RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH
Copyright © 2006 by Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The Bible contains many seeming contradictions. One of the major seeming contradictions is the emphasis on the gift of grace, which seems to contradict the numerous New Testament passages that warn us concerning our behavior.
Whenever we adopt one side of the argument, or try to bring together the two sides in a compromise, we produce error. Truth is arrived at only when we hold both positions as valid, both equally necessary to the plan of redemption.
In today’s preaching and teaching we hold rigorously to the gift of grace position. We maintain there can be salvation apart from a change into godly behavior. We clearly are in error and the error is preventing the one thing God insists on—the keeping of His commandments by His people.
Much is being said in America today about the need for godly government and pushing back the tide of immorality. The problem is not with the government or with the American public at large. The problem is that the churches do not perceive correctly the role of Divine grace and are not keeping God’s commandments.
If we of the churches will turn back to the Lord and begin to keep His righteous commandments God will heal our nation. Otherwise we are facing an age of moral horrors in the not too distant future.
RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15)
In other writings we have discussed the concept of seeming contradictions. We would like to take this idea a step further because it is crucial to the changing of Christian thinking concerning the relationship of God’s grace to righteous behavior.
Remember, in resolving these seeming contradictions we are not speaking of balance. We think balance has more to do with the diet fed the sheep, that is, we are not to harp continually on one aspect of salvation such as Divine love, or Divine wrath. Faithful pastors and teachers attempt to provide a balanced diet. For example the attention given today to the “rapture” teaching is far out of balance in terms of the little emphasis given it in the New Testament.
The problem with the application of balance is that “balance” can be used to dilute truth. We cannot dilute the perfection of the Divinity of Christ with the perfection of His humanity in an attempt to balance these two aspects of His Nature. We intend to discuss this in a minute.
Neither are we, when referring to the resolving of the faith-works controversy, speaking of the possibility of “earning salvation.” We cannot earn a salvation that is being offered freely by the Lord and has been paid for by the blood of Christ.
Rather we are speaking of something quite different, and that is the correct manner of determining Divine truth when seemingly contradictory statements are made by the writers of the Scriptures.
Here are a few of the seeming contradictions found in the passages of the Scriptures:
- Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus does not bring peace but a sword.
- Believers are not judged. Believers are judged.
- God gives us mercy. We shall reap what we sow.
- We have been elected according to the foreknowledge of God. We are to labor to make our calling and election sure.
- Prostitutes enter the Kingdom. The works of the flesh cannot enter the Kingdom.
- We are justified by the gift of grace apart from any works of righteousness. We are exhorted to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
How are we to approach these seeming contradictions? We shall present two incorrect and destructive ways, and then the three components of the correct way, as we see it.
After this we shall select one seeming contradiction, the one involving the gift of God versus the necessity for righteous behavior, and show how the incorrect way of approaching this particular seeming contradiction has tended to destroy the churches of America and is preventing the depth of repentance and moral change God is demanding in the last part of the twentieth century.
The first incorrect way of approaching a seeming contradiction is to accept the one part of the seeming contradiction and to ignore the other. The part we have accepted then becomes an axiom. It is unassailable truth. If a seemingly contradictory idea is suggested by any passage of Scripture it is discarded or treated in some manner that renders it incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.
This is, of course, what we have done in the case of the truth that salvation in Christ is a gift from God, and with its seeming opposite, the believers are commanded to live a godly life.
The second incorrect way of approaching a seeming contradiction is to develop a compromise that waters down each position. A good example of this is the adding of parts of the Law of Moses, such as the Sabbath day, to the Christian salvation. The Law of Moses is not rigorously observed, and salvation has part of the Law clinging to it.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Romans 3:21,22)
The third way of approaching a seeming contradiction is to accept both positions as equally valid, equally necessary to salvation. We have not done this with faith and works. We have received salvation by faith alone as an axiom, a mold on which all statements of the New Testament must be forced whether or not they fit. The result has been moral destruction. How could it be otherwise given that passages commanding godly behavior as essential to salvation are by far in the majority when compared with those that stress righteousness apart from godly behavior? We are denying most of the New Testament! How can we possibly prosper?
