An Analysis of Titus 3:3–8

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

-Titus 3:3–8

 

In Titus 3, Paul instructs Titus to remind the congregations in Crete to obey rulers and authorities and to be ready for every good work. Furthermore, he commands them to live peaceably and to show humility to all men. Paul gives in verse 3 the reason why they should conduct themselves in this way. They needed to be humble because they too at one point were sinners; they were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasure, passing their days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” However, God was merciful towards them. There are at least two things that we learn from this passage. First, we are expected to be merciful towards others (Matt. 12:7), just as God has been merciful towards us even when we were practicing sin (Rom. 5:8). No human being is perfect. There is not one righteous person on this earth (Rom. 3:10). We all fall short either unintentionally or willingly, but we have to learn to forgive one another because God forgave us.

Secondly, Paul teaches in this passage that God saved us (and continues to save people who believe the gospel) in a specific way. In verse 5, he says that God did not save us by works done by us in righteousness. That is, we are not saved by anything that we have done. There is nothing that we can do that would be good enough for our salvation. If so, there would not have been any need for Christ to die for us. Salvation is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8–10). God has saved us, according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16), which refer to the rebirth that Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus (John 3:5). He told him that unless he had this experience, he could not enter the kingdom of God. Therefore, we see in Titus 3:5 that God has chosen baptism and the pouring out of his Spirit as the means to save us. As the verse says, these are not works of righteousness, but rather works of God according to his mercy, and it is by his works and our hope of eternal life that we are justified and made heirs.

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.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #1

The Character of God and the Nature of Man

This post is the first of a series on the importance of man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. My interest in this topic was sparked by various conversations and bible studies that I have had with people that agree and disagree with the notion that each individual has a role to play in his salvation. Man’s primary goal in this life should be to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). If we expect to be where the Father is when we part from this world, we must rightly divide his word in order to know what we must do to be saved (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17). There are several doctrines on salvation that do not align with God’s word. One of the most prevalent is Calvinism. Calvinistic theology is summarized in five main points that are represented with the mnemonic device, TULIP: T- Total Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, P- Perseverance of the Saints. The basic idea that underlies this doctrine is that man has no role to play in his salvation, and that God does all the work. This theology involves the concepts of predestination and election, which are found in the Scriptures. However, the Calvinistic approach to the interpretation of these concepts produces false doctrine because it contradicts basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man. I believe that in order to understand the topic of salvation, we must know who and how God is and how he has created mankind. Therefore, in this first post, I will explore passages from the Scriptures that reveal this information to us.

The only way to know God is by reading his word. He has revealed to us his character traits so that we know how he deals with his creation. I believe that the most important trait to know about God is that he does not change who he is. We learn this from Malachi 3:6, “for I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (English Standard Version). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). There is no variation in him (Jas. 1:17). When we accept this, we know that whatever we learn about his character is just as true now as it was in former times.

The Scriptures teach that God is sovereign. The psalmist says in Psalm 115:3 and 135:6 that the Lord sits in heaven and does as he pleases. No one can direct the Spirit of the Lord. No one can teach him or make him understand (Isa. 40:13-14). He is the only Sovereign One, King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15-16). God is also righteous and just. He is a faithful God who does no wrong (Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:11). He is also a jealous god, forbidding all other gods and idols (Deut. 4:23-24). The Scriptures also teach that God does not and cannot lie:

19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it (Num. 23:19 ESV)?

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2 ESV).

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Heb. 6:17-18 ESV).

Additionally, we learn in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that God is not a god of confusion, but rather, a god of order. There is no division in him, and he does not teach conflicting ideas in his word. Some other important features of God’s character are that he is patient, merciful, loving, and gracious (Eph. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). However, he is also wrathful and vengeful against disobedience, ungodliness, and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 10:29-31). God is light, and in him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).

