Grace, Works and Salvation

We see an increasing number of brethren who seem to have come to an understanding that we are saved by grace, and not by our good works. This continues to surprise me, for I have been preaching the gospel for more than half a century, and never remember preaching it any other way. Eph.2:8 and Titus 3:5 read just like they did a thousand years ago. However, we have always tried to make clear that the grace offered by our Lord always had to be accepted on the terms by which it was offered, and this is not always made clear by many of the preachers who seem to have only recently discovered this amazing grace, even those who are sound and conservative, as they try to emphasize that glorious truth that salvation is by grace. Note the kind of statements that are sometimes made, although true as far as they go, may leave persons with wrong assumptions.

"I have come to view human works differently in recent times. I had previously thought they were necessary to ensure our salvation. Now I simply see them as a loving appreciative response to what God has already done for us in providing salvation." It is true that all the good works done before we were saved from our past sins could not earn or "secure" our salvation. It is equally true that all the good works one may do after salvation from past sins cannot earn or "ensure" our salvation, as if God's grace had the matter fairly well covered, but in order to "clinch the deal" we had to do a certain amount of good works, the exact amount and kind to be determined by our own private whim. It is possible that some of our preaching has left the impression that God's grace provides most of our salvation, but at least some work of ours, especially baptism, does the little extra job that grace did not do. At least this is what it may sound like when you knock on a door and find a person who has not been to a church service for ten years, but who says, "I belong to the Church of Christ. I've been baptized." Or even when some good brother dies, and at his funeral, you hear, "He was the most faithful Christian. The doors of that church were never opened but that he was there." Whether he ever did anything else for the Lord was not made clear, but he had apparently "worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) by being there when the door was open. So the impression was apparently gained in some way that there was some merit in "getting baptized" or "being faithful in attendance" and especially some in "giving back to the Lord a small portion of that which He has given us." One may go fishing all day Sunday, but if he gets back by the building in time to have the Lord's Supper brought out to his car as he is on the way home, he can reverently say, "I communed" and assume that whatever God's grace did not take care of, his obedience did.

So when a person is emphasizing that all the good works that you could possibly do will not ensure your salvation from past sins, he is doing what needs to be done. When one emphasizes that all the good works that one may do after he becomes a Christian will not ensure his eternal salvation, he is still doing what needs to be done. But if his teaching is so incomplete as to leave out or misrepresent Jesus' teaching in Mt. 25:30-46, or to teach that God's grace saves a person in spite of what he may or may not do, he has taught a false and dangerous doctrine.

Perhaps we should ask these new exegetes to deal in some detailed way with such questions as these:
1. Since doing good works is simply a loving response to what God has already done for us in providing salvation, suppose no one sees any good works such as those mentioned in Mt.25 or other places?
2. Does this mean that you do not have a loving response to God's grace, and that you have therefore not accepted it on the terms by which he offered it?
3. Then since you do not have these good works (a loving response to God's grace) and therefore must not have properly accepted that grace, are you saved by it anyway?
4. If we had to accept God's grace by being baptized for the remission of our sins in a faithful, obedient, loving response to that grace, do we have to continue to accept God's grace by continuing a faithful, obedient, loving response to that grace by obeying such commands as Gal 6:10, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith?"
5. If we do not try to do that, can we still be saved by grace?
6. If we do that, do we have any right to assume, "I am no longer saved by grace. I am saved because I obeyed the command of the Lord?"
7. Do we not realize that even if we obeyed one or more commands of the Lord perfectly, there are dozens of them that we have failed to obey perfectly and therefore cannot be saved on the basis of our obedience, whether or not it included doing any good works, but on the basis of grace, through faith?

So, we much teach in such a fashion that we let persons know they can "do despite unto the Spirit of grace" (Heb. 10:29). We can "fall from grace" (Gal. 5:4). We can fail to "continue in the grace of God" (Acts 14:23). We must not "continue in sin that grace may abound" (Rom. 6:1). It is possible even to "receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. 6:1). One of the most brilliant men I ever baptized now thinks he has learned so much that he rejects various parts of the Bible, such as Hebrews, James and Jude since they present, in his words, "a grace that can be earned through obedience."

I am reminded that Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, acted like one of the most foolish ones. No Bible author presents a grace that has to be earned. They all present a grace that could be accepted or rejected. In every case, unless it continued to be accepted on the terms offered, it was rejected, and it might even happen as Jude says, that one can "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness" (Jude 4-5) by refusing to do the good works of obedience that are the loving response to what God has done for us.

So, if you are raising the question about something being "necessary to ensure your salvation" you may want to ask: Have I now learned the great truth that He is the author of eternal salvation to those who disobey Him? (Cf. Heb. 5:9). For heaven's sake, and we mean that literally, do not teach about the wonderful grace of God in such a fashion as to leave the idea that grace takes care of you regardless of what you do or try to do. It is certainly true that one can think of "good works" as things he may do that obligate God to save him, or he may think of them as things he may do in grateful thanks to God who has saved him. The first attitude is always wrong. The second may be wrong if it leads one to assume that since he was saved without doing "good works" he no longer needs to be concerned about doing "good works."

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive