The Faith of Abraham Is Not Faith Alone

When people say that salvation is by faith alone, they define faith incorrectly, or they ascribe faith to the wrong person. They believe that faith is merely a mental process or that it comes only from God. They often use Ephesians 2:8–9 to confirm their belief:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The problem, however, is that Paul does not express in this passage that we are saved by faith alone. Furthermore, there is no indication that faith is directly from God. If we truly want to understand these verses, the best way to do so would be to refer to the conversion account of those to whom Paul writes this letter, that is, to the Ephesian Christians (Read Acts 19), as he is simply recounting their moment of acceptance of Christ. However, instead of analyzing the Ephesians’ response, I want to focus on Abraham, a biblical character Paul discusses in his letter to the Romans. If there is anyone besides Jesus that we could look to as a model of faith, that person is Abraham. I believe he is the best scriptural example to analyze because he is considered the father of all those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 4:11,16). God chose him as the one through whom all nations would be blessed, and his choice was on the basis of faith.

Paul makes an important statement in Romans 1:17 that serves as a focal point of his entire letter. He says, “For in it (that is, in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

This statement cited from Habakkuk 2:8, “the just shall live by faith,” can also be worded as follows: “the [just by faith] shall live.” Notice that I place brackets around “just by faith” to highlight the idea that one is made righteous by faith, and thus, receives eternal life. We therefore can all agree that faith has a significant role in justification and salvation.

After he establishes that all humankind is guilty of sin in the sight of God, Paul clarifies that neither Jew nor Gentile can use the Mosaic Law as a means of justification. He says in Romans 3:27–28, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Then he uses the example of Abraham to show how one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. He says that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). That is, Abraham was justified by his faith, not by God’s faith. Notice that Paul says in Romans 4:16 that the promise is for those who are of the faith of Abraham. He does not say the faith of God. Therefore, we can conclude from this account that the faith spoken of in Ephesians 2:8 is not a faith that belongs to God, but rather a faith man has in Christ through God’s word (See Romans 10:17). Note also that the original statement in Habakkuk 2:8 is that the just shall live by his faith; that is, it is the faith of the righteous person.

We can also determine from the example of Abraham that faith is not simply a mental process, but rather, it involves taking action that is rooted in trust. James says that faith is dead without works (Jas. 2:14–17):

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

He later uses Abraham as an example (Jas. 2:21–24):

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. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Here we see that Abraham did not just mentally believe God; he took action in obeying the Lord’s command to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:18). Abraham’s faith and obedience went hand in hand, showing that they were not separate things. Therefore, a correct definition of faith is that which includes trust and obedience to God’s word. One cannot be saved by faith alone or by works alone because one is incomplete without the other (Jas. 2:22).

Being justified by faith and obedience does not nullify the grace of God. Paul says in Romans 4:4–5, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Abraham clearly did not earn justification by his obedience, because if it were so, it would not have been a gift from God, but rather a debt owed to him. When we say that one must be baptized to be saved, we are simply stating that obedient faith in God is essential, not that it merits salvation as a work of righteousness. In Titus 3:5, Paul shows that baptism is not intended to be a work of righteousness:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The contrastive conjunction “but” distinguishes works of righteousness from the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, these two being the rebirth in baptism Jesus speaks of in John 3. Without them we cannot be justified, nor can we enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Therefore, if justification and entrance into the kingdom is obtained in baptism, as is stated in Titus 3:5 and John 3:5, it stands that baptism as a work of faith is essential for salvation, and not mental belief alone.

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[COMMENTARY] Romans 4

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 4

Click here to read the passage.

To further his point that no one is justified by works of the law, Paul goes on to use Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by faith. He asks the following question: “what then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” In other words, what did Abraham gain from keeping the law? If we have followed Paul’s argumentation, we know that the answer is nothing. If Abraham had truly followed all of God’s law perfectly, he would have something to boast about—he would have earned his righteousness. However, the Scriptures teach that Abraham sinned just like everyone else (See Genesis 12:13,16:1–4), but was justified by his faith in that he obeyed God in sacrificing his son Isaac in spite of God’s promise to make him a father of many nations by way of that very same son (Gen. 15:6; 22:1–18). He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Here we see the biblical definition of justification, that is, to be made righteous on the basis of faith in God apart from works.

Clearly, Abraham was justified by his faith, that is, by his obedience. The question then is does obedience nullify the grace of God. Paul says in verses 4–5 that to him who works, the wages are counted to him as a debt, not as grace (i.e., a gift). However, to him who believes—the one who has obedient faith—his faith is reckoned as righteousness. That is to say, God’s justifying people based on their obedience does not invalidate the free gift of justification. In fact, God requires obedience in order for one to be justified. Paul affirms in verse 6 that God imputes righteousness apart from works. If justification is defined as faith being credited as righteousness apart from works—and faith is obedience—we must conclude that obedience is not a work, and therefore, does not nullify the grace of God.

The word “work” is being used in these verses to mean a deed of the law—in this case, the Mosaic Law. Paul cites David, who said, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven.” A blessed man is one who is forgiven for committing deeds that are not of the law; his transgressions are forgiven. This quote further supports the argument that obedience is not a work and is a requirement for justification.

If the blessedness of justification by faith were only for the circumcised, it would not align with the facts concerning Abraham, which is that his faith was credited to him as righteousness while he was still uncircumcised. Once again: he was justified apart from works of the law. His circumcision was a seal of his justification. Justification before circumcision is important because it makes Abraham the father of all who have faith regardless of their being circumcised or not. Justification is a result of faith, not of circumcision. Although some would use verses 11–12 to refute the essentiality of baptism, Paul’s intention is not to speak against this act of obedience, as the spiritual circumcision is much more significant than the physical circumcision mentioned in this text (See Romans 6 and listen to my episode titled Baptism of No Avail).

Paul says in verse 15 that where there is no law there is no transgression. The inverse is also true: where there is a law, there is transgression. The law brings wrath to those who are under it, because no one can be made righteous through it (Rom. 3:10ff). If God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the heir to many nations were through the Mosaic Law, the only ones who would receive the promise would be the adherents to the Law—the Jews. In that case, faith would be useless and the covenant of promise would be annulled (Gal. 3:15–18). There would be no justification by faith, and all humankind would perish.

Notice that the promise was made to the seed of Abraham, that is, to Christ (Gal. 3:16). In order for the covenant of promise to be ratified, Christ—the testator—had to come and die (Heb. 9:16–17). During the time between the promise and the death of Christ, the law was put in place as a tutor to expose sin and to bring sinners to faith in order to be justified (Gal. 3:24). The covenant of promise ensures that all are justified if they have faith like Abraham’s, not if they adhere to the Law. For this reason, Abraham is the father of us all who believe (Rom. 4:16–18).

The reason why Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness was because he was not weak in faith. Abraham’s loins were dead, and his wife Sarah was barren. These conditions made it impossible for any couple to have a child. Yet God promised him that he would make him the heir of the world. Genesis 17 and 18 records Abraham’s reaction when he conversed with God concerning this promise.

We should not think that Abraham was not apprehensive of God’s plan. Genesis 17:17 says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed when God told him that he would have a son. He said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man that is one hundred years old?” And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen. 17:17) Even Sarah laughed when she heard the promise (Gen. 18:13). However, observe Paul’s statement in Romans 4:20. He says, “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” The Young’s Literal Translation renders these verses as follows: “and at the promise of God [Abraham] did not stagger in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, having given glory to God, and having been fully persuaded that what He hath promised He is able also to do.” Abraham did not allow his unbelief—his doubting—to take him away from doing the will of God. After his conversation with the Lord, and despite his apprehension, he took Ishmael and all the other males in his house and circumcised them according to what the Lord had commanded him. He gave glory to God in his obedience, and he was fully convinced that God was able to perform what he had promised. As a result, he was strengthened in his faith, so much so, that he was willing to sacrifice his son of the promise—Isaac—because he knew that God would be able to raise him from the dead (Heb. 11:17–19).

We see here that faith is a process in which there is growth as a result of following God’s word; hence, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). His word provides the evidence that fully convinces us that he is able to perform what he has promised both in salvation and after it. Just as Abraham was justified by faith, we also have the opportunity to be justified when we have faith in God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 3:19–31

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


 

Romans 3:19–31

Click here to read the passage.

