This is the kind of post and point that often makes Evangelicals a bit twitchy. But it is a brute biblical fact that there are conditions to our salvation. Let’s be honest, unless we are universalists, we all recognise it is so. Our salvation is simultaneously conditional and yet also a matter of God’s unmerited favour.
Listen to what Jesus says in John 8:23-24:
23 “You are from below,” he told them, “I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.”
There is lots we could get into here. But let’s just note that Jesus puts a condition on salvation. In this case, he is arguing that the Pharisees to whom he is talking will not see salvation. And the expressed reason they will not is because they ‘do not believe that I am he’ (or, I am). There is a condition that one must believe in Jesus in order to be saved.
Or, how about what Jesus says in Matthew 24:13:
The one who endures to the end will be saved.
There is another condition of our salvation. This time, it is not just belief, but perseverance. If we are to receive salvation, we must endure to the end for Christ. That is clearly a condition put upon our salvation.
And let’s look at the one that makes Evangelicals most twitchy of all. James 2:24, 26:
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone… For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
However else you cut this, it necessarily means that works play a role in our salvation. Minimally, it means that there is a condition of works put upon our salvation. And this is not just James saying so – so Luther’s plan to do away with this epistle of straw doesn’t help – because Paul insists in Galatians 6:7-9:
7 Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, 8 because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.
Paul seems to recognise that what we do, particularly as far as doing good is concerned, has an impact on our salvation in some way. There is a type of sowing and reaping, according to Paul, that impacts on whether we see destruction or eternal life. And his application of that point lands, not just on belief, but on doing good. Which sounds quite conditional.
Indeed, in Titus 2:14 Paul says clearly that ‘[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.’ Which tallies with what Jesus himself said in John 14:15: ‘if you love me, you will keep my commands.’ These are conditional statements. Doing good works and keeping Jesus’ commands are clearly part of our salvation.
So how do we square these things with a belief in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone? If faith, perseverance and works play a role in our salvation – and it is impossible to deny that biblically they do – how do these things sit together? The reason God can put conditions on our salvation and yet still guarantee it with absolute certainty is because – and hold onto your hats for this mind blowing truth – he also guarantees that he will meet the conditions in us.
Take the condition of faith. Every Evangelical knows that without faith there is no salvation. But what a lot of Evangelicals fail to realise is that it is possible to turn faith into a work. If we will up the power to put our faith in Christ ourselves, we have done something to make ourselves right with God. We have willed ourselves into the kingdom. If that is what happens, our will and faith become works that earn our salvation. But if our faith only exists because God has caused it to well up within us, then our faith is a work produced by God himself. That particular work is, therefore, necessary for our salvation but it is a work guaranteed by the God who causes it to well up in the first place. Our faith is not a work of our own doing, it is a product of God’s grace.
By the same token, our perseverance is much the same. The Spirit who made us alive to Christ and caused us to express faith in him is the very same Spirit who dwells within us and keeps us faithfully persevering. Our perseverance – if it is down to our own sheer will power – is another work that we have produced. It would be part of our earning salvation. But if it is a work that is produced in us by the Holy Spirit, God himself insists on that work as a condition of our salvation, but he guarantees it by causing us to persevere by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as our initial faith was a work of God, so our ongoing perseverance is a work of God too.
In exactly the same way, our good works are a product of the Spirit at work in us. God can demand good works from us, and make it a condition of our salvation, because it is not a work that we have to produce ourselves. He has given us his Word and his Spirit to cause us to produce the good works necessary for salvation. The issue isn’t whether good works are necessary for salvation – the Bible says they clearly are – it is whether we are capable of producing those good works ourselves, which the Bible says we aren’t. The issue isn’t whether God makes this a condition of our salvation, which he does, but how he guarantees our salvation and meets that condition for us by the Spirit that dwells in our hearts and empowers us to do them.
Paul is unequivocal on this point: ‘He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). In other words, what God began he will complete. Similarly, in Romans 8:30 he says, ‘Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.’ Nobody whom God has chosen, called and justified will lose their salvation. So, the inference we must not make when we see that works are necessary for our salvation is that our salvation is somehow dependent upon us. The Bible is unequivocal about the fact that it isn’t. You cannot lose your salvation and you your ultimate salvation does not rest upon you.
Salvation is, genuinely, by grace, through faith, in Christ to God’s glory alone. If it rests on you at any point, it is not to God’s glory alone or by grace alone. The point here is that God sets the conditions of salvation and then sets about meeting them himself in those whom he has chosen, called and justified. He came himself to pay the price required for salvation, he grants the faith necessary for salvation, he produces the endurance needed for salvation, he creates and produces the good works necessary for salvation. He does all of that in and through us, and then at the end of it all, he rewards us for it.
Good works are necessary for salvation. Our salvation is very much conditional. But God himself will meet the conditions on our behalf in and through us so that he gets all the glory.