Let us first distinguish between works of faith –and– the work of atonement; These two distinct type of works is exactly what so many fail to differentiate. And it’s this very failure to distinguish between the two that defaults to a gravely flawed view of what genuine faith really is.
Work of Atonement – The word atonement is a contraction of at-one-ment, that is to be at one, or in harmony with someone; that someone being God, Who requires blood as recompense for sin.
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11
“According to the Law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22
The New Testament was confirmed by the climax of this redemptive theme, whereby the ultimate atonement was achieved, once and for all, by Christ Jesus! – Hebrews 10:11-18
This particular work, that is the work of atonement, is the only means by which man can be justified before God – this was God’s act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin, while at the same time, declaring a sinner righteous through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
This is a work we could never have achieved by our own means, and the scriptures make that abundantly clear:
“For it is by grace you have been saved- through faith, and not that of yourselves; it is a gift from God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” –Ephesians 2:8-9
To be clear, the type of works referred to in the above passage is the work of atonement, the type of works which must be so perfect & complete in fulfilling God’s righteous standard that no mortal man could attain, yet this work has already been accomplished on our behalf by none other than Jesus Christ.
Works of Faith – The atoning work of Christ can only be accredited to those who demonstrate faith in Christ; Only by genuine proactive faith can we have access to the most gracious benefits of Christ’s atoning work (Gal 3:6-14, John 5:24).
Now we must take care to properly understand what it means to have faith – real faith. The most common misconception is the notion that faith is contrary to works; or merely a separate after-thought of faith. Yet notice how the Apostle James describes faith & works as being integrated together:
“Do you see that faith was working together with works, and by works faith was made perfect?” –James 2:22
So we may see that faith, when integrated with works, produces a synthesis of real bona fide faith, whereby works are intrinsic to faith. Thus genuine faith is a type of ‘works’ which allows access to God’s grace, and it’s God’s grace which credits us with the atoning works of Christ, which we could never attain on our own.
The Apostle Paul says, “The just shall live by faith”. That is to say – those who are deemed righteous will pass from death unto life through real faith. Yet can we expect to have such life eternal with faith that is dead? Think about what James said,
“So as the body without the spirit is dead, so also is faith without works dead.” –James 2:26
Now if one so evil were to deceive so many seekers with a false sense of faith, then those poor souls may be easily ushered into a false sense of salvation. Such a stratagem used against prospective believers, can actually afford to be so bold as to veritably preach that Christ alone saves!
While it may be counter-intuitive to think that the evil one would dare preach that we are saved by grace through faith, consider that only one alteration would suffice to nullify the power of such core gospel elements. Simply alter one key ingredient – that being faith.
Neo-evangelism has been preaching a gospel with the hope of a saving grace through a version of faith that is much more passive than the more proactive faith demonstrated throughout the scriptures. This notion of passive faith has been purported by divorcing the element of works from faith, whereby faith has been reduced to an intellectual acknowledgement, lip service, and just enough change to seem real.
Remember change is not the same as repentance. Anyone can make all kinds of positive changes without actually turning to God with genuine faith. True repentance has been marginalized and supplanted with weaker terms and ideas so to diminish the potency of real faith.
Of course this is all propagated by quoting scripture in a misleading way in which the particular verse is isolated from the surrounding text. One example of a verse so often quoted in this way is Romans 10:9, “… if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.…”
Such a verse plucked out of context can easily give the impression of a passive faith. It is not until we consider the entire council of God that we only begin to see how it’s our deeds which will prove whether such a confession is true or not.
Running the Race
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable…” – 1 Cor 9:24
This kind of illustration Paul uses in half of his writings is not even remotely passive. To the contrary, believers are exhorted to push themselves beyond their natural inclination. This is the meaning of discipline, in which disciple is derived. Even if we were to refer to a more mild illustration such as “walk by faith”, we are still confronted with a proactive faith, which leaves little room for idle passivity.
