“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Tim. 1:9-10)
God offered salvation to all mankind according to his grace and by the death of Jesus Christ even before the beginning of time. No work of man could have brought about salvation since mankind had not been created at the time God devised his plan. However, salvation is not by grace only; it is by grace through faith. Some say salvation depends solely on God. If this affirmation were true, we would have to conclude that God has grace and faith, which is impossible. He is omniscient – all knowing – and thus, does not have faith. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. God does not have hope because he sees and knows everything. Romans 8:24 says, “[n]ow hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for that he sees”? Man is who has faith, and therefore, we conclude that man must appropriate God’s grace through faith: “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is a gift of God that we obtain through our faith. We cannot be saved without faith because it is impossible to please God without it. We must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The word of God teaches that, although salvation is a gift of God, man has a part to play in order to be saved because faith is a requirement that must be fulfilled by man.
If man is saved through his faith in God who has offered his grace, then we need to know what faith is. As I mentioned earlier, according to Hebrews 11:1, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is having confidence or assurance in our hope of salvation and being convicted about the things that we do not see, for example, the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When God commands us to do something, although we do not understand it completely or see the connection or how it is possible, we still have to do it in order to please him. Therefore, faith is not just the mental process of believing; it involves taking action according to the word of God. In Hebrews 11:6-30, we are given many examples of people who manifested their faith in the actions that they carried out: by faith, Noah prepared an ark; by faith, Abraham obeyed and offered up Isaac; by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; by faith, Jacob blessed each of his sons and worshipped; by faith, Joseph gave instructions; by faith, Moses suffered affliction with the people of God, forsook Egypt, kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of the blood; by faith, the people of God passed through the Red Sea by dry land; by faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled seven times; by faith, the harlot Rahab did not perish because she received the spies with peace. All of these people obeyed God and took action. They had obedient faith, not inactive belief (cf. Rom. 16:26). All of these people did not necessarily understand what they were doing or why they did it. There were even some that did not want to do the things that they were commanded to do or laughed about it. We can take Sarah as an example of this. In Genesis 18, Sarah laughed when she heard that she was going to have a son, and she was later confronted about it. However, moving to chapter 21, we see that she did indeed conceive and give birth to Isaac, which shows that she took action in carrying out God’s plan. Sarah had doubt in her heart, but she did what God commanded, thus showing her faith. This is a great lesson for us in that even when things don’t make sense to us, when we obey God’s commandments, we have the assurance that he will do what he has promised (Heb. 11:1). I also believe that not fully understanding is part of God’s plan in showing that his wisdom is much higher than ours, and therefore, we cannot boast in our knowledge or in anything that we do. 1 Corinthians 1:20-29 says:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
This passage teaches, first, that God is much wiser than man. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. It also teaches that God used the foolishness of this world (or what we think is foolish) to bring salvation to those who believed. What I understand from this is that our faith does not come from the fact that we see something and so we believe it. Our faith comes from the evidence, that is, what is produced by that something. The accounts of Naaman and of Jericho confirm this idea. What people believe is foolish is what actually saves us, and God did it that way so that we could be saved by our faith in him.
Now, some will say that God creates faith in us because Hebrews 12:2 says that Christ is the author and finisher of our faith: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We have to understand Hebrews 12:2 in its context. When you go to verse one, you’ll see that it begins with “therefore”, which is a word that mean “for that reason” or “in that case.” “Therefore” requires us to go back to Hebrews 11 in which, beginning at verse 4, there is a long line of people who showed their faith in obedience to God. They are the cloud of witnesses to which the author of Hebrews is referring in 12:1. Now, jumping down to Hebrews 12:2, it says that Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.” The question is what exactly does “author” mean. It does indeed mean “creator” in certain contexts such as in Acts 3:15; however, in this verse, considering the whole context starting from Hebrews 11, it means “founder”, “pioneer”, or “line-leader.” This last meaning really gives us the true idea because he leads the line of all the faithful men and women mentioned in chapter 11. That is why the author exhorts Christians to look to Jesus because he is the leader of faith and he carried out faith to completion, thus he is the “perfecter” or “consummator.” “To consummate” means to complete or to carry out to completion”. Christ was the ultimate faithful one because he carried out the will of the Father, never wavering and never committing any sin. Notice that chapter 12 is focused on endurance and discipline in the faith. The idea is that we have to endure in putting aside all sin and not grow weary in the work of the Lord because Christ did exactly that. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8) in order for us to have salvation. We can look to Jesus as the ultimate example of faithfulness to God.
