Faith Alone vs. Faith plus works of God
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of talk regarding faith, the works of God and the works of man coming from the —Salvation by Faith Alone crowd.
Before I go on I would like to define —Salvation by Faith Alone.
“Any work or effort, done by anyone to reach God or to attain a relationship with Him, is completely without merit and unable to satisfy any requirement necessary for a relationship with God at all. Said efforts will leave one devoid of God and not in a relationship with Him at all and this being no matter how one thinks or feels. Therefore, absolutely nothing a person can do within and by one’s own ability can be of use to attain God.”
This doctrine is primarily derived from two verses.
“For it is by faith that you have been saved through Grace and that not of your own it is the free gift of God.” — Ephesians 2:8
“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” — Romans 3:28
In a nutshell; our justification to God comes as a free gift from God of faith and grace apart from works of the law.
This nutshell, of course, is absolutely true.
Division Within The Camp
The faith alone group can also be divided into two camps. The first, holds that
salvation is completely devoid of any work at all. The second holds, that a believer is changed, that they are new creation and must demonstrate this change by good works. They also say that these works are preordained by God and not works of man. Both hold to the expression once saved always saved.
I am writing this to defend within scripture that God does in fact require works of man in order to achieve God’s stated promise or salvation. One such work is baptism which I will conclusively defend. All that I ask is that you be honest with yourself and question where scripture challenges your belief system.
The faith alone group deny the necessity of baptism by claiming that baptism is a work of man unnecessary for salvation. Some even teach that those who hold to baptism are teaching a doctrine of Satan and will be condemned to hell. Others say these people are saved by faith in Christ, but that they add a burden of works on believers.
Before we look deeper into the word to differentiate the works of man from those of God let’s look deeper into the doctrine of faith alone and see if it has any problems.
The first camp or group believes salvation is by faith alone and devoid of any works at all. Once one accepts Jesus as their personal Savior they are saved from that point forward. Nothing can ever condemn that person even if they were to become an atheist. They would still remain in a state of grace and salvation because of their previous confession of faith in Christ.
What immediately comes to my mind concerning this doctrine is all the warnings found in scripture. For instance Philippians 2:12 tells believers who have always obeyed to work out their salvation with trembling and fear! Why work out salvation with trembling and fear if one can’t lose it?
Two things to note of importance within Philippians 2:12.
First take note that the Philippians have always obeyed which infers a command had been made. In other words an obedient action is needed in order to fulfill a command. Secondly, God is at work in them in order for them to fulfill His purpose. Now if God is at work in believers to fulfill His purpose shouldn’t believers be at work to fulfill His purpose too?
This scripture clearly shows that some sort of work of obedience is being done by Philippian believers to keep them on the path toward salvation along with God and thus fulfilling God’s purpose.
Many more scriptures are in agreement. Here’s a few
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” —Luke 13:24
Effort is needed to enter the narrow door, meaning heaven, and not just a little. Every effort must be made,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” —Matthew 7:13
A haphazard effort by anyone to enter heaven will lead them to destruction. Why? Because it’s easy and easy ways may even seem like the right thing to do, but it leads to destruction.
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” —Hebrews 2:1-3
Here we find the author warning Jewish Christians to pay close attention and in order to not drift away.
The writer uses the Greek word ‘prosecho’ which means bringing to land, as in bring a boat to land and ‘perissoteros,’ which means more abundantly or with greater attention.
Did you know that ship captains never dock their ships?
Harbors are treacherous to the unknowledgeable. Therefore, the reins so to speak, of the ship are handed over to a harbor master who pilots the ship to safety. He is someone who has a complete and thorough knowledge of the harbor, including of every rock, jetty, hazard as well as traffic schedules, tides and possibly even pirates. The author by comparing believers to a harbor master warns himself and his listeners of the dangers of drifting simply by becoming indifferent to the surrounding dangers.
Note the rhetorical question that follows the warning. “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?”
The consequence of drifting, not paying more careful attention, not making every effort and being indifferent is damning! Let me repeat: The consequence of drifting, not paying more careful attention, not making every effort and being indifferent is damning! There is no escape for the believer who ignores such a great salvation!