Paul establishes in verses 1–18 that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin and, despite their excuses, will not escape the judgment. Starting in verse 19, he argues that anyone who seeks to be righteous according to the deeds of the law will not be justified (Gal. 2:16), because the law brings about the knowledge of sin. The law speaks to those who are subject to it, and since all have sinned, those who are subject to the law are guilty before God.

The righteousness of God through faith in Christ has been made known apart from the law. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:8–10), not by the Mosaic Law. However, the Mosaic Law and the Prophets bear witness to salvation through faith in Christ. When Jesus spoke to the Jews concerning his authority as the Son of God, he told them that Moses had written about him (John 5:46). Moses had told the children of Israel that God would raise up from among them a prophet like him. He had instructed them to do as the prophet said because God would put his word in the prophet’s mouth, and he would speak to them all that he commanded him (Deut. 18:15). Moses was referring to Christ (Acts 3:20–23).

God does not save individuals based on any other distinguishing factor but obedient faith in Christ. We cannot be righteous on our own because we all have sinned, and we fall short of the glory of God (Gal. 3:22). Christ redeemed us by paying a price for us so that we would be justified freely by the grace of God (Rom. 8:1; 12:5; 2 Cor. 5:12). God made Christ serve as a propitiation for our sins (1 John. 2:2; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 Tim. 2:5–6). His blood was shed as an atonement to satisfy God’s wrath. The free gift of salvation demonstrates the righteousness of God, because he has forgiven even the sins of the faithful ones spoken about in the Old Testament. Forbearance refers to God’s passing over the sins that were previously committed until the death of Christ took place. His death would cover sins retroactively and prospectively. Therefore, God is just and is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

The Jews had no room to boast because justification was by faith, not by the law. God is not God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, and has justified the former by faith and the latter through faith. God does not have a special relationship with one race or nation above others since he saves all people who have faith in Jesus. The law, however, was not made void by this fact, but rather was established, because it served its purpose in showing the need for justification by faith. That is, it exposed that all were under sin and needed to trust God to save them—not their works of righteousness.

[PODCAST] You’re Just Not Good Enough

The topic of this episode is based on Romans 3:9–18. I discuss the doctrine of total depravity and the idea of being “good.” I use Cornelius as an example of someone who was good, but not good enough for salvation. You can find a commentary and an essay that I wrote based on Romans 3 here and here.

The episode can be found at the following links:

Anchor
Apple Podcasts
Google Play

I hope you enjoy!.

Let God Be True

As we study the epistle written by Paul to the Romans, we learn that, although the Jews were God’s special people, God always intended to grant salvation to the Gentiles also (Read Isaiah 56). Jesus’ death put an end to the separation between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–16). Several of Paul’s writings focus on the reconciliation of these two groups into one body (See Colossians and Galatians). Jewish Christians had to get used to God’s acceptance of their Gentile counterparts as his people without the requirements of the Mosaic Law. They became children of God through faith in Christ (John 1:12; Rom. 3:21–26; Gal. 3:26). In his Roman letter, Paul anticipates four objections that the Jews could have in response to his teaching (Rom. 3:1–7). The focus of this discussion is the answer Paul gives to the second objection (vv. 3–4):

For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”

The Jews overlooked that they also were justified by faith, and not by works of the law (Rom. 3:30). Although God gave them a written law, they were not able to live by it perfectly; therefore, they needed to put their faith in the Lord in order to be saved. Anyone who thought they could achieve righteousness strictly based on their adherence to God’s ordinances, and not because of their faith in Christ, would be condemned (Gal. 5:4, John 3:18). The Jews’ objection to this principle, however, would be that God is unfaithful in not saving them if some did not believe. They probably thought their unfaithfulness could nullify the faithfulness of God. Paul’s answer to this false conclusion is, “Certainly not!” Man is a liar, but God is always true. No one will ever be able to find fault in him. He will accomplish anything he wills to do, because he is faithful to his promises. As Christians, we can always count on the faithfulness of God. We read in his word that he is not like man that he should lie or go back on his word (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6). He will always fulfill his promises.

