Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Correct understanding of salvation, and relationships between salvation, grace, faith and good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8)

What should salvation be for a believer?
Salvation is:

1. The way put forth by God, since The Fall of Man, for Man to be able to be saved from eternal
    destruction - the entering and remaining in the burning fire of Hell.

2. To be saved is therefore,
    a) to avoid going to Hell;
    b) to finally, enter Heaven, the dwelling place of God, to live with God;

3. Having being reconciled back to God (being justified), until we die (physically), or are raptured,
    to live our life consistent to one going to live with God; and that necessitates we learn to live
    under  the Lordship of God. A non-believer is a mutiny, and has to be reconciled back to God, and
    when he has been reconciled through salvation, he is to live under the Lordship of God.  Having
    being justified, a believer needs to come under sanctification, before proceeding to Heaven. For
    Salvation as Justification and Sanctification, read: "Salvation as Justification and Sanctification".

Per se, Salvation is NOT these…
Salvation is NOT about prosperity in earthly living per se. It is NOT even about long life, NOT about wealth and health (health even), NOT about worldly accomplishments, NOT about leaving a worldly legacy, NOT about being philantrophic, as such. The truth is that salvation is about Heaven and Hell, and it is about the Lordship of God. The truth is the truth, regardless of people NOT liking to think about it or be reminded of these things.

Ah, it is really deferring to men, to sugarcoat the salvation of God. When we sugarcoat, when we add layers of sweet stuff over a thing, the thing is NOT gone, but the purity of it is hidden. What is worse is that situation can become such that the sugarcoat became the thing that people desire, instead of the gem inside. When this happens, the truth is missed.

Of course, salvation (sozo) includes health, physical and emotional; the meetings of our earthly needs; and being in able form, to do lots of “good works”; yet these are just the things that can accompany the main objectives of salvation, and are which, we as believers, can look to God to provide.

So, if today, we, as believers, are NOT in good physical health, or NOT at all wealthy relative to the Jones, salvation did NOT short-change us, God did NOT do any injustice against us, or God has NOT been unfair to us, for salvation is NOT about these things, per se.

A journey back (to God) or a journey to destruction
Life on earth is transient. Relative to eternity, it is really miniscule. Since The Fall of Man, life on earth is a short journey (and it has gone shorter and shorter since The Fall) to, either Hell or Heaven. A person in salvation travels the Way of Holiness, while the ones without, they travelled outside of that way or highway. Those of us, believers, have Jesus Christ leading us, and our part to play, is to learn to submit to His Lordship. Scriptures are full of pictures of steadfastness, perseverance and obedience, and that is how we are to journey.

The mindset
As believers, if we become as rich as the Jones, we are thankful to God, if we are NOT, we are also thankful to Him; if we are as fit as a fiddle, we thank God, if we are NOT, we also thank Him, and praise Him for who He is; if we have been able to accomplish much in our earthly lives, we thank Him for His endowments and enabling, if we have NOT, still we thank Him for every breath of our lives, for with every breath, we have been afforded the opportunity to say, “Lord, please forgive us our sins, cleanse us, for you are holy and righteous; and Lord, we thank you for this extra moment that we can learn submission to your Lordship, before we come to live with you.”

If we are called home early, we accept it, if we are called later, we accept it too, and until we are called, we are to live in submission to the Lordship of God, in steadfastness, in perseverance, and in obedience out of love for our Lord, regardless of afflictions (of ill-health, emotional struggles, poverty, etc, etc), knowing that our God is holy and righteous, and He is full of love and faithfulness towards us (Ps 89:14), wanting us to return to Him in the freedom of children of God (Rom 8:21).

Today, if you are a young man or woman, you may balk at reading such sayings, for to you, the picture of Hell and Heaven seems so very far away, but Scripture tells that our souls may be demanded of us at any time, when we least expect it. It is independent of your young age or your preoccupation.

Relationships between salvation, grace, faith and good works
In the above, I have not mentioned grace, faith or what we need to do to enter into salvation; it was intentional, for I have desired to say what salvation truly is meant to be, for us, Man – avoidance of Hell, and getting to Heaven. Now, next, we will take a look at what is the relationship between grace and faith in relation to salvation, and good works.