“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” —Hebrews 4:14
As shown above the writer exhorts the Hebrew believers, in similar fashion as that of Luke, to make every effort to enter God’s rest.
Because the consequence is death. This is not the death all will experience. It is to eternally perish by following the example of their disobedient forefathers.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” —Hebrews 10:26-27
The temptation, by some, is to say that those who deliberately sin after believing weren’t true believers. However, is not the writer is warning believers? Please note that not one book in the Bible is written to unbelievers. Every book was written to the those who are called out of the world, the church, true believers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore deliberate continued sin by a believer in Christ leaves that them without a sacrifice for sin and only a fearful exception of judgment and of raging fire! We all sin, but to continue in intentional sin is rebellion against God. That is worth repeating. To continue intentional sin is rebellion against God.
How then can anyone believe, when in willful and deliberate sin, everything is ok between them and God? God says otherwise!
The answer is always repent.
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” —Hebrews 3:12-14
Sin is deceitful. When we keep sinning the sin deceives us into thinking everything is ok. We think God loves me, He forgives me, even though I keep on sinning and as a result I am never victorious over sin while in Christ.
If we’re never victorious over sin then understand this: SIN WINS. We will eventually give up and turn away from the living God. SIN WINS especially while we deceive ourselves that all is well.
You can’t be with God while you intentionally rebel against God. Sin is rebellion. You’re not only running away from God, but you’re actually trying to beat Him or outsmart him in your lust for sin?
The writer also maintains that believers only share in Christ if they indeed hold to their original conviction firmly to the very end.
From these few passages it is clear that a believer can and will slip away by indifference. Holding firmly to the end is not an option. It is mandatory if one wants to share in Christ!
Note: The Hebrew writer is warning his brothers who are drifting away. Meaning there is still time to repent. God is merciful and loves the repentant sinner.
I could go on and on, but these few should passages demonstrate and dispute that faith alone without any works doctrine is a false. There is plenty of effort that must take place to maintain a relationship with God.
The book of Hebrews, is a warning to Jewish believers about falling away from the faith and its terrible consequences. Therefore, it is a warning to all Christians about being lead astray by wishful and deceitful teaching.
The second faith alone camp maintains that salvation must be exemplified by a changed life. Notice that this group believes works are necessary, but that the works of a believer are because of salvation and not a condition of salvation.
Therefore a true believer, according to this sect, must not only accept Jesus as their personal Savior, but also exhibit a changed life by doing good works that indeed prove they are a new creation. However, they say, these good works are not works of men, but works prescribed by God for men to accomplish.
Steven J. Cole a firm believer of this doctrine teaches just that.
“Many Christians confuse making a decision to accept Christ with genuine salvation. Certainly, everyone who is genuinely saved receives Christ or decides to trust in Him. But, not everyone who makes a profession of receiving Christ or trusting in Him is genuinely saved.”
What Mr. Cole says is astounding. In one breath, and in complete sincerity, he says, one can accept Christ and be saved and then one can accept Christ and not be saved!
How then can one know that they are truly saved?
Mr Cole explains:
“When God genuinely saves someone, that person becomes a new creation in Christ. God changes his heart of stone for a heart of flesh that is obedient to Him. He changes the bent of our lives from hostility towards God to submission to Him. While genuine believers do sin, they hate it and fight against it. If there is no change of heart, then the person needs to question whether he has been created anew in Christ Jesus.”
Mr. Cole defends his position:
“[The faith alone camp without works], fails to realize that salvation requires God to raise a sinner from death to life, which inevitably results in a changed life. It divorces repentance from saving faith and teaches that saving faith is simply believing the facts of the gospel.”
In other words he is saying salvation must exhibit a changed life and not some declaration of faith alone.
Let his statements sink in for a minute.
The second camp, by two facts and without realizing it, is actually saying salvation is not by faith alone.
- Mr. Cole states repentance cannot be divorced from saving faith.
How can saving faith be by faith alone if repentance is necessary? Has not Mr. Cole demonstrated repentance, which is a work, to be necessary?
