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Jesus Only

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/
My son is a horrible eater. He's two so nothing unique there. However, from time to time I find myself having to be very firm with him in order to get him to eat. It's lots of fun. Anyways, just the other day my son and I had one such episode. It was brekky time and he refused to eat his cereal. Frustrated, I took the toy he had and told him if he wanted the toy back he would have to eat. He ate so he got the toy back. I then told him that if he wanted to keep the toy he would have to keep eating as well. In other words, not only did he have to earn his toy by eating but he also had to earn his right to keep the toy by continuing to eat. As soon as I said this the thought hit me like a ton of bricks, What if salvation worked that way? What if God were in heaven saying, "If you want to have eternal life you had better "eat your brekky." Afraid of being lost, I commence in doing that which God said to do. As soon as I do I begin to feel better about myself because I am no longer lost. However, my peace is soon shattered by the words, "And if you want to keep your eternal life you had better keep "eating." In other words, not only do I have to earn my salvation by my obedience but I would also have to earn my right to keep this salvation by continual obedience. Is this how salvation works?[1]

Most Christians would quickly say that we don't have to earn our salvation at all because it is a gift of God. But how many of us are trying to keep our salvation by our own works? In other words, when we accept Jesus we are saved but not really. We still need to live a life of perfect obedience or else God will snatch the gift of salvation from us. The solution? Trust in Jesus for the power to live an obedient life so that you don't end up losing your salvation. The problem? It's legalism in disguise. 

This theory of salvation can be summarized in the following formula:



What Jesus did + What I do = Salvation

Some try to soften the impact of this formula by adding the following:



What Jesus did + What I do (by his grace of course) = Salvation

Either way it makes no difference. The basic idea remains the same: "I must add something to what Jesus did in order to either be or remain saved." However, scripture is unequivocal when it states that the formula for salvation is Jesus Only. No obedience necessary to either be saved or to remain saved.[2] Why not? Because Jesus' perfect obedience is credited to those who believe in him and there is no need to improve on it. After all, it is perfect.


It is at this point that some well meaning Christians object with the following arguments: "There is no such thing as 'Once saved always saved!'" and "Obedience is still required of the believer." To such I would say, yes and yes. The Bible doesn't teach once saved always saved and it is all for obedience. But doesn't that imply a "Jesus + Me" theology? Not necessarily. First of all, obedience is the inevitable result of salvation. It doesn't form the basis for salvation in any way shape or form but it is the natural fruit of being saved. And we are not "once saved always saved" because even though God is not measuring our performance to determine whether or not we are worthy of retaining the gift of salvation we are ever free to walk away if we so choose. In other words, when a person loses their salvation it is not because God gave them the boot, it is because they themselves chose to walk away from Jesus. But when we respond to the invitation of Jesus salvation is ours and there is no need to perform good enough to keep the gift. Its ours period. Our obedience is simply the result, or the aftermath, of coming face to face with the savior. So while obedience is inevitable for the believer it adds nothing to the finished work of Calvary. 


Think of it this way: 

Suppose you have been a faithful Christian for 40 years. You have led countless people to God, have preached over 4,000 sermons, have lived a life of exceptional obedience, and have impacted the world through your humanitarian efforts. You have placed all of your faith in Jesus. Are not a legalist. Have never been hypocritical and have a tender and loving heart like Jesus'. In short - you are a model Christian on your way to heaven. Suddenly, the strangest thing happens. Somehow Jesus ceases to exist and the cross is erased from history. What does that mean for you? Will you be able to go to God and present the last 40 years of your obedience as an argument for him to let you into heaven? The straight up answer is no. None of it will count. That's because none of that obedience played any meritorious role in your salvation. It was simply the result. Never the basis.
With that said, you don't have to stop smoking to be saved. You don't even have to stop stealing to be saved. If we could stop our sinful behavior on our own, what in the world do we need salvation for? And while we may, in fact, be capable of modifying our behavior on the outside we are still rotten on the inside. It is precisely because we are sinners without hope that we need salvation. And once you are saved, you don't have to stay away from cigarettes in order to keep your salvation. You don't even have to refrain from stealing to remain saved. And in the context of Adventism, you don't have to keep the Sabbath to either be or stay saved. But watch out, because when you experience salvation you will change. Or better said, God will change you.[3] Obedience will become your new desire. This does not mean that obedience will always come naturally or easily. There is certainly a fight to be fought especially when we are dealing with addictions, however, so long as we hang on to Jesus by faith we will be brought into harmony with Gods will. You will stay away from the cigarettes, not because you need to earn the right to keep your salvation, but because you already have salvation and it now your joy to obey. Christians don't keep the law to be saved but because they are saved. So yes, the saved still obey, but as Jesus said, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching" (John 14:15) - a teaching that highlighted love for God and one another as the highest aim of spirituality. It is our love for him that will inspire this new life of obedience not fear of hell. Salvation is not a light switch that gets flipped on and off every time you make a mistake. It is the gift of a God whom works "in and through us to do according to his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

As SDA pioneer Ellen White once wrote:
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity (Faith and Works, p. 25 emphasis mine).
__________________ 

[1] Some may argue that Ellen White taught that we must earn the right to remain justified by continual obedience. The following quotation seems to support this idea:
in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul. {FW 100.1}
However, such a position presents a serious problem. In the same exact book Ellen White also stated that, "many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity." Therefore, it would be strange to suggest that Ellen White taught the we cannot add to what Jesus has already done and then taught that we must add to what Jesus has done by continual obedience. Such a position is self contradictory.

