13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:13–14, NKJV)
The sacrificial quality of love is unsurpassed. It is this love that prompted the death of Jesus and provided the world our only means of redemption (Romans 5:8-10; 1 John 4:8-10). The question for us to ponder is whether we have the love it takes to be a friend of Jesus. We hear much about needing Jesus as our friend. True, and He has shown the measure of His loving friendship by His death. Now, do we show the measure of our friendship to Him? We are not His friends when we disobey Him. It is quite ironic that many who speak loud and long about being friends with Jesus refuse His clear commands. For example, many reject His command to believe and be baptized to be saved in Mark 16:16, and yet claim friendship with Him. How can that be? Indeed, they say any necessary obedience nullifies God’s grace. If true, then we cannot be a friend to Jesus without denying His word and His grace! Our plea is to return to the simple harmony of gospel of salvation by grace, through faith. Salvation is an unearned, yet conditional gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). God receives sinners when we fear God and work righteousness; the gift is thus received (Acts 10:34-35). Are you a friend to Jesus? That is answered “yes” when you obey Him in faith.
23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24, NKJV)
Jesus did not pronounce this stinging condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees because they were careful to tithe herbs (this was commanded in God’s law to Israel, Leviticus 27:30). He pronounced woe upon them for abandoning the principles and motives that characterize acceptable obedience to God. They strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel with their minute correctness while failing to obey God out of justice, mercy and faith. They “passed by justice and the love of God” in their zeal to keep the law (Luke 11:42). Unfortunately, this passage is frequently used as an “either, or” proposition to justify disobedience in the name of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God. Jesus did not say that. He taught that careful obedience is useless unless it genuinely expresses faith, mercy and justice. Obeying God does not contradict justice, mercy, and faith. While being faithful to obey God, be just and merciful to others. Do not “pass by the love of God” lest you fall into condemnation (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13, NKJV)
More than a few times we have heard this passage misused to endorse accepting people in error and the immorality it produces. Such brethren defy the existence of absolute truth while tacitly accepting the moral relativism it produces. Since good and sincere brethren disagree on certain doctrinal issues (which they define as gray areas), they conclude each one will have to just “work out their own salvation” on the matter. This view is applied to divorce and remarriage. One of the problems with using Philippians 2:12 this way is it results in accepting adulterers as if they are faithful Christians. No longer is the sinner rebuked and called to repentance. Now he or she is tolerated and allowed to “work out their own salvation.” People “commit adultery” when they divorce and remarry in violation of Matthew 19:9. How do you “work out your own salvation” as an adulterer? God only forgives the adulterer when the sinner repents, prays and ending the adulterous remarriage. “Work out your own salvation” means to keep on obeying God (read verse 12 again). You bring your salvation to its full accomplishment by obeying God, not by remaining in disobedience.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10, NKJV)
The Protestant Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church fell far short of restoring New Testament Christianity. One such area was its failure to return to the Scriptural (and thus, essential) place of obedience to God to be saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Obedience is an “unprofitable” servant’s faith at work (Luke 17:10). Protestantism opted to demonize every kind of work while codifying salvation by faith only, even though Scripture says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). And, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Nineveh’s salvation from God’s imminent destruction well illustrates the part that a working faith plays in salvation. Why would God consider Nineveh’s “works” at all, if works have nothing to do with God’s gift of salvation (Jonah 3:7-9, 10)? Jesus endorsed their works as proof that “they repented” (Luke 11:32). Even so, we do not earn salvation when we obey God’s command to repent (Acts 17:30). But, without obeying God and repenting of sins, we will not receive His grace that saves our soul. Repentance is a work of faith, a condition we must meet to be saved (Acts 3:19). God has given commands we must obey as conditions to be saved “by grace through faith.” Unless we obey them, we do not trust God. All we have is a dead faith.
1 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2, NKJV)
While some say obeying the commands of God is not essential for eternal salvation in Christ, the apostle encourages Christians to abound more and more in that very lifestyle. The word “ought” conveys a moral obligation. That is, we are morally required before God to walk (live) so as to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9). Living to please God is accomplished by keeping the commandments we have been given by the apostles “through the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 14:37). Stay the course of faithfully obeying the commands of the Lord Jesus, and Christ will give you eternal life (Hebrews 5:8-9). We can never be content with not pleasing God, as if our sin carries no eternal consequence. They do. Therefore, let us “abound more and more” in a life of faith that keeps the commands of God.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9, NKJV)
To be justified means to be declared righteous, free of guilt and innocent of sin. The death of Jesus is the basis for our justification from sin. Without it we would have no way to be freed from the guilt of our sins and the wrath sin brings (Romans. 3:19; 6:23). The New Testament attributes the sinner’s justification to many things, including God’s grace (Romans 3:24), man’s faith (Galatians 2:16), and the works of faith (James 2:24). God’s love prompted the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son on Calvary’s cross (Romans 5:6-8). Although Christ died for every sinner, only those who have faith in Jesus are saved from wrath through Him (Romans 3:26; 5:9). Yet, sinners are not justified by “faith only” (James 2:24). Faith is dead without obedience to the word of God (James 2:17, 20). Do you have faith to do whatever Jesus commands of you? Or, is your faith merely an affirmation without obedience? Whoever “fears God and works righteousness” is acceptable to Him, not because they earn justification, but because they believe God justifies them by the blood of His Son when they obey His word (Acts 10:34-35). It should not surprise us that water baptism is the action of obedient faith by which sinners obtain justification by Christ’s death (Romans 6:4; Acts 22:16). The nature of your faith is crucial in assuring your justification by the blood of Jesus.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (Romans 4:3–4, NKJV)
Obedience to Christ is not a work of merit that nullifies grace. The theology of Calvin has persuaded untold millions that obedience is a work that “earns” or merits salvation. If true, then James contradicts Paul, for he said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23). Faith is made complete by obedience. There is no contradiction in Scripture, only with Calvinism’s faulty definitions of faith and works. Like us all, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. Only perfect law-keeping (sinlessness) would nullify grace and make salvation a debt (Romans 4:4). The faith that saved Abraham was not sinless, but it was obedient (as witnessed in the matter of Isaac). Through the gospel, it is obedient faith that God counts for righteousness today. Obedience earns nothing; it is the action of a dutiful servant (Luke 17:10). Obedience is the work that justifies the ungodly, for without it, faith is dead (James 2:20). Obedient faith, not faith only, justifies sinners (James 2:24).