- Table of Contents
- CHAPTER 1. The Enormity of the Error of Perverting the Gospel
- CHAPTER 2. The Biblical Terms of Salvation vs. Modern Day Misconceptions
- CHAPTER 3. The Lordship of Christ in Salvation
- CHAPTER 4. Regeneration: The Creation of a New Man
- CHAPTER 5. Sanctification: The Growth of the New Man
- CHAPTER 6. We Walk By Faith Not By Sight
- CHAPTER 7. Taking Up Our Cross: An Essential Requirement in Salvation
- CHAPTER 8. What is a Carnal Christian?
- CHAPTER 9. Bear or Burn: The Fruit of Obedience in the Parables of Christ
- CHAPTER 10. Saint or Sinner?
- CHAPTER 11. Righteousness vs. Self-righteousness
- CHAPTER 12. Can a Christian Backslide?
- CHAPTER 13. Love vs Law—Legalism—License
- CHAPTER 14. Sin and the Misinterpretation of Romans 7
- CHAPTER 15. Examine Yourselves as to Whether You Are in the Faith
- APPENDIX 1. Quotes and Confessions in Church History
- APPENDIX 2. Scriptural Evidence for the Necessity of Obedience in Salvation
Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross
by James P. Shelly
The Biblical Terms of Salvation
vs. Modern Day Misconceptions
The only meaning of faith that is truly authoritative and binding is that which is determined by Scripture alone. Whatever conditions Scripture requires of those who would receive eternal life, must all be a result of that which Scripture describes as grace through faith. One of the basic laws of biblical interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. We cannot separate the conditions of one passage of Scripture that promises eternal life from other passages of Scripture that have the same promise. In other words, we cannot detach the condition of "whosoever believes" in John 3:16 from the condition "unless you are converted and become as little children" in Matthew 18:3. The same is true of every other passage that contains the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, we must examine the various and diverse conditions which Scripture sets forth in order to receive the promise of eternal life that we might have a clearer understanding of the sum and substance of saving faith and that which is required of us in salvation. Jesus said to His disciples,
“Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:23-24).
To those in the present day who claim that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be received on easy terms you would think this statement of Christ's would be troubling. If the "believe" of John 3:16 is as many understand it, then the question arises, "Why would it be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to "believe"? If salvation is obtained by believing as a mere mental assent to the historical facts of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, as is often taught, then surely this passage of Scripture presents a dilemma. Are the rich somehow mentally deficient in their ability to believe historical events? If all that is required of us in salvation is to "call upon the Name of the Lord," by which is meant in this modern day, coming forward in a worship service and repeating the "sinner's prayer," would not this statement of Jesus' be perplexing? Why would it be harder for a rich man to "call upon the name of the Lord" than a poor man? Is it more difficult for a rich man to say a prayer? I would ask the reader, whatever your current understanding of the terms of salvation, would it adequately explain why Jesus would say it is harder for a rich man to meet those terms? If not, then we need to confront the possibility that we may have misunderstood the Biblical requirements for salvation. As we study the various aspects of the conditions set forth in Scripture in order that we might enter the kingdom of God we will find that it is indeed difficult for every person and in particular the rich. Christ once again affirms this when he states, "… narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matt. 7:14).
It must be established at the outset that Scripture makes it clear that all have sinned, and that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). It is not probation, community service, or sufficient restitution, but death. Therefore, if we have sinned, even in the slightest degree, it is not possible that we can earn or merit salvation by our "works." In other words, it is foolish to think that sin, which procures the punishment of death, can be overturned by any number of good deeds performed by the sinner. For God to forgive men of transgressions He deems worthy of death based on some good they have done, or will do, is equivalent to a judge acquitting a murderer, allowing him to escape the death penalty, because he promises to "turn over a new leaf" and do good from now on. That would be considered a gross injustice and the cause of public outrage. We know that no system of justice on earth functions in such a way, yet, many have the notion that this is how God's system of justice operates—we can pay for our sins with "good works." If what we consider as good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, and we are free from murder, rape or other heinous crimes, that will be sufficient to exonerate us and secure for us an acquittal before the tribunal of God. However, Scripture makes it unmistakably clear that our sin debt must be paid in full and nothing less than death will suffice. The only way of escape is if someone approved by the Judge pays the penalty on the sinner's behalf by taking it upon himself. Therefore, our pardon can be obtained in no other way but by grace alone, through Christ alone, in Whom "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7). For without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22). Christ is called our Redeemer because we cannot redeem ourselves. Thus Christ's death on the Cross is the only way provided by God for the salvation of mankind that satisfies His justice rendering all other religious systems as wholly inadequate, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Salvation is therefore, of absolute necessity, by grace and not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-10). It is important to recognize however, that this holds true irrespective of the requirements necessary subsequent to receiving such grace. Even if Jesus were to say to us, I will forgive you but you must be perfect from this point forward, we would be, nonetheless, saved by grace and not of works. Simply put, if we have sinned there is no other way to pay for our sin but by death — our own or that of Christ — by the unmerited, unearned favor of God, irrespective of the conditions required of us that might follow.
Jesus said to the women caught in adultery, after forgiving her, "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). When Jesus healed a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years, an infirmity apparently caused by sin, He says to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14). We read in 2 Peter 2:20,
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and, 'a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'
(Note: It is assumed in this passage that all those you have come to a true knowledge of Christ, through the gospel, have escaped the pollutions of the world, i.e., the sins of it, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride of life ( 1 John 2:16), and are no longer entangled in them. )
In Hebrew 10:26, 27 we read,
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). In each of these situations there is an expectation of a permanent change in course, being careful not to go back to the same state prior to their being forgiven lest a worse fate would befall them. In other words, forgiveness is freely given without any works or righteousness required on their part, however, if a course of righteousness is not continued in henceforth they would find themselves worse off than having never been forgiven at all. When Jesus tells us to count the cost of becoming a disciple in Luke 14:28ff, it is not the cost of forgiveness and reconciliation that He refers to, but rather that which is required subsequent to receiving it. It is not the ruinous error in this modern day of "salvation is free but discipleship is costly," as though the two can be separated, but rather that forgiveness is freely given through faith but the way of faith is costly. In other words, entrance into the narrow gate is free but the narrow way of a life lived by faith is, not only compulsory, but difficult (Matt. 7:13, 14). It could be likened to a person who joins the military. There is no cost of admission, anyone can freely come and join, but one should first sit down and count the cost of that which follows for it can be costly indeed. They will no longer be their own but now must walk to the dictates of the military authorities. They can no longer come and go and do as they please but are subordinate to their superiors. Their old civilian life is over and a new military life has begun. They must forsake their family, possessions, etc., and must be willing to die if necessary. Even so those who freely come to Christ must sit down and count the cost of joining themselves to Christ, coming under His authority as their Lord and Master.
So then, being saved by faith, apart from works, does not exclude a life of faithfulness to God and His Word as a necessary requirement for those who are in a state of grace. In other words, a faith that is not faithful to the object of that faith is a contradiction in terms. We have examples of this principle throughout Scripture. In Ezekiel 18:21-24 we read,
But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?
