By Brother Michel Lankford
Salvation is a free gift. You CAN NOT earn it.
I have known and believed that precept for more than three decades. However, it was not until a few days ago that I gained a fresh perspective as to WHY this is true.
We MUST be transformed, Born-Again, and saved BEFORE we CAN even truly do ANY “Good Works.” We can’t really do “good works” unless we are saved and have a renewed nature first. That’s the whole point.
The thing is, that Scripture repeatedly teaches that IF the free gift of salvation and the New birth has truly taken place inside of you, then certain fruits and results WILL progressively take place in your life. You CAN NOT EARN salvation with good works. It’s impossible. At the same time, IF you are truly saved and Born-Again, then you will progressively grow in doing the “Good Works, of obeying God (Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 11:19–20; Ezekiel 36:25–27; Philippians 2:13; 1 John 3:7–10).
You CAN NOT be Saved by “Good Works” Because You CAN NOT Even DO”Good Works” Unless You are Converted FIRST.
Most modern Christians assume that the reason for this is that we cannot do enough good works to please God. While that idea has merit, it is NOT the FULL Truth. Most Christians assume that the debate is between trying to get saved with good works or trying to get saved with grace. They have misunderstood the Scripture. Most have butchered Paul’s writings beyond all recognition. Most Christians today have falsely characterized it as a contest between salvation by grace or salvation by good works.
They will passionately preach that we must be saved by grace, and if you are saved by God’s grace, then supposedly you must never do ANY good works at all, because if you do any good works of obeying Scripture, you are supposedly, “Not walking in ‘ENOUGH’ grace if you try to do any good works of obeying Scripture at all. Therefore, according to THEM, you supposedly MUST NOT do any good works of obeying Scripture, if you want to remain under Grace. That entire ‘Grace-filled’ doctrine is FALSE teaching.
In functioning reality, what modern Christianity has done is literally flip Christian Doctrine backward. They have called it a SIN to OBEY God, and they have called it a work of grace and righteousness to DISOBEY God because DISOBEYING God supposedly proves that you are trusting Jesus and not your own good works to save you. They have literally begun calling evil the things that God says are good, and calling disobeying God a work of grace.
Before you ask, YES, doing good works IS a part of Grace. Being in God’s true Grace will make you ZEALOUS FOR DOING “Good Works.” (Titus 2:11–15). Doing “Good Works” is NOT a “Lack of Grace.” Doing “Good Works” IS Grace, even according to Paul. Grace exists in part to help us do the Good Works that please God.
Paul was NOT saying that we should not do any good works of obeying Scripture at all. Paul was CORRECTING FALSE teachings about salvation that had crept into rabbinical Judaism since the Babylonian exile. Rabbinical Judaism had been teaching a FALSE and Non-biblical method of salvation for almost 440 years, by the time that Paul the apostle came onto the scene. Paul was trying to bring people back to the BIBLICAL method and picture of salvation and AWAY from the Rabbinical FALSE doctrine of salvation, and he was trying to RETURN people back to the Written BIBLICAL method and picture of salvation. When you understand that dynamic, everything makes sense.
The Problem that Paul WAS Opposing: The rabbinical Jewish system falsely teaches that a person is saved through physically being born a Hebrew, through being circumcised, and then through obeying a MIXTURE of what is written in Scripture together with whatever the rabbis and sages teach, and if there is any contradiction between Scripture and the sages, then you should obey the sages, and DISREGARD the written Scripture because the rabbinical precepts have more authority than the Written Scriptures do. In the rabbinical approach, obeying a MIXTURE of written Scripture together with the rabbis, CAUSES salvation. Therefore, God will save and bless you, if you are obeying your rabbis, even when obeying them conflicts with Written Scripture.