The other necessary part of understanding salvation is knowing how God has created human beings. The basic truth about mankind is that God has created us upright and perfect; however, we stray away and seek to do our own will (Eccl. 7:29). God has made us in his own image (Gen. 1:27, 5:2; 1 Cor. 11:7) and has given us the free will to choose our own paths. This concept is made clear in the words of Moses and Joshua. In Deuteronomy 30:19, when Moses pronounced the covenant that the Lord made with the people at Moab, he told them to choose between life and death. Joshua also told the people in the renewal of the covenant in Shechem to choose whom they would serve (Josh. 24:15). We are encouraged to choose God’s will. The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13); however, our selfish ambitions lead us to do our own will. When we do our will and not the will of God, it alienates us from him because of our hardened hearts and evil actions (Eph. 2:12, 4:18; Col. 1:21). It makes us his enemy (Rom. 5:10). The only way to be saved is by being reconciled to him (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18), and the only way to be reconciled to him is through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Col. 1:20,22; cf. Acts 4:12).

All of our bible studies should be guided by these basic truths, but it is particularly important to keep these in mind when we study salvation. We need to be sure that we follow the Scriptures in this matter because the consequences are costly. In upcoming posts, I will refer back to these principles as I continue to explore man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. There will be various references to Calvinistic theology, particularly concerning predestination and election, as I believe the Calvinistic interpretation of these concepts conflict with the basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man.

Our Individual Commitment to the Body

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭12:12-13, 27‬ ‭ESV‬‬).

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts‬ ‭2:42‬ ‭ESV‬‬).

Continue reading “Our Individual Commitment to the Body”

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

“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”. 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). 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, despite the fact that salvation is a gift of God, both man and God have a part to play in order for man 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, it is important to understand what faith is. As mentioned, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is having confidence in our hope of salvation and being convicted about the things that we do not see, such as 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, we must do it in order to please him. Faith is not just believing, but taking action according to the word of God. In Hebrews 11:6-30, we are presented with 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).

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). We come to see that, as we rightly divide the word of God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), these are the commandments of God concerning salvation.

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.

Saved by Grace, but what about Works?

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

James 2:24
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

There is a lot of discussion on whether our salvation is based on grace through faith or on our works. The most prominent theme in the Bible is the grace and mercy of God. Grace is that God has given us what we do not deserve, and mercy is that He has withheld what we do deserve. He sacrificed His Son for our sins and withheld His wrath. His grace and mercy always have been taken for granted, which is evidenced in the Old and New Testaments and also in modern times. We should be thankful for the gift of grace, which was the atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of His Son. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, our salvation is based on this gift of grace, in which we believed (John 1:12-13; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23, 4:4, 4:16, 11:6; Galatians 2:16). We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He came to die on the cross as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2, 4:10). There was nothing that we could do on our own to cleanse ourselves of the sins we had committed before being saved. And even after receiving His grace, we still continue to sin against each other and against God. However, His grace is so sufficient that the blood of Christ cleanses us of our sins throughout our lives if we continue to walk in the light (cf., 1 John 1:7-10). It is clear that no one can boast of anything they do because we are all guilty of sin, and no matter how much we strive to be righteous, we will never be able to meet the standard (see Romans 7) because our righteousness is like filthy rags.

“as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:10-11)

“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:27-28).

“You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23).

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6 New King James Version).

So those who believe that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works are correct. It is clearly stated in the Bible. However, in James 2:24 it is also clear that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. Also, there are several verses in the Scriptures that express the fact that we are to do good works as Christians.

“…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14).

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

We know that God does not contradict himself, and I believe the reason why these verses appear to be contradictory is because we tend to look at passages without considering the historical context. Let’s start first with the texts that say that salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works. We see this idea emerging mainly in Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and also when Paul addresses the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 13. The Jewish Christians were binding themselves to mosaic law (but not out of obligation), and were also trying to bind Gentile Christians to that law. They couldn’t accept the fact that Gentiles could be saved only by the gospel and not by adhering to the law also. They were requiring that the Gentile Christians be circumcised because that was part of their tradition. Paul had to explain to both Jews and Gentiles why their works of the law were no longer necessary (Ephesians 2:8-9): “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…” The word “works” is referring to the different sacrifices and rituals of the law, such as sin-offerings and circumcision. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that would take care of what the law couldn’t do, cleanse them of their sins.

