Are we saved by grace, or by works? Ask a Roman Catholic and you'll get the wrong answer.
One of the most prevalent characteristics of Scripture is its simplicity. Indeed, it is addressed to ‘the simple’.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalms 19:7)
“The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.” (Psalms 116:6)
“When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.” (Proverbs 21:11)
"Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him.” (Proverbs 9:16)
Yet there are entire libraries filled with complicated volumes explaining the simplicity of the Scriptures. For every Scriptural doctrine there is somebody who has a revised doctrine they’ve managed to glean from the Scriptures that nobody else ever found.
Usually it is something that tends to complicate something that would be otherwise pretty simple. The doctrine of eternal security is a good example.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:5)
That is about as simple as it gets. The statement asks and answers all the questions necessary:
Q. How are we saved? A. By Grace. Q. How do we receive grace? A. By faith. Q. Where does it come from? A. From God. Q. What role do I play? A. I receive the gift.
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)
This is also pretty simple. If I am saved by grace and works, then grace isn’t grace anymore. It is grace plus works -- which nullifies both. If works count, then grace doesn’t.
It cannot count. Grace comes from God. Works come from you. Are you judged according to your worthiness? Or Christ’s? How can anybody be judged according to both?
“Well, Jesus was good enough. . . but you weren't. . . ”
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16)
So simple a caveman could understand it. It is of “faith that by grace the promise might be sure” because if one relies on the combination of faith in God’s grace and faith in one’s own works, the promise is not sure.
Conversely, if I am relying on the combination of my faith in God’s grace coupled with my own works, it is now up to me to judge whether I am good enough to go to heaven. (Or whether someone else is.)
“Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?” (1st Corinthians 10:29-30)
But if it is so simple, then why is eternal security derided as OSAS (Once Saved, Always Saved)? I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I’ve heard a lot of arguments but none that don’t redefine the entire concept of grace in the process.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
As a question, Hebrews 6:4-6 is a hard one -- it says that if somebody is saved and then falls away, they have lost their salvation. Doesn’t it?
Well, it does when judged against Paul’s standard that either grace nullifies works or works nullifies grace.
It is impossible to renew someone to repentance because the Blood of Christ is sufficient payment for ALL sin. If it were not, then Christ would have to be crucified again and again, exposing Him to “an open shame” before His enemy.
Can that mean that a person who was saved and then fell away could never come back? He is lost forever and without hope, no matter how much he later begs for forgiveness?
That all depends on how one defines the word impossible. If you define it as meaning “maybe” then Hebrews 6:4-6 contradicts eternal security.
If you define it as meaning impossible then it can only mean that it is impossible to lose one’s salvation by one’s own works, since it would expose Christ to ridicule before the enemy He claimed to have defeated.
As a question, the Book of James seems kind of difficult. James writes;
“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. .” (James 2:18)
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19)
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24)
This may sound scandalous to some, but hang on. All of the Bible is written for us, but not all of it was written to us. That is part of the whole process of ‘rightly dividing’ the Word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
The Old Testament was written for all mankind, but written directly to the Jews. There are doctrines in the Old Testament that do not apply to Christians.
The New Testament is a collection of 27 letters, or books, divided according to their intended audiences.
The four Gospels speak of it in the future tense, but during the Gospel period, there was no Church, no Christians and no Great Commission.
The second division is the Book of Acts. During this time, the New Testament Church was born, people began to get saved, the Gospel began to be preached, churches started to spring up.
After the churches are established come the Epistles (letters) to the various churches of the Gentile world. The Pauline Epistles are written to the Gentiles unfamiliar with the Law of Moses.
The books of Peter, Hebrews, James and Jude are primarily addressed to converted Jews that are already steeped in the Mosaic Law. The Mosiac Law emphasized works.
The Gospels make reference to flight on the Sabbath Day -- but the Sabbath Day restrictions apply to Jews, not the Church. Peter makes reference the Mosaic Law on unclean animals. (Acts 11:8)
James is addressing grace versus works to people steeped from birth in the traditions of the Mosiac Law. James wasn’t equating works with salvation, he was equating works with fruit.
Abraham was justified by the ‘work’ of believing God, not sacrificing Isaac. His faith was ‘made perfect’ by God’s grace in providing an alternative sacrifice.
Rahab was justified by faith that if she helped the spies they would spare her. By her works, the Israelites were saved from defeat at Jericho. Her faith was ‘made perfect’ when the Israelites kept their promise.
We are saved by our faith that the Blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cleanse us from all sin and that He has already kept His Promise.
“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” -(James 2:22)
James doesn’t equate works with salvation, he equates it with faith. I’m assuming we’re all Christians here. I’m also assuming we’ve had similar experiences. (Assuming can be problematic, but I’m taking a long chance.)
Is your faith sometimes stronger than it is other times? I admit that mine is. There are moments when I’m ready to charge hell with a bucket of ice water and times when I wonder how a dirtbag like me could ever be saved.
Think about it. Do you ever find your faith wavering, even for a few moments? Think about the circumstances when it does.
I bet you will find some relationship between how strong your faith is and what ‘works’ you happen to be engaging in at the time.
Salvation and faith are not the same. We are sometimes more faithful than other times, but there is no time when we are more or less saved.
We tend to view our lives in the moment -- we view where we are at that moment as determining where we stand with God. To some degree, that is true, since all any of us has is this moment.
But while we see our lives in momentary slices, God exists outside of time and space. We can only see to the next horizon, God looks down at us in our totality. God either sees the Shed Blood of Christ or He does not.
Our faith is demonstrated by our works, and our works play an important role in how faithful we are, but salvation comes by grace through faith [and that not of yourselves, lest any man should boast.] (Ephesians 2:8-9)
There are those who say that the doctrine of eternal security is a license to sin. The fact is that man doesn’t need a license to sin. Sin is what man does.
The most simple theme of Scripture, the one for which there is the least objection, is the theme that man is incapable of living a sinless life on his own.
Man is incapable of good works.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
“They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:12)
As Christians, we are enjoined to live a Christ-like life because we are saved, not in order to become saved or in order to remain saved.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 12:10)
Don’t let the enemy steal your victory. You are worthy to carry the banner because He has made you worthy.
Is your faith weak? Go out there and get into the fight.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)