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The Law and The Gospel

Article by Jason Francis

As a babe in Christ, I worked with a Freewill Baptist pastor. He had the idea, as one would expect, about how much grace is available and how much of the work is our responsibility. More specifically, where does grace end and our works begin? He, of course, thought that salvation could be lost as any true Arminian would hold to. In one conversation, he said, “I hope I don’t lose my salvation during the millennial reign”. My response was, “If we inherit eternal life and then lose it, we couldn’t call it eternal, could we?”. Looking perplexed, he just nodded his head as if he hadn’t considered that before. The Arminian view is that there is a limit to God’s grace whether they actually admit it or not. You could sin to the point of falling from grace and salvation is ultimately lost. This leads to a law heavy salvation. It then becomes performance based. 


  Adding to my confusion, I attended a church that claimed to be Calvinistic but in all reality, was not at all. They would preach the case for salvation being a predetermined work of God but would say we could still accept or reject this gift of salvation. I guess grace is resistible after all. They would say that God draws you to a point and that you make the ultimate choice in the matter. We are drawn by God as John 6:44 states. The Father draws those who would come to Christ. This would be like lowering a bucket down a well and stopping just above the water and giving the water a choice to jump in. They would preach grace but add things like, “it’s not the Ten Suggestions” and would include the fact that we’re not doing enough. This view also leads to a law-heavy view of salvation. I jokingly referred to it as “Calviminianism.” This is a performance-based salvation.  


  Then we have the Lordship heavy Calvinist. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works but Jesus is Lord and we must obey with an emphatic, “MUST”. I did understand God is absolutely sovereign and I did fall into this camp for a while. I don’t consider myself a Lordship Calvinist anymore for several reasons, but mostly because it left me with the problem of lack of assurance in salvation. I was constantly disgusted with myself because I could never measure up. Jesus is my Lord but I’m constantly failing. I couldn’t overcome sin in my life no matter how badly I hated it and wanted to be better. This leads to a performance-based salvation just as the other views do. 


  All these views affirm the sovereignty of God. They all agree that Jesus is Lord and therefore, obedience is an absolute requirement. With great emphasis they will quote the last part of James 2:26, “Faith without works is dead,” in which I whole-heartedly agree but not in the same way. The Arminian might say, “Jesus did all that he could do and the rest is up to you.” The Lordship heavy Calvinist would say, “You are a chosen vessel of God whose name was written in the Lamb’s book of life before the world began. You have been saved by grace through faith not of works but you must have good works if Jesus is Lord.” We definitely do not have the Ten Suggestions, but we also cannot keep the Ten Commandments. None of these people would deny God’s sovereignty in word but they do in deed. There’s always an “if,” “and,” or “but” attached, isn’t there? “God is sovereign but you have to do x, y, or z to demonstrate your salvation” or “God is sovereign and you must perform.” None of these people would deny grace but inadvertently put works squarely back on the shoulders of the child of God.  


  Salvation consisted of three parts. First, we are justified by faith alone. We are pronounced “not guilty” based on the finished work of Christ alone on our behalf. Immediately after justification, the second part, sanctification, begins. To quote H.B. Charles, Jr., “Sanctification is the will of God for the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to make us like the Son of God.”  Paul, stating in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. Who’s going to complete it? Not you! The third and final step is glorification. This is when we are made completely like Christ and are in His presence upon death. God does not need or demand any help in any of this process. Why, you may ask? It turns grace into debt. Romans 4:4 tell us, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but debt”. And, as Romans 11:35 tells us, God doesn’t owe anyone anything.  


  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Salvation, grace and faith are all three gifts from God. The “not of yourselves” means exactly that. We have nothing invested in it. In verse 9, Paul says, “lest any man should boast”. If you had anything invested in your salvation, you would then have reason to boast and essentially rob God of His glory. Verse 10 continues by saying, “We are His workmanship”. Workmanship here, in the Greek in poiema; it has a passive meaning, “a product which is made.” There has never been a product that took part in its own production. Verse 10 goes on to say, “Created in Christ Jesus.” Created here, is ktizo, in Greek, which means ‘property of a manufacturer.” It is unique to the producer. Then, finally, we see the intention of said product, “For good works”. We are re-created for good works. We are now capable of good works because He made us capable. How do we know what good works look like? The Law! The last part of verse 10 goes on to say, “which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them”. Just like our salvation, our good works were predetermined before the world began. Our good works are a by-product of salvation. It is the Spirit of God at work in us producing holiness. 


