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Christian Salvation
The Role of Faith and Grace

Hopefully you came to Christian Salvation from the doctrine page. This page explains how the apostolic and early church emphasis on holy living fits in with salvation by faith and grace.


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Christian Salvation Is by Faith
Even in the Early Christian Writings

Don't be fooled into thinking that the early Christians were falling away into legalism. They understood faith.

Ignatius (A.D. 110) begins the discourse quoted on the doctrine page by saying:

None of these things is hid from you if you perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ Jesus which are the beginning and end of life. For the beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two, being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all things which are requisite for a holy life follow after them. (Epistle to the Ephesians 14)

The early church understood that faith was their source, even while they called for holy living.

One of the earliest of Christian writings, the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus says:

He gave his own Son as a ransom for us, the Holy One for transgressors, the Blameless One for the wicked, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, the Incorruptible One for the corruptible, the Immortal One for them that are mortal.

   For what other thing was capable of covering our sin but his righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified than by the only Son of God?

   O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors. (ch. 9)

The atoning death of Jesus Christ cannot be expressed much better than that!

Christian Salvation Always Produces Works

Yet this beautiful, poetic writer, thrilled and filled with love for the Savior who gave himself for us, adds:

If you love him, you will be an imitator of his kindness. And do not marvel that a man may be an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. (ibid., ch. 10)

And again:

He who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, and such as is witnessed to by life, knows nothing, but is deceived by the serpent. (ibid., ch. 12)

This sort of doctrine is not new. It is throughout the apostles' writings (in the New Testament) as well:

  • "They profess to know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable, disobedient, and disapproved for every good work" (Tit. 1:16).
  • "He that says, 'I know him,' but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him" (1 Jn. 2:4).
  • "He that lacks these things is blind and cannot see far off and has forgotten that he is purged from his old sins" (2 Pet. 1:9).
  • "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).

It's important that we not be deceived. Paul took the emphasis on holy living very seriously. To him, true Christian salvation is found in the doctrine that produces godliness, as we saw in Titus 2. He emphasizes its importance in 1 Timothy. After giving instructions quite similar to Titus 2, he writes:

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud and knows nothing, but is neurotic about debates and arguments. (6:3-4)

Note: I used "neurotic" to translate the Greek noseo, which metaphorically means "an ailment of the mind." It's clearly what Paul meant to say, and most modern translations translate it similarly.

Christian Salvation
The Doctrine Which Is According to Godliness

We Christians—Protestants especially—are very fond of Paul's letter to the Romans. It's the height of theology, and many commentaries and books have been written on it.

I believe it really is the height of theology, but our focus on doctrine that can be taught in a classroom—rather than doctrine that is lived out—has deceived us and caused us to misunderstand what it teaches.

Where do we find the deepest theology of Romans?

Chapter three, where he tells us we're all sinners? Chapters four through six, where he introduces and explains grace? Chapters seven and eight where he contrasts self-life with spiritual life?

May I suggest that Paul started with what was most important and only then moved on to what explains it?

Paul's most important theology is in the first two chapters of Romans. There, he talks about behavior.

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of God, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. (1:16)

Paul didn't suddenly decide to talk about shame over the Gospel. There's a reason he said he wasn't ashamed. His theology and teaching were being called into question. In Romans 3:8, for example, Paul mentions people who claimed that he was teaching "let us do evil so that good may come."

Paul was horrified by this. As we've seen above, it's only the doctrine which is according to godliness which produces Christian salvation.

Real Christian Salvation:
Why Paul Was Not Ashamed of the Gospel of God

Paul then gives a reason for not being ashamed of the Gospel. First he says it's the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes it, and then he appeals to its results:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (1:17)

The results of Paul's Gospel could be seen. Real Christian salvation was revealed in it. People's lives were being changed.

It's common for modern theologians to believe in a righteousness that is merely imputed, not always imparted. Paul could not have been talking about God simply seeing us as righteous. This righteousness—real Christian salvation—is "revealed" and can be appealed to as proof of the power of Paul's Gospel

Imputed vs. Imparted Righteousness

It was not in ... a righteousness-hungry heart that the revolting legal fiction of imputed righteousness first arose. Righteousness, God's righteousness, righteousness in their own being, in heart and brains and hands, is what such righteousness-hungry men and women want, not some make-believe pretend form of what is not righteousness but is called righteousness. 