But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die (emphasis added) .
...When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
Here we find that if the wicked would turn from all his sins, None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he is freely forgiven by God's grace (through the blood of the Jewish sacrificial system which points to Christ). However, if after receiving God's grace he were to continue in or return to living in those transgressions the forgiveness he received becomes null and void. This reminds us of what Paul says in Romans 6:1, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! In the Ezekiel passage man is saved by grace but only remains in a state of grace if he meets the requirement of continued obedience (which, as we shall see in subsequent chapters, is also by grace).
Peter says in Acts 10:34, 35, "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." (emphasis added). What does it mean to fear God? The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil (Prov. 8:13). and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil (Prov. 16:6). So then, only those who hate evil and therefore turn from doing evil to doing what is right (walking in righteousness) are acceptable to God. In Romans 8:13 we read, "For if you live according to the flesh (continue in a course of sin) you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body (cease to continue in sin), you will live" (parenthesis added). And then in Hebrews 3:12, Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. These verses are, in essence, saying nothing more or less than what is being stated in Ezekiel 18:21-24. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12,
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them....Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (emphasis added).
Paul says that the conduct of Old Testament Israel is to be an example and a warning to us. Beware that you do not conduct yourself in the same way many of them did resulting in their fall and therefore bringing upon themselves God's anger and wrath. What did they fall away from? Faithfully walking in accordance with His will and seeking to do that which is pleasing to Him. Were the relatively few who did not fall away saved by their "works" of righteousness? No, they were saved by faith which was manifest by their being faithful to the commands of God. So then, the fact is they were not saved by their obedience but if they were not obedient they would not be saved. The summation of it is this; if we imagine that we can be saved by our own works of righteousness we deceive ourselves, likewise, if we imagine that we can live in disobedience and that grace somehow cancels out the necessity of living righteously before God we deceive ourselves as well. This we are taught in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. And therefore we are admonished, "Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil" (emphasis added)(1 John 3:7, 8).
Romans 6:22 tells us that when one becomes a Christian he becomes a slave to God, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God." This is in reference, not to some, but to all who would be Christians. He says in Romans 6:17, 18, But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. To be a slave to God is also to be a slave to righteousness. In verse 16 he says, "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" Paul tells us that if we have truly become slaves of God we will obey Him otherwise we are in actuality still slaves of sin regardless of what we may profess to be. When a slave obeys his master he has done nothing more than what he is required to do as a slave and his master owes him nothing. He will be disciplined for his disobedience but if he is rewarded, it is not because of debt owed for services rendered, but solely because of the kindness and generosity of the master. Jesus said to his disciples, "So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:10). Jesus tells His disciples that even if they were to obey Him in all things they were to reject the notion that their obedience was in any way meritorious. They would simply be doing what is expected of them as faithful servants of their Master by whom they would be redeemed with the exorbitant price of His own shed blood (1 Cor. 6:20). So it is that all men are at best unprofitable servants and can obtain to no higher status in this world or in the world to come. Where is boasting then? It is excluded because since we have sinned we can merit nothing but death irrespective of our obedience. Daniel Whedon writes,
Had Adam lived pure, he would have done no more than his duty, for each moment of his existence. God could not then have justly punished him: but he would have no claim for special reward from God....He would live every moment upon the pure favour of God. The purest angel exists by grace and not by merit. From this it follows: That the sinner can be forgiven and saved only by grace. If he has been guilty, even at a single instant, of a sin of omission, he can never afterwards repair it; for he can never at any future moment do more than the duty of that moment. He can earn no surplus merit to fill up the blank of the past.1
So it is that every created being is under a solemn obligation to serve and obey, in all things, the One Who Created them, and since all have fallen short of that obligation, it is not possible that God would ever be indebted to them for any works they perform.
So then, believing in or on the Lord Jesus Christ is the sole bases upon which our salvation is predicated and therefore it is crucial to our understanding of the Gospel to know what Scripture means by the term and what are the discernable effects it produces in those who profess it in truth. Harris’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, says of the Hebrew word, ‘aman, believe or believing:
This very important concept in biblical doctrine gives clear evidence of the biblical meaning of ‘faith’ in contradistinction to the many popular concepts of the term. At the heart of the meaning of the root is the idea of certainty. And this is borne out by the New Testament definition of faith found in Heb. 11:1...In the Hiphil (causative), it basically means ‘to cause to be certain, sure’ or ‘to be certain about, ’ ‘to be assured.’ In this sense the word in the Hiphil conjugation is the biblical word for ‘to believe’ and shows that biblical faith is an assurance, a certainty, in contrast with modern concepts of faith as something possible, hopefully true, but not certain2 (italics mine).
The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) states:
The New Testament usage of ‘believing’ connotes the confident trust that an individual places in a divine person, not merely the simple credence he gives to verifiable facts. It involves not only recognition and acceptance of the truth, but also adherence and allegiance to the truth3 (emphasis added).
Luther wrote, "Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times."4
So then, the term from a Biblical perspective carries with it the idea of trust in a divine person, certainty of His promises, and an adherence and allegiance to the truth He proclaims. This is the sense in which it is said that Abraham believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). We know that Abraham’s faith was not in acknowledging the reality of God's existence or in certain historical facts about Him, but rather he believed God, i.e., he believed the words or promises which were spoken to him by the God he obviously knew existed. In Romans 4:21 we find the same statement about Abraham as in verse 3, however in place of the word believed we find the expression being fully convinced. "And being fully convinced that what He (God) had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness." In other words, Abraham was fully convinced that God’s word could be trusted and acted upon with complete confidence and assurance. It was not a half-hearted belief, he was not partially convinced, he was not as the double-minded, but his faith was that which was wholly and fully convinced of the promises of God. Abraham's faith was so sure and certain in the faithfulness of God and His promises that he was willing to sacrifice his own son on the altar in obedience to God's command. Paul tells us in Romans 4 that Abraham's faith was prior to the implementation of the Law, "...so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:9-12). So then, the faith that saved Abraham is that same faith which saves all men who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham. Luther says of Abraham’s faith:
This must be understood in the sense that Abraham was always ready to believe God. He steadfastly believed God. This fact we learn from Genesis chapter 12 and 13, where we are told that Abraham believed God who called and commanded him to leave his country and go into a strange land. Again he believed God when, according to Gen. 22:1ff., he was commanded to slay his son Isaac, and so forth. Whatever he did, he did by faith, as the Apostle declares in Heb. 11:8-10. So also what is stated in our text (Rom. 4:3) is said of Abraham’s faith in general, and not merely with regard to the one promise recorded in Gen. 15:4-6. To believe God means to trust Him always and everywhere.5
God said to Isaac in Genesis 26:1-4, "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:39, “If you were Abraham's children (true believers), you would be doing the works Abraham did" (emphasis added). Matthew Henry says of this passage,
Those who would approve themselves Abraham's seed must not only be of Abraham's faith, but do Abraham's works (James 2:21, 22), — must come at God's call, as he did, — must resign their dearest comforts to him, — must be strangers and sojourners in this world, — must keep up the worship of God in their families, and always walk before God in their uprightness for these were the works of Abraham. 6
So it is that we find nowhere in Scripture anyone with a true and saving faith whose life is not characterized by a faithful obedience to God. Acts of disobedience, yes, but we find no person of faith walking in a protracted course of sin. The Apostle James says,
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone....For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:21-26).
