If you are theologically Reformed, you will almost certainly recognise one of the five solas: Solus Christus (Christ alone). It is the view that we are saved by Jesus’ efficacious death on our behalf, without input from us, and by no other means. Christ paid the penalty of sin, imputes his perfect life and death to us and then counts us perfectly righteous in him.
From this doctrine, we affirm that there is no more to do for salvation. Jesus Christ has provided the means of salvation and accomplished all that was necessary on our behalf. There is nothing more that we need to add to Jesus’ sacrifice in order to be accepted by God and receive salvation. We are not saved by our works or anything other than Christ’s work on our behalf.
Some, however, make something of an errant turn. They affirm that Jesus has paid for our sin and there is no more to do for salvation. Therefore, they go on, Jesus doesn’t require anything of you. Hold on there skippy!
It is absolutely true. You cannot add to your salvation nor is there anything for you to do in order to gain salvation. We are simply called to trust in Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf. But there is a yawning gulf between nothing more demanded of you for salvation and nothing more demanded of you.
Whilst we rightly want to insist that our salvation in no way depends on us – there is no more for us to do to be saved than trust in Christ – we ought not to imply that means the Lord makes no demands on our lives at all. That is clearly not true. The various commands in the New Testament are of no value or worth otherwise. They are, to put it bluntly, meaningless.
I think we sometimes make a category error. In our (entirely right) desire to avoid legalism, we emphasise the finished nature of Christ’s work of salvation. But we very often jump from his finished work of salvation – which means there is no more for us to do to secure our eternal glory – to the suggestion that, therefore, there is nothing we have to do for Christ at all. But that strikes me as a category error. You can’t do anything to add to your salvation, but that doesn’t mean Christ doesn’t therefore want you to do anything at all.
There is a marked difference between Jesus’ commanding action for the purposes of securing your salvation and Jesus’ commanding action on the grounds of your secured salvation. The former denies Solus Christus and insists there is something for us to do to add to our salvation. The latter recognises what the scriptures says: we have been saved to walk in the good works which God had prepared beforehand for us to walk in.
We are so often quick to free ourselves of any hint of legalism – which undercuts Solus Christus – that we swing the pendulum too far and insist that Christ makes no demands of us at all. We are quite clear that we don’t have to serve wherever we don’t want to serve, we insist our hearts must be right, without ever quite recognising that Christ sometimes calls us to serve with some specificity in his Word. We treat ‘duty’ like a dirty word, forgetting that our happy duty is to be faithful to Christ in all things. And sometimes, doing what Christ asks – even when we’re not necessarily feeling it – is an outworking of our genuine love for him.
Neither me or my wife are under any illusions about what I would rather do when she asks me to get up and make her a cup of tea when we’re watching TV. But, more often than not, I get up to make it anyway. Does the fact that I would clearly rather stay put in my chair, despite the fact that I do it anyway, mean that I don’t really love my wife? I’d have thought the getting up to do what she asked, even though I’d rather not do it, is better evidence that I love her than staying put and saying, ‘sorry love, I just wasn’t feeling it, go and make it yourself!’
And it seems that is in line with Jesus’ own view on the matter in the parable of the two sons.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.Matthew 21:28-32
Jesus’ point here is that the Pharisees and religious leaders claimed obedience to God, but crucially, did not do as he commanded. The tax collectors and prostitutes, by contrast, did not claim any special status but the fruit of repentance was apparent in their lives. In other words, the Lord was pleased with those who obeyed. That obedience did not add to their salvation, but it was no less obedience that the Lord demanded.
As others have noted many times, despite claims to the contrary, the Lord puts all kinds of conditions on our salvation. Not least, the requirement to express faith in Christ and repent of our sins. But God guarantees those conditions are met by placing his Spirit in our hearts and causing us to meet them. The Lord is then pleased by those who are found to be perfectly righteous in his Son – based on Jesus’ cross-work on our behalf – and by those who express the fruit of repentance in their lives, as a result of the heart-change brought about by the Holy Spirit, who evidence they are true sons of God through their obedience. As James put it: ‘be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’ (Jam 1:22).
There is no more for us to do to add to our salvation. But let’s not assume that means there is no more for us to do. Christ makes no demands of us for salvation. But let’s not assume that means Christ makes no demands of us. Being counted righteous is one matter, walking in righteousness is another.