Recently I was on a live radio program, during which I spoke on the subject of grace. Of course the matter of faith and salvation was naturally a part of it. You cannot separate those subjects.
I explained that grace is the power of God that helps us obey His word and fulfil the assignment He has for our lives. I taught that grace was what made Paul the Paul whose teachings we read today. He was a great apostle and servant of the Lord Jesus; he testified that all he accomplished were by the power of grace.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 1 Cor 15:10 NASB
Paul explained to us clearly that grace is not just the unmerited favour that we often define it as, but is rather the power of God which works towards those who believe. If it is grace, he says, it must be activated by grace (Rom 4:16).
This grace is the power that delivers us from our sin nature and the judgment that would have come to us as a result of our sins. Grace is what Jesus came to release into our lives. It is the power of God to fulfil His promises. It is the power of God that makes me and you no longer sinners but children of God who love and obey Him. Moses came and gave laws but did not give the power to obey the laws, but the Lord Jesus came, not to give laws but to make us understand the will of the Father and to put power in us both to will and to do that will of His. That power is that is called grace.
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ John 1:17 NASB
I spoke that day I explained that grace is not an excuse for sin, and does not at all mean the Lord does not judge sin. Grace does not at all mean that even though I disobey the Lord I’ll still be blessed even while living in disobedience. If a Christian is living in sin and disobedience, it is an indication that grace is not working in his or her life. It means that the grace the person claims to have is doubtful. Grace is tied to the faith that we have. Grace is released by God when He sees faith from our hearts. Therefore anyone who grace is not breaking the power of sin over him has doubtful faith. Grace is powerful; it can break the bondage of sin if allowed.
Let’s bear in mind that faith is an intangible spiritual substance in the heart; it cannot be seen or perceived directly, and for this reason it is easy to be deceived that one has it when in reality it is not here.
I explained that there are many people who claim they are Christians but who continue to live in sin with the thought that grace will take care of the rest. I sounded a loud warning to such people that they are being set up for eternal damnation as grace is actually not working in them.
This was essentially what I preached and taught that day. To my surprise (even though I shouldn’t have been so surprised since I knew human nature), when the phone lines were opened for listeners to call in so as to comment or ask questions, a man called and said he wanted to disagree with me. I signalled the anchor to please let him speak. He took some time to show to me that I was wrong in saying salvation was by works (Oh, blimey! Was that what I said?!). He read out from Romans chapter 3 that, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” That is verse 28. He kept on pointing out that salvation is by faith and by faith alone. Another person wrote a comment online on one of the social media sites that I should retract my message that morning because I taught that salvation required more than faith. He also quoted a few of the verses from Paul that showed that believers are saved by faith alone.
When I responded to the dissenting caller, I said that I agreed with him to a very large extent, that I would have agreed more with him if he hadn’t declared that he called to disagree with me. But I suggested that he had not been paying attention to my words from the beginning of the programme. He couldn’t have been since I had reiterated again and again that salvation is by faith. The popular verse in that regard was one I had also quoted from severally in the course of the programme.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Eph 2:8-9 NASB
How anyone could have gotten the impression that day that I was teaching that salvation was by works was actually surprising. But I guess it was because I touched something they believed and which I rejected. I made it clear that the doctrine of “once-I-give-my-life-to-Christ-I-can-never-be-damned-again”, otherwise known as once-saved-always-saved, cannot be true and I gave a number of references to that effect. The Lord Jesus Himself warned that He has an eraser and might erase some people’s names from His book (Heb 6:4-6, Rev 3:5). But many people don’t like that. They want to feel safe even in the midst of iniquity and worldliness.
Paul is often misunderstood
The gospel of grace and salvation by faith has always been easy to misunderstand. It is not a new thing that people would take it as a cover for their souls while walking in sin. It was like that in the days of Paul. Paul actually cried out, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” It is a doctrine that is so easy to twist to one’s destruction. Peter warned about this twisting even those days.