Christ says in John 6:54, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." The implication is that whoever does not eat His flesh and drink His blood does not have eternal life and will not be raised up in the last day and therefore it is no less a requirement than the "believe" of John 3:16. In other words, "whosoever believes in Him," eats His flesh and drinks His blood, has eternal life. We can begin to see here the danger of using certain passages of Scripture in isolation and the misconceptions that may ensue. In whatever way we define the term "believe," it must result in this eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood otherwise the Scriptures are at variance with one another. What does Christ mean by the expression, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood? He explains it in v. 56 as abiding in Him, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." Therefore, the one who believes in Him also abides in Him. What is the evidence that a person abides in Him? We read in 1 John 3:24, Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him and in 1 John 3:6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. So then, the one who believes abides, the one that abides obeys by keeping His commandments and does not practice sin. This is the sense in which the term "believe" is used in Hebrews 3:16-19,
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief (emphasis added).
Here we have a clear statement from Scripture directly connecting disobedience with unbelief. They did not obey because they did not believe. Believe what? The words and commands of God as communicated to them through His servant Moses. Their actions reveal they did not have faith in God and His promises, rebelled against His commands, and thereby forfeited any hope of entering His rest. Were the relatively few in the wilderness that did obey saved by their works? Certainly not, they were saved by grace through faith. This further explains why in so many instances where we find the promise of eternal life it is coupled with the necessity of obedience.
We read in Romans 10:9, "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." 1 John 4:15 says that "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God" (emphasis added). The same Greek word for confess, homologeō, is used in both passages. Therefore, whoever confesses in Romans 10:9, i.e., every believer, is the same one who confesses in 1 John 4:15 of whom it is further stated, God abides in him and he in God. As we have seen the one who abides in Him is also said to keep His commandments (1 John 3:24). Therefore, if we interpret Scripture with Scripture we find that "whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God" is one and the same as he who abides in Him and keeps His commandments.
In John 8:51 Jesus says, Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death. Here, the condition of the promise is "if anyone keeps My word." Robertson in his Greek Word Pictures comments, "Probably the same idea as keeping the commands of Christ (John 14:21)"7 Albert Barnes writes in his commentary, "If he believes on me and obeys my commandments."8 Matthew Poole writes, "That a holy man that keepeth the sayings of Christ shall not see death, that is, shall have eternal life; which is no more than what we have often before met with, viz. the promise of life eternal to faith and holiness."9 Jesus uses the phrase of Himself in v. 55 in reference to His obedience to the Father, "I do know Him and keep His word" (emphasis added). The phrase signifies not a onetime act but rather a continuance in faithful obedience. Those of whom this is true, in regards to the teachings of Christ, shall never see death.
We read in Hebrews 5:9, "He [Christ] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Once again eternal salvation is received only by those who obey Him. The Pulpit Commentary states,
This, of course, does not mean that we merit salvation by obeying the Savior. But those who have merely some doctrinal knowledge of Christ and his salvation, those who have only a dead faith in him, a mere intellectual assent to the great facts of his history and teaching, are not partakers of his salvation. As he attained his mediatorial perfection and glory by complete and hearty obedience to his Father, so must man obey him if we would attain unto "eternal salvation." Salvation is found in obedience to him, because:
1. True and saving faith inspires the life and shapes the conduct. (Of. Acts 15:9; Romans 16:26; Galatians 5:6; James 2:17-26)
2. Christ saves men from their sins. He is a Prince to rule us, as well as a Savior to deliver us.
3. All who are being saved by Christ love him, and the loving heart delights to obey the loved One.
4. The disobedient cannot enter heaven. Heaven is a realm of perfect obedience to the supreme will, of loyal and loving devotion to God's service. Unless the spirit of hearty obedience be ours, we are out of sympathy with heaven. 10
We read in Revelation 22:14, 15, "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life [eternal life], and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie". There is some controversy over this passage because the earlier manuscripts read, Blessed are those who wash their robes instead of those who do His commandments. However, either way it is read, v. 15 makes it clear that those characterized by disobedience will not have access to the tree of life. In other words, there are no dogs, sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, or those who love and practice a lie, inside the gates of the heavenly city. So we see again that the reception of eternal life is directly connected to obedience.
We find this same truth again in Matthew 7:21 as we discover that it is only those who do the will of the Father that will enter the kingdom of God. "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Those who say Lord, Lord but do not obey, as explained in the passages that follow, are described as those who practice lawlessness v. 23, and those who hear the sayings of Christ but do not do them v. 26. We have the same thought in 1 John 2:17 "... but he who does the will of God abides [lives] forever" in contrast to those who love the world in v. 16, i. e., those who indulge the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Scofield, in his notes11, says that this phrase to "do the will of God" is simply to profess a belief in Christ. He reasons that it is God's will that we believe in His son so if we believe in His Son we have done God's will. It is certainly true that it is God's will that we believe in His Son but it is also God's will that we obey His Son in all things (Heb. 5:9). Matthew 12:50 says, "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." The parallel passage in Luke 8:21 says, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." Young's Literal Translation renders it, "My mother and my brethren! they are those who the word of God are hearing, and doing." This "doing" is not in reference to a onetime act but rather a continued course of action. According to these passages "doing the will of God" is synonymous with hearing the Word of God and doing it, which clearly lines up with the teaching of Christ in the parable of the two builders whereof He speaks of a wise man as "he who hears these sayings of Mine and does them" (Matt. 7:24), which immediately follows this phrase in Matthew 7:21. In other words, when Christ bids them to believe in Him, it is only one among many of the sayings of Christ that they are expected to obey. We cannot obey the one and disregard the others. It says in Hebrews 10:36, "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise." What is the promise? The saving of the soul, v.39. Surely, the writer is not suggesting that we are in need of endurance to perform a onetime act of faith but rather he has in mind the endurance necessary for a continued course or way of life. Charles John Ellicott writes of this passage,
To do the will of God (Hebrews 13:21) is the necessary condition for receiving the promised blessing and reward (see Hebrews 11:39); for both “endurance” is necessary. In these words we have an echo of Matthew 7:21, where our Lord sums up His requirements from those who call themselves His in words which express the purpose of His own life (Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9; John 4:34).12
John Owen writes,
Though sufferings be principally intended in this place, yet they are not so only. The whole state and condition of our lives in this world depends on this will of God: the time of our doing and suffering, of living and dying, with all our circumstances, is resolved into his will concerning them....The will of God is that whereby our whole duty is presented unto us, as unto our faith, obedience, and worship; as our Lord Christ 'came to do the will of him that sent him,' according to the commandment he received of him. The whole of our duty is resolved into the will of God, — that is, the will of his command; and so, to 'do the will of God' in this sense, is to abide constant in all the duties of faith and obedience, worship and profession, which he requireth of us. And there is no release in this matter whilst we are in this world. Wherefore says the apostle, ‘You have need of patience, during the whole course of obedience presented unto you, as that without which you cannot pass through it, so as thereon to inherit the promises.’13
Furthermore, Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ which means they did indeed profess to believe in Him, however, that was not sufficient. They had not done God's will and therefore their profession was nothing more than empty words. It is even as Christ says to those in Luke 6:46, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?" Therefore, to do the will of God is to obey the sayings of Christ, not in any one instance, but as a course of life. Tragically, Scofield's view of this phrase strips it of all its intended power.