  Paul, in Romans 6, tells us that we were slaves of sin. We could only sin because sin was our master. He then goes on to say, we died to sin and were resurrected in the newness of life in Christ and became slaves of righteousness. We now have a new mind inclined toward holiness. We died to our old master and were resurrected under our new Master, Christ. Jesus declared in John 19:30, “It is finished.” He didn’t say, “I did all that I could do now the rest is up to you,” to the Arminian. He didn’t say, “I have done all that I could do and now you must do” to the Lordship heavy Calvinist. “It is finished” means there is nothing left to do! He is saying, “IT IS FINISHED!” Beloved, we are the only slaves ever to exist in which the Master did all the work for us. Christ kept the Law. Christ took the wrath owed to us on our behalf. Christ died for us. Christ was buried. Christ rose again from the dead. Not you! Matthew 11:28 says, “Come unto Me all who are labored and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He does not say, “Come unto Me all who are labored and leave laden and I will give you more work to do.” Your works in and of themselves are fruitless. The Arminian says, “do or else.” The Lordship Calvinist says, “do because.” The Gospel says, “You can’t but He did!”  


  Now, let’s get back to James 2:26. Faith without works is dead, right? Yes, absolutely. The problem is we often only quote the last part of the verse. It reads, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also”. Notice spirit here is in the lowercase. Spirit in Greek is pneuma, it has several applications, one being the Holy Spirit. This is not the case here. Pneuma here is the breath of the lungs. Good works are as natural to faith as breathing for the child of God. You don’t have to remember to breathe, do you? Romans 8:13 tells us, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” “If by the Spirit” is the qualifier. You cannot do it in and of yourself. Then, in verse 14, Paul says if we are led this way by walking in holiness, then we are sons of God.  


  The Arminian and the Lordship Calvinist act as if they were 180 degrees apart, when the reality is, they are next door neighbors. They are both heavy on the Law and light on grace. Pastors on both sides have the mentality to err on the side of caution. They don’t want to preach too much grace and give a false sense of security. This is a great disservice to the child of God and borderline heretical. This only leads to a lack of assurance of salvation and ultimately despair. A child of God will struggle with assurance on their own but only an unconverted person can truly have a false assurance. Both sides will affirm salvation is a work of the Triune God but will pull our sanctification right out of the middle and place some of it right on our backs. Just as we had no part in our justification, we have no part in our sanctification. Jesus, in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:17, said to the Father, “Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth.” Where do you see yourself in the equation? He didn’t say, “help them sanctify themselves,” did He? “Set them apart by Your Word” is the idea here. Now some are saying we must read the Word, right? Yes, absolutely! Where does the desire to be in the Word come from? Again, not you. Romans 5:20 says, “Moreover, the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Why do we not preach this? Yes, we are great sinners as revealed by the Law but His grace abounds more! Looking at John 1:16, we see how grace works, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” Grace upon grace means already given. Grace in the complete sense. The fullness of His grace. The new covenant of His grace. Grace for grace. The Greek for, is anti; for is in place of something, grace replacing grace as in continual. 


  So now, what does genuine faith look like stripped of your performance? What does the Gospel look like? First, are you a sinner? Yes. Do you hate your sin? If yes, then that is a sign of the Spirit working in you. Do you love righteousness as defined by the Law? If yes, then that is the Spirit at work in you. Do you identify with the Psalmist in saying, “Oh, how I love Your Law, it is my meditation all the day?” If yes, then that is the Spirit at work in you. Is your heart inclined toward what is pleasing to God? If yes, then that is the Spirit working in you. The Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the Word He inspired, produces these things. You are a product and not part of the production.  


  Salvation, from our justification through sanctification into glorification are a work of God from beginning to end. Hebrews 12:2 states “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Where do you see yourself in this equation? He is the author and finisher alone!  The only thing you contribute to your salvation is the sin that made it necessary. Anything else you try to contribute is a glory-robbing exercise in futility. The only command we have is to simply believe and even the ability to do so is a gift of God. So, dear Christian, lay the burden of works at the foot of the cross and rightly place your faith in the Person and work of Christ our Lord. His works are sufficient. He is Lord. He is the Master that performed the necessary work to save you, sanctify you and glorify you. Trust in Him alone for your salvation. 

Jason Francis is an elder at Shepherd's Rock Bible Church in Kingsport, TN. He and his wife, Kelly have two wonderful children and faithfully serve the Lord through their local church and the Northeast TN area. 

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