We must accept all of the passages without doubt or compromise. They all are the Word of God. The New Testament remains unimpaired. We are to hold resolutely to the plenary verbal inspiration of the accepted Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
If therefore there is a seeming contradiction, and yet all is equally true, what method shall we employ to arrive at the Divine will?
Three aspects must be considered if we are to rightly divide the word of truth and resolve all seeming contradictions. We must consider carefully:
- the immediate contexts of the passages under examination,
- the entire context, that is, the entire Scriptures,
- under what circumstances a given passage is to be emphasized.
If we will apply these three considerations we will find no true contradictions in God’s Word and we will not create havoc in the Church of God as we have done in the past.
Now, let us look at the doctrine of concern to us. Are we saved by faith, or by works, or by some compromise in which we are “saved” by faith and then try to do good. Or is it true that both faith and works are essential aspects of salvation? If the latter is true the present Christian churches have a problem of enormous proportions.
Before we begin with our three considerations, the immediate context, the entire context, and the circumstances governing application, let us mention an important factor, and then drop it because it will add complexity that may not be needed at this point.
The important factor is this. Salvation has little or nothing to do with going to Heaven. As long as we think of salvation as being a ticket to Heaven our arguments become hopelessly confused. The process of salvation is that of being conformed to the image of Christ and being brought into untroubled union with God through Christ. It is not a program designed to qualify us for eternal residence in Heaven.
The reason we must be changed into Christ’s image and brought into union with God’s Person and will is first to please God and have fellowship with Him, and second to be authorized and competent to perform the various roles and tasks necessary to the establishing and operation of the Kingdom of God. Three of the many roles and tasks are as follows: to be a living stone in the Temple of God; to be a member of the Bride of the Lamb; to be a judge of men and angels.
None of these many roles and tasks is possible to us until we are in the image of Christ and resting in God’s Person. This is not to say however that we cannot in an elementary measure enter the roles and tasks before we have attained the fullness of image and have entered perfectly the rest of God.
Heaven is a place. The goal of salvation is not a movement from one place to another (the earth to Heaven) but a change in the individual so he or she always is acceptable to God (the meaning of righteous).
The reader will see immediately how our concept of what it means to be saved has a most significant bearing on our discussion of whether we are saved by grace or works or some combination of these or by both.
However, I think we can drop the problem of the definition of salvation for the time being and continue with our discussion of applying the three considerations to the issue of the gift of grace versus works of righteousness, the three considerations being immediate context, entire context, and appropriate circumstances governing application of the doctrine.
The concept that Christians are saved (usually meaning they will go to Heaven when they die) apart from the observance of moral law (which is antinomianism—an ancient heresy) is derived largely but not exclusively from Paul’s arguments in the early chapters of the Book of Romans, John 5:24, Romans 8:1, Romans 10:9,10, and Ephesians 2:8,9.
On the other hand, the concept that Christians must keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles can be found in such a large part of the New Testament, beginning with the Gospels, that one must say with all fairness it has far, far greater scriptural support than is true of the concept that Christians are saved without any necessary transformation of their personality.
Because of the great number of passages devoted to righteous living it is difficult to list even a representative sample. Righteousness of behavior is the burden of the entire Scriptures—Old Testament and New!
Christ said, “If you love me you will keep My commandments.” That alone should warn us there is another side to the “faith alone” argument. Christ is God!
- Christ again warned us that if we do not bear fruit we will be cut out of the Vine, out of Himself.
- Paul on several occasions pointed out that if we live in the flesh we will die spiritually.
- The writer of Hebrews cautioned us that the plant that does not bear fruit will be burned.
- James argues that faith without works is dead.
- Peter advises us of the need to suffer in the flesh in order to be purged of sin.
- Peter sternly warns us that if we have known the way of righteousness and then turn back it would be better had we never taken the first step.
- John the Beloved teaches that we must purify ourselves and live righteously if we expect to be like Him when He appears.
- Jude blows the trumpet: “The Lord is coming with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment on the sinners in the churches!”
- Revelation speaks authoritatively, not permitting contradiction, that the rewards we associate with being a Christian are reserved for the overcomer; that if we do not behave in a manner worthy of Christ we are in danger of being blotted from the Book of Life.