We read in verse 22, that the Many are seemingly doing good things, "have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ So what was their downfall? We are told in v. 23, they practiced lawlessness. It was with these even as with the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:27). The Greek word for lawlessness here is anomia (anomia) – Meaning contempt and violation of law, iniquity, wickedness. We find a similar description in Matthew 13:41-43 also ending in condemnation;
"The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness (anomia), and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (emphasis added).
The distinction here is between those who practice righteousness and those who practice unrighteousness. The angels are not depicted here as gathering them out of the world in general but rather out of His kingdom on earth. This is the separation of the sheep and the goats. The goats claim to be His people but in actuality they are hypocrites, they practice anomia. He doesn't say here that those who practice lawlessness will simply lose rewards in heaven but that they will be cast into the furnace of fire which is the second death, i.e., eternal death (Rev. 20:13). This same term, anomia, is used in 1 John 3:4-6, Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness (anomia), and sin is lawlessness (anomia). And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. So then, it is clearly evident that those who practice sin do not know Him and therefore will not be the recipients of the eternal kingdom of God. When Jesus says, "I never knew you" He is saying in essence "I do not know those who do not obey Me by putting into practice the things that I teach." "Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him." He has no relationship with them. They are not His brothers and sisters. This is echoed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:19 ..."The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Jesus says to the unbelieving Jews in John 10:26-28, "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (emphasis added). We have here the same promise of never perishing as in John 3:16 however here the recipients of the promise are described as sheep that hear His voice and follow Him. So then we find that the believers of John 3:16 are His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him. Following Him requires coming under His authority as Shepherd. In other words, the implication is not only that of hearing His words but acting upon them in obedience to His will. The sheep follow wherever the Shepherd leads them because they have faith in Him. They take Him as their Shepherd, Teacher, and Master, and they follow Him as His faithful disciples. They hear the word of God and do it. Therefore, in the Judgment the sheep are called the righteous in Matthew 25:46, and are distinguished from the goats, i.e., the disobedient professors. They are called righteous, not in a forensic sense, but because of their behavior, their love and compassion in doing good to their brethren in accordance with the teachings of Christ. It is written in Matthew 25:32,
All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Why were they blessed with the inheritance of the kingdom? Because they believed in Christ and were, therefore, abiding in Christ, which is evident by their faithful obedience to His sayings.
In John 12:25 we read, "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (emphasis added). Here the condition of the promise is the hating of one's life in this world. Read antithetically, those who love their life in this world will not keep it for eternal life. This is stated by Christ as a necessary requirement to meet the terms of salvation. If our understanding of the term "believing in Him" would not result in this hating of one's life in this world we come short of the intended consequence of the term. Matthew Henry writes,
It is required of the disciples of Christ that they hate their life in this world. A life in this world supposes a life in the other world, and this is hated when it is loved less than that. Our life in this world includes all the enjoyments of our present state, riches, honours, pleasures, and long life in the possession of them these we must hate, that is, despise them as vain and insufficient to make us happy, dread the temptations that are in them, and cheerfully part with them whenever they come in competition with the service of Christ, Rev. 12:11. See here much of the power of godliness—that it conquers the strongest natural affections and much of the mystery of godliness—that it is the greatest wisdom, and yet makes men hate their own lives. Secondly, those who, in love to Christ, hate their own lives in this world, shall be abundantly recompensed in the resurrection of the just.14
It is written in Luke 14:25, 26, "Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 'If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple'" (emphasis added). In this verse we have the same hating of one's life as in John 12:25 but here it is a requirement for discipleship. So then, Scripture states that one must hate is life to keep it for eternal life and one must hate his life to become a disciple. Therefore those who say that the requirements for becoming a disciple differ from those of salvation, and tragically there are many, are in gross error and directly contradict the teachings of Christ. Not every disciple is a Christian (Judas, etc.), but every Christian is a disciple (see Chapter 3 - The Lordship of Christ in Salvation). Christ says in Luke 14:33, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple. So here, we come to understand that the believer of John 3:16 is also a disciple that hates his life in this world and forsakes all that he has, i.e., his love and desire to please His Lord and Master, the One he believes in with all his heart (Acts 8:37), takes precedence over every other object of his earthly affections and desires. This sincere belief in Christ will result in an allegiance to Him that is willing to choose Him at the possible expense of being despised and rejected by unbelieving relations; father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, friends, colleagues, and all other relationships. We must love Christ more than these. Those born again can see or perceive, the reality of the eternal Kingdom of God (John 3:3) and through His word we read of it in all its splendor, beauty, glory, righteousness and majesty. "As there is an absolute necessity that a child should be born into the world, that he may see its light, contemplate its glories, and enjoy its good, so there is an absolute necessity that the soul should be brought out of its state of darkness and sin, through the light and power of the grace of Christ, that it may be able to see, or, to discern, the glories and excellencies of the kingdom of Christ here, and be prepared for the enjoyment of the kingdom of glory hereafter."15 In light of the reality and certain hope of obtaining entrance into it, by faith, this world in comparison is a dunghill and becomes ever increasingly a stench in our nostrils—wicked, hideous, grotesque, at times unbearable to the righteous soul. Even as it is said of Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) (2 Pet. 2:7, 8). The believer loves the Lord with all his heart, meaning his heart is not divided, a heart circumcised by God in Christ (Deut. 30:6), and so all other relationships, interests, and behaviors that are contrary to His interests become increasingly intolerable. Those who believe and are assured of the eternal promises will be ready and willing to forsake all known sin and any earthly pleasures and endeavors that would be in conflict with, or a distraction to, their eternal pursuits in preparation for their entrance into the heavenly city. "Now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:16). For God to begin the work of sanctification, the task of conforming the believer to the character and likeness of His Son, he must first equip him with this predetermined mindset that he would be willing to forsake all that would be a hindrance to this sacred work. We read in Acts 2:38, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." It is this gift whereby every believer is endowed with this necessary mindset. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him" (Rom. 8:9). "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24) and are now therefore preoccupied with the spiritual passions and desires of Christ. In other words, in their pursuit of the spiritual they have willingly and excitedly forsaken their pursuit of all that is fleshly and earthly with a newfound comprehension of the inferiority of such pursuits in light of the eternal. They count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord, for whom they suffer the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that they may gain Christ (Phil 3:8). This does not mean that they do not still war with the flesh (Gal. 5:17) but they "are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Rom. 8:37).
