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Relation of Faith, Grace, Works and Salvation
By Rosa E. Cardona
Have you ever found yourself a bit confused upon hearing people talk about the issues of faith, works, and grace as they relate to salvation? If so, you are not alone. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding among the various denominations and even within our own Seventh-day Adventist church concerning these matters. Some people pit faith, works and grace against each other claiming that one or the other is the only necessary thing for salvation. But what does the Bible teach about these things? And are there other factors that are also involved with these issues? For example, how do the fruits of the spirit factor in or what part does judgment play in the discussion of salvation? These are some issues that need scriptural explanations for clarity.
Need for Salvation
Perhaps a good place to start in this discussion is to understand why there is a need for salvation. The Bible makes it very plain that God’s whole universe and everyone and everything in it are subject to God’s laws. Human beings are especially subject to His moral laws as presented in the Ten Commandments which the Bible also calls the law of liberty. Violating God’s moral laws is called sin. The Bible says, “Whosoever committed sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (King James Version, 1 John 3:4). These commandments are predicated on the concept of love: love for God and love for man. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that is, His moral perfection, therefore, we are deserving of death because the Bible says “for the wages of sin are death” (Rom 6:23). Fortunately, God in His mercy has made a way for us to be rescued from the sentence of death. The Bible also teaches that without the shedding of blood there is no remission or forgiveness of sin. So, although we deserve death, mercifully God’s son, Jesus, lovingly consented to pay the penalty for us sinners by shedding His blood on the cross. That is why the rest of the verse of Romans 6:23 says, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This sacrifice brings us into harmony with God (atonement) because Christ’s perfect character is imputed (credited) to us as our own righteousness.
Role of God’s Grace
This gift of eternal life bought at the expense of Jesus’ life is God’s expression of grace toward us. Our salvation is neither merited nor deserved by us: it is, indeed, a priceless gift. But God’s grace is not simply and only forgiveness of our sins, rather it is also empowerment to overcome sin. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that regardless of the common temptations we all face, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” We must never come to the place where we take for granted that because Jesus paid for every sin, therefore, we don’t have to make any effort to stop sinning. Our effort is in desiring not to sin and inviting God to do the overcoming in and through us. We also help ourselves by making a conscious decision to refrain from placing ourselves in situations that we know tempt us. How often do we sing that hymn that tells us that there is power in the blood of The Lamb (Jesus) to be free from sin? Do we believe it? Consider the promise that we often cite, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). This and many other promises are designed to strengthen us in the assurance that God is indeed interested in giving us power over sin.
Role of Faith in Salvation
The Bible teaches that everyone can avail him/herself of this salvation by accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour. It is extremely important that we establish right now that it is the supreme sacrifice that Jesus made in shedding His blood on the cross that merits our salvation as we accept what He did for us as our substitute. So, how does His grace and our faith factor into this marvelous plan of salvation?
Biblically speaking, what is faith or belief? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But God’s Word also tells us that true faith is demonstrated by living it out in our lives through obedience to His commandments. So, when we say we believe that Jesus is our Saviour and example, we emulate Him by thinking, saying, and doing as He would were He in our place. It also means that we trust that He will deliver on His promises to help us be overcomers. In these ways, we live out what we profess to believe in.
God’s Word says that Satan and his demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God and tremble. Why do they tremble? It is because they possess no love for Him (or anyone else) and so they do not obey or love God’s commandments, but they know that death is the consequence of their disobedience. We are told that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And what did Jesus say constitutes love for Him? He says that if we love him, we keep His commandments and they are not grievous to us (1 John 5:3). So we can see that disobedience demonstrates a lack of love for God and His son which becomes cause for the trembling because the end result of sin is death.
When we obey the commandments, we don’t have to fear eternal death in the judgment nor retaliation from anyone here because we refrain from hurting people. Instead, we have lived in harmony with the law of love and know that we have brought joy to the heart of God and therefore, we can experience peace.
Role of Works in Salvation
When we understand with grateful hearts and sound logical minds what Jesus and God the Father have done to save us from eternal ruin, the deep gratitude awakens in us a desire that becomes a passion to want to live according to Jesus’ example of loving deeds and obedience to the moral laws of God. As we avail ourselves of the power of God to keep us from sinning, He graciously cleanses our hearts and minds so that we grow progressively to dislike evil and love doing good. This doing good and obeying God’s law is often called “works.” Ephesians 2:8-10 gives a clear understanding of the relationship among the concepts of faith, works and grace as they pertain to salvation. It says, “for by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Notice that Jesus himself has created us unto good works, and this is where the fruits of the spirit come into play as empowerment to do God’s will and work.
The Bible tells us that the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 6: 22 and 23) are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Notice that these are gifts given by the Holy Spirit to empower us to do the works and will of God on His terms. As these lovely and laudable traits are nurtured in our beings, others witness a transformation of our characters. This is how we become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). So, we can see that works are a result of our love for God and our desire to please Him and not the means of our salvation. Works reveal one’s spiritual and moral character as we become those new creatures that God promises to transform us into.
Role of Judgment in Salvation
So how does judgment fit into all the issues that pertain to salvation? Verses in Ecclesiastes and James give us a glimpse into how these issues fit together in the judgment. Ecclesiastes 12: 13 and 14 say, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” And James tells us, “So speak ye and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” In Matthew 12: 36 and 37, Jesus said, “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Here we clearly see that we shall be judged according to our words and works. Revelation 20:12 says that the dead were judged according to what is written in the book of life. As we consider all the things that we have done and said that we know have violated the holy commandments of God, we can feel thoroughly condemned. However, salvation has been secured for those who accept, believe, and trust in Jesus the Saviour who can cleanse our life record by his great sacrifice. But how does this work?
Role of Jesus as Our High Priest and Advocate
The Bible tells us very plainly how every sinner can have his life record cleansed (sins blotted out) and be fitted for heaven and eternal life. To start with, as we come to know and love Jesus and become acquainted with God’s moral law, we must be convicted of our sins and repent that we did them. We must confess to and ask for forgiveness of God for our sins and, where possible, also ask forgiveness of those we have wronged (Prov. 28:13). Through the power given us by Christ, we must forsake those sins and allow Him to redirect our lives so that we can experience the transformation of our character that He promises to give us. As we believers go through these steps toward salvation, God empowers us to continue in this path of righteousness. And if we fail now and then, we are encouraged by God’s mercy for we are told, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus the righteous: And He is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice) for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:1-3). Notice how we are always brought back to the injunction to keep God’s commandments because it was the breaking of them that resulted in Jesus having to be crucified so we could be saved from eternal damnation. In speaking of Jesus’ role as our High Priest in heaven, the Bible says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). God and His Son, Jesus, made a complete and attainable plan for our salvation at enormous expense to themselves. How unwise if we do not avail ourselves of this exquisite gift!