John the Baptist called the people of Israel to repent for the Kingdom of God is near. Repentance is a verb. It is something we do. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God, but it is much more than that too. In saying, “It divorces repentance from saving faith,” Mr. Cole demonstrates that a work is necessary. In this case it is a work of repentance
- A changed life exemplified by good works must follow salvation. In other words a person who accepts Jesus, but carries out no good works that verify salvation should question their salvation. In other words it’s a polite way to state a person is not saved.
To get around these facts, and not assail the faith alone doctrine, they state that the changed life is a work done by God and not works of man.
“We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works. Those different prepositions make all the difference in the world! Good works are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. If there are no works or change of life to follow salvation, then it should be questioned whether the person is truly saved”
Therefore according to the second camp there is only one way for a new convert to be sure of their salvation. They must prove to themselves, others and to God, that they are indeed a new creation with a new heart by doing good works.
Mr. Cole recommends a believer two practical applications.
First: “Make sure that you are a new creation in Christ. Have you truly been saved by His grace through faith in Christ alone?
Second, “If you have been saved, the focus of your life should be, ‘Lord, what will You have me to do?’”
The first recommendation infers upon the questioned the responsibility of being a new creation and thus saved. If one is saved by faith alone, how can one have responsibility?
How can one be saved by faith alone when the assurance of being a new creation rests solely on the one being saved?
Isn’t any responsibility of the believer disputed amongst the faith alone camp?
I ask, together with the first ‘faith alone camp,’ “Isn’t this working for your salvation?”
The second recommendation, in the same way, shifts the responsibility of salvation to the recipient. The ‘if’ in Mr. Cole’s second recommendation is a conditional statement. A conditional statement requires an action and in this case the action is the focus of your life. The believer must ensure that that their life is Christ centered.
Mr Cole defends:
“…genuine salvation involves a new creation that is entirely God’s doing. This new creation is made for good works also.”
“That is precisely what Paul is clarifying in Ephesians 2:10. While salvation is entirely of God, so are the good works that follow.”
He defense seems legit, but there is a problem. The good works mentioned depend totally on the one saved and the passage before says we’re saved by faith. Therefore we should ask ourselves an honest question.
“Am I doing good works because I’m saved or am I doing good works to prove I’m saved.”
This is an important question because Mr. Cole states that a genuine believer will have a changed life and a disingenuous believer will not.
How then can a person know for sure if they’re saved?
The answer according to Mr. Cole is simply by doing good works to exemplify being a new creation or having a changed life.
How many good works, after accepting Christ, does it take to know for sure that one is a new creation?
What if the believer struggles even when doing works and still has doubts that they are a new creation? The answer of most is to simply stop doubting. Believe and be saved! But doesn’t that put the person in camp one that is also rife with problems?
Obvious to the doubter it is best to continue in good works is the logical next step. But isn’t this is same problem that Martin Luther had with the Catholic church?
Mentors of the doubter will probably coach them to just believe, but as said before this solution puts them squarely back in camp one that has its own problems.
Now the doubtful person is left with two choices.
They can go round and round and struggle in their faith or they can just accept that they’re saved as fact and leave it at that.
Yes, we need to stand firm, but I see the latter choice as putting our head in the sand. We can’t simply will ourselves saved by eliminating doubts. May I suggest that doubts are a good thing. Doubts are displays of something unsettling. Something doesn’t add up. When doubting don’t pound dirt, but turn to the word. Seek and pray because the answer lies therein. The word provides blessed assurances, we even sing a hymn called blessed assurance. If one has doubts about doctrines taught shouldn’t one turn to the Bible seek answers that are consistent with the Bible?
I’m proposing that doubts are good and especially when those doubts are prompted by the very Word of God! If the word is promoting doubt it is only because what is being taught is contrary to the Bibles teaching. They are a signal from God and the Holy Spirit will help you discover the truth about faith and to understand what can’t be understood. However one must come to the word like a little child, completely humble, and will to believe what it says.
Question: If you hold any belief that conflicts with scripture guess who is wrong?
Mankind is in Darkness
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” —John 1:1-5
John is telling us that mankind is in darkness. We don’t naturally understand the light. We in darkness can never understand the light.