Grace, salvation, gift and faith
Grace is unmerited favor of God. By unmerited favor, it means that the favor is granted without us doing anything to earn it. In other words, it is a gift. When we say that something is by grace, we mean, that something is granted as a gift, and so in Eph 2:8, when it is said that it is by grace that we are saved, it means that salvation is a gift from God.

My own interpretation of “and THIS not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”, of that verse 8, is that it ("THIS") is referring to salvation. Salvation is by grace of God, a gift from God. It is NOT intentionally referring to grace as such.

I know people talked about grace as a gift of God; I am NOT saying grace is NOT a gift of God, but grace given as a gift and salvation given as a gift can be quite different.  Grace is better said as a favour, although it is a gift.

Salvation as a gift is like, I say, "Everyone who follows me into the next room, will get a gift".  Everyone, you, he or she, a young woman, an old lady, a healthy man or a sick man, etc. (when you follow me into the next room), you get a gift.

Grace as a gift is like, I have here, a bag of gifts and I say, "Hey, you there, catch", and I throw out a gift to him; "The lady in black, here, this is for you; it will suit you well", and I hand out a gift to her; "The girl seated down, come here, I have a nice gift for you; I would like you to use it to cheer your sick mother back home", and I hand over a beautifully wrapped gift to the girl; etc, etc.  Not everyone in the room gets a gift, some does NOT.  Grace is as He determines.  Salvation as a gift is more a subset of Grace as a gift.

Faith here, NOT a gift to the same extent
Many people, I believe, have erroneously used Eph 2:8 and said that faith is by God, NOT from us. The gift of God referred to, in the verse, is salvation, NOT faith. I have already said above, the gift referred to, in the verse is NOT grace, either  (although grace is a gift of God).

It is possible though, that sometimes, the word, “grace” is used in place of the word, salvation. For example, in Rom 5:2, “this grace” was referring to salvation or reconciliation back to God which is what salvation is about.

The point to note is that, this Eph 2:8 verse is NOT saying faith is a gift of God, even though there are preachers out there claiming that the faith mentioned here is a gift. I cannot agree with this notion, because if it were so, then all who hear the gospel should be entering into salvation, but this is NOT the case, precisely because faith is lacking in some instances.

Unless one believes in GENERAL predestination of PERSONAL salvation {predestination implies that all already set by God as to who will be saved and who will NOT}, which I do NOT believe, faith here CANNOT be a gift to the same as extent as salvation is a gift of God.

Does faith come from God or not?
While it is NOT incorrect to say everything comes from God, often times, we must avoid it as a cliché. If we apply this all the time, we will end up saying even evil things that happen to people come from God.

Of course, when we trace everything back across (all) time, everything originated from God. Even Satan is creation of God. But we really cannot say that all the evil done by Satan, are coming from God {Although, on a more positive note, we are inclined to say positive things come from God, for we have a good God actively pursuing Man, intending only good for us all}.

I believe the overall counsel of the Word, teaches us that faith is NOT to be treated in like manner as salvation, a gift of God, although like I said, of course, everything comes from God.

There is a verse (Rom 12:3) in Scripture that has the mention of faith or a measure of faith, as being given by God, but in so many verses in Scripture {you can just do a concordance search}, the understanding given is that faith is NOT to be looked at as gift of God or grace of God in the sense that it is an unmerited favor of God that God must give. We will look at that Romans verse in a moment, but I want to say that there is another verse where unmistakably there is a faith that is a gift from God, and that is found in 1 Cor 12:9 which listed the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 12:9, and the question it poses
In the case of 1 Cor 12:9, gifts were dealt with, and as such, the 9 items there, were for free, given unmerited for, and by grace. Regardless how one argues concerning when a believer becomes possessed of the gifts, it is still to be understood that the gifts, being gifts, are freely given by God. And so, when one believer has a gift, and another does not seem to, to me, it indicated nothing of any “superiority” of the former over the latter, for a spiritual gift is NOT merited for (one does NOT earn it). You may ask about the relevance of this? Its relevance is that, in 1 Cor 12:9, it is stated that there is such a thing as a gift of faith, whereas I have just mentioned earlier that generally, faith (normal faith) is NOT a gift of God to the same extent as salvation of God is. 