Several examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to his word are evident in the Scriptures. In Numbers 11, God fulfilled his word to give the Israelites enough meat to be able to eat for a whole month. Although Moses could not believe it, God told him, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (v. 23). In Numbers 14, when the Israelites refused to enter Canaan because of fear, he promised that no one in that generation—except for Joshua and Caleb—would possess the land. When the people tried to enter despite God’s decree, they were defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (vv. 39–45). In Numbers 22­–24, when Balak, the king of Moab, asked Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam was able to utter only blessings upon them. He said, “Behold, I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” The most significant promise God made was to Abraham (Genesis 12, 17, & 22). He promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. God fulfilled this promise by sending Christ to die on the cross, thus granting the opportunity of salvation to those who have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:29).

Because of God’s track record, we know that we can always trust him. When we sin, John says that if we confess those sins, God is faithful and just to cleans us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). James writes that, if we ask God for wisdom as we endure trials, he will give it to us liberally and without reproach (Jas. 1:5). He also writes that we will receive the crown of life the Lord has promised when we have successfully endured trials and temptations (v. 13).

The Jews were indeed unfaithful. Some disobeyed God and did not walk holy and blameless before him. They refused to believe that God would give them power to overtake their enemies and possess the land that was promised to them. However, their disbelief did not nullify the faithfulness of God. The Hebrew writer confirms this in verses 2–3 and 6–8 of chapter 4,

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:

“So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest,’”

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:

“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Clearly, in these verses, the author shows that the promise God made in former times concerning Canaan was not reversed because the Israelites refused to enter. Since God made the promise, some must enter. Who will possess the land—that is heaven—will be those who have heard, believed, and obeyed the word of God.

Paul writes in Romans 11:29 that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Here he refers to Israel’s salvation if they put their faith in Christ. However, we can apply these words to our lives by understanding that whatever God decrees, he will carry out. Whatever he promises, he will fulfill it. God is not slack concerning his promises (2 Peter 3:9). For this reason, we know that whatever we deal with in life, we can continue to have hope, because God is faithful. As long as we strive to live righteously, according to what he commands, he will make a way for us.

Let every man be a liar, but let God be true!

[COMMENTARY] Romans 2:17–29

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 2:17–29

 

Click here to read the passage.

Paul outlines in verses 17–20 the will of God for the Jews. They were God’s special people, who relied on his law. They had knowledge of God’s will and were taught all of his statues and righteous judgments (Deut. 4:8). Their purpose was to instruct the lost according to God’s law (vv. 19–20). That is, salvation for the rest of the world would come through them, since God chose them as a priestly nation (Exod. 19:6). However, the Jews dishonored God by breaking the same law they were supposed to teach, causing God’s name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles (Ezek. 36:22). They were stealing, committing adultery, and worshiping idols. They believed they could sin without consequences because they were God’s people (Mic. 3:11).

The Jews, who were physically circumcised, broke the law; therefore, their circumcision became as if they weren’t circumcised. Here we see that we can be God’s people, but if we break his law and do not repent, we will become his enemy. The Gentiles, who were not circumcised, were considered as if they were circumcised if they kept the requirements of the law. By keeping the law, they condemned the Jews—who had the law and were circumcised—because they broke the law. According to God, a Jew was not a Jew just because of his physical circumcision; they also had to be circumcised in the heart by the Spirit because God looks on the heart (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Phil 3:3).

People use verses 25–29 to refute the necessity of baptism. They argue that one can please God and be justified without baptism in the same way Gentiles were justified without being circumcised. This argument, however, is incorrect. First, Paul does not teach in this passage that Gentiles were justified without circumcision. According to Genesis 17 and Exodus 12:43–49, all males living among God’s people—both natives and foreigners—had to be circumcised in order to enjoy the benefits of the covenant. Circumcision was never excluded from the law. It was an essential component that initiated the covenant relationship with God (Gen. 17:11). Paul is simply making the point that circumcision is not profitable if you break the rest of the law. That is, just because the Jews were God’s people, it did not mean that they could escape the wrath of God if they sinned, as that would be a breach of the covenant. A Gentile—being physically uncircumcised but yet keeping some requirements of the law—showed how sinful the Jews truly were.