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” —John 1:6-13
John also tells us that God, by believing John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is the light, gives us the right to be become His children.
In other words anyone in darkness attains the right to become a child of God if they believe John the Baptist’s testimony. Having the right doesn’t make one a child of God! That is exactly what the word is saying here.
If you believe that statement then God has granted you the right to become a son or daughter of God. If you do not believe it then you haven’t even received the right. I know this statement is difficult to swallow, but it’s the truth.
I think now is a good time to examine difference between the works of God and the works of man and exactly what they mean.
To do so let’s look at some men of faith in the Bible. Let’s learn about these men of faith and action.
Doing God’s Work
You’re probably familiar with the story of Noah. God told him to build an ark to save himself, his family, and the animals on the earth from a flood that would come to destroy all life.
I’ve organized God’s commands and His works in within the table below summarizing Noah’s story. The black text represents God’s work. The blue represents Noah’s. His story is full of works, both God and man’s, thus, making it easy for us to classify them as such.
You will notice that most of Noah’s works are in black and considered works of God.
Why is that?
He’s obeying directives from God and doing God’s will and therefore doing the God’s work required of him. Almost none of Noah’s deeds were his idea.
How is doing God’s will God’s work?
That is a great question.
In order to understand better let’s look the relationship between an employer and an employee. Whenever two parties agree to some sort of working relationship there is a paradigm at play that I will call ‘The authority, will, work and renumeration method.’
The authority figure is one who requires some sort of performance or work from another lesser figure. The lesser figure in this sense is a person in need of some asset belonging to the authority figure who is willing to pay out said asset in order to fulfill the agreed upon terms in return for the lesser figures labor. Therefore the a.w.w.r. paradigm is a mutual agreement between two parties where both parties benefit.
To illustrate let’s say there is a cashier’s needed by an employer and you accept the position. You will spend the day managing a cash register. People come in and buy products in the store. You accept cash from the buyer and deposit the cash into the register. The buyer now takes possession of the product and departs. You will do this over and over again for five days and then get paid the amount you agreed upon for your labor.
Your employer, [authority] needs someone to fulfill his desire, [will], and you agree on employment, [work], in return for a promised payment [renumeration].
Now let me ask, “Did you create the cashier job?”
Of course not.
The business in need of a cashier sought an employee by advertising. The employer is looking for you. You hear what the employer has to offer and apply for the position. Note: This process is entirely the employer’s will. It’s his business, and his need. You the applicant are willing to put yourself under the employer’s authority. To get the job you must agree to the employer’s terms. You may counter with your own, but the employer may say good-bye. If you are desperate and in need of a job you will likely agree to the terms.
Noah doing God’s work is very similar.
God the authority has decided to put an end to mankind. God puts out a call for someone to do His will. Noah hears the call and he agrees to God’s terms. He must build an ark per God’s instructions to save himself, his family and the world’s animals. In return for his effort God guarantees Noah’s family safe passage through the deluge.
None of this was Noah’s idea.
It’s all God’s idea. God desired to spare someone. He also needed someone to carry out his desire, but that someone was chosen by God.
In a sense God advertised for an employee. Also since all mankind was corrupt, whoever heard the call and believed, God would bestow upon that person righteousness. God’s will requires the one called to believe and obey his command. This man happened to be Noah and he built the ark according to God’s will as the avenue of salvation.
The definition of ‘will’ in this sense and according to Webster: is to express a command or exhortation to do something.
Therefore, Noah carried out God’s will by doing the very work expected of him by God.
What we find is that the preordained works of God in Noah’s life are specific directives from God. They were not arbitrary good works. Instead they were instructed.
The one work above, noted in blue, is the only one that Noah did of his own accord. He sent out the birds. To the best of my knowledge God didn’t give him that command. Therefore that action carries no weight in regard to God’s plan or promise. It is simply an action by Noah to see how much longer the flood would last. Notice that this deed doesn’t go beyond or add to what God said, nor did effect what God promised. The act of sending out the dove is a work of man. Man’s work has not bearing at all, none, in regard to God’s will and promise.