But don’t the Scriptures teach that all we have to do is believe? In John 6:29-40 Jesus teaches that we must believe in order to have eternal life. However, in Matthew 7:21, he teaches that the one who does the will of his Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. In John 14:12, he teaches that whoever believes in him will also do the work he does, and even greater works (he’s talking to the disciples here, but we also learn from this). Later, in the same chapter he teaches that if you love him you will keep his commandments. Jesus commanded us to believe, and in believing, we keep his commandments. There are things that Christ has commanded us to do, along with believing, that pertain to our salvation. Now, if God creates faith in us or puts his faith in us, why does he need to command us to have faith or believe? He actually wouldn’t have to command us to do anything. Psalm 119 is a great chapter that describes the word of God. Verse 160 says the following: “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” That is to say, the totality of his word and every single thing he says and commands is truth, not part of it – all of it. If this is true, then we should strive daily to obey his word in all parts that pertain to us in this Christian era, not so we can boast, but because this is simply what he has commanded (cf. Luke 17:10) and we trust him. Jesus said, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). So, I know that if I have obedient faith, God will give me the crown of life, not because I deserve it, but because, by his grace, he has put a plan into place in which, if I choose (on my own free will), I can do the things required of me to be saved.
There is no doubt that God has already done the work necessary for us to be saved. However, he has given us the responsibility to accept it. God gave us free will to choose what is right or wrong. If God creates faith in us, that contradicts this basic principle. If God does not wish that any man perish (2 Peter 3:9), everyone would be saved because he would create faith in everyone. We understand from Acts 10 & 11 that he is not a respecter of person. Just because God wills for us to do something, doesn’t mean that we humans will follow along. He does not force us; we make the decision to be conformed to the image of Christ or not. We make the decision to harden our hearts or not. If God were forcing us to do these things, he wouldn’t be a just God because he would arbitrarily granting salvation to some and condemnation to others. Ezekiel 10 teaches that God is sovereign and just. Every good deed that we carry out is done in Christ because we choose to submit to his authority, not because he forces us to. There will come a day when he will make every knee bow to him (Rom. 14:11). Romans 14:12 says that each of us will give an account of himself to God. We won’t give an account of God. We are not going to tell God that he put faith in us. The sinner is not going to blame God for not putting faith in him. He is going to give an account of HIMSELF, not of God. If God is going to judge us (Rom. 14:10), and he expects us to give an account of ourselves, we can only conclude that we are going to be judged on our choices, which we have made on our own free will, according to our discernment.
Since faith is understood as obedience to the commandments of God, we must know what God’s commandments are concerning salvation. We learn about salvation by hearing the preaching and teaching of the gospel or by studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11; Rom. 10:17). The message of the gospel is expressed in simple terms. God manifested himself in human form, and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. Although he lived just like us, he fulfilled all righteousness and committed no sin (Matt. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). The very people he came to save crucified him unjustly, and his blood was spilled in order for man to receive forgiveness of sin (Matt. 26:27-28; John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:16). This sacrifice was an act of grace, which is God’s part. Now, we must do our part and appropriate that grace through faith by being obedient to the commandments of God. We must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:8-9), repent of our past sins (Acts 17:30-31), and be baptized or immersed in water (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 22:16). As a result, we receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord adds us to his church (Acts 2:38,41,47; cf. Matt. 16:18). When we rightly divide the word of God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), these are the commandments of God concerning salvation revealed in the Scriptures.
Many reject the plain and simple teachings of the Bible and manipulate God’s word in order to formulate their own false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They deceive themselves (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13) by believing that they have no role in their own salvation. Logically, this kind of doctrine takes all the responsibility off of them. Whether they are saved or lost would not be their fault, but rather God’s. They state that man is saved by grace through faith without understanding what faith truly is. They also deny the essentiality of baptism, and repentance for that matter, in the plan of salvation. However, when one studies the Scriptures with an open and honest heart, it is difficult to deny that God has devised a plan based on his matchless grace and man’s obedient faith.