… just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15-16 NASB
So we see that misunderstanding Paul’s doctrine is not new. In the book, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough, the author explained that if your teaching of the gospel of grace and salvation by faith has not been confused with lawlessness, it is very likely you are not teaching the correct gospel as the Lord revealed it to Paul. That is just to emphasize that by the very nature of this truth, it is very easy to confuse it with lawlessness; therefore many people who claimed to be following Paul’s teachings showed a life marked by licentiousness. When rebuked for their ways of lusts and worldliness, they would often answer back with things like, ‘righteousness is on the heart, but you are looking at the flesh.’ They would accuse you of carnality, pointing out that you are judging according to the flesh instead of according to the spirit. A man defrauded another and refused to make amends. When he was warned about the consequences of the actions, his response was that all his curses have been removed in Christ. That’s his own interpretation of grace.
See, the gospel of salvation by faith alone is very attractive to those who desire to have eternity secure while ‘enjoying’ the pleasures of the flesh in the now, but they are walking by a twisted version of the true gospel. It is like the doctrine of prosperity; in the twisted form it allows many to live worldly and in covetousness while claiming they are only enjoying the abundant life that Jesus paid for. As a matter of fact, denying the flesh and mortifying it’s deeds is work, and the flesh’s deeds can be enticing. This is why people easily fall for a message that says you can have the ‘best’ of both worlds, something that is directly against the doctrine of godliness and true grace.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. Titus 2:11-12 NASB
I say boldly that it is not possible to understand the true gospel of grace unless you actually love the Lord deeply in your heart and hate iniquity. You have to love the Lord and hate the world before the truth of grace can be properly revealed in your heart. Understanding is not something we get for being dedicated to study alone; it is actually a gift of God which He bestows on the heart that truly loves Him and pants after righteousness. The lack of this love is why people twist the doctrine of grace to their own destruction. God gives people over to the deception they love.
This was going on even then, and James had to answer.
You see, in this area of justification, the epistle of James is also easy to misunderstand and so we must be careful when we are reading it. In fact, the great reformer, Martin Luther, is reputed to have referred to the book of James as an epistle of straw because of the emphasis on the role of works in the process of salvation. Even though at other times Luther praised the book and generally accepted it, it shows how easy it is to also misunderstand James. A misunderstood James is the diametric opposite but equally dangerous version of a misunderstood Paul, but when both are well understood, they are just two sides of the same coin.
James never said that salvation was by works; how could he have said that when he quoted from Genesis that, ‘…and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’ as support for his doctrine. No, he was trying to explain how the works of faith show the reality of the faith. For example, Abraham’s faith was seen only when he got up to offer Isaac. That is the point.
James was trying to show to the people that many people were being presumptive in their faith life. What they called faith was not actually real and alive faith. Yes, salvation is by faith and faith alone, but the faith must be alive to be relevant to salvation. He wanted people to know that there is a kind of faith that is useless.
…faith apart from works is inactive and ineffective and worthless? James 2:20 (modified from AMP)
James was not at all against salvation by faith; he just was warning about dead faith, which actually looks very much like the real thing, especially when it is judged by the affirmations of the tongue alone. Imagine two dry grains of corn side by side; one had been boiled slightly and then dried while the other dried on the cob without any manipulation. Both of them will look exactly alike, but one is biologically dead, while one still has life in it. There is no way to tell them apart unless you plant them. The boiled one is dead, yet looks almost exactly like the living one, until it is demanded of them to produce the germination works of life. Dead faith is a deceptive kind of faith, and many are walking by that faith. That is the type that will be lead to disappointment on the last day.
"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.' Matt 7:22-23
These people spoken of by the Lord Jesus in the passage above lived with a false hope; it was false because their faith was dead, and they did not realize it. Many are like that today, and yet they are thinking they are saved by grace, when in actual fact they are not saved at all.
Dead faith is marked by affirmation alone but with no corresponding actions. This was what James was teaching.