Man’s work never has any authority or effect on God’s plan or promise, nor can it ever supersede God’s word. If mankind does make his word superior to God’s then mankind in doing nullifies God’s word. Mankind does this very thing even today, but please note man’s word can never brush aside God’s word or be superior! This means that if mankind makes a rule and calls it scripture that rule carries no weight or value whatsoever. Those who follow man made rules are led astray and will perish.
Jesus even says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
From what Jesus said it is of the most extreme importance that we learn to distinguish between God’s teaching and man’s.
What we learned from Noah?
Obedience to God’s commands is absolutely necessary. We also learned that building the ark was God’s work because God commanded Noah to build it. It wasn’t Noah’s idea. Thus believing God is doing God’s work. How do we know that Noah believed God. He built the ark.
What if Noah didn’t build the ark?
What if Noah thought a canoe would be better?
Would he be considered a believer?
We see that the ark wasn’t Noah’s work, but God’s will. The work of building the ark is therefore is a work of God!
Let’s examine two more men of God, Abraham and Moses, to see if the same dynamic plays out in their lives.
Abraham Doing God’s Will and Work
Abraham who is called the father of our faith believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.
I could examine every work performed by Abraham, but I’m only going to focus on one. However, if you will take the time to examine all of Abraham’s life you will find the same pattern throughout as revealed below.
One day God commanded Abraham to take Isaac his son and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham did as God commanded, but God intervened just before Abraham slew Isaac and provided a ram in Isaac’s stead.
Abraham placed Isaac on the altar and was ready to slay him when God intervened and provided an alternate sacrifice and therefore spared Isaac. God’s promise to Abraham still stood. Through Isaac Abraham would still become a father of many nations.
Please note again that it wasn’t until after Abraham did God’s will that he was considered righteous as confirmed by James when he says, “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited him as righteousness,’”
Again we see that the works of God are directives from God, but another pattern emerges.
Both Noah and Abraham received a promise from God. God spoke, they believed God and acted on that belief.
Note: It was only after believing and obeying God’s command that they received the promise.
This above statement is extremely important because it conflicts with both ‘faith alone’ crowds.
Both camps hold to a different pattern. First a person believes in Jesus and then they are saved. However, the second camp is slightly different. A person believes in Jesus and is immediately saved, but then they have to prove they are a genuine new creation by doing good works, but supposedly these good works are works of God.
I ask, “Isn’t God the same yesterday today and tomorrow.”
How can the faith alone camp be right when they teach opposite of what the Bible teaches?
Both Noah and Abraham heard God, believed Him and did what He commanded. Afterward they received what was promised.
Notice the order. It’s very important!
The faith alone camp says, “Hear God, believe, receive the promise, obey and do good works.
Do you see the difference?
We’re see a salvation paradigm emerge. Hear God, believe, obey and receive the promise [salvation].
Let’s see if its true with Moses?
Moses and Israelites
I’ve narrowed down the story of Moses to one episode. This event clearly classifies God’s work and that of Moses.
In this story there’s no blue at all on Moses part or Israelites either. God by His mighty power forced Pharaoh to let, His people, the Israelites go. The Israelites fled Egypt following Moses into the desert, but Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued them. The Israelites came to the Red Sea blocking their path. Pharaoh was right behind in hot pursuit. God held off the Egyptians with a pillar of fire and smoke while Moses held up his arms as commanded to part the Red Sea.
The Israelites and Moses were incapable of parting the sea on their own. They were trapped. Passing through the sea was the only way out and it was totally God’s idea and will. Moses spread out his hands and his staff before the sea as it parted. They simply did as God commanded.
Who caused the parting sea?
Was it God or Moses?
No man could accomplish that feat, but Moses doing as God had said stretched out his hands and the sea parted.
Why did God part the Red Sea? It was to enable the Israelites to escape the power of the Egyptians and flee to safety.
Who told the Israelites to pass through the sea? Again it was God.
God’s free gift to the Israelites was salvation from the Egyptians. The Israelites only had to walk through the path completely provided by God. The path was also chosen and designed by God. None of it originated by Moses or the people.
Would the Israelites have been saved if they refused to pass through the Red Sea?
Were the Israelites saved before of after they crossed through the sea?