We do well to heed Paul, who exhorts us to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (Phil 2:12). Remembering that it is God who works in you to both will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)
Obedience is Not Legalism
Obedience to God is so often confused with legalism because the failure to distinguish between the letter of the law –and– the spirit of the law. Even in the prior dispensation, when God’s people were bound to the letter of the law, the main point, even then, was the spirit of the law. Even the physical element of circumcision was ultimately aiming toward its intended spiritual fulfilment, in which the sinful part of ourselves is to be cut off, as explained in Romans 2:25-29 .
Everything from the Temple to its furnishings and its entire sacrificial system were just temporary object illustrations designed to prepare for the ultimate fulfilment through Christ Jesus. The physical element was just a rudimentary tutorial to lead toward its advanced spiritual fulfilment.
The very idea of returning back to the prior dispensation is not only useless, but absolutely absurd! The old way brought a curse and kept us in bondage, but the New Covenant delivers us from the curse unto life. This is the main point of Paul’s appeal to the Galatians, who needed to be reminded of this.
Paul concludes this appeal by saying, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” – Gal 5:16-18
When saying, walk by the Spirit, first off, this is yet another example of proactive faith, but also a spiritual action, which releases us from the letter of the law; as opposed to works of the flesh, which keep us under the curse of the law. So how do we know when we are walking in the Spirit, or in the flesh? Paul continues on to spell it out for us:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Gal 5:19-21
The Apostle Paul has made it clear that any who’s lifestyle entails the works of the flesh have no part in the kingdom of God. However, many evangelists who preach ‘easy-believism’, tend to marginalize such a warning.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Gal 5:22-24
Then Paul clarifies the fruit of walking in the Spirit, or walking in faith: And though I have discounted the doctrine of easy-believism, we must acknowledge there being a sense of ease when walking in the Spirit, since it releases us from the burden & bondage of the law.
We are released from the law because we have fulfilled the law – through genuine faith in Christ – Who executed the perfection of God’s righteous standard on our behalf. This is what Jesus meant when saying, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). He wasn’t talking about the letter of the law, but the Spirit of the law.
He was talking about works of faith, walking in the spirit, walking in faith, running the race — by abiding in His loving ways. Obedience to the spirit of the law should never be confused with legalism. Yet we see many who indict the Church of legalism when being confronted of sin, which is nothing more than a smoke-screen to hide behind.
Go Home to Mommy
There were several instances where certain individuals who seemed eager to follow Christ were struck with the prospect of a tough road. Nowhere does Jesus give the idea of easy believism. Look what Jesus says to three different individuals just here in Luke 9:57-62:
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” The implication here is that Jesus recognized a significant deficiency in this man’s mindset, who needed to be advised that this path is not the life of luxury.
59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Jesus immediately calls out this man’s propensity to hesitate and make excuses to procrastinate, even when the Kingdom of God is at hand.
61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Notice that each scenario relates to ones attachment to home. Jesus did not pamper & coddle such men who were prone to hang onto mamma’s boob. He was making an appeal to real men who would follow Him with abandon; And, of course, among His disciples also were real women with true courage and devotion.
Count the Cost
Jesus did not preach a prosperity gospel that puts so much emphasis on personal blessing. He was calling those who would be willing to bless God by first denying themselves. Only in this priority can we then truly prosper in a spiritual sense. Yet the typical prosperity gospel puts much emphasis & priority on material & earthly blessing, all while having a self-centered faith as opposed to being God-centered.
Certainly God desires to bless us beyond our wildest dreams, but He first wants to test our loyalty to see if it’s really His presence we seek –or– His presents.
Jesus confronted this typical motivation when saying to those who sought after Him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” – John 6:26-27
Jesus is quite candid when telling us what is required to be a disciple, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” – Luke 14:27-28
He continues with some other examples, then concludes by saying, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” – Luke14:33
Does this mean that a true disciple of Christ can never own anything? Well, we do see New Testament believers who owned possessions and used such things to minister to God and His Church. And we also see many who sold their property and entrusted the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute among the Church as needed.
