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Working Out Our Salvation

by David A. DePra

     A believer becomes justified, and then righteous, in the eyes of God, "by grace through faith."  Not only did Christ satisfy all legal requirements for us, but we are given a righteous life – we are indwelt by that life through the Holy Spirit. Thus, are no longer "under law" but "under grace."

     But even if we understand that the righteousness we have is not our own, we still have to walk with God.  We still have to live the Christian life.  And it is there that the confusion is at it’s worst.

     For some reason, we have the idea that even though God justifies us by His grace, that once we are justified, it is up to us to keep ourselves that way through our works. We think that, sure, we have the righteousness of God in us, but we must somehow "maintain" it. If not – we fear we will LOSE it.

     Now, of course, we would never SAY we could lose our salvation by works. No. But we think we sort of "bounce" in and out of God’s grace based on our works. We don’t put this down in the form of a doctrine, or perhaps even say it in words. But we just "feel" closer to God when we obey Him, and "feel" cut-off from God when we sin. And that "feeling" is something that many of us look to as indicative of the Truth.

     As usual, God has anticipated every one of our errors. The Galatian church had such problems. They had started out so good. But then, they began to lose sight of the grace of God. Paul wrote to them:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (Gal. 1:6-7)

This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:2-3)

Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. (Gal. 5:4-5)

     The Galatian error is clear: They started out in God’s grace. But then, in order to live the Christian life, they based their standing with God on their works. And this is exactly what many of us do today.

     You will almost never meet a legalist who says they are saved by works. They know the doctrine of salvation by faith alone only too well. But the way they live – what they base their relationship with God on – is their works. They have, as it were, "fallen from grace." They were IN GRACE, but because they now place their faith in their works, they have fallen from grace.

     In effect, people may not think they are saved by works. But if they try to MAINTAIN their relationship with God – if not their salvation – by their works, then they are in error. This was clearly the Galatian error and is in the church today everywhere.

Once For All

     The key to this Truth is to understand that conversion is not only a threshold through which you enter into salvation. It only begins there. Conversion is a room in which you spend eternity – once you enter through that threshold. Thus, the same Truths which you embraced at conversion are the Truths in which you live. In other words, if you are saved by grace through faith, then you live under the same dynamic.

     This only makes sense. What IS conversion? Just this: I repent of refusing to embrace Christ by faith – by doing what? By believing and embracing Christ by faith! And if I do that, what do I have? Christ by faith! I am then IN CHRIST. The next day, do I let go of Christ? No. Do I discard faith in Him and begin basing my relationship with God on works? No. I am still IN CHRIST -- living IN, and working OUT, the very same grace of God which I embraced by faith.

     We need to get rid of the notion that salvation is one thing, and the Christian life is another. It is NOT. Salvation is entering INTO CHRIST, and the Christian life is LIVING IN CHRIST. The Christian life is therefore nothing more than my living OUT what God has put INTO me by His grace.

     Paul said this to the Philippians:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)

      What we see here is that we are to WORK OUT what God, by His grace, WORKS IN. But not to "maintain" His grace. No. As the RESULT of His grace. Our works are to be a by-product of grace received, and faith lived out.

     Paul gives the perfect "formula" to the Ephesians:

For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

     We are saved BY GOD’S GRACE, received THROUGH OUR FAITH. But notice something: We are to live IN GOD’S GRACE, BY FAITH as well! And if we do, then it is UNTO GOOD WORKS. The works are the by-product of grace received and faith in Jesus Christ.

Living In Christ

     We saw how living "under the law" means we continually stand face to face with the holy, just, and good righteousness of God – and become condemned thereby. There is no escape, unless we turn to God and by faith, become imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ – a righteousness which is totally independent from any of our works.

     We also saw that the righteousness of Christ which we receive by faith is more than just a legal classification. It is a righteous LIFE. It is resurrection life in Jesus Christ.

     If that isn't clear enough, then maybe this statement will make it clear:  We are righteous in Christ -- through the dynamic life within us -- before we do even a single good work!  That's right.  The life God gives us IS righteous.  We don't have to do work to make it righteous.  It's righteousness never depended on our works to begin with.  But having received a righteous life within, guess what will eventually happen?  We will do righteous works.

     So we see that it is the righteous life God gives by His grace that produces the good works.  The good works do not make the life righteous.

     Jesus said:

Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt. 7:17-20)

     Jesus was getting at a great Truth here: Your fruit does not determine what kind of tree you are. No. The kind of tree you are determines what kind of fruit you produce. A good tree can produce only good fruit. A bad tree can produce only bad fruit. The fruit, rather than determine the kind of tree, exposes the tree for what kind it already is.

     The new birth is like this. Paul says, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." (II Cor. 5:17) A new creature in Jesus Christ has a new, righteous life within him. He simply needs to "work out" – through choosing – that life, through faith and obedience.

     But ask: Does a new baby have to do "works" to make sure he remains a new baby? No. Works do nothing to change the IDENTITY of the baby. Rather, they define his identity.

     The point is this: If you are converted to Christ, you got that way by grace through faith. You are a new creation through a new birth. There is nothing you can do – through works – to reverse that. How can you be UNborn again? How can you be "born again backwards?" You can’t be. You are either a new creature, or you are not. You can have only ONE identity.

     Furthermore, there is nothing you can do – through works – to MAINTAIN your new identity. You are a saint or a sinner. A new creation, or the old one. You are either IN ADAM or IN CHRIST. You cannot be both.

     Consequently, if I have a new identity, and am a new creation – by grace, through faith – we can see the folly of trying to maintain this through works. I am, in effect, trying to do for myself what is already FINISHED. I am trying to become, through my own efforts, what God says I already AM in Christ.

     Such an error is what it means to "fall from grace." It is unbelief. I do not believe that IT IS FINISHED, so I am trying to FINISH it. Having begun "by grace through faith," I think I must finish the job for Christ through my "good works."

     God says NO. He says through Paul:

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. (Col. 2:6)

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Gal. 5:1)

     If we have been given a righteous life within ourselves, then as we walk by faith, that righteous life will begin to manifest itself – despite the opposition of the flesh. A righteous life will seek to live righteously.

     Paul cements this though to the Galatians:

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. 2:16-21)

     Paul states clearly that even when Christians sin, it is not Christ in them which is the "minister of sin." No. It is their flesh – their weakness. But he goes on to say that "I am crucified with Christ, but nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ in me." Now note the phrase: Christ in me. If Christ is really IN US, then what kind of life will we seek to live? The life Christ would live!

     Paul says exactly that. He says, "The life which I now life in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." There is no thought on the part of Paul that he needs to maintain the righteousness God has given him through works. There is no suggestion that he will lose that righteousness. There is only the Truth that if Christ is in us, that He will seek to live through us.

     We need to get this straight: We did not receive our new life by our works. Therefore, it is silly to think we can, must, or should, MAINTAIN it through works. It is silly to think you could lose it through works. Our new life never depended on our works to begin with! And it never will. It depends on HIS FINISHED WORK.

     Things really get simple and clear once we understand – as we said before – that Christianity is not a new legal classification. It is new life in Christ. God has given us a new, righteous, eternal life within. No works can take that away, and no works can give us more. We need only to begin yielding to God through faith and obedience – working OUT the salvation which God has put WITHIN us.

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