Again we see the pattern. God speaks, the people believe and do as God asked and then receive the promised salvation.
Pretend for a moment that you were on that shore and refused to cross through the sea. Would you have been saved?
You answer ___________.
What can we conclude from these stories?
God established certain covenants with Noah, Abraham and Moses. Each covenant contained a promise. All of them believed God, obeyed Him and then received the promise.
Noah was promised to survive the flood and did.
Abraham was promised to become the father of many nations. Though he never saw the promise fulfilled in Isaac he endured in obedient hope believing God would accomplish what He said.
God spoke to Moses and established a Covenant of Salt with the Israelites. As God promised he freed them for the Egyptians. They entered the promise land and they became a kingdom of priests a holy people. A people to be separated from the world and devoted to God. They were His holy possession.
In each case we see that these men heard God, believed Him and acted on that belief by obeying what God commanded. Finally, it is only after obedience to God that the promise is received and the Covenant fulfilled. This is God’s pattern of authority, will, work and salvation.
Abraham and Moses were fathers of a promise, but they never received the promise. Neither did the Israelites they perished in the desert because of their unbelief. However, the children of the promise did receive the promise, but even they in faith carried out some act of obedience before receiving the promise.
They too had to cross body of water, It was the Jordan River and at the time of flooding. God parted those waters just as he parted the Red Sea so the people could pass through. The children didn’t part the waters or build a way over the River, but rather God did the work. The Israelites, children of their forefathers, only had to walk through and trust that God would keep the safe.
We see the same pattern again. God speaks, the people hear, they believe God and do what he says and receive the promise. If we examine every example in the Bible we will always find this same pattern, authority, will, work and salvation.
You will never find a single example of hearing, believing and receiving the promise being portrayed in the bible. The promise and its reception is always preceded by some sort of act of obedience carried out by the believer.
Some may argue the their on the cross, but if you think about it the same pattern emerges.
First both thieves mocked Jesus, one thief begins to reconsider. He repents and stops mocking Jesus. How do we know? The thief believes Jesus, repents rebuking the other and asks, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The man believed Jesus. He believed Jesus was still going to come into his kingdom even though he was being put to death! Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The man heard God, believed, acted on that belief and received the promise.
Notice also in the story of Jesus crucifixion the absence of belief also brings about an action, mockery and scoffing. Don’t forget this, belief condones God and unbelief mocks and scoffs.
Some may be quick to triumphantly say Jesus also said, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.”
“But to the Jews who believed in him, Jesus also said, ‘If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciple. Then you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’” —John 8:31
Was Jesus being contradictory?
Of course not.
We see Jesus qualifying their belief with the exact same pattern to that of Noah, Abraham, Moses and the thief. Hear, believe, act on belief and then receive the promise. Again the authority, will, work and salvation pattern.
Therefore we must ask ourselves two very important questions in New Testament times. Are there NT works assigned by God for man to accomplish and where can we find them?
Defining the New Testament Era
Before we define the works of God in the NT I think it best to delineate exactly when the New Testament began.
When we consider the advent of the New Covenant we can determine that the four Gospels actually occurred in OT times. Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant and usher in the new. Therefore the New Covenant couldn’t begin until everything was fulfilled by Jesus.
Some will say that the NT began when Jesus died on the cross and said, “It is finished.”
However, at this point the apostle’s had fled and were in hiding. They were in no shape to bring the Gospel to the world because they themselves still didn’t fully understand the Gospel or what just happened. They were weak, fearful and uninspired to proclaim Christ. Furthermore, what were they supposed to proclaim? That he was the way. The way to what? Jesus just died a premature death. It seems safe to conclude that the NT didn’t start at the death of Jesus.
Furthermore, some OT prophecies still needed to be fulfilled by Jesus even after his death. Jesus taught his disciples of those things beforehand, but death has a way disrupting peoples minds and dreams.
When Jesus died the disciples did not know or understand that death itself was about to be defeated.