Whenever a Hebrew person talks about being, “Under the Law,” or “Being justified according to the Law.” THIS is the doctrinal position to which they are referring. Basically, I’m okay because the Rabbi said I was, even if the Written Scripture contradicts that. It would be no different than many believing that in order to be saved, I had to follow a combination of what is written in Scripture, together with the way that Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley, or John MacArthur says that I should live; and if there is any conflict between what written Scripture says and what these teachers teach, then I should obey what the teachers teach, and disregard written Scripture and God will save me and bless me because I obeyed the teachers.
By rabbinical definition, THIS is what it means to, “Live under the Law.” The problem is that what THEY called, “Living under the Law,” is in fact ILLEGAL according to WRITTEN Scripture, (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32). The rabbinical system has an estimated 7000 pages of extra rules that are beyond what Scripture teaches. That’s the problem. It was THIS FALSE doctrinal position and tradition that Paul was teaching AGAINST, when he wrote that we cannot be justified by, “Living under the Law.” THIS is what Paul was opposing. “You are not going to be justified by obeying the rabbinical approach to life.”
You CAN NOT Do Good Works Unless You are Converted and Saved First
There is a crucial reality that modern Christians nearly always miss. Paul was teaching that the reason that you cannot do good works to earn salvation, is because you CAN NOT truly do ANY “Good Works” until AFTER you are saved. You must get saved first, and then you progressively learn and practice doing the works that God wants you to do. First, comes salvation, and then you can focus on the works that God wants you to do.
Paul Was Teaching: First Get Transformed and saved by God. You can’t obey God without a New Nature. Then learn and practice obeying God. Don’t go beyond what is written in Scripture. Don’t follow the traditions of men thinking that they will cause your salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10; Romans 8:5–8; 2 Timothy 3:12–17; Colossians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 4:6
The reality is that ONLY saved and Born-Again people can actually do “Good Works,” as far as God is concerned. I only need to know and clearly understand three passages of Scripture from Paul’s writings to prove that this is true.
- We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). God provides us salvation by grace through faith so that we can DO good works that God wants us to do (Ephesians 2:10)
- Every work or every deed that does not originate from faith is considered before God to be a SIN (Romans 14:23b). So, by definition, if I do a good deed like giving to the poor, or any other noble work, but my good deed does not originate from faith in Almighty God and Jesus Christ, then EVEN my so-called, ‘Good Deed,’ in that case is not counted as a good deed. It’s counted is a sin. By definition, if God counts it as a sin, it is no longer a good deed anymore. If God counts it is a sin, (because it was not done in faith), then by definition, it cannot be a “Good Deed.”
- Paul taught that the person who is controlled by their sinful nature CAN NOT do “Good Deeds.” (Romans 8:5-8). Please pay close attention to what Paul says here
As it is written: For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5–8, NASB95)
Those who are not born again, those who are still controlled by their sinful nature, do not have their mindset on pleasing God. They have their mindset on satisfying what their sinful nature desires. No one with such a mindset will be able to do good works. Only those who have their nature renewed and are controlled by the Holy Spirit will have their mindset on learning, choosing, and doing what pleases God.
Those who are still dominated and controlled by their sinful nature are bent towards desires and choices that lead to death and destruction. Those who are transformed and controlled by the Holy Spirit have a new nature the direction toward life and peace.
Those who are still controlled and dominated by their sinful nature are innately hostile against God. They are not bent toward honoring God at all.
Those who are still controlled and dominated by their sinful nature are hostile against God, and in that hostility, they refuse to subject themselves to God’s Law and Commandments. Therefore, a person who is still controlled by their sinful nature is hostile against God, does not obey God, and therefore cannot do good by definition. The person who is still controlled and dominated by their sinful nature CAN NOT submit themselves to God’s rules. They are not even able to do so. Their sinful nature will not let them obey God. The person who is dominated and controlled by their sinful nature CAN NOT please God.
That means by contrast that when a person is transformed, Born-Again, and controlled by the Holy Spirit, they are no longer hostile against God. The born-again person who is Holy Spirit-controlled CAN subject himself or herself to God’s Law. The born-again person who is controlled by the Holy Spirit CAN please God.
