Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saved by Works

Every believer is saved by works.  Did you know that?  Right now, some of you are wondering what happened to me.  Others of you are contemplating finding a new church to attend.  Still others are getting out their Bibles to counter my assertion.  But before you do that, let me finish.  Every believer is saved by works – just not their own works.

In my devotions I have been slowly making my way through the book of Romans.  The other day I was struck again by the importance of something.  When we think about salvation, we think about the cross, and the resurrection, and rightly so.  But one part of salvation we do not think about enough is the perfect righteousness of Christ.  Jesus’ perfect life plays an important part in our salvation.

Romans 5:19 says, “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” (ESV)  This verse is talking about two individuals.  In the context of this passage – Romans 5:12-21 – we learn the first man is Adam.  In Adam’s disobedience, the many were made sinners.  Adam’s sin had consequences for the whole human race – in Adam all people are born guilty, born under the condemnation and the reign of sin.  Of course, Adam’s sin is just one of our problems – we confirm the true impact of Adam’s sin with our own personal sinful choices.

Thankfully the truth of the matter does not end there.  Romans 5:19 speaks of a second man – in the context this is Jesus Christ.  Like Adam, Jesus’ life had far ranging consequences for people.  Just as Adam’s sin brought the condemnation of sin, Jesus’ obedience brought righteousness to many. 

Jesus obeyed by fulfilling the law of God perfectly, something no other human could ever do.  Every single moment of every day of his life was spent in obedience to the law of God.  Every day Jesus earned and fulfilled righteousness.  And the most amazing thing is – Jesus did it for us.

I love how author Elyse Fitzpatrick puts it in her book Found in Him:

What was he [Jesus] doing while he played in the dirt as a toddler?  While he labored in the carpenter’s shop as an apprentice?  When he helped with dinner as a twenty-something?  He was being perfected so that he could find you and make you one with him.  He loved God and those around him for your sake, in your place.  Everything that you’ve left undone, he did for you.  Every sin you’ve committed, he joyfully shunned out of love for you.  Day after day for thirty years his one desire was to please his Father and live perfectly in your place so that he could bring you to glory. (Found in Him, p. 60-61)

Think about that.  Jesus’ perfect obedience fulfilled the law.  He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.  And so, when he died on the cross, he died in a state of perfect righteousness. When God draws us to Him and saves us, he declares us righteous, legally justifying us in His sight.  When he does that, the basis for his decision is not theological myth.  He is not making things up.  His verdict is based on a righteousness that actually exists – the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to our lives.  God takes Jesus’ perfect righteousness – his works – and applies them to our account through faith.  We are saved by works.  Praise the Lord, they are not our insufficient and flawed works, but the perfect, righteous and totally sufficient works of Jesus Christ!


  1. My concern is that persons who do not have a background of solid biblical teaching can misunderstand Romans 5:19. In the book of Romans, Paul is speaking to BELIEVERS, that is, to persons who have already been born again (Romans 1:7).

    I was brought up in a church which taught that “Christ died for all -- so just do your best and be a good person – you’ll get there.” I was shocked when at age 32 a biblical pastor showed me Romans 5:10, alerting me to the fact that, without Christ, I am an ENEMY of God! In order to become a child of God, I needed to repent of my sins and believe in Christ as the Messiah and my Savior.

    John 6:28-29 talks about the “work” that is necessary to become a child of God. “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (ESV).

    A gift under the Christmas tree for me, unopened, isn’t truly mine until I open it and take it into my life. Likewise, Christ’s gift of salvation must be acknowledged and accepted individually. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved….” Acts 16:31 (ESV). To believe is work.

    1. Hi Char,

      I agree that Romans 5:19 can be misunderstood, but only if it is taken out of the broader context of Romans 5:12-21. The sad fact is that context – the most important part of biblical interpretation – is often the first thing that a person neglects.

      In regard to your statement that to believe is work, I must respectfully disagree. In my opinion, believing cannot be work because then believing would nullify grace. Faith is not something we generate. We are dead in our sins. (Eph. 2:1) As you yourself mentioned, we are enemies of God. (Rom. 5:10) Patching up that relationship is not in our power. We cannot approach God without Him drawing us first. (John 6:44) We are saved by grace, through faith, but this is not of our own doing. Rather it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:8-9) While works are the outworking of saving faith – Eph. 2:10 – I would disagree that faith itself is a work.

