that it was an offense to Christ for him to preach the gospel to Gentiles, right up until he found out he was wrong. The disciples in Ephesus were preaching what they believed to be the gospel and they were doing it in all sincerity, right up until Paul pointed out to them that they hadn’t been properly baptized into Jesus Christ.

Let’s not be “sincerely wrong” in our faith

Paul told Timothy to be diligent to “rightly handle the word of truth.” Properly understanding the scriptures takes effort, and it takes self-examination, and it takes prayer. And we don’t always come to the right conclusions when we study, particularly when we do it to find what we want rather than what God wants. Sadly, there are men and women who are more than happy to bend the scriptures to their own desires, just as there were in the church’s early days.

Sometimes we can be honestly, sincerely wrong. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Let’s not use the Bible as a means of simply making ourselves feel good, of finding the passages that back up what we believe and comforting ourselves in the knowledge that our teachers taught us well and wouldn’t lead us astray. Or that “our church has done this for generations after generations. My parents believed this. Their parents believed this. I can’t go against that.”

In all three of the examples above, the common factor was that when people who feared God were confronted with error, they listened to the gospel message and they changed their minds and actions accordingly. May God give us the faith and the strength to make changes in our lives, in our teachings, in trusting not the idol in our hand, but in the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Growing up in the Lord’s church, I would always hear people use the phrase “faithful” to describe other Christians. Typically, it had to do with their spiritual health, although in many cases I suspect it was based on whether we saw them at worship every week.

“He’s a faithful Christian. She’s faithful to God.” Or sometimes, “This is a faithful church.”

So I think sometimes we tend to define “faithful” in the Bible as one who is full of faith; someone who is devoted to God. And there’s a sense in which that’s indirectly true. But that definition doesn’t quite work when we note that the word is applied to God or to Christ some 15 times in the New Testament. Clearly this isn’t about “faith” as we typically use the word.

It’s really defined the way we’d use the word outside the confines of religion: God is trustworthy. God is dependable. God will do what He says He will do.

Understanding the faithfulness of God

The scriptures emphasize the faithfulness of God over and over, particularly to people who were undergoing difficulties, reminding them that they can depend on God, even when things don’t seem to be going God’s way at the time.

  • God is faithful to guard us against the adversary as we do His work, II Thes. 3:3, I Peter 4:19
  • He is faithful to forgive our sins when we walk in the light and confess when we do sin, I John 1:4-9
  • He is faithful to deliver on His promises, Heb. 11:11
  • He is faithful to deliver us from death into salvation, Heb. 10:23

That’s an important concept to remember when we read a verse like II Tim. 2:13. In context, it reads:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful —
for he cannot deny himself. (2Ti 2:8-13)

Notice that God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on anything other than His own character. God will always perform what He has proposed to do, regardless of what man may or may not do on his end. Many will take this to say that even if someone turns away from God, God will not allow that person to be lost. But notice that being faithful doesn’t have to correspond to something or someone else – in other words, this passage doesn’t say God is faithful to man. It says He is faithful to Himself. To His own nature.

God is who God is, and He will not change in that regard. “He cannot deny Himself.” And he will deny us if we deny Him, because that’s exactly what He has said He will do. (Mtt. 10:33)

This passage does not teach that God will save who He has decided to save whether that person wants to be saved or not, or whether they have done what God has required or displayed the proper faith. God’s promises about our salvation are conditional, and always have been (Matt. 7:21, I Peter 3:10-12, Mark 16:16).

If we deny Him, He will also deny us

Paul addresses this in Romans 3 when he discusses the idea of the Jews falling short of God’s righteousness. God had promised to make them a great nation and to bless them and protect them from enemies surrounding them. But they were continually carried away into captivity. Why? Not because God had forgotten or broken His promise. “Does their faithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:3-4)

The Hebrew writer makes this point:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.(Heb 3:12 – 4:1)

It is the faithfulness of God that teaches us that He requires us to be faithful to Him. His promise is no different than it has been from the beginning. “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people (Jer. 7:23).” If God wasn’t faithful, then none of these examples would be meaningful at all. God would do whatever He wanted, whenever He wanted, with no consistency or predictability, and no way for man to know what is expected of him!