In order to properly understand Ellen Whites statement we must realize that truth is by nature paradoxical. The paradox of grace and works can be seen in reading the book of Romans and the book of James. As a matter of fact, the "continual obedience" statement above is written with the epistle of James in mind, for the very next paragraph quotes, 
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:21-24).
So what are we to do with such statements that seem to show that salvation is not only by faith in Jesus but by faith plus works? Such a belief would immediately rob one of the assurance of salvation because one would begin to wonder if enough high-quality obedience has been achieved in order to be saved at last. In addition, the joy of obedience would quickly fade because obedience is now no longer the fruit of salvation, but to some degree, its basis.

The problem is quickly solved when we discover that James is addressing the idea that one can be saved, not by faith alone apart from works, but by faith alone that does not work. James exposes this heresy by stating that true faith always results in works. While those works are not meritorious they are the inevitable fruit of salvation. Likewise, Ellen White states that "there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul." Notice that the continual obedience is not by effort, but by living faith. And it is not by living faith and works but by living faith that works. Ellen White presents no problem here to "Jesus only" and is in fact, simply repeating the message of the book of James. Seventh-day Adventist lay evangelist Keavin Hayden put it well when he wrote,
...sanctification contributes no merit toward saving righteousness (that's what justification does). Thus our cooperative works cannot save us. Nevertheless, without cooperation in the sanctification process Christ cannot possibly justify us before the universe. Our unwillingness to cooperate with God by seeking to bring our lives in harmony with the principles of his law demonstrates the fact that we are still in a state of rebellion against Him. Professed faith without a corresponding respect for God's law is only presumption (Surviving the Shaking p. 50).
The apparent contradiction then is that in my article I am addressing something much different than Ellen White. In my article I am addressing the belief that faith in Jesus is not enough and I must constantly strive to obey more in order to remain saved. One of the problems with such a belief is that obedience is no longer a joy but a burden. One no longer obeys out of love but out of self-preservation. This belief also makes assurance of salvation impossible even though John  said, "Whoever has the son has life" (1 John 5:12) not "whoever has the son plus works has life". Thus, I maintain that salvation is Jesus only. No extra ingredients. Just him. However, both James and Ellen White are addressing the heresy that faith in Jesus frees one to live in continued disobedience and lack of spiritual growth and that it is OK because one "believes" in Jesus. To such a belief I too would say that unless you see the fruit of salvation in your life (love, joy, peace, self-control) then you cannot continue to assume that you are eternally secure. We are not saved by faith and works, but we are certainly saved by a faith that works. An absence of works (which in the context of James is works of love) is evidence of one of two things 1) the absence of a true conversion or 2) the absence of abiding in Christ (backsliding, apostasy etc.) which can result in a forfeiture of the righteousness of Christ. It is in this context that Ellen White could say,
But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul {FW 100.1}.
And yet also say,
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity {FW 25}.
and elsewhere,
Perfection through our own good works we can never attain. The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92, emphasis mine}.
Billy Graham summed it up well when he said,
It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil's lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you. - Christianity Today
[2] The word obedience in this statement does not refer to complying with the conditions for salvation (repentance, confession, faith) but to the idea that once we have received salvation extra obedience (of the 10 commandments, health laws, or any other laws) is necessary to earn the right to remain saved.

[3] Some would argue that this belief can open the flood gates of sin by making it seem that it is OK for a Christian to smoke or break the Sabbath and still go to heaven. However, notice what is being said and what is not being said. I am not saying that it is OK to do these things and still go to heaven. A Christian who continues to live in active, habitual sin is still in rebellion against God and thus has reason to doubt if he has truly been saved. However, what I am saying is that a true Christian does not abstain from sin out of fear of hell but out of love for God. Abstaining from sin is a result of grace and so long as the saved continue to abide in Christ by faith in him (which results in cooperation with Gods will) then they have nothing to fear. The above end-note already clarified these issues.

5 comments:

  1. Good attempt to explain salvation, but that is not true and to complicated.

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    1. Paul! Long time no hear my friend! How are things going? I will be moving to Australia in a few weeks. We will be in the Perth area.

      As you already know, you lean more toward Calvinism and I lean more toward Arminianism. While the article above may seem complicated, it is only complicated because it clarifies complex issues within Adventism (there is an Adventist fringe that teaches a perverted version of John Wesleys and Ellen Whites doctrine of salvation). This article is not meant to be a simple explanation of the gospel. It is meant to show the fallacy that these fringe groups teach (particularly a version of the gospel known as Last Generation Theology). So is it complicated? Maybe, but this article is not meant to be a simple presentation of the gospel, its meant to be a refutation of Last Generation Theology.

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    2. For a simple article on the gospel check this one out: http://www.jesusadventismandi.com/2013/04/my-understanding-of-salvation.html

      Blessings brother!

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  2. Welcome to Australia my brother, I'm sure you will love it here.
    Although Perth is a few thousand klm away from Brisbane. But if you happened to drive by, perhaps we could get in touch and talk about the great things of the Lord, especially the salvation doctrine, which is so easily misunderstood.
    By the way, I read your understanding of salvation, and I think it to be incomplete.
    If a doctrine has no election in it, it is most likely not true, therefore I suggest that you should rethink your salvation doctrine, not according to the Calvinists or the Aminianists, but by the Spirit of the Lord and the Scriptures and He will give you a greater insight than they had.

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    1. Sounds like a great idea Paul! look forward to it.

      You are correct that the post I shared with you did not speak of election. I will write a post of that in the near future as I am currently studying it more. Perhaps we can do some preliminary discussions there!

      Blessings,
      Marcos

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