- Revelation tells us more than once that Christ is coming to reward us according to our works.
- The only comment common to the seven churches of Asia is “I know thy works”!
If we are on solid ground thus far, let us apply our three considerations.
We shall take one passage from Romans that we believe would be acceptable to many Christians as being representative of the current position that we are saved by the gift of God’s grace apart from righteous works on our part.
For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Romans 5:17,18)
Here is an excellent statement of the position that we are saved by the gift of God’s grace in Christ. If we employ this as an axiom and forget the rest of the Bible we have a good foundation for antinomianism, that is, the philosophy of salvation apart from adherence to any moral code.
Now we turn to our three considerations. What of the immediate context. What is this passage talking about?
When we look carefully at Romans, Chapters Three through Five we find Paul is contrasting faith in Christ with the Law of Moses, not with doing justly, loving mercy, or walking humbly with God, or doing to others what we would have them do to us. The Law of Moses includes circumcision, the Sabbath, the feast days, the laws governing leprosy, the laws governing agriculture, the dietary laws, the animal sacrifices, and the covenantal form of the eternal moral law—the covenant known as the Ten Commandments.
Paul was contending with those who were attempting to mix the Law of Moses with the redemption offered through Jesus Christ.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)
“Abraham, or to his seed, through the law.”
The immediate context of Romans 5:17,18 is Paul’s argument against the Judaizers. Paul was reasoning with Jews about the role of the Law. Paul was not informing Gentiles they no longer were obligated to behave righteously.
Now we must consult the larger context.
The main question is, are we safe in concluding we are saved by the gift of Divine grace independently of a change of behavior on our part?
The larger context consists of the entire Scriptures, all of which thunder “God would never issue a covenant that does not require obedience to His commandments!”
However, we need go no further than the sixth chapter of Romans. Apparently Paul recognized that his arguments against the Judaizers could be used as a license to sin. The sixth chapter of Romans is a refutation of today’s doctrine that faith in Christ frees us from the obligation to keep the moral law.
Now, there must be no confusion here. It is not enough to say “we stand in grace” but we ought to try to do good. It is this kind of sloppy thinking that has destroyed the churches in America.
- Either our acceptability to God depends on a change in our personality or it does not.
- Either there are spiritually fatal consequences to not abiding in Christ or there are not.
- Either a new righteous creation is an absolutely essential and integral aspect of salvation or it is not!
- Either we shall surely die or we shall not surely die!
There can be no compromise here if we are to arrive at truth!
What, then, does Paul state in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans?
In the sixth chapter of Romans Paul states clearly and unequivocally that the Christian (not the unsaved but the Christian) has the opportunity to choose to be the slave of sin or the slave of righteousness.
If the Christian chooses to be the slave of sin he or she will reap death.
If the Christian chooses to be the slave of righteousness he or she will reap eternal life.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. (Romans 6:12)
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23)
How could anyone claim these passages are not addressed to Christians?
How could anyone claim these passages do not state that the choice is ours whether to obey righteousness and live or to obey sin and die?
If this is the case, then the conclusion drawn from the earlier chapters of Romans that the gift of Divine grace does not require a corresponding change in our personality toward righteous behavior is ruled out.
Considering the immediate context we must say the argument is pointed primarily toward Jews, telling them they can be righteous apart from the works of the Law of Moses.
Considering an enlarged context we must say the conclusion that the gift of Divine grace does not necessitate righteous behavior if eternal life is to be gained is ruled out.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)
Considering under what circumstances the truth that God has granted righteousness and life to us as a gift apart from the Law of Moses should be stressed, we conclude this argument would apply most beneficially to someone who was attempting to earn righteousness by the observance of the Law of Moses or by some other moral code. God has given us righteousness based on a covenant conceived and administered by Himself. For us to then set out to attempt to earn righteousness by following our own set of rules is to bring confusion and incompetence to the covenant.
However, the doctrine of the gift of grace would not be appropriately emphasized to a Gentile who was saying, as so many do today, “I know I should do good but God sees me through Christ and so I am saved no matter what I do.” This would be to pour gasoline on the fire and lead the novice to spiritual and moral destruction.
