Does Grace Guarantee Final Salvation?
By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs
Rubel Shelly and Randall Harris wrote: "It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity of any sort. We do not contribute one whit to our salvation" (Second Incarnation, p. 207).
Allen, Hughes, and Weed echo the no-works-all-grace theology of Shelly and Harris in their book The Worldly Church. With pontifical elegance this trio declares:
There was once a time when Churches of Christ were widely known as people of the Book. All who knew us knew that we hungered above all for the Word of God. They knew that we immersed ourselves in its truths and sacrificed dearly to share the gospel with those who had never heard. These were our most fundamental commitments. We knew it and others knew it (pp. 1-2). Churches of Christ in those years neglected the themes of grace and love, and preached instead a rigorous and demanding gospel of duty, self-reliance, and law (p. 35). [Thel New Testament became essentially a law book or divine constitution for the church, with most of the doctrinal 'facts' reduced to a level of equal importance. The Bible became atomized, broken up into separate little bits of doctrine which could be codified into law. It became a document filled with workable formulas, neat blueprints, a document above all eminently rational and suited, many thought, the new scientific ways of knowing (pp. 58-59).
Advocates of the newspeak religion hate law and love ambiguity. In the current writing of liberals among us one finds paranoia, disguised as "the hermeneutics of suspicion." To liberals the enemy is common sense, clarity, and objectivity itself. The idea that earlier scholars and teachers may actually have known something is disparaged as "the transmission of ready-made-knowledge." We are solemnly warned against teaching that "the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).
Clever objections are raised to the New Testament doctrine of law under Christ. Such questions as: Are we under a system of law? Are we under a law for righteousness? Are we under a law contained in ordinances? Are we justified by obedience to a system of law? Is the New Testament of the letter or of the Spirit? Do we serve in newness of the Spirit or the oldness of the letter? Is all the law we are under briefly comprehended and fulfilled in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?
These questions are calculated to discredit law and doctrine and promote easygoing, low-cost, do-as-I-please grace.
Truth has nothing to fear from questions. Mark that! Advocates of error can never answer questions. Investigation will trip them up for the same reason the liar must always remember what he said lest he contradict himself, whereas enlightened lovers of truth are able to answer any question—even disingenuous ones.
If you cannot answer questions and be consistent, you need to re-think your position. Liberals will not (cannot not) answer questions, neither will they enter into honest dialogue in pursuit of truth; they will gather in a situation they control to ridicule those who oppose them and who expose their assault upon the authority of the Bible and their public rape of truth. But they lack the manhood to engage qualified dissenters in free and open discussion. Their positions cannot stand investigation for the same reason light hates darkness.
To answer the above questions, let us first survey Bible teaching on law. This will help put the questions and answers in proper perspective.
The Bible emphasizes both the importance of law and the magnitude of grace. Without the generous favor of a benevolent Creator, none can be saved. Still, to receive the rich gifts of a loving God, there is something for the sinner to do. God's spiritual gifts extend only to law-keepers. We secure the promises of the Great I Am by the "obedience of faith." That is a basic lesson of the Bible. Consider some fundamental things about law.
So, you see, we are under many laws—the law of Christ, civil law, the wife is under the law of the husband, the law of sin and death, the eternal moral law of God, the law of your mother. The Mosaic law has been repealed, but law has not been abolished. The law of Moses has been changed for the law of Christ to allow Jesus to rule with his disciples as kings and priests (Heb. 7:12).
"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination."
"He that keepeth the law, happy is he."
Grace and law—faith and works—are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other. Jesus constantly hammered home the need to be obedient to the heavenly Father's will, and set for us the consummate example of such submission. "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" (Heb. 5:8-9).
With this background, we are in a position to answer the questions mentioned earlier.
Question: Are we under a system of law?
Answer: Yes. We are under civil law. Wives are under the law of their husbands The saved have obeyed "the law of the spirit of life in Christ," and been made free from "the law of sin and death." We are under the royal law—the perfect law—the law of liberty.
Question: Are we under a law for righteousness?
Answer: Righteousness is the response of faith to revelation. David wrote, "My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness" (Psa. 119:172). (Notice: this Scripture connects the Word of God with commandments and righteousness.) God's Word includes commands. Righteousness is the result of obeying those commands. When Abraham's faith caused him to obey God, it was imputed to him "for righteousness" and only then was he called "the friend of God" (James 2:21-23). This is our example and shows clearly that we are under a law for righteousness.