How God’s faithfulness saves me

Have you ever been frustrated in a relationship or a job or a project where it seems like the rules are always changing? Isn’t it helpful to have an agreement in place that says “this is what is expected. This is what you should do, and this is what you will receive if you complete the task.”

God has done that for us – if we place our faith in Him and do what He tells us to do, then He has promised to forgive our sins and grant us a place in His heavenly kingdom. And the best part is that God tells us that He knows we won’t do this perfectly. We just have to keep trying.

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). And we know it’s true, because the Faithful Witness said it.

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“But they were never of us…” – what did John really mean?

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In I John 2, the apostle John warns the early church of the coming of (and in some cases, the current existence of) false teachers who posed a serious threat to the Christians throughout the region. And in doing so, he makes a statement that I think has been misused in a very dangerous way.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 Jo 2:18-19)

Leaving aside the inspiration for any number of creepy Hollywood concepts of the devil incarnate taking over the world, John here warns of false teachers, and in this book, a specific type of false teacher. Many people have honestly but incorrectly (I believe) used this passage to teach that a Christian – once saved – can never again turn away from God and be lost. The idea is that a person who “had gone out from us” indicates a person who the apostles sent, “were not of us” means they weren’t truly Christians to begin with, and “would have continued with us” means that they would have remained faithful to God.

The implication, some claim, is that once you truly convert to Christ, there’s no going back, even if you wanted to!

Christians or false teachers?

Let’s assume that this is in fact referring to the concept of “true” versus “false” salvation (a point I do not believe the text supports.) is John then saying that when a Christian turns his back on God, he was never really saved, and he is leaving the faith to show fully that not everyone that is a Christian is really a Christian?

The problem is that this verse doesn’t actually say that. It never addresses their state at the time they became Christians. It addresses their state when they went out from the apostles. The question of whether someone can change their mind, or stray from the truth isn’t the point in this passage and has to be addressed elsewhere.

Think about the context of this passage.

Who is “us:” that would seem to be referring to the apostles. In chapter 1, John says “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we proclaim also to you.” That’s a pretty good description of the apostolic mission (John 19:35, John 15:27, Matt. 28:18, Acts 1:21-22, etc…)

Who is “they”: there seems little doubt it’s referring to false teachers – but a specific group of false teachers as well. It’s generally accepted that John is referring to the doctrine of “Gnosticism,” a philosophy that combined Eastern religious ideas with the gospel to argue that anything physical or material is inherently evil. The implication of this was that Christ could not have come in the flesh, and therefore he was not “man” in the sense that the scripture claims him to be (I John 2:22-23, 4:1-4, 5:6-10). They further went on to say that since man’s spirit is distinct from the body, it is not touched by the fleshly acts it commits, so basically people can live however they want, but the spirit remains pure in God’s sight (2:3-6, 3:4-10).

It would stand to reason that if the apostles sent out men who initially believed that the apostolic teachings were true and from God, they would not get out into the field and suddenly decide that Jesus did not come in the flesh. That’s a very basic tenant of the gospel. I believe John’s argument is essentially that no one would receive this teaching from the apostles honestly and in good conscience, and then go out and teach the doctrine of Gnosticism. And I believe that’s the truth. When someone so clearly teaches doctrine contrary to the revealed word, it’s a sign that the person likely never fully understood, and never fully believed the teachings delivered to him.

Christians can fall from grace, if they let it happen!

That has nothing to do with the question of whether someone can be lost, having once been saved. And in fact, this passage makes a very compelling argument AGAINST that doctrine. Ask yourself this question: if the men and women receiving this letter were truly saved, then according to popular wisdom, there is nothing that could pull them away from that. There would be no danger to anyone, except for those who weren’t really saved to begin with. And these people according to Calvinist doctrine are lost regardless, because they were chosen not to receive the word.

And yet, even though John knew these people had received revelation due to the indwelling of the from the Spirit of God (2:26-27) – which doesn’t happen to people who “aren’t really saved (Acts 2:38) ,” he still warns them. Why? Because people can be fooled. They can be lured into doubting what they should not doubt (Gal. 1:6).