The context of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians was different from that of Paul’s letters. James was addressing Christians that supposedly had faith but weren’t doing the good works that showed their faith. They were hearers of the word but not doers. We could think of them as lukewarm Christians like those in the church in Laodicea (cf., Revelations 3:14-21). James was basically saying to them that just because you believe, it doesn’t mean that you stop there because even the demons believe in God and shudder (cf., James 2:19). According to chapters 1 and 2, these Christians had several issues: favoritism, false wisdom/teaching, lack of humility, lack of mercy and patience with one another, etc. All these things showed that they lacked faith. Their faith was dead because they did not have good works (cf., James 2:20).

So what can we take from these verses that appear to contradict each other? We are indeed saved by grace through our belief that Christ did die for the sins of mankind, and because of that, we should have an active faith, doing what we have been created to – good works (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot say that we love God and have faith in Him if we do not keep His commandments. Many of us think that love and faith in God is a feeling, and I believe many live a life of distress when they don’t “feel” these things. The fact of the matter is love and faith is doing. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (emphasis is mine). That is, faith is express through love, and love is action:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 John 2:4)

“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it” (2 John 1:6).

“‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:21-23).

The Importance of Singing

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

There are several instances of singing throughout the Bible (e.g., The Book of Psalms), which leads to the conclusion that it is important in order to have a healthy life of worship and dedication to God. Paul touched on this topic in his letter to the church in Colosse. He told them to let the word of Christ dwell in them and teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Additionally, he mentioned how they should sing – with grace in their hearts to the Lord (chp. 3, v. 16). From Colossians 3:16, and other verses, we can gather that singing is something that connects us to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s also a way to edify each other as Christians. Singing gives us a way to thank and praise God, and to continue remembering all that He has done for us.

The songs that we sing should be based on the teachings of the Bible, and therefore, when we sing them we should be filled with the word of God. Not only are we filled with His word, but also in Ephesians 5:19-21, it shows us that singing is an expression of being filled with the Spirit, and thus helping us to avoid sin (in this case, drunkenness) since it is impossible to be filled with both the Spirit and sin:

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:19-21).

Singing also is a means of edifying each other. One of the works of the church is edification of Christians, and it is necessary because it unites us in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ in order to be more like Him (Ephesians 4:12-13). Part of edification is teaching and admonishing each other, which can and should be done through singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians. 3:16; Ephesians. 5:19).

We also show thankfulness and favor to the Lord through our singing. This is the idea that is expressed in Colossians 3:16 when Paul says “… singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord”. The word translated as “grace” in this text means “gratitude” and “favor”. Therefore, we are showing Him that we are thankful for all He has done for us and that we give Him all the credit (cf., Ephesians 5:20). As we thank the Lord, we are also praising Him, which is what is expressed in the word “psalms”. In some translations of the Bible, the phrase “sing psalms” is rendered as “sing praises” (cf., James 5:13 New American Standard Bible (NASB)). A great example of rejoicing and praise to God is in Luke 1:48 where Mary sings to the Lord after knowing that she would give birth to the Son of God.

Besides recognizing what God has done for us, singing helps us to remember His goodness and righteousness. Before Moses died, God instructed him to write down a song and teach it to the children of Israel so that it served as a witness of all that He had done for them. God knew that Israel would break their covenant with Him, so this song would testify against them:

“‘Now therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel. When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant. Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them’” (Deuteronomy 31:19-21).

Let’s be conscience of the importance of singing when we gather together in our worship services. We should look forward to singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as they remind us of all that God has done for us and are an expression of our love, gratitude, and praise to Him. It is our thank-offering to Him, and He will be well pleased with it (Hebrews 13:15-16):

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”