Question: Are we under a law contained in ordinances?
Answer: We are under the "law of sin and death," and "civil law," and wives are under the "law of the husband." The nature of law is to have ordinances. An ordinance is "an authoritative command, or order." If you are under any law, you are under ordinances. The Mosaic law was "contained in ordinances" because that is the nature of law, but the law of Moses was superseded by the law of the spirit of life in Christ, which can make us free from the law of sin and death, if we obey its ordinances.
Question: Are we justified by obedience to a law system?
Answer: God's offer to pardon sinful people has many factors. We are saved by works (James 2:24); we are saved by faith (John 3:16); we are saved by grace (Titus 2:11-12); we are saved by confession (Rom. 10:9-10); we are saved by baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); we are saved by law (Rom. 8:2); we are saved by the gospel (Rom. 1:16). We are saved by many things, but by none of them alone. Peter wrote:
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever (1 Pet. 1:22-23).
Our souls are purified by obedience to the truth (see also John 8 :32). The truth of the gospel contains the perfect, royal law of Christ. Law, as already noted, is necessarily systematic. The conclusion would be, yes, we are justified by a system of law. The alternative is to say that we are justified without a system of law and that would mean universal salvation.
Question: Is the New Testament of the letter or of the Spirit?
Answer: Paul wrote, "Who [God] also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor 3:6). The question is based on this Pauline statement. To give an answer we must know how Paul is using the words letter and spirit. There are some clues from Paul's other writing. For example:
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6). But he is a dew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Rom 2:29).
"Letter" in these passages refers to the law of Moses, which made no provision for forgiveness of all sin. "Spirit," which has to do with life, is used to refer to the "law of the spirit of life in Christ." In which case the apostle is saying the "letter" [law of Moses or Old Covenant] kills because it accuses and condemns but does not save, whereas the "spirit" [law of Christ or New Covenant] not only makes us aware of our sinful nature and separation from God, but also gives the plan of salvation. One brings life and the other death. The contrast in the 2 Corinthians 3:6 passage is between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. In verse three Paul speaks of a law written upon tables of stone and a different law written upon hearts of flesh. In verse seven, he speaks of a ministration of death. In verse eight, he speaks of the ministration of the spirit. It becomes very clear that Paul is showing a dissimilarity between the two laws. The law of Christ is of the spirit, which does not mean that it has no commands to be obeyed and regulations to be carefully followed, but that it gives the life that is life indeed—the abundant life. The law of Christ brings total forgiveness for those who obey its conditions. James MacKnight, in commenting on 2 Corinthians 3:6, gave this paraphrase:
He indeed, by inspiration and miraculous powers, hath fitted me to be a minister of the new covenant, not of the letter, or law of Moses, but of the covenant written by inspiration of the Spirit. Now the covenant of the letter killeth every sinner by its curse, but that of the Spirit maketh alive every believer by its promise.
Question: Do we serve in newness of the Spirit or the oldness of the letter?
Answer: This question is based on Paul's statement in Romans 7:6, where the apostle is again contrasting the law of Moses and the law of Christ. The law of Moses has been abrogated and the law of Christ established. The answer given to the previous question shows that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter. David Lipscomb, in commenting on 2 Corinthians 3:6 wrote:
[N]ot of the letter, but of the spirit—The contrast is between the epistle written in the heart and that written on stones. [The letter is the law, which found its most characteristic expression in the commandments engraver upon the tablets of stone, while the contrast with this is the Spirit, the source of that new order or constitution of things which was established by Jesus Christ. The contrast is between the law and the gospel, between Moses and Christ, between laws imposed from without and from within.] [F]or the letter killeth - This evidently refers to the old covenant because it brought the knowledge of sin and death, but did not give life, because none kept its requirements.... [B]ut the spirit giveth life — This was the ministration of life because it provided for pardon and life in Christ.
Question: Is all the law we are under briefly fulfilled in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?
Answer: Paul wrote:
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Rom. 13:9).
The apostle taught that love of neighbor includes treating him right and, therefore, obeying all of the commands of Christ concerning our relationship with one another. If loving neighbor as self is "all the law we are under" then we are not under the command to love God supremely (Matt. 22:37-38), and Scripture is made to contradict itself We are required to keep every specific of the law of Christ, if we receive spiritual blessings, which include forgiveness and the promise of eternal salvation.
Published September 1996