It says in Romans 6:22, "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (emphasis added). This passage states that only those who have become slaves of God will, in the end, receive eternal life. The term slave in this passage is the Greek word dou=lo$. Thayer's definition of doûlos is "1. a slave 2. metaph., one who gives himself up to another's will, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men and 3. devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests." Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) says of this word,
All the words in this group serve either to describe the status of a slave or an attitude corresponding to that of a slave....The meaning is so unequivocal and self-contained that it is superfluous to give examples of the individual terms or to trace the history of the group. Distinction from synonymous words and groups is made possible by the fact that the emphasis here is always on "serving as a slave." Hence we have a service which is not a matter of choice for the one who renders it, which he has to perform whether he likes or not, because he is subject as a slave to an alien will, to the will of his owner. oi)ke/th$ [servant] is almost exactly synonymous, but in dou=lo$ the stress is rather on the slave's dependence on his lord....This shows us again how strong is the passive element in dou=lo$, and in the whole word group to which it belongs.
In the LXX douleu/ein is the most common term for the service of God, not in the sense of an isolated act, but in that of total commitment to the Godhead. In this light we can understand why the word cannot be used without specifying to whom the service is rendered....This shows us that any other attitude towards God than that of douleu/ein implies disobedience and betrayal of His cause.
The connexion of those liberated from the doulei/a (slavery) of the world, sin and death to the One who has liberated them links up with the occasional use of the term for commitment to God. This naturally results from the goal of the redemption, which is obedience rather than autonomy [self-governance]. When Christ undertakes the work of redemption, He makes the redeemed His own possession, giving them directions and goals by which to shape their lives. This commitment is expressed linguistically by calling those who are thus obligated to Christ His dou=loi (1 Cor 7:22; Eph 6:6; cf. Rom 14:18; 16:18; Col 3:25). The term shows us that the new state of Christians is fulfilled...in love and in self-sacrifice — all these things being implied in fellowship with Christ. Especially it makes it clear that there is no path to an orderly relationship with God, or to service which is pleasing to Him, apart from that of unconditional commitment to Him, so that by His work and Word He exercises sovereign rule over the relationship of man to God and God to man, and therefore over man's whole conduct within the ordinary nexus of life.16
The Apostle Paul, "interpreted freedom in a distinctive way. It was the freedom of men ransomed at 'a price' (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23), acquired by God as Israel of old had been acquired to be 'his own possesion' (Ex. 19:5). So now the redeemed were to 'live no longer for themselves' but for their Lord 'who died and was raised for them' (2 Cor. 5:15). Deissmann in Light From the Ancient East gives several convincing quotations from the papyri to prove that pisteuein eis auton ("believe in/on Him") meant surrender or submission to. A slave was sold into the name of the god of a temple; i.e., to be a temple servant. G. Milligan agrees with Deissmann that this papyri usage of eis auton (in/on Him), is also found regularly in the New Testament. Thus to believe on or to be baptized into the name of Jesus means to renounce self and to consider oneself the lifetime servant of Jesus.17 Again, "when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves (Doúloi). We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:10). John Macarthur writes,
We are bound, therefore, to submission and obedience. Nothing could define the Christian relationship to the Lord more clearly than that. What did Jesus say in the great commission? 'Go out and teach them to observe...what?...everything I have commanded you.' This is about yielding up. This is not about, 'God, come into my life and fulfill my dreams.' That is not the language of the New Testament. The language of the New Testament is Luke 9:23, 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.' It’s the end of you, virtually. That, by the way, means in the Greek to refuse to associate with. It is to come to Christ and say, 'I refuse to associate with the person that I am, I abandon myself.' Jesus expanded that. He said, 'If you don’t hate your father, hate your mother, and yes hate your own life, you can’t be My disciple. You better count the cost, like the man who goes to war, you better count the cost like the man who is going to build the tower, make sure you have what it takes to complete the job. And what does it cost? It costs you everything, deny yourself, hate yourself, it’s the end of you.'
Coming to Christ doesn’t make God your slave, it makes you His slave. And so you say, 'I’m willing to deny myself,' that’s the hurdle that makes the gospel so difficult because that goes against the grain of the unregenerate heart, right? We spend all our time building ourselves up and the gospel comes along and says, 'Die...die, abandon everything, yield up everything, give away all your ambition, all your freedoms so that you have no ambition but to be pleasing to Him.' Right? 2 Corinthians 5:9, we have it as our ambition to be pleasing to Him. That’s it. You deny yourself, take up your cross, which means it’s a denial to the end of death. It’s total denial, even if it costs you your life and follow Me. And that’s repeated in Matthew as well as Luke. 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, refuse to associate with the person he is, take his cross up and a cross was not some kind of mystical thing, and it wasn’t his mother-in-law, or his wife or his boss, the cross to those people meant execution.' So the picture is you give yourself up, even to the point of death if necessary, and you follow Christ. That’s the New Testament picture. We live in complete submission and obedience to Him. That’s what it means when you hear Paul say, if you confess Jesus as Lord, Romans 10:9 and 10, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be… what… saved. But confessing Jesus as Lord is tantamount to confessing yourself as slave…18
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 writes, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. Then in Ephesians 5:4-6 we read, "For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." And in Galatians 5:19-21, "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Note, some erroneously teach that entering the kingdom and inheriting the kingdom are isolated terms. See footnote19) Here again we are taught by Scripture that "believing in Christ" has as a necessary consequence the practice of righteous behavior. We find it again in Romans 2:6, 7,
Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath (emphasis added).
Here, only those who continue in a course of righteousness are given eternal life while those who obey unrighteousness experience the wrath of God. We have Jesus saying essentially the same thing in John 5:28, 29, " Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (emphasis added). Jesus makes it emphatically clear that only those who have done good as a general course of action will receive eternal life. We are not dealing here with the subject of the means by which the good being done is accomplished (that is addressed in later chapters) but with establishing the fact that it must be done if one is to obtain to the resurrection of life.