God has presented different sides to the one truth because of the different sides of the problem. In one instance we stress rest in Christ. In another instance we stress awake to righteousness and quit your sinning. To change our emphasis in terms of the need of the moment is not to attempt to “balance” truth, neither is it a watering down or compromising of eternal truth. It is to follow the pattern of the Scriptures as they present the Divine salvation according to God’s wisdom for the moment.
To one He says “come.” To another He says “go.” We must have a sense of the Spirit’s timing.
One major problem of today’s preaching is that we attempt to force our axiom on every person in the same manner without a sense of the will of the Spirit of God. The products of our blind proselyting are religious dwarfs and eternal babies instead of saints. One of the primary characteristics of the religious spirit, the spirit that crucified Christ and to this day warps the desires of God, is an absence of the sense of God’s timing.
Now, let us go to the other aspect of the seeming contradiction. Let us look at what those who stress righteous works would consider to be a fair presentation of their position.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
There are several such passages in the Epistles of Paul!
Let us apply the consideration of immediate context.
Paul was speaking to the Gentile Christians of Galatia. Paul was informing them that they were not to attempt to add circumcision or any other aspect of the Law of Moses to the salvation that is in Christ.
Then Paul explains carefully, in the second chapter, that in throwing off the yoke of the Law of Moses he is not giving them permission to sin. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ. It is Christ who is living in me.”
Paul is teaching that although he no longer is bound by the Law of Moses he still does not sin. Why not? Because Christ is living in Him. He is playing by the rules of a different game, but both games forbid unrighteous behavior.
Paul tells them they are going to reap what they are sowing, that God is looking for a new creation of righteous behavior.
This is the immediate context of Galatians 5:19-21 (above).
We can conclude from Galatians 5:19-21 that if we Christians continue to behave according to the passions of our flesh, not being crucified with Christ, not becoming a new righteous creation, we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now, let us think about the larger context. Is there any passage (as there was in the case of the position that we Christians are saved by the gift of Divine grace apart from works of righteousness) that obviously renders our conclusion invalid?
There is at least one that could be so interpreted.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5)
But in the same book, Titus, we have these words:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (Titus 2:11,12)
Does Divine grace teach us that God has sovereignly declared us righteous with no effort on our part? What do you think?
A glance at the entire Book of Titus will reveal an emphasis on righteous behavior rather than free grace.
But perhaps what we are saying here is that even if we do not obey the several admonitions to godly behavior found in the Book of Titus, righteous behavior still is not critical because we are saved by grace. Remember, we are addressing Paul’s statement to the Christians of Galatia that if they continue to sin they cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.
Does Titus 3:5 weaken the strength of Galatians 5:19-21, and if not, why not?
It is our opinion that Titus 3:5 does not alter our conclusion from Galatians that the sinning Christian will not inherit the Kingdom of God. We think rather that two different aspects are being presented. The first, as in the early chapters of Romans, that salvation proceeds from a covenant that God sovereignly has issued through Jesus Christ and we cannot earn it by any amount of righteous works.
The second aspect has to do with how we work out the covenant, how we work out our salvation. If we do not permit the salvation of Christ to operate in our daily life our spiritual life will die, as in the parable of the sower. We will be cut out of the vine, as in John, Chapter Fifteen. We will die spiritually, as in Romans 8:13. We can easily show that the early chapters of Romans, and the other related verses we mentioned such as Romans 10:9,10, cannot be interpreted to mean righteous behavior is not an expected and absolutely necessary outcome of redemption. The larger context prohibits this.
Is it true that the larger context prohibits the interpretation of Galatians 5:19-21 to mean if we as a Christian continue living in the passions of the flesh we will cut ourselves off from the Kingdom of God?
It is our point of view that there is no passage in the New Testament revealing clearly that this is an incorrect conclusion. In fact there is an abundance of support from the Gospels forward.
When would we apply the position that good works are a necessary part of salvation? Not when an unsaved individual in deep depression and guilt is reaching out to God for help or when a devout Jewish person is racked with guilt being unable to keep the Law. On these occasions an emphasis on God’s gift would be in order. We think the Spirit would agree to this, although on some occasions the Spirit of God works in ways contrary to our immediate understanding.
