Jesus said that people would know we were his disciples through our love for one another, not by our lockstep agreement with dogma. Though we are admonished in Scripture to be like minded, doctrinal controversies abound in Christendom. If they didn’t, denominations and church splits wouldn’t happen.
Two main subjects of controversy among Christians are actual foundation stones of our faith: salvation and the kingdom of Christ. In this series of posts, I will be examining both. It is my hope that through the encouragement of the Scriptures, our faith can be strengthened and common ground found to bridge some of the gulf of controversy.
The Salvation Dilemma
To call oneself Christian is to acknowledge salvation. Even denominations not prone to calling Jesus king still call Him Savior. Where the controversy comes in is in the how of our salvation and the how long.
Most evangelicals hold fast to a salvation by grace through faith. Supporting Scripture for this position is readily available.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. KJV
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, NKJV
Not so fast, some of the brethren say. Faith, yes. But faith never works alone.
James 2:24, 26
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. KJV
A dead faith—one absent of works—justifies no one, James says. Show me your works, then I will see your faith. No works, no faith. No faith, no salvation. So, salvation is by works.
No, it can’t be! Salvation is by grace alone.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. KJV
Paul’s language is plain as day. Salvation is a gift of God. It is grace, not works. No controversy here, unless you take a peek at another letter written by Paul.
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. KJV
The Ephesian church gets to enjoy their unearned, grace-given salvation from God. On the other side of the Aegean Sea, the Philippians have to work theirs out. It can cause one to scratch the head.
Unfortunately the question of works and grace is not the only conflict we have about salvation. If you’ve ever stood between Eternally Secure Ernie and Better Not Backslide Burt, you know what I mean. E.S. Ernie is firm in his belief of “once saved, always saved” and would point us to John’s gospel.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. KJV
The life Jesus gives us is eternal and irrevocable, Ernie says. Burt nods like an adult entertaining a child’s fantasy. “Verse 28 is about listening and following sheep, not turn-a-deaf-ear rebellious goats,” he tells Ernie. “Have you forgotten what Paul said?”
2 Timothy 2:12
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: KJV
Which is it, grace or works, secure or at risk? As with many other seeming contradictions in Scripture, the answer is yes because the either-or question has a both-and answer. Man is spirit, soul, and body and there is a salvation that pertains to each. In subsequent posts, we will examine the salvations of man and how they relate to the kingdom of Christ.