Second, Paul says that a Jew is one who is circumcised inwardly, that is, of the heart and in the Spirit, not of the law. Here he makes reference to a spiritual circumcision that occurs in faithful obedience to God. Before the death of Christ, people were justified according to their faith (See Romans 4). The same is still true after Christ’s death. Jesus Christ was the one who commanded faith and baptism in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). According to Colossians 2:11–12, baptism is the spiritual circumcision in which we put off the body of the sins of the flesh, being buried with Christ and then raised with him through faith in the working of God.

Christians are considered spiritual Jews, forming part of the spiritual Israel that God has established in his new covenant with both Jews and Gentiles united in one body through baptism (Eph. 2:11–22). Therefore, Paul does not exclude baptism in verses 25–29, but rather, upholds it as being essential to salvation. However, even with baptism, Christians cannot go on deliberately practicing sin after becoming part of the body of Christ. Paul discusses this idea more in chapter 6.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 1:18–31

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 1:18–31

Click here to read the passage.

In this section of chapter 1, Paul is writing about the sinfulness of Gentiles. Although they did not have the Mosaic Law like the Jews, they were still under God’s moral law, and thus, were held accountable for their sins. God stands opposed to sin; he despises all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6). However, his anger is not sudden, but rather, is brooding and welling up. It is revealed (is being revealed and will be revealed) from heaven on the day of judgment (Rom. 2:5). God will punish all those who are not in Christ and are living in sin.

The Gentiles’ unrighteousness was a sign of their suppressing the truth and existence of God. They knew that God existed because he made himself manifest to them in the things they perceived. The creation of the world, and those things found in it, declare the existence of God (Acts 14:17; Ps. 19:1–6). Therefore, the Gentiles were without excuse; they were still responsible for their sins. Although they invented all types of philosophies and were interested in knowledge (Acts 17:21), they became more foolish, and their hearts were hardened (Eph. 4:17–18), which is the result of rejecting God. Instead of glorifying God and giving him thanks, they chose to practice idolatry, worshiping images that resembled men and animals. The same situation is true today. Many people reject God and depend on their own philosophies. They worship men and material things and are completely blind to the truth. However, they will still be held accountable on the Day of Judgment.

Although God gave the Gentiles up to their uncleanness (i.e., impurity), he was not the cause of their hardening. They were the ones who suppressed the truth, exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature instead of the Creator. Paul talks about their hardening also in Ephesians 4:18–19, where he says that the Gentiles became callous and gave themselves up to sensuality and every kind of impurity; therefore, there were alienated from God. This hardening was their own doing, and God separated himself from them because they did not turn to him. Paul fleshes this out further from verses 26–31 by enumerating all the sins they practiced. Not only those who practiced these things were deserving of death (6:21), but also those who approved of the ones who practiced them.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 1:1–17

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 1:1–17

Click here to read the passage.

The author of this epistle is Paul, and he is writing to Christians who are in the city of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. Paul considered himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ. The term “bondservant” is translated from the Greek word “doulos”, which means “slave”. However, the word is not to be taken in the negative sense, but rather as a condition in which one takes pleasure. Paul gave up his will to serve the will of Christ. He recognized that his duty was to be an apostle and to preach the gospel. He says in verse 1 that he was called for this work; that is, God invited him, setting him apart to be a vessel to preach the name of Christ to the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15; 13:2).