They should have known, but they didn’t. I said this because modern man is no different. We should know, because we have the Bible fulfilled, but we don’t. It is just as John said, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” —John 1:9-13 (NIV)
The first item to be fulfilled after Jesus death was that he had lay in the grave for three days. The second was to rise from death and the grave and the third was for him to ascend into heaven. Finally the fourth was for him to send the promised Holy Spirit known as the Comforter. Therefore, the New Testament couldn’t officially begin until these four events occured. The last being the promised gift of the Holy Spirit who arrived on the day of Pentecost.
The New Testament works of God
We know that God sent Jesus to deliver God’s word concerning the Good News of a new kingdom and salvation. Jesus many times emphasized that he can only do what he sees the Father doing. He can only say what the Father told him to say or what the father taught him to say. In other words he did nothing of his own accord or invention.
God spoke to Moses in the same way and in the same way it is spoken of Moses that he did as the Lord had commanded him. God sent him to establish the covenant of salt with the Israelites. Just as Jesus was sent to establish the New Covenant. Moses spoke the very words of God to the people and many times the scripture says, “The people did as Moses commanded, they did as Moses and Aaron commanded, or the Israelites did as Moses commanded.”
What matters in this discussion is that Jesus received instructions from God and passed that message to his apostles his chosen messengers. They are like Moses in that they believed Jesus and His claims and they in turn spoke the message to the people. Some of the people believed. Believing the message is good, it gives us the right to become children of God, but doing what they said is doing the works of God thus fulfilling that belief and ultimately receiving the promise
We too must follow the pattern or authority, will, work and salvation.
Don’t you want to be commended the same way as those who believed Moses?
To those who believed the teaching of the apostles, and did what was commanded, it will be said, “They did as the apostles commanded.”
“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses just as the builder of the house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future, but Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” —Hebrews 3:5-6
If we consider ourselves followers of Christ then we too must obey the commands of the apostles whom Christ appointed to bring the Good News to all the world.
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; and said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” —Hebrews 3:7-11
Let us not be like those who rebelled.
“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?
And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” —Hebrews 3:12-14
Sharing in Christ is a Work of God
The Bible is very clear about how to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus speaking to Nicodemus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Note: Nicodemus recognized that being born again had nothing to do with our physical birth by exclaiming, “Surely they can’t enter their mothers womb again.”
Jesus therefore tells him what it means, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”
Jesus is very very clear that being born again is of the water and the Spirit.
He goes on to say, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Note that flesh doesn’t give birth to Spirit just as Spirit doesn’t give birth to flesh. They are essentially alien to one another.
At this conjuncture it is good to point out that some may argue that being born of water is when a mother’s water breaks just before she gives birth, because Jesus just said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”
However, that is like telling a person already born of a woman, that they need to be born of a woman before they can be born of God. Think for a moment. It is a ridiculous proposition and objection. Common knowledge tells us that every living person is already born of a woman.
Imagine for a minute, that you’re an owner of an apartment. Someone comes to you wanting to rent. Now imagine that you, the landlord, tell them that they must be born of a woman first before they can rent.
Do you see how absurd that sounds? It’s comical. Yet, it is the same exact argument people use to avoid having water mean baptism in John chapter three.
Why would some want to avoid baptism from having anything to do with being born again? First it is because of the belief that salvation is by faith alone and secondly I want to remind you that mockery, scoffing and ridicule come from unbelief.
However, Jesus is pretty clear that being born again is a new birth in his discussion with Nicodemus and it involves the water and the Spirit. Peter agrees too, and the new birth is not without a ramification.
Peter states that God has given us new birth into a living hope. Therefore being born of the flesh is by necessity an old birth. The Old and New Covenants are similar. Yet by necessity a new covenant infers an old one.
If birth by a woman isn’t part of being born again then what is being born of water and Spirit?
What does Jesus say? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” —Mark 16:15-16
It is very clear according to Jesus belief and baptism are necessary for salvation. He stated to the apostles that those who hear and believe the gospel message will be baptized. The people hear the apostles who preach the Good News, the people believe the Good News and are baptized in water as condition for the forgiveness of sins, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be added to God’s Kingdom and to be a new creation. Those who do not believe will refuse baptism most likely mocking and scoffing at it and be condemned. Notice again the same pattern of authority, will, work and renumeration.