Dead faith is scary because it produces some very interesting results which deceive the possessor thereof into thinking he is safe. For example, dead faith makes someone love going to church and being identified with believers. They also learn Christian talk. The person may even be promoted to a high rank among the brethren because of the outward show of dedication, thereby becoming further convinced of the power of ‘grace’. He is living in sin and is getting promoted in church; what greater proof of grace does he need to continue in his deception? Dead faith makes churches full, but the Lord Jesus does not recognize these people. They were also plenty those days, and James was warning them.
True faith is only demonstrated as being different from dead and useless faith by the works it produces.
I will show you my faith by my works… for just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. James 2:18, 26 NASB
We are not at all saved by works, but the works show that the faith we are saved by is alive. No one can be saved by faith that is dead.
Works of the Law vs the works of faith
Those who challenged me that day on radio kept on quoting a statement from Paul, which unfortunately is taken out of context and was being applied where it did not belong.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Rom 3.28
It is clear that Paul was speaking about the Law which is part of what we call the Old Covenant. He was arguing that it is not keeping the terms of that covenant given on Mt Sinai that brings salvation. Circumcision, observing the Sabbath, tithing, offering of animal sacrifices, visits to the temple, etc., do not save anyone. That was the simple point. Specifically, he was telling people that there is no salvation in Judaism. That can be applied for non-Jews to any set of rules and regulations written by man. Churches may have rules and codes – thou shall not do this, thou shall dress like that, thou shall bring your complete offerings and dedicate all your children, etc., but obeying these also does not save anyone. Paul’s argument was against trying to attain justification by adherence to codes rather than by faith in Christ Jesus. That is called the works of the Law. The person is putting in personal effort to attain salvation through obedience to rules and regulations.
The ‘works of faith’ is however different. Whenever faith is in the heart, it produces certain actions by virtue of it’s presence. That is why the JB Philips’ expression is so good. He called it corresponding actions. The works of faith are those actions that come out automatically because the faith is genuine. Notice the examples James used. In Abraham’s case, faith made him obey the word of God given to him to depart from where he was and also to sacrifice Isaac. The same faith worked in the heart of Rahab, but there was no instruction to obey; what she did was to receive the messengers of God. It was a spontaneous action of a living faith.
It was a living faith that made that woman of Shunem take care of Elisha. There was no commandment to be kept in that regard, but the genuineness of the faith produced those actions of giving. She wasn’t trying to get anything; she just wanted to honour the Lord. The same living faith provoked Ruth to follow Naomi all the way. These women were not trying to obey codes (the works of the law); but their faith being alive was shown in actions. So James said, ‘the only faith that has no action to show is a dead one.’
So, the unrepentant adulterer of a Christian who claims he is saved by grace is not likely saved. ‘If your faith is alive enough to save you, why is it not saving your from sin?’ James seems to be asking.
James saw many Christians who would gather to pray for the spread of the gospel. They claimed to believe that the gospel must be spread to their nation and the rest of the world. So they gather to fast and pray. They shout for the Lord to send labourers into the harvest. After much praying, the elders would ask for money to send the labourers already available on missions, and the collection would be pittance. So James explained the mind of God – all the prayers were not backed by faith. The people did not believe! How did he know? If they did, they should have put their money where their mouth was. Now you see why many prayers are not answered. The Lord is saying simply that the people do not believe. Salvation is by faith certainly, but where is the faith?
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. 2 Cor 13:5 NLT
What are the works which show that I am saved by a living faith? Simply saying we believe in Jesus does not save us, nor does trying to keep a set of rules. What saves us is the Holy Spirit’s work of grace in our hearts, and that regeneration will invariably be seen in a life of faith featuring on-going obedience to God.
The works of faith that are in keeping with salvation are simply result from repentance from sin. It is that simple. No one is actually saved who has not developed a distaste for sin and anything that is displeasing to the Lord while developing a desire for walking with the Lord.
