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The Gospel of Salvation – part 2 October 27, 2010

Posted by Henry in Matters of the Faith.
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This post is in continuation of a discourse between myself and Dave from over at “The Gospel According to the Gospel”. Link to Part 1 here.

Dave,

To continue where I left off last time, I want to look at what you said with regards to modern theologians holding to the view that there has been a dispensation of works (the Law) and a dispensation of Grace. Let me state categorically that I personally do not subscribe to this view. Indeed I hold to the view that there is and have been two dispensations in regards to the promise made to Abraham. The word dispensation being used in this context refers to a “religious epoch” or period of time. Consequently the first covenant lasted for a particular period of time – in that time period only Israel could benefit from the first covenant because it was given to them only. The following verses of scripture demonstrate this fact:

Eph 2

12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 18For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

The second (or new) covenant was given to everybody therefore but first to the Jew and then to the Greek (or the Gentiles). In my view therefore the plan of salvation as embodied in the covenant promises made to Abraham was implemented in essence in two phases which I refer to as dispensations. Looking at Gal 3 and Rom 8 we see the duality of the plan of salvation:

Gal 3

23But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

 

Roms 8

3For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

In Rom 8:3 therefore we see that although we are no longer bound by the law, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us through Christ Jesus.

Now let’s turn attention to the issue of “works versus Grace”. There are mainly two issues here which are sometimes often confused and I will look at these in turn. The first issue relates to the fact that in the early church Paul (and other Apostles) was faced with a problem whereby the Jews who had now become followers of Christ (Christians) sought to continue doing the “works of the Law” and as such believed Gentile Christians should do likewise. An example of this can be seen in Acts 21:21-25 where Paul had to make it clear that he did not give any instruction to the Gentiles who believed (or required them) to observe the customs and practices which came down from Moses.  Paul had to deal with a similar problem in Gal 2:11-14 where he had to rebuke Peter for hypocrisy because Peter ate with the Gentiles but when circumcised Jews came among them he withdrew to “save face”. Paul therefore had to clarify in the following verse that man is not justified by the works of the Law but by the “new” faith that was given in Christ:

Gal 2

16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. 21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

The Jews therefore were making the Cross of Christ of none-effect by claiming that the works of the Law such as circumcision were still necessary. But these works as we have seen were not required particularly since the Law had been set aside by Christ death and resurrection.

Now the other problem relating to “works vs Grace” relates to the problem faced by the early reformers like Martin Luther. By the time of the Reformation the Roman Church had established a religions system which suggested that a man had to do “good works” in order to “earn” his salvation. Piety was defined in terms of “good works” that were deemed necessary for one to earn his place in heaven. As a result, the Roman Church believed and taught “justification by works” instead of “justification by faith”, which Paul preached. Often times therefore, when the issue of “works vs Grace” is spoken of, the two different types of “works” (“works of the Law” and “good works”) are often conflated without any distinction made. As a result we arrive at a crossroads where we say that a man is justified only by Grace and there is no need for works. The following verses of Eph 2 define salvation by Grace:

Eph 2

5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved😉 6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

In contrast to the teachings of the Roman church of justification by works, Paul writing to the Ephesians makes it clear here that salvation is by grace through faith only and not of ourselves. In other words we cannot save ourselves simply by doing what is considered “good works” because if we have “good works” yet not faith in Christ we or still lost. Is it correct to say then that because we are saved by Grace then there is no need for good works? I think this is where the church today has missed an opportunity by its complacency in neglecting to do good works. The key terminology Paul used is that salvation is by Grace THROUGH FAITH. In James’ exposition on faith in James 2:26 he makes it abundantly clear that faith, if it has not works is DEAD and dead faith cannot obtain Grace. Good works are therefore necessary for our faith to come alive in Jesus Christ! Can we therefore continue to juxtapose “Grace” against “works”? No! For salvation is BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH and faith necessitates works otherwise it is dead. Here is what James said:

James 2

18Yea, 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. 19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness:

There we have it! Justification by faith is in fact the same as justification by works (in the perfection of faith)!

The modern church to a large extent however would seem to have held on to the doctrine of “Grace alone” neglecting the fact that “good works” are necessary in the exercising of our faith. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why the power of God in confirming the gospel is not evident in most churches today.

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