We see that baptism is part of the gospel. Otherwise how could the people have known to be baptized?
We also see this pattern with the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion. Phillip discovers the chariot carrying the eunuch who is reading Isaiah chapter fifty-three. The eunuch welcomes Phillip aboard wanting him to explain who Isaiah is talking about. Was it of himself or some other person? Philip takes advantage of the opportunity presented and jumps up into the chariot and begins to share the gospel of Jesus with to the eunuch.
“As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” —Acts 8:36-3
From the reading we can conclude that the eunuch understood baptism as a necessity to enter the kingdom of God.
Because even though baptism isn’t mentioned it is understood that it was taught by the eunuch’s response.
“Look there’s water. What can in the way of my being baptized?”
It is obvious that baptism must have been mentioned to him.
Otherwise, how would he know to ask?
Is baptism a work of man or of God?
Earlier we learned that when God commands something for man to do that requirement is a work of God. Therefore baptism is God’s requirement to be born again, to have your sins forgiven, to receive the Holy Spirit and to be added to God’s kingdom. Baptism is absolutely not a work of man at all, it is believing God and obeying His command.
We see the same pattern: Hear, believe, act, receive the promised salvation.
Some may be thinking well I was baptized after I was saved or many years ago.
This is important. How can you be saved before completing the action to receive the promise? You have changed God’s pattern. You say, “Believe, be saved and then act.” That is a work of man because it is man’s idea.
Some may also be thinking I was a baby or even in my youth at some church function.
The question now becomes, did you know what you were doing?
If you were baptized to make a public proclamation of already being saved then you have resorted to man’s pattern of teaching.
“Believe, salvation and then act.”
Your baptism wasn’t in accordance to God’s plan, but rather in obedience to man.
Remember is you want to argue this point go ahead. You’re arguing with God not me.
“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. ‘Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.’” Hosea 4:6-7
When someone rejects God’s knowledge, God rejects them, and He also ignores those taught by them because they are taught to accept man’s teaching and ignore God.
Of this Jesus doesn’t speak too kindly.
“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”
Rules by man just don’t cut it! If we hold to man’s truth versus God’s truth Jesus reveals that our hearts are far from him. They have a different agenda than God’s.
Therefore if you’re reading this and yet hold to man’s teaching Jesus say’s you’re heart is far from him. Your worship is in vain! You should be frightened.
You’re probably mocking and scoffing at this teaching.
Some may still argue that baptism a work a work of man?
Who invented the command? Who made the command? Was it God or was it man?
It was from God and therefore it is God’s ordained work. No man is telling you to be baptized only messengers of God.
What about Eph 2:10 us being God’s workmanship being created in Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do? What about these being works of God?
God prepared his children in advance to do good works. Some of these are God’s commands, like love one another, make disciples, love God etc. and others are good deeds that men (we) arbitrarily choose to do. If I decide to mow my neighbors lawn as an act of service to show that I care for and love them then cutting their lawn was my work. God did not command me specifically to mow the lawn. Nor is it required by every believer. However, cutting their lawn is fulfilling a command to love your neighbor.
God’s works are directives required of every believer and man’s works are directives that are not required by every believer.
God does require everyone to be born of the water and the Spirit to enter His kingdom, but does not require everyone to mow a neighbor’s lawn.
Jesus does command many things. Therefore if anyone rejects His commands they reject Jesus, they reject God, and they reject salvation!
What about saved by grace?
While ‘saved by grace’ doesn’t appear in the lesson God’s grace does appear throughout.
Yes, we are saved by grace. It is by God’s grace that He reaches out and provides us with a way to Him. It is by God’s grace that He commands us. It is by God’s grace that we’re forgiven. It is by God’s grace that He allows us to die with Christ, be buried and raised up with Him by our faith during baptism. Even our ability to have faith is by God’s grace. God’s grace fills these pages. It is by God’s grace that you are even reading this article.
Salvation and works of God are necessary for salvation. Faith alone is a false teaching of men. God’s works are directives required by God of every believer. Man’s works are directives from men that are not required by God of every believer. Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
What will be your answer?
Will you mock and scoff?
Contact the author of this study if you want to learn more.