Does it means if I do NOT have the faith to do certain thing, it has nothing to do with me, that I should even be bothered with, at all, much like I be NOT bothered, if a sick person I pray for, does NOT get healed,  arguing that it is God’s responsibility since faith is to be given by Him (to me), as it is said to be a gift from Him {in 1 Cor 12:9}? What do you think? Is it correct to say, “Blame God, don’t blame me since faith is supposed to be given by Him.”?

My divide of the Word
To correctly divide the Word of God, I believe, we have to have a proper perspective of the free-will of Man, given by God, and the interventions of God. In order NOT to get very long-drawn into this, it suffices to say that both the free-will of Man and the interventions of God are at work. And this means that there is a part that Man is to do, and there are things God does, in the normal, as well as things that God does as interventions. To what extent God intervene, is of course, His prerogative.

Faith to usher in God’s intervention
Faith is required for us to live a life pleasing unto God, for the ways of the world are often out of syn. with the ways of God. To go against the pulls and pushes of the world, we need to trust God (have faith in God) that He would intervene when we are in alignment to His ways or want to be in alignment.

Although it is NOT to be said that it is imperative for faith to be present in order for God’s interventions to come, often times, faith ushers in God’s interventions, for faith is in part, a right belief consistent with the truth of God {I am leaving out the discussion of the make-up of faith}.

Supernatural faith and normal faith
In terms of the faith required to “draw” the interventions of God, for exceptional interventions, there is a class of faith called supernatural faith; all other faith falls under normal faith. The onus for normal faith rests with us.

The faith talked about in 1 Cor 12:9 is NOT normal but supernatural, and so are the other 8 gifts listed in 1 Cor 12. The gift of tongue is supernatural, and the gift of healing is supernatural. When I pray for a seriously sick person and he is healed, it is supernatural, it is crazy to think that I can somehow work up a healing power to heal a seriously sick man; it is a supernatural intervention and healing from God. If I move in that gift, it is a supernatural gift, given by grace of God. Similarly, the faith in 1 Cor 12:9 is also a supernatural faith, that cometh by grace of God, and is a gift.

A simple way of looking at the issue is that onus of normal faith rests with us, that of supernatural faith, with God.

Back to “the” question
Now, is the faith to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior, a normal faith or a supernatural faith? Eph 2:8 said that we are saved by grace, through faith. So, is the faith here, a normal faith or supernatural faith? If we say that it is supernatural, and therefore, a gift, then whose fault is it that one does NOT come into salvation? Is it the Gospel sharer or the preacher? Or is it God’s fault?

If it is the sharer or preacher’s fault, do you think you will want to share? I probably will NOT, for it ties with a Chinese idiom, “the more you do, the more wrong you commit, the less you do, the less wrong you make!” If it is NOT the fault of mine, as the sharer or preacher, than whose fault is it, God’s? Or do you want to be very polite, and say that it is God’s responsibility; up to him, whether or NOT, He wants to give the faith to accept Jesus? Or is it NOT the onus of the hearer to decide if he will choose to believe?

We all know that Scripture said that God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and if we say that He is responsible for giving of the faith, is God trying to be “funny” on an absolutely serious issue, to give some, and NOT to others? Of course, NOT; I believe therefore, the faith in Eph 2:8, and for that matter, the same in many scenarios, is normal faith, a faith that is to come from the person’s choice.

Many scriptures indicated normal faith
Many pictures painted by Scriptures show us that the faith element required is the normal faith that is to come from us. If we hold onto the notion that God has to make us to have the faith for an action, we can end up, repeatedly asking God, “God, make me have the faith”, and yet nothing happens! God's fault!

One can be attempted to say, as we yield our free-will to God, God is able to give us the faith for action, and things will happen, but honestly, it is still like a chicken and egg issue. Which comes first, to let go of your free-will or have faith? Do we need to let go of our free-will to have faith or is it the other way round, we need to have faith to let go of our free-will? I say it is more of a choice issue; we have to decide to release our free-will to God; we have to choose to have faith in God.