John saw a real threat to men and women who had been saved through the blood of Jesus Christ, but would be confronted with a false teaching that might encourage them to lead sinful, immoral lives in blissful ignorance of their error.

In the same chapter, John talks about the Christian’s defense against false teaching:

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us — eternal life. (1Jo 2:24-25)

You don’t encourage someone to allow something to happen if they don’t have a choice. And you don’t make “if-then” statements if the “if” doesn’t really matter. John writes that if we submit to God’s word and hold on to it, allowing it to live in us and work through us, then we in turn abide in Christ and God. If neither of these are in our control, why the need to encourage it? Why not simply say “it’s happening and this is why you’re chosen, and not because of all the things you’ve done or because of the faith you’ve shown?”

After all, that’s what men teach. But it’s not what God teaches. Peter makes the exact same point:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2Pe 1:10-11)

Please don’t be fooled. Don’t become complacent in your salvation. And don’t look at your brother or sister in Christ who’s now caught up in sin and worldliness and living separate from God, and say “that could never be me.”

It can be, if you let it happen.

Baptism is not a work

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Think about that statement for a bit. Many of you who believe as I do that baptism is essential for the remission of sins may initially think “that can’t be right! We have to be baptized. It’s a command, and when we obey it, we do something. That makes it a work!”

But consider how works are described in scripture, specifically in the context of following Christ. And ask yourself this question:

What “work” does God call us to do that we only do once?

In fact, when the Bible discusses the idea of works in context of Christianity, it’s almost always (I say almost because I can’t confirm what I haven’t found yet – so I’m going to say I’m 95 percent sure!) about things that we do on an ongoing basis (Romans 2:6, for example). They are continual actions inspired by our faith and love for God (Eph. 2:9 and others.) They serve as an outward identification of God’s people (Matt. 5:16, John 6:28, I Tim. 5:25).

We understand that good works do not cancel out sin. That is what Paul argued in Romans, when he discussed the Jews’ attempt to justify themselves before God by their observance of the law of Moses.

When the Jews (generally speaking – Paul does not mean that all Jews had this mindset) sought God through obedience to the law, they saw their righteousness and compliance as something that entitled them to God’s blessings. Worse, they believed that they could live in such a way that they fulfilled the righteousness of the law.

But the same Paul who says we are saved apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:21), says this about obedience:

“…since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
– 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESVST

A failure to obey the gospel will result in condemnation, according to Paul. And that’s not an isolated verse. Read in Romans 10:14-17, where Paul talks about the spreading and acceptance of the gospel, and adds, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “ Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (v. 16) In other words – the preaching of the gospel brought salvation to many, but not all because not all obeyed it! But in v. 17, he says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God.” Do you notice how Paul here uses the concept of obedience, belief and faith interchangeably? It’s because you cannot have one without the others.

How is that possible if “works” do not save us? It’s simple: baptism isn’t a work – certainly not a work we do with the goal of proving our own righteousness. We’re baptized into Christ because we know that we need the redemption that comes through Jesus’ sacrifice (Col. 2:11-13). It’s a statement of dependence and an acceptance of grace, not an act of righteousness.

Obedience is not work – not in the sense that it is done to earn salvation. It is done because when a servant is called to act, he acts (Luke 6:46). Works are a manifestation of our love for God, which we do throughout our lives, so that people may see them and glorify God. They almost always involve a benefit to those around us (Titus 3:8, 14, James 3:13 and others). They are things that some might even be tempted to brag about – as the Pharisee did in Jesus’ example of unacceptable prayer in Luke 18.

Does anyone truly argue that being baptized into Christ is an act that should exalt us before God and man? And yet, Peter says in Acts 5:32 that the Holy Spirit is given to those “who obey him” – which agrees with what he says in Acts 2:38, where we read that the Holy Spirit will be received by those who respond to the command to “repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins.”

We’re saved by the grace of God through faith, but we are called to “the obedience of faith” (Rom, 16:26), and we will be held accountable if we refuse. Rather than debating between one or the other, let’s just submit to God and do what he asks! Isn’t that what it means to love the Lord?

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