The promise of the gospel was declared by God through the prophets of the Old Testament, who were guided by the Holy Spirit. God declared that his son Jesus would come through the line of David and would have dominion over all. The promise was fulfilled when Christ was resurrected from the dead. Paul and the other apostles were appointed as ambassadors to preach obedience to the faith throughout the Gentile world. Notice in Acts 6:7 that, when the word of God was preached in Jerusalem, the church grew, and many of the priests were obedient to the faith. The gospel requires obedience. We are expected to obey the faith, thus showing that faith goes beyond belief—it involves action (Jas. 2:17–20). The gospel was preached among the Romans on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Paul reminds them that they are also called to be saints. That is, they have received the invitation to be set apart. He mentions in verse 8 that their faith is spoken of throughout the world. The Romans were among those who repented and were baptized after hearing Peter’s gospel sermon. Their response to the sermon marks the point at which they were obedient to the faith (cf. Verse 5), which involved repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Paul had not been to Rome since he was baptized at the time he was writing this letter. He would not arrive in Rome until much later when he requested an audience with Caesar after being arrested (Acts 25:11). He had the right to appeal to Caesar because he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25). The will of God did not permit Paul to go to Rome any sooner (v. 10). He desired to go to the Christians in Rome to impart to them some spiritual gift in order to strengthen and encourage them; however, “spiritual gift” does not refer to miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit, but rather heavenly blessings received by the gospel by way of the word of God. He writes in chapter 11 that the Gentiles had been partakers of spiritual things (v. 27). Paul is referring to God’s grafting them in like the branches of a wild olive tree into a cultivated olive tree in order to partake of its root and richness. We can conclude therefore that “spiritual gift” refers to blessings that encourage a Christian. Paul desired to edify them (cf. Eph. 4:7–16) in order to bear fruit among them. However, he did want to bear fruit for his own account, but rather to bless them (cf. Phil. 4:17).

Being fruitful is to maintain good works and meet urgent needs among people (Titus 3:14). It is also preaching the gospel to the lost, which was Paul’s key mission (v. 15). In fact, preaching the gospel was more than his mission; it was an obligation. He believed that he was in debt to those to whom he had not preached or taught the word of God. Additionally, Paul was ready to preach the gospel at all times (2 Tim. 4:2) and never ashamed to do it (2 Tim. 1:18). He was passionate about preaching the gospel for a simple reason: “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is the power of God; that is, it is a work of God only. It effectuates salvation. Its intended result is to save souls. No other doctrines or philosophies can save man. This salvation was made possible to both Jews and Gentiles, and it continues to be possible for all humankind today. Salvation is for those who believe. God’s righteousness—which could refer to his intrinsic, personal righteousness or his imputed righteousness—is revealed in the gospel. The revelation of his righteousness is from faith, that is, the faithfulness of God (Rom. 3:3). Also, it is unto faith. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). For this reason, it is written in the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) that the just shall live by faith (Hab. 2:4). Righteous people live according to obedient faith (Rom. 1:5). They walk by faith, trusting in God and not leaning on their own understanding (2 Cor. 5:7). Some translations render the phrase as follows: “the just by faith shall live.” This version implies that we receive eternal life when we are justified by faith.

Sons of God in Baptism

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:26–28

In his discussion on justification by faith versus justification by works of the Mosaic law, Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that they are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. They became sons of God because they heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. This faith, however, was not simply a mental process, but rather an act of obedience. Paul makes such a strong statement because he himself had witnessed their faith while in Galatia during his missionary journey (see Acts 13–14). Their status as sons was affirmed based on their submission to an act of obedience required by Jesus Christ, that is, baptism (cf. Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16).

Two facts are evident in Galatians 3:27. First, God has provided a single occasion in which all people must be saved, thus maintaining his impartiality with man. The Scriptures teach that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34); he makes no distinction among us in his plan of salvation. He does not save some against their own will, while leaving others to condemnation. He does not provide salvation to some in their dreams and visions and to others by their prayers. He has decreed a specific act that every person must submit to. Notice that in verse 27 Paul says “as many of you”, which is to say that anyone who puts on Christ becomes a child of God because there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female when it comes to salvation.

The second fact revealed in verse 27 is that God has made baptism that occasion in which he saves us. Notice at the beginning of the verse the word “for”, which indicates a causal relation between this verse and verse 26. The Galatian Christians were sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus because they had put on Christ in baptism. Their faith in Christ was manifested in their obedience to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (cf. Acts 2:38). They became not only sons, but also Christ’s possession, Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29). Furthermore, they received the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6). Therefore, all those who desire to have the same status as the Galatians must submit to Jesus’ command to be baptized.

 

By Grace (God’s Part) Through Faith (Man’s Part) – UPDATED

“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.