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Some Lessons

David K. Mattingly | Added: Jan 11, 2023 | Category: Theology


Those people who hold they can gain God’s eternal favours by what they do have numerous biblical passages they think support their view. I will not burden the reader with a host of scriptures but let me cite just one. Concerning Jesus Christ the inspired writer stated: ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him’ (Hebrews 5:8, 9). It is probably as good a reference as any an Arminian can quote to advance his ‘salvation by grace, but you have to obey the terms of the gospel in order to be saved’ doctrine.

What is meant by the Son ‘being made perfect’ is that His work on the cross completed the sacrifice the Law required of Him as our great High Priest and at the same time fulfiled the prophecies about His sufferings. Lest anyone should entertain the blasphemous notion the Son of God was once imperfect and had to gravitate to perfection it should be pointed out the word used in the text is a word that relates to accomplishment. The same word is translated ‘finish’ in John 4:34 where Jesus told the disciples: ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work’. By His sufferings He became the author, that is, the cause of eternal salvation to everyone that obeys Him. This is where the case is made that salvation is a cooperative matter between God and men. Christ did His part by dying for sin. The sinner does his part by obeying Christ. Christ becomes the author of the sinner’s salvation only if he is willing to do his part and obey the terms the Lord had laid down.

This view is expressed very plainly in Adam Clarke’s Commentary. He quotes Dr Macknight’s thoughts on Hebrews 5:9, ‘three things are clearly stated: 1. That obedience to Christ is equally necessary to salvation with believing on him. 2. That he was made perfect as a high priest by offering himself a sacrifice for sin, Hebrews 8:3. And 3. That, by the merit of that sacrifice, he hath obtained pardon and eternal life for them who obey him.’

Clarke then adds his remarks:

He tasted death for every man; but he is the author and cause of eternal salvation only to them who obey him. It is not merely believers, but obedient believers, that shall be finally saved. Therefore this text is an absolute, unimpeachable evidence, that it is not the imputed obedience of Christ that saves any man. Christ has bought men by his blood; and by the infinite merit of his death he has purchased for them an endless glory; but, in order to be prepared for it, the sinner must, through that grace which God withholds from no man, repent, turn from sin, believe on Jesus as being a sufficient ransom and sacrifice for his soul, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, be a worker together with him, walk in conformity to the Divine aid, and continue faithful unto death, through him, out of whose fulness he may receive grace upon grace.

In short, what Dr MacKnight, Adam Clarke, and all other likeminded folk believe is that Christ alone accomplishes nothing. His sacrifice requires the sinner’s Part in order for the Lord to accomplish his salvation, and if he cooperates with Him and holds on to the end, he will be saved.

It does not bother them at all that what they believe is an absolute contradiction to the doctrine of grace set forth by the apostle Paul, who, when speaking about God having reserved seven thousand men in Elijah’s day and preventing them from worshipping the image of Baal, compared that to his own present generation where a remnant was reserved to worship the Lord rightly through Jesus Christ. Paul wrote: ‘Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace, But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work’ (Romans 11:1-6 with quotes from verses 5, 6).

Although grace and works clash when presented as works that men must perform to meet conditions God has devised to have men saved, it does not leave out good works altogether but rather establishes them when rightly understood, for neither were the reserved remnant in Elijah’s time left in idolatry nor were the remnant according to the election of grace in Paul’s time left in unbelief. Scripture synthesizes the two in Ephesians 2:8-10: ‘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 Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.’ That is, God saves men apart from works but He ordains good works in those He is pleased to save.

Ephesians 2:8-10 is totally consistent with the following biblical principles. First, it is consistent with the words Christ spoke to Nicodemus: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:6). This is the reason why it is necessary for a man to be ‘born again’; (verses 3, 5, 7). Our natural birth does not qualify any man to see or enter into God’s kingdom. It requires a birth from above. Second, it is consistent with the apostle’s words written to the believers at Rome: ‘For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit’ (Romans 8:5). Those who have no more than their natural being ‘mind’ fleshly things but those who are of the Spirit ‘mind’ spiritual things. Third, it is consistent with Paul’s distinction between the fruits that proceed from the flesh and the fruits that proceed from the Spirit. From the flesh come such works as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, and revellings, but from the Spirit come the fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:18-23). Now, although the spiritual man may find warfare between these two principles within him so that the two kinds of fruits are mingled together, nonetheless Paul could confidently say that the overwhelming evidence was toward concluding ‘they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts’ (verses 17, 24).

From these principles we will conclude that ‘all that obey him’ does not refer to obedient acts men must perform for the Lord to save them but rather it refers to a description of persons in whom the saving work is found. Let us learn a lesson from a couple of our domestic pets. A dog barks, not to become a dog but because it is a dog. A cat meows not to become a cat, but because it is a cat. As each animal acts within the fabric of its own nature, so the child of God, born of the Spirit, acts according to what he is by repenting, believing, and obeying the Lord. Obedience does not make it so but rather gives evidence to the fact he is a child of God, born of His Spirit, who has eternal salvation through the merits of Christ Jesus. Lest references to dogs and cats be deemed scripturally unfounded let us draw the same lesson using words from Jesus’ own lips: ‘every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:17-20). Unless a man is a plant of the Lord there will be no good characteristics manifested (Matthew 15:13, 14).

To the unbelieving Jews Jesus said: ‘ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep’, but He described His sheep in this way: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10:26-28). Both reprobates and elect people bring forth evidence of what they are.