In Matthew 5:19-20 Jesus says, "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." This righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is explained by Christ in what follows in verses 21-48. It is a righteous behavior that springs forth from a new heart and new spirit received by grace as opposed to that which is merely external. He says in v. 21,
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
Unless a man exhibit this righteousness of the heart he will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. In 1 John 3:14 we read, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death" and in 1 John 3:15, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Scripture tells us how we can know if we meet this condition of love for the brethren in 1 John 5:2, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments." Once again, these passages present righteous behavior as a necessary condition if the promise of eternal life is to be obtained. Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28,
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Is it not reasonable to assume, considering John’s statement about hate being equivalent to murder, that he would also say, "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her is an adulterer, and you know that no adulterer has eternal life abiding in him?" Is this not what Jesus tells us in the verses that follow his statement about a lustful eye in Matthew 5:29, 30? He says,
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Jesus uses graphic imagery to show just how narrow the gate is and how difficult is the way which leads to life and why so few will ever find it or walk in the way thereof (Matt. 7:14). Christ insists that we must strive so violently against the sinful lusts of our heart that he likens it to self-mutilation. He leaves us without option. He says unequivocally—we must do this or the whole body will be cast into hell. The Apostle Paul echoes this same truth in Colossians 3:5, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” These are among those texts men like to ignore or water down which, “untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (1 Pet. 3:16), “having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children (1 Pet. 2:14). Arthur W. Pink writes,
Corrupt human nature would be ready to at once murmur, it is impossible to be governed by so exacting a law, it is a hard saying, who can bear it? Flesh and blood cannot but look with pleasure on a beautiful woman, and it is inevitable that there should be lusting after so attractive an object. What, then, shall we do with our eyes, if an unchaste look be so evil and fatal? It was to just such risings up of the depraved heart against the spiritual requirements of a holy God that Christ here made reply.20
Adam Clarke writes,
If voluntary and deliberate looks and desires make adulterers and adulteresses, how many persons are there whose whole life is one continued crime! Whose eyes being full of adultery, they cannot cease from sin, 2 Peter 2:14. Many would abhor to commit one external act before the eyes of men, in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!...The right eye and the right hand are used here to point out those sins which appear most pleasing and profitable to us; from which we must be separated, if we desire ever to see the kingdom of God.21
We read in John 3:3, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" and in John 3:5-8, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." In these verses we find the key to open our understanding as to how salvation by grace can be reconciled with the necessity of obedience. Scripture calls it regeneration (the subject of the next chapter). It is a spiritual birth brought about by nothing less than a supernatural act of God Himself. As the wind you cannot see where it comes from or how it occurs but the effects of it will become manifest to all. It is only by this mystical act of grace that all the requirements of salvation are met. It is certainly true that we are justified by faith and not by works, however, it is equally true that saving faith is justified by works and not merely what one professes. "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Even as works without faith are dead works (Heb. 6:1, Matt. 7:22), faith without works is dead faith (James 2:20).
Any notion that the necessity of obedience in salvation negates grace or is legalistic is based on a defective understanding of both faith and grace. Genuine faith, as a product of grace, will result in a radically changed world view and an entirely new perspective on what is the meaning and purpose of our life in this present world, effecting every aspect of our existence. Thus it is that those who possess this faith are aptly described by Christ as being born-again. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
We find then that according to Scripture, the following criterion must be met by all who would receive the gift of eternal life;
- whosoever believes in Him (John 3:16)
- is fully convinced of the promises of God (Rom. 4:21, 22)
- confesses Him (Rom. 10:9)
- is converted and becomes as a little child (Matt. 18:3)
- is born again (John 3:3)
- is born of the Spirit (John 3:5)
- eats of His flesh and drinks of His blood (John 6:54)
- abides in Him (1 John 4:15)
- hears His word (John 5:24)(John 10:27)
- keeps His Word (John 8:51)
- keeps His commandments (1 John 3:24) (1 John 2:3) (1 John 3:9, 10) (1 Cor. 6:9, 10), (Eph. 5:4-6), (Gal. 5:19-21)
- does the will of the Father (Matt.7:21, 12:50, Heb. 10:36, 1 John 2:17)
- whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20)
- have done good as opposed to those who do evil (John 5:29)
- who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality (Rom. 2:6, 7)
- loves the brethren (1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14, 15)
- follows Christ as His righteous sheep (John 10:27, 28, Matt. 25:37)
- forsakes all that he has (Luke 14:33)
- hates his life in this world (John 12:25)
- becomes a slave of God and obedience which leads to righteousness (Rom. 6:16, 22)
- metaphorically plucks out the right eye and cuts off the right hand rather than allow them to be used as instruments leading to sin (Matt. 5:29, 30)
- and those who obey Him (Heb. 5:9)
We discover in these verses the sum and substance of saving faith. We do not have a full comprehension of these truths when we believe, however these statements will be true of everyone who believes. Scripture leaves no exceptions. Any person who does not demonstrate these characteristics cannot be said to have saving faith. These are the just who live by faith—they believe in Christ. The one who confesses in Romans 10:9, is the one that abides in Him and keeps His commandments in 1 John 3:24. The believer of John 3:16 is the one who keeps His Word in John 8:51 and hates his life in this world in John 12:25. It is with this understanding of faith that it becomes apparent as to why it is difficult, particularly for a rich man, to enter the kingdom of God and generally why so few find it. The more content one is in this present age, the more opportunity one has to indulge in all the sinful propensities of the flesh, the more attached one is to the temporal pleasures and comforts of this world, the less willing he is to believe in Christ with all the implications thereof. It says in 1 John 3:17, "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" How can anyone who has the love of God in their hearts, love and compassion for the weak and sick, the hurting and down-trodden, live in extravagance in such a needy world? Jesus said to the rich man in Matthew 19:21-22, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." He had kept the external law v. 20, but was empty in regards to the true intent of the law which is love. Likewise, giving away all our possessions to the poor without love is equally unprofitable. Paul says, ...If I give all my possessions to feed the poor...but do not have love, it profits me nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). In other words, mere externals, no matter how virtuous they may appear, will profit us nothing if done apart from the motive of love which God works in our hearts by grace.
Riches are often a contributing factor to pride. For the proud to be humbled in such a way as to deny themselves by becoming the servant or slave of another (Rom. 6:22), particularly when they themselves are frequently accustomed to being the ones served, is very difficult indeed. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Adam Clarke writes,
Earthly riches are a great obstacle to salvation; because it is almost impossible to possess them, and not to set the heart upon them; and they who love the world have not the love of the Father in them. 1 John 2:15. To be rich, therefore, is in general a great misfortune: but what rich man can be convinced of this? It is only God himself who, by a miracle of mercy, can do this. Christ himself affirms the difficulty of the salvation of a rich man, with an oath, verily; but who of the rich either hears or believes him!22
Calvin, speaking of the narrow way, writes,
Christ here reminds his disciples, that they must prepare to walk, as it were, along a narrow and thorny road but as it is difficult to restrain our desires from wicked licentiousness and disorder, he soothes this bitterness by a joyful remuneration, when he tells us, that the narrow gate, and the narrow road, lead to life. Lest we should be captivated, on the other hand, by the allurements of a licentious and dissolute life, and wander as the lust of the flesh draws us, he declares that they rush headlong to death, who choose to walk along the broad road, and through the wide gate, instead of keeping by the strait gate, and narrow way, which lead to life.