Taking everything into consideration, if you take Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 14:23b; and Romans 8:5-8 in full context, the ONLY people who can truly do “Good Works,” are Born-Again people who are saved, transformed, and being controlled by the Holy Spirit instead of being dominated by their sinful nature. That’s because the only way that we can do the good works that God wants us to do is to get saved and transformed by God first. If we don’t do our good works by faith they don’t count as good works. They count as sins. That’s why you have to get saved and converted first.
Paul Was Not Teaching Anything NEW. Paul Was Reminding People of the Written Old Testament Picture of Salvation
When Paul the apostle wrote that we needed to get saved first and learn and practice doing the “Good Works” that God wants us to do AFTER we receive salvation, Paul was NOT writing anything “NEW.” Paul was REMINDING people of WRITTEN Old Testament Doctrine, which was already in the Scriptures, but had been forgotten by the rabbinical system. When Paul wrote what he did in Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 14:23b; and Romans 8:5-8; Paul was bringing people back to the authority of the WRITTEN Scripture, and AWAY from the FALSE rabbinical picture of salvation. This all ties back to a WRITTEN Old Testament picture of salvation. Please, pay attention to the all-important ORDER of events in the BIBLICAL picture of salvation here:
- Israel accepts the blood of the lamb and is rescued from God’s judgment of death (Exodus 12).
- Israel and a mixed multitude of peoples of nations turn away from Egypt and begin separating themselves out for YHWH. They begin to experience God taking care of them (Exodus 13).
- Israel is “BAPTIZED” in the Red Sea (Exodus 14; cf. 1 Corinthians 10).
- It was 50 days AFTER receiving salvation, that Israel is formally given the Law. Please DO NOT MISS this point. Even in the written Old Testament, Israel and the mixed multitude that were with them were NOT formally given God’s Law, until 50 days AFTER they had received salvation and they had experienced God’s provision and protection. It was 50 days AFTER receiving the salvation that they were given the Law (Exodus 19:1-24:3). Please DO NOT IGNORE this all-important factor, that Christians often miss.
- The written Old Testament gives a clear ORDER of events. Salvation and deliverance are given by faith FIRST, and the Law and Commandments are given AFTER salvation.
Obedience DOES NOT CAUSE salvation, but true salvation CAUSES obedience. The Old Testament prophets also taught this SAME ORDER of events. First God saves and transforms you, and then you learn to obey as you go AFTER you are transformed and you are saved by grace. Again, look at the ORDER of events:
As it is written: And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV)
As it is written: And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19–20, ESV)
As it is written: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, ESV)
Did you catch the ORDER of events in the BIBLICAL picture of salvation?
- First, YHWH Almighty God removes our idolatry, our filthiness, and our sin (Ezekiel 36:25).
- Second, YHWH TRANSFORMS us. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. He puts HIS Holy Spirit inside of us. That is being saved and Born-Again (Ezekiel 36:26).
- God’s Holy Spirit working inside of us, CAUSES us to walk in God’s Statutes, and to OBEY God’s Rules and Standards (Ezekiel 36:27).
Salvation has ALWAYS been by Grace. “Good Works” of obeying God were ALWAYS meant to FOLLOW salvation. Good Works were NEVER intended to CAUSE Salvation, even in the “Old Testament.”
Therefore, Paul wrote as he did in Philippians 2:13:
As it is written: for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13, ESV)
Paul knew that was true based on Ezekiel 36:25-27, and other Old Testament Scriptures.
When Paul wrote what he wrote in Romans 8:5-8, he was CONFIRMING what was already written in Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 11:19-20; and Ezekiel 36:25-27. He was DEBUNKING the FALSE rabbinical picture of salvation, and he was RETURNING people to the WRITTEN Old Testament picture of Biblical salvation. Therefore, he told Timothy to CONTINUE following the written Old Testament. He didn’t tell him to stop doing it, BUT to CONTINUE in it (2 Timothy 3:12-17). Please don’t miss that.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Brother Michel Lankford