Turning Grace into Law

Basket of Figs, January, 2004

Bud Powell



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To present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;  --Col. 1:22, 23


“Be careful how you hear,” the Lord Jesus said (Luke 8:18), following up on the Parable of the Sower.  Lots of people who hear the word do not understand it and go astray, because they read it to give confidence to their flesh.  The Scripture is filled with many passages such as the one above, Scriptures which those who do not understand the grace of God read as though God has placed conditions upon His grace.  Their interpretation would go something like this:  “You will be saved IF you continue in the faith, grounded and settled, but you will not be saved unless you do.  Faith without works is dead, and you are justified only if you add works to faith, for true faith works by love.”  Reasoning this way shows that every seed that springs up does not bring forth the fruit of real faith and righteousness before God, just as Jesus said.


Modern legalists, such as many theonomists, Reconstructionists, and New Perspectives people, have adopted the Roman Catholic view of justification. Rome teaches that we are justified not merely by the sufferings of Christ, but also by the new works that we do by love, worked in us by the Holy Spirit.  In Reformed churches it appears something like this:


“What saves is true faith, but true faith is the gift of God and includes good works, which are an essential element of true faith.  This is what saves.  It is all of God, of course, so we have nothing in which to boast, because God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.  This is how we are justified, by the faith and works that we do because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is made possible by the Holy Spirit who is given to us because Jesus died foe us.”


Arminians also say, “See, see, see.”  There is no eternal security, because you have to “continue.”  He that endures to the end shall be saved, is the way it goes.  This writer heard this stuff with a thousand variations, growing up in Arminian circles.  It is amazing that it is now heard in Reformed circles.  But it makes it easy for the reunion of Calvinism and Arminianism in a loving stew of Hegelianism.  It also makes it very easy for Reformed and Presbyterian ministers to go home to Rome, which is happening even as you read this.  They say that the Reformed churches have been wrong to follow Luther and Calvin, and Paul’s teachings need to be reconsidered.  Even covenant theology is used to support the “new perspective” for doesn’t covenant imply that we have something to do?  There is even a Coming Home website for those Presbyterian and Baptist ministers who are returning to Rome.  http://www.chnetwork.org/


They are all very smug, of course.  After all, they have solved the age-old conflict between Calvinists and Arminians.  They ask us to believe two contraries, ala Hegel.  We are saved by grace and we are saved by works.  It is no longer “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” but Jesus the Way shower, Jesus the Enabler, Jesus the Truth Speaker, Jesus the Life Giver. 


The Lord’s sheep do not hear them, for we have been taught of God to have no confidence in the flesh.  We are saved by an “alien” righteousness that is not our own, for it is not by works of righteousness which we have done.  It is the blood of Christ alone, or it is not the blood of Christ at all.  When we are in the flesh, we have departed from Christ for we are under the curse of the law [Gal. 3:10].  The elect of God trust in nothing but Christ and His righteousness; if we trust in anything else, we have no part in Christ.


Q30:  Do those also believe in the only Savior Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare from "saints," themselves, or anywhere else?


 A30:  No; although they make their boast of Him, yet in their deeds they deny the only Savior Jesus; [1] for either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation. [2] Heidelberg Catechism


To think that this passage teaches that “continuing” is a work that is added to faith and forms part of the ground of our righteousness before God is to misread Paul, a misreading that in a subtle way turns the focus away from Christ to the subjective state of the one seeking to be justified.  The entire passage reads:


And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:  If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.


We who were enemies of God have been reconciled to God in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  The work of the cross is to reconcile God to sinners.  We are naturally children of wrath, guilty and sinful. Unless the curse of Adam’s sin is removed, we have no hope in earth or in heaven.  But doesn’t the following “if” clause mean that we are reconciled only if we stay reconciled?  No, not at all.  It is precisely because of sin that we are alienated from God, and if that is removed then we are reconciled.


To be “not moved away from the hope of the Gospel” means to continue to believe the Gospel.  To make this “if clause” a condition of justification is to turn the sentence into a contradiction.  The “hope of the Gospel” means that we trust Christ and renounce our own works. 


Those who add their good works to the perfect work of Christ are doing exactly what Paul warns us against.  It would be the same as saying, in order to not move away from the hope of the Gospel, you must move away from the hope of the Gospel, an absurdity.  How clever and subtle are the ways of the devil, the hater of the souls of men!  He would try to persuade us that the Holy Spirit who teaches us to trust in Christ as the complete Savior also works trust in the works of the Holy Spirit, and that we can really have no confidence that we are Christians until these saving works, which are the gifts of God, reach a level that will satisfy the requirements of God in His holy law.  They never tell us what this level is.  But experience teaches us that always involves some form our outward ceremony and outward form, for this is all the flesh can attain.


They then become enmeshed in absurdity after absurdity.  “Of course God does not demand perfection,” they say. “Just a good faith attempt.   The Rich Young Ruler kept the law; Paul was blameless before the law even before he was a Christian.”   They boast in the law as if keeping the law fills up what faith alone lacks.  The subtle message is, “We are trying to keep the law and that puts us a notch or two ahead of you who have renounced your own works and trust in Christ’s righteousness alone.  Our ‘good faith trying’ is better than trusting in Christ’s perfections because “trying” plus Christ is better than Christ alone.  Taking their eyes of Christ, they, like Peter trying to walk on the water, are overwhelmed by the storm of sin and unbelief that reigns in their own souls.


For by grace are ye 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


Good works are the fruit of grace and God’s mercy, and they are his workmanship; but they have nothing to do with our justification.  If justification is of works, it is no more of grace, according to Paul [Rom. 11:6].

The fruit of reconciliation is faith in Christ alone.  Any works that you add to Christ’s righteousness are not works of the Holy Spirit, for He does not do that.   He teaches us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, but He does not teach us to trust in our sobriety, righteousness, and godliness.  Any work that we trust in for peace with God is NOT the work of the Holy Spirit and is NOT the work of faith, because the Holy Spirit and faith do not teach us to trust in our works, which spoils grace.  We not only begin with grace, but we continue in grace.  We begin in the spirit and we are perfected by the spirit. (Galatians 3:1ff)   We live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us, for Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Apart from Him we have nothing but alienation from God, pretense instead of truth, death rather than life in.  Trust in any works is proof of an unreconciled heart.  If we mix our works with grace, works either before or after regeneration, then it is no longer grace.


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