He expressly says, that many run along the broad road: because men ruin each other by wicked examples. For whence does it arise, that each of them knowingly and wilfully rushes headlong, but because, while they are ruined in the midst of a vast crowd, they do not believe that they are ruined? The small number of believers, on the other hand, renders many persons careless. It is with difficulty that we are brought to renounce the world, and to regulate ourselves and our life by the manners of a few. We think it strange that we should be forcibly separated from the vast majority, as if we were not a part of the human race. But though the doctrine of Christ confines and hems us in, reduces our life to a narrow road, separates us from the crowd, and unites us to a few companions, yet this harshness ought not to prevent us from striving to obtain life.23
To believe in Christ is to believe in His person, who He claimed to be—the promised Messiah that would fulfill "all things which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Him" (Luke 24:44). The promise of the coming of the anointed One, the redeemer sent from the Father—the promise of God which Abraham believed resulting in his justification. We are required to believe in the cause and purpose of His life, death, and resurrection with all the implications thereof. "This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Mark 9:7). "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you'" (Acts 3:22) (emphasis added). As with any of the Prophets God had sent they were to receive His words as God's absolute truth and they were to live by every word that would proceed from His mouth. “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20). We see in this verse that to believe in God is equivalent to believing His prophets. To believe His prophets was to obey His prophets, and in doing so they would prosper, but those who did not believe and persisted in their disobedience would ultimately perish. Even so, to believe in Christ the Prophet is to obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Again, He says in Luke 6:46, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?"
When Scripture says, This is My beloved Son. Hear Him! or Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you, the inference is that of obedience. We find throughout Scripture that those who hear are those who respond in obedience to what they hear. In contrast, Jesus said of the unbelieving Jews of His day hearing they do not hear (Matt. 13:13) meaning they hear with their ears but they do not act upon what they hear. They do not embrace His words and take them into their hearts and therefore render them ineffective in producing the fruit of righteousness in service to God and their fellow man. "But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty"(Matt. 13:23) (emphasis added).
Philip Schaff writes in his history of the Church:
Faith, in the biblical and evangelical sense, is a vital force which engages all the powers of man and apprehends and appropriates the very life of Christ and all his benefits. It is the child of grace and the mother of good works. It is the pioneer of all great thoughts and deeds... Protestantism does by no means despise or neglect good works or favor antinomian license; it only subordinates them to faith, and measures their value by quality rather than quantity. They are not the condition, but the necessary evidence of justification; they are not the root, but the fruits of the tree. The same faith which justifies, does also sanctify. It is ever "working through love" (Gal. 5:6). Luther is often charged with indifference to good works, but very unjustly. His occasional unguarded utterances must be understood in connection with his whole teaching and character24 (emphasis added).
How did Luther, who began the Protestant Reformation, understand saving faith? He describes faith in this way:
Faith is not that human notion and dream that some hold for faith. Because they see no betterment of life and no good works follow it, and yet they can hear and say much about faith, they fall into error and say, 'Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.' This is the reason that, when they hear the gospel, they fall-to and make for themselves, by their own powers, an idea in their hearts, which says, 'I believe.' This they hold for true faith. But it is a human imagination and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it and no betterment follows it...Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask if there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.25
D. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes:
Christianity is never an addition to our lives; it is never something that is added onto that which we previously had: it is central or it is nowhere. If it is not controlling the whole of your life, then you are just not a Christian.26
But does it not say in Romans 10:13 that I am saved by simply calling on his name? "For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'" The context of Romans 10:8-15 reveals that Paul is not speaking, in verse 13, of the means of salvation, but the universality of salvation as the previous verse (v.12) shows. It says, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is rich to all who call upon Him." Paul is revealing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as he quotes Joel 2:32. In the Old Testament, God’s people, the Jews, were those who called upon the name of the Lord. However, salvation is no longer confined to the Jews but is now extended to the Gentiles as well. Paul says in Ephesians 2:11,
"Therefore remember that you, once gentiles in the flesh—who were called the Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at the time you 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…"
However, in the new covenant, whosoever may worship Him, whosoever calls on the name of the LORD, Jew or Gentile, shall be saved. It is not by calling on His Name as if to say that an utterance of the lips would save us, but rather we are saved by a faith that calls on His Name. Again, why would it be harder for a rich man to call on His name than a poor man? Whosoever calls on Him shall be saved, because whosoever calls on Him believes in Him with all that that implies. "How then can they call on Him in Whom they have not believed" v. 14. Charles Hodge writes,
To call upon the name of Jesus as Lord is therefore to worship him. It is to look to him for that help which God only can give. All Christians, therefore, are the worshippers of Christ. And every sincere worshipper of Christ is a true Christian. The phrase expresses not so much an individual act of invocation, as an habitual state of mind and its appropriate expression27 (emphasis added).
The man who is convicted of sin by the Spirit, being broken over his sin, turning to the Lord for salvation, has no need of any one telling him "repeat this prayer after me." The convicted soul is bound to cry out, Lord be merciful to me a sinner! Jesus said of the publican, in Luke 18:13 that he beat on his chest and cried out to the Lord for mercy, and therefore went home justified. What shall we say then? Beat on your chest and you shall be saved? Repeat these words and you shall be saved? No! These outward signs were simply the manifestations of that which the Spirit was working within his heart. The beating on the chest reveals a through conviction of sin and a desperate sense of a need for forgiveness. His prayer is the cry of a repentant heart longing for deliverance and relief. Such conviction cannot be brought about by manmade props, enticements, or psychological manipulation of which we have no precedent in Scripture, but solely by the gracious and merciful act of a loving God through the instrument of Gospel truth.
Many assume that they were saved because they said the "sinner's prayer," or walked an aisle, yet there are no evident signs of the work of the Spirit—no self-abasement, no contrition, no true repentance, no brokenness over their sin, no real hunger and thirst for God and His righteousness. Since they have no zeal to know the true and living God, the Church, seeking to accommodate them in their lack of zeal, must come up with new ways to entice them into the churches. They will not come simply to hear the teaching of the Word and to worship God, so we must have elaborate programs and entertainments of which the Bible never speaks. Rather than conclude that many of these are simply unbelievers, we twist the Scriptures to fit their poor spiritual condition. "They have not yet made Jesus Lord," "They have not received the 'second blessing,'" "They have not yet received the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit,’" "They are just carnal Christians," "They need revival," "They have not yet entered into sanctification," "They are backslidden," etc. It is rarely considered, because of a faulty understanding of the terms of salvation, that they were never converted by the Spirit of God. The Bible clearly defines their true spiritual state, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me" (Matt.15:8). They pray with their mouth, but they never believe in their hearts. The converted soul is not hungering and thirsting after social engagements, entertainments, and teaching that is watered down or apologetic for its pointed message. No, the truly converted soul is hungering and thirsting after righteousness, longing to know God. The heart condition of the Christian is described by the Psalmist when he writes, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." The Christian is not seeking after temporal blessings for himself, but rather he is seeking the blessed One Himself. "...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3:10).
