September 21, 2014.
*See note at bottom after you read.
Do I have your attention? Are you intrigued, or infuriated? Why is it that we teach that no man can earn their salvation? Is this a biblical concept, a rational concept, or just something that we have all together accepted? You see, if salvation were truly unobtainable on our own, why are held accountable for not reaching it? If there were not truly something we could “do” to earn our salvation, why are we punished for not doing it? You might object, “because that’s the way God set it up!” and I that would absolutely be something He is entitled to do, but I don’t think this is the case. I think there is one thing we can do to earn our salvation, and it is based off of this one thing that our whole theology rests. (Don’t stone me yet, just hear me out).
Let’s start out with the reason that this concept of “man cannot earn his salvation” is taught. Don’t get me wrong, it is taught for good reason:
“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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
So we can see from the letter that Paul sent to the Ephesians what would seem to indeed say that grace is the free gift of God and not a result of any man’s works, or in essence, we cannot be saved by works or earn our salvation. Indeed this is the case, and I am not going to argue with the bible by any means to try and prove my point, for it would be futile and perhaps even blasphemous. But let’s back up for a moment and consider the reason that we need grace in the first place, or even the very definition of grace. Grace, in a rough definition, is something that is given that is not deserved. We find the reason we need this grace in the first part of this section in Ephesians:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, beingrich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Paul was not shy about this concept, as he wrote the same thing to the Romans:
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We were all dead in our trespasses, made alive together with Christ, which is the free gift of grace. Just a few verses earlier Paul explains this point he makes in verse 23:
“[A]s it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Paul is echoing Psalm 14 and 53 when he quotes this passage to the Romans. What is he saying in all these passages? We have all sinned, we have all missed the mark of God (as the word sin derives from) and are justified only by the blood of Christ which was shed as a ransom for our souls while we were in sin. There is none that is righteous, no not one.
So, how can I pose the idea that there is a way to earn your salvation? Am I just just outright denying the scriptures? May it never be. Actually, I have already made my point. Why do we need grace? Because we all have sinned. Why did Christ have to come into the world? Because we all have fallen short of the glory of God. When was the first prophecy of the coming Messiah? Directly after the fall of man- when the Messiah was then needed to make a ransom for the sin of man.
So what’s the one way you can earn your salvation? Simple. Live a completely sinless life. You may object, “No man can do that,” and that certainly has a lot of merit, for there has been no man in history that has ever lived a sinless life. Save one.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
And isn’t that the point? Why do we say that Christ was the perfect sacrifice for our sins? Why do we say His life, death and resurrection was a propitiation for us, and through this He defeated both death and sin? Was it not because He lived a sinless life? He was the white lamb, without blemish, who didn’t have to die, because He had no sin. But He laid down His life on His own accord, so that we might be ransomed.
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”
Think about it. When Adam and Eve were first placed in the garden, did they have the promise of the coming Messiah? No, because they didn’t need the promise. Man had not yet sinned. Adam and even walked with God and were not consumed. They were in fellowship with Him and did not fear death, because they were not to die- until they sinned. In a sense, they were ‘earning’ their salvation (but not really) by not eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They weren’t really ‘earning’ it, as they already had it (*see note at bottom). They were not condemned, yet in an eternal state with God. Is that not the very essence of salvation? This was until they sinned, of course. This is called the fall of man for a reason. And when this fall happened, immediately the promise of the Messiah was made.
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
And thus we have the very bases of our theology of grace. We have grace, because we need grace, because we have failed at obtaining our own salvation. Yes, you could argue that Adam and Eve didn’t obtain their own salvation, but rather it was given to them as well, but we are not in the situation of Adam and Eve. We enter a fallen world, and the thing that separates us from God is our sin (ref. Isa. 59:1-2). Else, why do we teach that children who die before they reach the age where they know right from wrong will be saved in the resurrection? Is it not because they have not sinned? I do not believe you can sin without knowing the essence of sin. Jesus hit on this concept when he was talking to His disciples about those in the world:
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.”
Along this line of reasoning, Paul would go on to tell the Romans that he would not have known what sin was except it be for the law of Moses (ref. Rom. 7:7). This is not to say that ignorance of the law is an excuse, for the gospel of Christ has now been proclaimed. At one point in time, before the coming of Christ, God did overlook this ignorance (how that works, I could not explain to you because I simply don’t know), but not He commands all men everywhere to repent (ref. Acts 17:30-31). Why are we commanded to repent, lest we have something of which to repent?
So why must there be a way to earn our salvation? Because if there was no way, then the grace of God would be made null, for it would be a necessary gift rather than a gift out of love. Now that perhaps I have worked my way out of being completely thrown out as a heretic, let me make this final point clear. I do not think we can earn our salvation; I think all men everywhere will sin and fall short of the glory of God. I believe this because that is what the bible teaches:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
(I John 1:8-10)
Thus, there is no man apart from the prophesied Christ that will ever live a sinless life in full. But, I do think there is a necessity that there be a way that we could earn our salvation if we never sinned. Since living a perfect life without sin would in effect do what the blood of Christ has done for us (cleanse us of all our sins), then in essence, we would have ‘earned’ our salvation. But no man can do this. The Holy Spirit has spoken through the apostles, specifically Paul and John, and prophesied that we all will sin and fall short of the glory of God. Period. End of sentence. I’m sorry if I got your hopes up when you read the title. There is a way to ‘earn’ your salvation, but neither you or I, or anyone else in the world for that matter, will ever be able to do it. That is why we need the free gift of grace given by the Father. That is why we need the blood of Christ to cleanse us of our sins. That is why the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ defeated both sin and death. Through His blood can we stand before the Father blameless. Hallelujah to the Father for His grace and mercy!
Suggested Daily Reading: Hebrews 1-10.
(Yes, this is more than normal, but you really need to read it in full to get the full understanding of the concept being portrayed by the Hebrew writer. I find it very interesting.)
Grace and peace.
*Edit: As a caveat, perhaps “earned” isn’t the right word to describe what I am talking about, for even if we lived a sinless life, we haven’t really “earned” anything. We were given the opportunity by God. We would just stand un-condemned, having done what we were supposed to do (see Luke 17:7-10 for Jesus’ teaching on our duty). I used this terminology, however, to provoke people to thinking.