~George MacDonald

In fact, he explains in Ephesians that he could never be talking about a merely imputed righteousness:

Do not walk as other Gentiles walk … to work all uncleanness with greediness. You have not so learned Christ; that is, if you have heard him and been taught by him according to the truth that is in Jesus. [The truth is] that you must strip from your previous behavior the old self that is corrupt in its deceitful lusts. (4:17, 19-22)

The true doctrine of Christian salvation will teach us what we've seen the early Christians teaching: we must turn away from sin.

In fact, the grace of God itself will teach us that:

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we must live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age … (Tit. 2:11-12)

Back to Romans

Paul's not done emphasizing behavior. We don't like to look at Romans 2 because, honestly, most of us disagree with it. We don't believe that we'll be judged by our works no matter how many times the Bible says it. (There's more on that subject on the Sola Fide page.)

The first thing Paul does in Romans 2 is tell those who are trusting in the Jewish Law that they're failing at producing righteousness. They boasted in the Law, but they were unable to fulfill its righteousness.

Then he explains Christian salvation in a way we don't like to hear. God will judge everyone according to their works. Those who have patiently continued to do good will be rewarded with eternal life (v.7, also v. 10). Those who don't will receive indignation, wrath, tribulation, and anguish.

Is Doing Good Unspiritual?

Is this unspiritual? Is this against faith

Of course not! This is the very letter that emphasizes the Gospel of grace received by faith. This is the very letter that fully explains how to live a spiritual life.

However, according to the apostle Paul the very purpose of spirituality—and of Jesus' death, the heart of Christian salvation—is so that we can fulfill the righteousness that the Law revealed to us! (Rom. 8:3-4).

This is not a unique or novel interpretation of the Bible I'm giving to you. This doctrine is everywhere once you begin noticing it.

We've just seen that Romans 2 ties eternal life at the judgment to doing good. Paul does exactly the same thing in Galatians:

He that sows to the flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but he that sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. (6:8-9)

Doesn't "not grow weary in doing good" remind you immediately of the "patiently continue to do good" we read about in Romans 2?

And what are we to reap if we do not lose heart in this passage in Galatians? Is it not everlasting life, the very thing that was discussed in Romans 2?

Such statements are everywhere. Galatians 6:8-9 is also remarkably similar to Romans 8:13:

If you live after the flesh, you will die, but if, by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Christian Salvation:
Imputed and Imparted Righteousness

The Jews
and Imputed Righteousness

Oddly enough, the people who claimed that they could live unrighteously but have righteousness imputed to them anyway were the Jews!

Justin Martyr addresses this in his conversation with a Jew named Trypho around A.D. 150:

"Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."

   That is, having repented of his sins, he may receive remission of them from God, and not as you deceive yourselves … that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them.

   We have as proof of this the one fall of David … which was forgiven then when he mourned and wept… If even to such a man no forgiveness was granted before repentance, and only when … [he] mourned and acted that way, how can the impure and utterly abandoned, if they weep not, mourn not, and repent not, entertain the hope that the Lord will not impute sin to them? (Dialogue with Trypho 141)

As I've said, it is common now to limit righteousness in Christian salvation to something imputed. Often it is described as something akin to "right standing with God."

Those definitions aren't wrong; they're just incomplete.

Righteousness is "right standing with God." There is a righteousness in Christian salvation that goes beyond simply doing righteous things. Righteousness is a gift of God.

However, it is never just imputed. It will always be imparted as well. Those who do not practice righteousness are not righteous (1 Jn. 3:7). The apostle John states it just that clearly. In fact, he says those who don't practice righteousness are not of God!

That's a little frightening, isn't it?

It is true that these things may be somewhat frightening. I don't find any evidence that this was of concern to the apostles. Your Christian salvation was of much greater concern to them:

  • If you call on the Father, who without respect of persons impartially judges according to everyone's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear. (1 Pet. 1:17)
  • For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. (2 Cor. 5:10-11)

Sorry, better you find out now than later.

Have more questions? Want to read more?

How does all this mesh with the grace of God?

Much of this is covered more thoroughly on the Sola Fide page.

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