I will let the apostles of the Lord give us the word about this as follows:
For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people. That grace instructs us to give up ungodly living and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world, as we wait for the blessed Day we hope for, when the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ will appear. He gave himself for us, to rescue us from all wickedness and to make us a pure people who belong to him alone and are eager to do good. Titus 2:11-14 GNT
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. Heb 12:14-16 NASB
…let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. 2 Cor 7:1 NASB
"Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness." 2 Tim 2:19 NASB
It is God's will that you keep away from sexual sin as a mark of your devotion to him. Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way, not in the passionate, lustful way of people who don't know God. 6 No one should take advantage of or exploit other believers that way. The Lord is the one who punishes people for all these things. We've already told you and warned you about this. God didn't call us to be sexually immoral but to be holy. Therefore, whoever rejects this order is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. 1 Thess 4:3-8 GW
God's will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thess 4:3-8 NLT
So then, get rid of lies. Speak the truth to each other, because we are all members of the same body. Be angry without sinning. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the devil any opportunity to work. Thieves must quit stealing and, instead, they must work hard. They should do something good with their hands so that they'll have something to share with those in need.
Get rid of your bitterness, hot tempers, anger, loud quarreling, cursing, and hatred. Be kind to each other, sympathetic, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ. Eph 4:25-28, 31-32 GW
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Rom 8:12-14 NASB
Now, the effects of the corrupt nature are obvious: illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity, idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. I've told you in the past and I'm telling you again that people who do these kinds of things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5:19-23 GW
As I close, I want to emphasize again that salvation is by genuine faith; those who have it love God and not the world. If anyone continues loving the world, the love of the father is not in him (1 Jn 2:15). If indeed you are a believer, you will be busy cleansing yourself of the deeds of the flesh. I am not saying you are perfect but definitely you will be moving forward. You will be departing from sin and using the power of grace to remove it from your life.
God loves us, and that is why Jesus died for us. He died to deliver us from sin. If we are not willing to depart from sin, it is not grace we believe in, and it is disgrace we will see on the last day. It cannot possibly be true that no matter how we live our lives we are saved by grace. What is the meaning of salvation if we are still bound to sin? True grace is manifested by the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus as it washes away sins from our lives. In the time of difficulty, He said to come to the throne of grace and obtain mercy and find grace to help. What time is that? It is the time of temptation to sin. It is the time when we are about to slip.
If we do slip, then we confess our sins and believe for forgiveness and a cleansing, as it is written,
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NASB
God loves us and He is able to keep us if we truly love Him and have a genuine faith in Jesus. The genuine faith in Christ Jesus is one that is not just trying to use Him for security for the next life but the fruit of a heart that actually loves the Lord and is willing to walk with Him in this present life. Such a person cannot love sin. He will keep us if we truly hate sin and are willing to forsake the world. That is the real work of grace. It keeps us from stumbling.
(For more on this subject, please read my tract/short sermon, ‘Who is going to hell?’)
By Ada on 21 Oct, 2017
Great read, sir.
By Grace Bassey on 22 Oct, 2017
Thank you very much pastor Bankie. I weep as I read the end part of this short sermon. Don't stop preaching it. most times, in the tempting hours, we forget to ask for the grace,but God still speaks to us during those tempting moment and reminds us of his grace but we neglect that voice an then fall into these temptations. Thank you Pastor and I hope this message gets to you directly Pastor Bankie. thank you.
By Okeke Obinna on 23 Oct, 2017
Pastor I just want to bless God for you in our lives...your scriptural expositions makes the word REAL in everyday life and removes the fiction that is fast becoming of Christians and living.
By isaiah ilemonah on 25 Oct, 2017
my question is this... i have seen some people who appears to be living righteous and just life yet the are not being blessed. opportunities dont come to them as they desire.
The simple answer is that those outward things are not necessarily a sign of the approval of God. Godly people can be tempted and have tribulation in this world, and those who bow to Satan may gain the whole world. Jesus taught clearly that it is possible to gain the whole world while losing one's soul. Please take time out to read Psalm 73.
By Tony Adeleke on 06 Dec, 2017
Thanks Pastor for sharing this. It is a refreshing exhortation in righteousness. May the Almighty God continually renew your strength as you call many unto righteousness and holy living. Like you pointed out, if we love the Lord, those scriptures will become easy to understand. However, if one has made up his or her mind to continue fraternizing with the world, any scripture can be taken out of context or twisted to justify such worldly living. Shalom.