Harbor Lights Sermon Oct 17th, 2010

Salvation by Grace

Last month we learned of a controversy in the early church between the Old Covenant concept of how to be saved and the New Covenant concept of how to be saved. Often the New Testament writers refer to the Old Covenant simply as the Law, and so I may use term the Law and the Old Covenant interchangeably.

Under the Law one must be qualified to be saved by being a good enough person. They must follow all the rules and regulations God established under the Law of Moses, which includes the 10 commandments in order to be saved. So the person's whole life is geared towards trying to attain a righteous status with God by obeying his commands.

Jesus himself taught about this Old Covenant righteousness.  In Luke 10:25-28 it says on one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." In other words if you always do good and never sin, you will have eternal life. Problem is how many people qualify to be saved under that covenant? Another guy asked Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" You know what Jesus answered? "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good— except God alone." It's not saying that Jesus is not good, but rather to call Jesus good is to call Jesus God, because there is no one good but God. Consequently no one qualifies to be saved under the Law.

Paul says the same thing in Romans chapter 3 where he says that no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Rom 3:20-24

What this means is that under the New Covenant salvation from the wrath of God is a free gift, not dependent upon one's deeds. Here a person neither gains nor loses salvation by what they do because righteousness under the gospel is separate from a person's performance. Consequently Pauls writes in Romans chapter 4, What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about— but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." He goes on to say, Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."

Being right with God under the New Covenant is not something earned, as it was under the Old. But rather it's given as a gift, graciously, and not something you work for. As is also written in Ephesians chapter 2, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." Salvation is not performance based. Rather it's based on God's grace, God's mercy. It says in Titus 3:5-7 "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

Notice all these verses use "saved" and "justified" in the past tense. If salvation were dependent upon our performance than a person could never said to have been saved until the judgment day when his works were evaluated. But under the New Covenant, under the righteousness which is by faith in Christ a person is said to be saved right now. In fact Jesus even goes further than this. He says in John 5:24, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."

The saints don't work in order to be saved. Those who believe in Christ are already saved. Consequently such people are guaranteed to be saved from God's wrath. Rom 5:9  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! And Romans 10:13 "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  To the Corinthians he writes, "God set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." 2Cor 1:22 

And likewise, since deeds don't qualify a person to be saved, neither do deeds cause the saved to be lost, because salvation is not dependent upon deeds. In other words if you are saved, sin no longer controls your destiny. Thus Paul writes in Romans 6 "consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Rom 6:11 and "sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." Rom 6:14 In chapter 8 he goes on to say, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Rom 8:1,2 Under the Law of sin and death - the Old Covenant - you lose your righteousness standing with God, your salvation if you sin. That's the Law of sin and death. The saints have been freed from that Law. In other words if a saint sins, that does not affect their salvation status.

Now I'm aware that there are verses that may appear to contradict these ideas and there are implications about this which may be troubling. I'm going to deal with that extenseively next time. For it is reasonable to ask things like if salvation cannot be lost then what's the motivation to do good? In fact even in the early church Paul had to deal with such questions. In Romans 6:1 he asks, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" And Paul says we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say, "Let us do evil that good may come." Rom 3:8  But that's not what he's saying. Next time I'll visit these issues. But I want to devote this week to this doctrine of salvation by grace.

For those who in Christ, while there others issues to consider, salvation from God's wrath is not something the believer has to be concerned about any longer. That's finished. Christ took care of that on the cross. To the Christians in Colossae Paul writes, "now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation" Col 1:22 That's the heritage of all believers.

But as I mentioned last time there was a different gospel going around in which a cult which had formed inside the church of Jerusalem and were spreading a false gospel in the area of Galatia claiming that to be saved the Christians had to follow the Law of Moses. And it upset Paul so much that in the book of Galatians he says of those Christians who were being influence by that cult, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" Gal 1:6-8 Galatians is all about how justification is not a matter of obedience to law. In chapter 5 he even says, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." Gal 5:4 For to try to be saved by obedience to rules and regulations is categorically different than accepting salvation by grace. Therefore he writes again in chapter 5, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Gal 5:1 It's enslaving to live life thinking your salvation is dependent upon how good you are. And as Jesus said, there is no one good but God. So people are deluding themselves if they have any hope of being justified by law.

Rom 5:
1 ¶  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4  perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
6 ¶  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Jul 29,2015