How, then, do the two ideas of grace and righteous behavior come together? They come together in the following passage.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are God’s workmanship. He reaches down and saves us for the purpose of creating us in Christ unto good works.
If we quote Ephesians 2:8,9 apart from verse 10 we have a distorted, very destructive view of the Christian salvation.
We mentioned earlier a complexity that can be added to the above discussion. The Bible does not teach that eternal residence in Heaven is the goal of salvation. Although there certainly is a Heaven in the spirit realm where God, Jesus, and the saints and holy angels reside while preparations are being made for the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth, given all of this, Jesus still does not present Himself as the way to Heaven. Jesus is the way to the Father—an altogether different concept.
Jesus is bringing us to God, not to Heaven as to a place.
Let us offer a new definition of salvation for your consideration.
Salvation is our change from the adamic nature to the image of Jesus Christ and our being brought into untroubled union in God through Christ.
Salvation is not referenced to Heaven or to any other place, only to our change of personality.
I can’t imagine any sincere Christian having much trouble with our definition that salvation is the power of God through Jesus Christ to change us from a sinner to a saint. After all, if any individual be in Christ there is a new creation, old things have passed away, all things have become new and all things are of God. It is the new creation that is at issue. I think we all understand this.
But look at what this new (and perhaps acceptable) definition does to our argument!
How can one maintain we are saved apart from works when it is the works themselves that are the purpose of the salvation?
How can one maintain that once we have been saved we never can be lost, unless he means by this that once we have been transformed into righteous behavior we never can be untransformed?
To add one more complexity—our present Christian teaching stresses the opening move in our salvation. However the Scripture teaches clearly that salvation has a specific beginning, a specific process, and a specific conclusion. The Scripture adds that we are not saved until we endure to the end.
We are saved when we believe in Christ and are baptized in water.
Then we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, holding our confidence steadfastly to the end, being careful not to draw back to destruction.
Finally we are kept by the power of God unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.
One can see instantly that the presenting of Divine grace as a one-time maneuver in which we enter an abstract zone of legally applied righteousness, based on our correct statement of theology, that is independent of our conduct in our body, has nothing in common with the directive to work out our salvation with fear and trembling or with the hope and warning that we are saved by enduring to the end.
Editors of the newer translations are insisting, in their comments, that grace operates independently of our enduring to the end. Thus the very Words of God are rendered incompetent, immaterial, and irrelevant by the current adoption of the position of “faith alone” as an axiom through which the remainder of the New Testament must be screened.
However, defining salvation as the process of changing us into the image of Christ and bringing us into the rest of God runs along perfectly with the concept that salvation has a specific beginning, a specific process, and a specific conclusion, and that we are saved (protected from Divine wrath and transformed) by enduring to the end. Those who keep pressing forward in the Lord each day will be rewarded in the Day of the Lord by hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant,” by having the remaining vestiges of sin removed, and by receiving a body from Heaven constructed from their daily sowing to the Holy Spirit.
The new covenant is not primarily one of forgiveness but of the engraving of God’s Word in our heart and mind until the flesh becomes the Word.
I think God is saying that the American churches are to repent during the last few years of the twentieth century, that if they do our nation will be blessed; if they do not disaster will overtake our country.
God already has a plan for our repentance including the issuing of available power and direction for our complete deliverance from the works of Satan. Reach up to Jesus and see for yourself if this is true.
It appears to me that the level of repentance God is demanding cannot come about until we Christians realize we are preaching our traditions and not the Scriptures and that God is insisting His commandments be kept.
The depth of spiritual-moral evil on the horizon is so much worse than anything we have encountered thus far that apart from the most sincere repentance and turning to God the Christian churches will continue to flounder.
We are not to seek power. We are to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, a Divinely inspired righteousness that will work out demonstrably in the lives of the saints. When we turn to God and start seeking righteousness God will pour out all the power we need to be more than conquerors through Christ.
In so doing we shall save ourselves and our nation.
(“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth”, 3420-1)