How can we make such choices or how can we “acquire” faith in God, is a thing that we should learn, but before we go there, let me address the odd verse of Rom 12:3 which has in it, "faith is given by God".

Romans 12:3 – faith is given by God?
For by the grace given me I {Apostle Paul} say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you (Rom 12:3).

Many people have taken the above out of context, to mean that our faith has nothing to with what we do or NOT do, but have everything to do with whether or NOT God has given/is giving the faith or NOT, for an action.

Such pushing of responsibility back to God, is commonly liked by the “overly grace” believers, for they so often, believe that if they were supposed to do a thing, God would move them to do it, there is NOT the need to try, or be exhorted to do, for they think they have (claim to have) the full mind of Christ, such that if God has wanted a thing done, they would know! This is self-pride, to a very high degree.

If I do NOT have the faith to do a thing, it is because I have NOT come into possessing that measure of faith, rather than it is because God has NOT given me the measure of faith required {unless the situation calls for supernatural faith}. This is the correct attitude, for in it, there is a dose of onus on our part, in getting higher level of faith. Scripture is very clear that God expects faith from us. Without going into detail discussions, I will just quote Scripture saying that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Very obviously, such a scripture is meaningless if we insist that the faith we need to please God is the faith He must give to us.

The truth is that Rom 12:3 was only trying to say that we are NOT to “run ahead” or “run outside” of what God is doing and intending to do with us. It is like saying God has prepared you to be the manager of a department, and you run ahead and want to be the CEO of the company. In other words, the Lord has equipped you to function at a certain level, and function with faith, of course, for only in that way, what you do, is pleasing unto Him; and so, you do NOT “run ahead” or “run outside” of that; if you do that, you are thinking too highly of yourselves.

The exhortation of this verse, Rom 12:3, is along the line of 1 Cor 7:17 - But as God hath distributed (G3307) to every man, as the Lord hath called {to service} every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I {Paul} in all churches. The “given” in “…faith God has given you” in Rom 12:3, comes from the same Greek word, merizō (G3307), as in “distributed” in 1 Cor 7:17, it is just that the translators used different English words for the same Greek word.

I am NOT saying there is NOT the "God-beginning" of things, good things.  All good things comes from God; and if they don't come directly, but through others, the initiation does come from God.  While Phil 2:12 tells us that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, the working has to be with God, for the verse following (v13), it was stated for us that God was the one who works in us to will and act in order to fulfill His good purpose.  Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, God works in us, our response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, is the part that is "faith-asking".  Will you choose to trust (have faith in) the Holy Spirit's leading, and go do what is required?

Rom 12:3 is NOT about God has to give normal faith in order that one has faith to live a life pleasing unto God. I also do NOT believe supernatural faith was implied there. I repeat, it is trying to say that we are NOT to “run ahead” or “run outside” of what God is doing and intending to do with us.

[Added 14 June 2011: We develop our faith (normal faith) in the refining process that all believers are subjected to, by the Lord. The Apostle Paul spoke about growth from infancy to maturity in the faith, nothing of the sort that some "overly grace" preachers have suggested that we jump from imperfection to perfection in the blink of the eye, upon born again.]

To possess normal faith
Concerning coming to possess faith, perhaps, we should consider, firstly the faith required for entering into salvation. Then, we will look at post born-again, how faith can be sustained and “grown”.

Faith to enter into salvation
The faith to enter into salvation, how does it come? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17, KJV). For a non-believer to come into salvation there has to be faith in him, for Eph 2:8 said that, one enters salvation by grace, through faith.

The way a non-believer come to possess the necessary faith, according to this Rom 10:17, is by hearing the word of God; that is why there is a necessity to share the gospel with non-believers so that they get to hear the word of God. More can be said, but more importantly we need to take note that ultimately, the non-believer has to believe in Jesus in his heart, and confess with his mouth (by choice), that Jesus Christ is his personal Lord and Savior. This is typically, how a person enters salvation (by grace) through faith (Rom 10:10).