There should be no question that any man-made additions to the method of evangelism God has set forth in His word, concerning the saving of the soul, is dangerous. The alter call is a good example of the error of leaning on our own understanding rather than Scripture in regards to evangelistic methodology. We should note that it was not until the latter part of the 1800’s that the altar call was first introduced. It began in the ministry of Charles Finney. However, Finney himself, who to this day is celebrated as the great revivalist of the eighteenth century, confessed that his methods of evangelizing failed miserably. Sadly, it seems that many are unaware of the facts of the so-called great "Western Revivals," and to this day Finney’s methodology is used to promote revivals in Churches across the country. In John MacArthur’s book, "Ashamed of the Gospel," he writes:
So Finney’s most enduring and far-reaching influence, unfortunately, is not from multitudes of souls saved or sinners reached with the gospel. Those effects, it seems, were almost wholly superficial, often vanishing as soon as Finney left town. Finney’s real legacy is the disastrous impact he had on American evangelical theology and evangelistic methodology. The church in our generation is still seething with the leaven Finney introduced, and modern evangelical pragmatism is proof of that.28
In the book "The Forgotten Spurgeon," Ian Murray writes:
Man has made a connection between coming forward after an appeal and "coming to Christ," but Spurgeon would have strongly repudiated any such connection. Not only does such an evangelistic method not exist in Scripture, it vitiates what Scripture does teach on coming to Christ: ‘It is a motion of the heart towards Him, not a motion of the feet, for many came to Him in body but never came to Him in truth...the coming here meant is performed by desire, prayer, assent, consent, trust, obedience.’ Furthermore, Spurgeon had enough experience of the powerful working of the Spirit to know that these human additions to preaching the gospel were not justified by their supposed helpfulness; the man genuinely convicted of the truth may be the last to desire to comply with the public actions which an ‘appeal’ would force on him: For the most part, a wounded conscience, like a wounded stag, delights to be alone that it may bleed in secret.29
I would plead with the reader, not to let any man, irrespective of his position, education, or popularity, determine the condition of your own soul, but rather diligently seek the word of God for a witness (1 John 3:18, 19). For it is not other men but the "Spirit Who bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God" (Rom. 8:16). We must look to the words of the King if were to have full assurance of entrance into His kingdom. We must ask ourselves if our own lives resemble the lives of those men and women of faith we read about throughout Scripture (Heb. 11). We must meet the conditions set forth in Scripture for the inheritance of eternal life if we are to have any hope of obtaining it. We must be born again. We must abide in Him and obey Him. Believing in Christ is not a onetime act but rather a state of mind which naturally results in a life lived according to the teachings and commandments of the One believed. It is written of Israel, "...then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God, and you did not believe Him nor obey His voice (Deut. 9:23). "...they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them" (2 Kings 17:14, 15) (emphasis added). And so it is with us, to believe in the Lord our God is to obey the Lord our God.
It is written,
Strive to enter in at the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. (Luke 13:28).
Albert Barnes writes of this passage,
Strive - Literally, “agonize.” The word is taken from the Grecian games. In their races, and wrestlings, and various athletic exercises, they “strove or agonized,” or put forth all their powers to gain the victory. Thousands witnessed them. They were long trained for the conflict, and the honor of victory was one of the highest honors among the people. So Jesus says that we should strive to enter in; and he means by it that we should be diligent, be active, be earnest; that we should make it our first and chief business to overcome our sinful propensities, and to endeavor to enter into heaven.30
Charles Simeon, fellow of King's College in the 1700's wrote,
The way of God’s commandments is that to which the godly are confined: and the entrance upon it is by conversion. A man must have seen the evil and danger of his former ways: he must have come to Christ who is “the door” and, renouncing every other hope, he must cleave unto Christ with full purpose of heart. Having thus entered, he must go forward in an uniform course of dependence upon Christ, and devotedness to him. This is indeed a strait and narrow way. A partial repentance, a divided trust, a reserved obedience, will not suffice: our contrition must be deep, our faith unfeigned, and our dedication of ourselves to God entire, or we shall only deceive our own souls. To enter upon this path is our bounden duty—God never intended that men should follow the imagination of their own hearts. He calls us to himself, and invites us by every argument that can affect a rational being. Nor will he leave us to fail for want of strength. If we will exert ourselves in earnest and cry unto him for help, nothing shall be impossible unto us. Difficult as the duty is, it has been performed by many in all ages. We therefore should exert ourselves without delay. We must not stand aloof, doubting and hesitating whether we shall enter upon this way or not; nor must we put off the time of entering upon it to some more convenient season. The command of God is clear and universal, “Enter ye in at the strait gate.”31
1. A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, D. D. Whedon: 1874, Luke-John, (London - Hoddard & Stoughton) p. 170
2. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, (Moody Publishers; New Edition edition 2003)
3. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Zondervan Publishing House; 1979
4. Commentary on Romans, Martin Luther, Preface, (Kregel Classics. 2003.
6.Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry, John 8:39, (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005)
7. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson, John 8:51 (Holman Reference; Six volume set edition, 1958)
8. Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments, Albert Barnes, John 8:51 (Baker Books; 19th edition 1983)
9. Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible, John 8:51 (Hendrickson Publishers, October 1, 1985)
10. The Pulpit Commentary, Hebrews 5:9 (Hendrickson Pub, October 1, 1985)
11. Scofield Reference Bible
12. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers, Hebrews 10:36, (Cassell London, 1897)
13. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, John Owen, Hebrews 10:36, (Baker Book House; First Edition edition 1980)
14. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry, John 5:17-30, (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005)
15. Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, John 3:3 (Abingdon Press 1977)
16. Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 10th edition 1984)
17. The Early Christians: Their World Mission & Self-Discovery By Ben F. Meyer pp 119-120
18. Slaves of Christ, John Macarthur; http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/GTY112
19.Scripture states in several places that those who practice sin “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Since this is contrary with some men’s idea of grace, they have come up with the erroneous teaching that “inheriting the kingdom” and “entering the kingdom” are isolated terms. Zane Hodges says, “There is no difficulty at all in speaking of people who live in the Kingdom of God but who do not inherit that Kingdom…the heirs of the Kingdom, then, are its owners, not merely its residents or citizens.” (Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1985), p. 71) Joseph Dillow writes: “All Christians will enter the kingdom, but not all will rule there, i.e., inherit it….They will, having been justified, be in the kingdom; however, they will not inherit it….There is a difference between being a resident of the kingdom and inheriting it.” (Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, Miami Springs, Florida: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992, pages 62, 64, 78.) How sad is the extent to which men will go in twisting the Scriptures in order to justify their erroneous doctrines. Al-though we do not have the space here to present a comprehensive argument, this is easily proven false. In Luke 18:24-25 a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? After His initial response Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” It is clear according to this passage that the term “inherit eternal life” is synonymous with that of “enter the kingdom of God.”
20. An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Arthur W. Pink (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2008), p.86
21. Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Adam Clarke, Matthew 5:28, 29 (Abingdon Press, 1966)
22. Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, Matt 19:23 (Abingdon Press 1977)
23. Calvin's Commentaries, John Calvin, Luke 7:14, (Baker Books, October 1, 1974)
24. “History of the Christian Church,” Phillip Schaff, Vol. VII ( Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids)
25. Commentary on Romans, Martin Luther, Preface, (Kregel Classics. 2003).
26. Commentary on Romans, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, (Banner of Truth, 1972)
27. Charles Hodge, Epistle to the Romans, ch. 10 v. 13, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950)
28. John F. MacArthur Jr, Ashamed of the Gospel, (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1993) p.235
29. Ian Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth) p.103
30. Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments, Albert Barnes, Luke 13:28 (Baker Books; 19th edition 1983)
31. Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae, Matthew 7:14, http://www.studylight.org/commentaries