by Mike Ratliff
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV)
What a glorious Biblical truth it is that sinners my come to Christ just as they are! They come on the basis of faith and He saves them all (John 3:16). Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1-10 that salvation is by grace through faith alone, apart from works. God saves His people this way so that none may boast. This means that no one whom He saves must do any work or attain any merit in order to be worthy to come. No, God saves sinners. However, in “today’s gospel” these wonderful truths have been twisted or extended to say that not only does Christ receive sinners just as they are, but He also will let them stay that way.
When I was a new Christian I bought my first Bible at local Christian Book Store in Tulsa. It was a Ryrie Study Bible. It was the New American Standard edition. I had no idea who Charles Ryrie was. I was intrigued by the voluminous notes. I used that Bible for many years until the backing gave way and the cover fell off. Charles Ryrie is quoted as saying that new converts to Christianity are genuine even if they were “to leave God out and live according to the old nature.”1
Reformed Theology emphatically disagrees with this “doctrine,” which has come to be called “Once Saved, Always Saved.” Instead, we believe in the doctrine of “The Perseverance of the Saints.” What is the difference? The former teaches that the mere act of believing the facts of the Gospel will cause one to be in Christ, to be saved, receive absolution and eternal life. This doctrine states that all who have “done this” can even walk away from the faith, deny Christ, and live as an atheist, but since they had that “experience,” they are saved. The latter, teaches something entirely different. In the Doctrines of Grace we learn that our salvation is God’s work from beginning to end. He saves sinners whom He calls to Himself. They are regenerated and from this receive faith, they believe, and they repent of their sins. They are washed clean, justified, sanctified, and adopted into the family of God. The Perseverance of the Saints teaches us that God sustains the believer. He works in each believer’s life to hold them, to grow them, and keep them from falling away.
Today’s gospel says that telling unsaved people they must surrender to Christ is preaching works salvation. It sees salvation as the unconditional gift of everlasting life given to people who believe the facts about Christ even if they choose to not obey Him. It teaches that salvation may or may not change a person’s behavior. The focus must be on whether the facts of the gospel are believed. If so, then he or she may rest on the certainty of heaven. Isn’t this the “gospel” of the seeker-sensitive and church growth movements? I fear that is also rapidly becoming the “gospel” of the SBC and other mainline denominations.
Think of the huge numbers of “seekers” who approach our Lord on those terms. They have been assured that He will welcome them and not confront their sins. They really have no sense of their utter depravity and guilt before our Holy God, hence they have no motivation or desire to be freed from sin’s bondage. They have heard from their preacher that their faith, expressed by agreeing to the facts of the Gospel, will save them. This level of faith is only intellectual and cannot save.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)
Even though some try to make this passage teach that we are saved by works and faith, James is not teaching that. Instead, this passage is teaching that faith that saves will be accompanied by good works while faith without works is dead and cannot save. James describes this dead faith as hypocrisy. Why? Since it is based only on assent and empty of any verifying works, then it is comparable to the belief of demons. These verifying works are not the cause of genuine salvation, but the fruit of it. This is so because saving faith, belief born from the grace of God, is continually working in the heart of the truly saved expressing itself in abiding in Christ, enduring, and remaining faithful to our Lord. These are the works James is referring to. Endurance is the mark of a genuine believer no matter the circumstances.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:10-13 ESV)
Saving faith is expressed throughout the gospel of John by the present tense participle “πιστευων” or “pisteúō.” The Greek present tense verbs and participles speak of continuous, repeated action. When Jesus said to Nicodemous, “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15 ESV), He was telling us that the faith that saves is not a once and done action, but a faith that continuously believes. This is a supernatural faith that is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). (References in the gospel of John for “pisteúō” are John 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35; 40, 47, 7:38; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 20:31) Saving faith is enduring faith. While those who endure are assured of eternal blessings from God, those who profess faith, but do not endure will receive only condemnation because their “faith” was not the faith that endures, hence they have not really believed.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18 ESV)
Genuine faith is not a human work (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). It is a supernatural gift of God. I use Ephesians 2:8-9 quite a bit, but I make no apologies for that for it tells us clearly that Christians are saved by grace through faith, not of themselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, that no one should boast.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30 ESV)
Who grants to us that we should believe in Christ for His sake? It is God. No one has eternal life who has not believed (John 6:47) and no one believes unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). All who come to Jesus as the Father draws them believe and are saved. These are all sinners who have no ability to believe and be saved. Saving faith is granted to them by God. As we have seen, saving faith is powerful and sustaining. It enables the genuine believer to remain faithful, abide in Christ, and run the race set before them with their eyes firmly fixed on the Saviour. Saving faith is not a one time event in our lives, but the beginning of a journey down the narrow, difficult path to God.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
Genuine saving faith imbues the Christian with the will to obey God because he or she is our Lord’s slave and their will is consumed in His. It also gives them the ability to obey His will. When we discuss the necessity of Christian obedience we are not talking about something that is impossible. No, it is possible because genuine Christians have a supernatural faith that enables each of us to walk in repentance and obedience. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) give us the character of the faith that saves and enables Christians to walk in Christlikeness. Here is the passage.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12 ESV)
What do we see here? Don’t we see humility and mourning over sin? This saving faith works in the heart to make us understand that we are indeed sinners and have nothing in and of ourselves to offer Him. Therefore, we mourn with godly sorrow and this helps us walk in repentance. As we walk this way God changes our hearts so that we become meek and hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness. As God feeds us, He changes us even more by conforming us unto the image of the Son. We become more merciful, purer in heart, and a peacemaker who seeks to reconcile others to Christ. This changes believers so radically that they appear to be not of this world and are persecuted. True righteousness is born of genuine saving faith.
This faith does not seek to just keep the letter of the law, but to conform even the thoughts and intentions of the heart to it. Yes, we are still imperfect, but our Lord calls us to attain to the higher standard of God. We have supernatural faith that enables us to be Christlike so we should never claim that we cannot obey God. Instead, we must draw near unto God, seek His face, and spend time in prayer and communion with Him in His Word. As we go through the fires of testing and tribulation then God will shape and change us according to His will. Only those with this supernatural faith can bear the fruit that God causes through His pruning (John 15).
Genuine saving faith obeys God. Dead faith does not. The fruit of one’s life reveals the veracity of their salvation. Yes, all Christians are capable of sinning. However, the Holy Spirit does work in genuine believers to bring conviction, which produces hatred of their sin and a desire to repent. Scripture does not teach that a Christian can continue in continual disobedience from the moment of their conversion with no evidence of righteous fruit whatsoever. Remember, the Christlike are those who are merciful. These who are mired in their sin should be counseled and given the genuine Gospel, not consoled into believing that their one time “belief” is what holds them in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago:Moody, 1969), p. 35.