I believe what Jesus was getting at is: Would we be willing to let it all go for the sake of God, if that’s what it came to?… History shows that is precisely what it came to for many believers who were ostracized from their family and society as outcast with no prospect of earthly opportunity & sustenance, yet having a looming prospect of being molested and persecuted in various forms of cruelty, even unto death.
But even if, at this time, we may be fortunate enough to legitimately enjoy some earthly peace & prosperity, we must yet be diligent to search our heart to discern how tightly we may be holding on to such blessings. If our attachment to such things has grown too strong, then our faith will invariably be prone to compromise. The Apostle Paul tempers this perfectly when declaring,
“… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need…” – Phil. 14:11-13
Fear of the LORD
It is saddening to see so many live out their lives as if God were just a cosmic teddy-bear. Apparently, there are many folks who have a seriously flawed view of God and what it means to belong to God. And let’s just consider right away that incorrect theology can result in damnation, even for those who were so sure they were saved.
Yet even those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. – Hebrews 6:4-6
I know there is much preaching & believing about the all-popular notion of ‘once saved, always saved’ – even for those who continue in sinful lifestyle; and yes we can go round and round with this great debate, but think about this: To presume that God will always continue to forgive one who obey’s their own will and desire more than His — is a dangerous thing.
If you like to believe your salvation is bullet-proof, fine; But are you so sure about that – that you are willing to bet your salvation on it?… Just to be clear, the outcome of being wrong on this matter could mean eternal damnation.
I don’t care how many “scholars” preach ‘easy believism’ – “just confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and you shall be saved”… Again, it is our deeds which will prove whether such a confession is true or not. Is Jesus really Lord? Is he really the Lord of YOUR LIFE? And if He is truly– in this season, will He still be in the next?
“But he who endures till the end shall be saved.” (Matt 24:13). Jesus makes it clear here that ‘once saved – always saved’ only counts for those who endure till the end.
I have seen far too many people in all their sincerity & earnestness, start a journey of genuine faith in God, who have yet failed to finish what they started; those who hear the word and receive it with joy, but they have no root. They believe for a season, but in the time of testing, they fall away.… – Luke 8:13
I have found even myself claiming Jesus as my Lord, yet practically living as if I am Lord of my own life, in a vain attempt to serve two masters. Yes, I too have forsook the Lord, or sought God with mixed motives, and toyed with God’s grace; But I am much too afraid to continue doing so, especially when I see very poignant warnings as recorded in Romans 11:19-22, Hebrews 6:4-8, Heb 10:26-31.
I’m sure there are many who can set me straight on such tough passages and assure me that there’s nothing to worry about, just like I’ve seen so many other preacher-teachers do by either side-stepping around the words, or cleverly conjuring up ‘creative interpretations’ of such – even though the language style of these warnings is as clear & straight-forward as it gets. I challenge all to re-approach these passages more objectively, and re-evaluate positions which tend to presume too much.
I am afraid to continue doing anything that may disappoint God, not to mention, anything which could possibly jeopardize my salvation. My greatest fear is to be like Esau, who forfeited his divine blessings just to feed his belly, and when he presumed to claim his blessing, was rejected, finding no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. – Hebrews 12:15-17
There are too many who identify with Christ, yet maintain a severely deficient view of genuine faith, coupled with false grace and/or hyper-grace (both of which are not biblical grace), who are not afraid to defy God; Who do as they will, then justify it by saying, “The Lord told me so”; Who ascribe every spiritual experience they have to the Holy Spirit, forgetting to heed the Apostle’s warning to test every spirit, since not all are from God.
Such a sketchy footing for those who speak loudly about eternal security, who do not truly know what it means to fear God. Like the wise man said, “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”. If one does not even have that much established, then how can one maintain genuine faith?
Works of Faith and the Work of Atonement