Saved by works

Outrageous! Not to mention completely unbiblical, right?

But wait! Could there be another angle to the age-old works versus grace debate? While the Bible makes it abundantly clear that our good works, or obedience does not save us, (See Eph 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, 2 Tim 1:9, Gal 2:16, and many more) to conclude that no works, or no obedience saves us is to contradict the plainest of scriptures! Allow me to explain.

To save, is a verb: it is an action, something that one does. To put it another way, Salvation itself is a work that God does. It is not merely some magical verbal gymnastics, nor is it some passive intellectual assent. Salvation, that work that God did and continues to do involved, and still involves, obedience.

Christ’s obedience or righteousness is just as essential for our salvation as is His death! Without His perfect obedience, Christ would not have been the spotless lamb of God, and His death would have been useless to us! Jesus personified perfect obedience, even as a child (Luke 2:49-52). Yet nowhere does his obedience shine more than in his great agony in Gethsemane, when he shrank from the stupendous sacrifice before him and yet submitted his feelings in obedience to the will of His father (Luke 22:42). In fact, it was Christ’s perfect obedience to the will of the father that led Him to the cross! (See John 5:30, 6:38, 8:29). If Christ had not been the very epitome of obedience, there would have been no atonement! The apostle Paul says Christ “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8 KJV, emphasis mine). In fact, Christ’s obedience was actually perfected through his incarnation, life of suffering, and death on the cross. Notice how Paul explains it in Hebrews chapter five:

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; 

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; 

Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. 

Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.   Verses 7-11

Of course, this is not to say that Christ was not obedient or perfect prior to the incarnation and the cross, but that he had never before had his obedience tested to the extreme point of yielding up his own life! Is not that the ultimate obedience possible? As Job said, “though he slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:15).

But this connection between obedience and salvation goes even deeper than what we have seen so far, and gets a whole lot more personal! The Bible is clear that we are judged by our works. (See Eze 18:30, Rom 2:6, Rev 20:12, Rev 22:12-13, Prov 24:12, Ps 62:15 and many more.)  What does it mean to be judged? Very clearly, we are either acquitted or condemned based on our works! And as the Bible leaves no room for doubt as to the quality of our own works apart from Christ, (Isa 64:6, Rom 3:23) we all stand condemned, and under the curse of death. This is no question of comparing the weight on both sides of the balances to see which of our works win, because apart from Christ, even our apparently best works weigh in on the wrong side of the scale as completely destitute of the glory of God! They are rotten at the very core, full of hypocrisy, selfishness and pride.

What then is our only hope? The righteousness of Christ! We must look constantly to the great Model Man, our pattern of perfection, our Substitute! But we must be willing to accept his complete substitution on our behalf: not only in His death, but in His life! Ah, here comes the rub. Anyone and his brother are willing that Christ should die in their place, that He should pay the penalty that we deserve: but how few of us are willing to let Him live in our place! We are happy to accept Christ’s righteousness as some external thing. Oh yes, happy that Christ obeyed, as we see it, so that we don’t have to, seeing that we ourselves find a complete and perfect obedience impossible! We refuse to give up the life we claim as our own, when, ironically, the only thing about our life that does not belong to Christ are the very seeds of death—our sins! And yet He offers to take those too! We are invited to lay our sins on Jesus! We have been bought at such a price so that Christ may live in us, in the place of our sinful selves, the life that we do not deserve—abundant, joyful, eternal life!

But there can be no peaceful coexistence between Christ in us and our sinful flesh! If we truly let Him in, it is to clean house! This is a full surrender in which the righteousness of Christ is not only applied to cover our record, but is lived out tangibly and literally in our very own lives today! It is a miracle of divine grace through which His works become ours, and it is the only way that the record of our works by which we shall be judged can be found worthy and acceptable in the sight of God. It is the only way that we may obey the startling command of Christ in Matthew 5:48 – “Be ye therefore perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.”

As James puts it, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights…” (1:17). Perfect works and perfect obedience are good and perfect gifts from God, given to us in the person of Jesus Christ. We must accept them, just as we accept His forgiveness and sacrifice! That is the only way to show our trust, respect and love for our great Benefactor. Beyond merely accepting the gift, we must open it, and because we love the Giver, put to joyful, grateful use His gift of righteous, perfect works in our daily lives.  That includes making very intentional plans to avoid sin! That means acting and speaking in opposition to our own sinful feelings and inclinations! That includes cooperating with God to change my habits of thinking, bringing “every thought into the obedience of Christ!” (2 Corinthians 10:5)I don’t know about you, but I have a long way to go! Lord, do your work in me!

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