Exercising is crucial, for both, pre & post entering into salvation
I am NOT saying that we cannot pray to God for more faith, but I am saying we should be conscious of the correct attitude that there is that “our part” that we need to play. Even in the entering into salvation above, we see that one needs to exercise whatever little faith that is possessed. The exercise is in the exercising of his free-will (a choice) to confess with his mouth to accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.

In Luke 17:5, we read of the apostles of Jesus asking the Lord to increase their faith when the Lord told them that they had to repeatedly forgive others who had sinned against them repeatedly, despite their claiming that they were repentant each time. The apostles feared that, that would be too hard, and thought that they had NOT the faith to do it {not enough faith}, and so, they asked Jesus to increase their faith, so that they could do it, to repeatedly forgive the same people. Jesus did NOT reply them that He would give them more faith, instead He said this:

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.  (Luke 17:6, KJV - I have replaced the NIV of this verse with the KJV; "faith as small as a mustard seed" is NOT a good translation, in my view {1 Mar 2013}).

In other words, Jesus was saying that they had to exercise whatever faith that they had; NOT to be overwhelmed by the odds stacked against them; the mustard seed/seedling does NOT freeze at the external odds against it.

By leaving the reply as that, I believe, what Jesus was trying to tell the apostles was that when they exercised what faith they had, it would grow or increase. The point is that the apostles asked for increase, and assuming, and it is logical to assume, in this case, that Jesus was answering them; the increase must have been found in the answer - exercising!

A lot more can be said concerning how faith {normal faith} can be nurtured, but the short answer is that we have to subscribe to the never-ending cycle of exercising faith that comes from the hearing of the word of God. And in this never-ending cycle of exercising faith, we are in fact, going about good works.

Faith and good works
What is the relation of the two? In the above paragraph I said in the never-ending cycle of exercising faith, we are in fact going about good works. Good works in Scripture is NOT just simply good works, like the world understands it to be, like being charitable, per se.

Essentially, it is good works of faith or good works in exercising of faith. Precisely because without faith it is impossible to please God, good works is not good works to God if it is NOT done with exercise of faith (Exception is possible, but exception acceptability is contingent on grace and sovereignty of God {as in the case of centurion in the gospel}).

The Book of James has more to say about putting faith into action as evidence of our true faith. I think it is an exception rather than a norm, for believers to just bask in grace; such understanding of the “overly grace” believers are too skewed. Eph 2:10 clearly stated that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works. We are commanded to do good works, and through them, bring glory to our God (Matt 5:16). For better understanding of what good works is, and the detailed exposition of the link between good works and faith, read my separate article, "Good works explained (Part I)".

How is grace connected with faith and good works?
The good works that the world understands can be just being charitable. For example, one donates $100K to a university/educational endowment fund. But the good works in God’s eyes are often deeds He wants done; in other words, it is connected to Him. Faith makes that connection to Him.

Salvation and Lordship are together (for greater understanding of this, read my separate article, “Luke 6:46 - PART I – Salvation and Lordship are together”), and in the living of our lives as believers, Lordship of God is everything. Our faith is tied to the Lord, and so, in the exercising of our faith, God gets into the picture. As submission is NOT blind and Lordship is NOT accidental (read the article if you want the exposition), faith is also NOT blind and accidental. When, despite our lacking circumstances, we are able to accomplish the good works through the exercise of faith, the grace of God {unmerited favor} is likely to be that, which made the difference, being extended for the situation.

Although it is NOT always that a Christian hears from God directly for a deed, but if he always sets the Lord {and His ways} before him (Ps 16:8), and stays righteous, his steps (and therefore, his deeds) can be expected to be ordered by the Lord (Ps 37:23), and God’s grace {unmerited favor} can be following his deeds.

What about good works and salvation?
This is probably what many are wanting to know – any direct relation between good works and salvation? Sorry, folks, digest the above, and wait for a separate article!

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, may more of us understand that in our salvation, we are not JUST to bask in grace, and JUST to do our own things. Cause in us such a stirring Lord, that we will awake from our slumber. Amen.

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