      In the passage you quoted in John 6, Jesus has just fed the 5000. He then miraculously travels to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds follow and when they catch up to Him, Jesus perceives that they are following Him for the wrong reasons. They are concerned merely for the material benefits of God’s kingdom – in this case, being fed. Jesus wants them not to focus on the physical but the spiritual and specifically on Him, the Son of Man who can give them eternal life. (John 6:27) The crowd misunderstands Jesus. They are still focused on material works they can perform. They want to know what works God requires and they will perform them. (John 6:28) They seem oblivious to the fact that Jesus is calling them to a spiritual, rather than a physical response. Jesus sets them straight – what God requires is faith in Jesus Christ, the One God has sent. (John 6:29) Jesus is not setting out to create a dichotomy between faith and works, like Paul does. Rather, He is trying to open their eyes to the fact that in His coming and work, God is in the process of redeeming them. He wants them to be open to what God is giving and doing, not focused on material works of human achievement. And in the larger context, Jesus makes it clear that the faith they must exercise is not their own work, but the fruit of God’s activity. (see John 6:44, 65, both statements in the same larger discussion.)

      As I noted in my blog post, we are saved by works. But they are the perfect, righteous works of Jesus Christ, applied graciously to our lives through faith, credited to our account, making us righteous and acceptable to God.


      Before discussing Saul's conversion we need to establish a point of fact. You cannot become a Christian and have unforgiven sins. If your sins have been forgiven you are a Christian. If you are a Christian then your sins have been forgiven. It is impossible to separate forgiveness, from being in Christ. How could you say I became a Christian last night but my sins were not forgiven? By the same reasoning you could not assert that I had my sins forgiven last night but I am not a Christian.

      What is true for us, was true for the apostle Paul.

      Acts 9:3-6 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what to do."

      Saul obviously believed in Jesus at this point, yet he was still not forgiven of his sins; therefore he was not a Christian. Paul was not saved by "FAITH ONLY."

      Acts 9:9-11 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying,

      Saul believed that Jesus was Lord.
      Saul repented.
      Saul fasted and prayed for three days.
      After three days on the road to Damascus Saul was still not forgiven of his sins. Saul was not saved by faith alone, Saul was not saved by repenting alone. Saul was not saved by praying and fasting. SAUL WAS NOT SAVED ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS.

      Acts 22:12-16 "A certain Ananias....13 came to me....16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'

      Saul's sins were forgiven after he was baptized in water, not before.

      Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

      Saul was not a Christian until he was baptized into Christ.

      Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved......

      Saul was not saved until he was immersed in water.

      Acts 2:38...and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins....

      Saul sins were not forgiven until he was baptized in water.

      Paul was saved the way all men are saved. FAITH John 3:16---REPENTANCE Acts 3:19---CONFESSION Romans 10:9-19---WATER BAPTISM Acts 2:38



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  2. Hi Jeff, Thanks for you detailed explanation. I do believe though, that I went the wrong direction by bringing up John 6:29 and especially when I added “To believe is work” at the end. (That phrase was an afterthought – I do absolutely know that no human work we do is going to save us.) Now you’re no doubt thinking, “She’s contradicting herself.” But you explained how “belief” is not actually of ourselves. Yes I have known that God has to draw us and that God gives us the faith -- I inadvertently threw that part of it “under the bus” as I focused too intensely on the word “works” in John 6:29.

    As I was thinking through all this and re-reading passages, I realized the sources of conflict for me are the words “all men” (v. 18) and “many” (v 19). These words impart the idea that the number of people falling to sin because of Adam is the same number as those receiving life from Christ. In other words, it sounds like universalistic thinking -- my background growing up. Yet I now know the Bible, including Paul’s teaching, is replete with verses that contradict universalism.
    Well, not wanting to sleep on the issue last night, I got out our Gk-English parallel New Testament, Vine and Mounce word study books, a Greek-English Lexicon, and Gaebelein Commentaries! Gaebelein mentioned that this passage in Romans is often used by supporters of universalism (which, going back to the first paragraph in my first comment, was my concern, although I didn’t use the term “universalism”). Only Mounce was specific enough to resolve the issue in my mind. Probably the best thing for me to do is simply to quote from Mounce directly:

    One of the most important uses of the word polys (and especially its plural with the article, hoi polloi) occurs in Romans 5:15-21, where Paul draws a contrast between “the one” and “the many.” “The many” here has the nuance of “all in a group,” for just as “the many/all” became sinners through the one man Adam and hence are subject to death, so also through the one man Jesus, the offer of salvation by grace goes out to “the many.” The Adam-Christ parallel is all-encompassing, though Paul is careful not to suggest that the same number who are dead in Adam will be saved in Christ, but only those who have a relationship with Jesus by faith. “The many” who are saved in Christ is a more limited number than “the many” who are condemned in Adam.
    In Mt. 22:14, Jesus says that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” Here polloi is used without the article and refers to the fact that while the offer of salvation goes out to many, many people, not everyone accepts the offer; only a minority ends up believe (sic) in Jesus and so receive salvation. (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary, Old and New Testament Words, 2006 edition, p. 440.)

    While the above was the most helpful finding to me, I also found more light on the phrases “were made” and “will be made.” The Zondervan Parallel uses the phrases “were constituted” and “will be constituted” under the Greek. In the Analytical I found (with great difficulty) the words “constitute” and “to be rendered.”