13. Go in through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it. 14. For narrow is the gate, and constricted is the way that leads away into life, and there are few who find it.
~ Jesus, in Matthew 7:13-14 ~
Major titles in quotes are from the We Believe statement of The Association of Messianic Congregations*.
*Full AMC Statement
Some people believe that people in certain positions of privilege merit salvation by virtue of those positions; some believe that various or sufficient acts of human effort merit salvation. We'll consider these separately.
Some hold that people in certain privileged positions merit salvation by virtue of those positions, which may be racial, familial, religious or otherwise. One of these positions is being a Jew. Another is being a member of a believing family. Another is being a member of a church. There are others, and we cannot examine them all. We will look at these three, however, and it should be obvious that what the Scripture has to say about these will be applicable to all.
1. Salvation by Virtue of Being a Jew
Some hold that being born Jewish guarantees salvation (a view which is currently being referred to as "the broader view" ); but Romans 10:11-15 makes it clear that that is not the case:
11. For the Scripture says, "Everyone believing on Him shall not be put to
shame." 12. For there is no difference both of Jew and of Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call on Him. 13. For everyone, "whoever shall call on the name of
the Lord will be saved." 14. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear
without preaching? 15. And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings
of good things!"
~ Romans 10:11-15 ~
The passage makes it very explicit that both Jews and Gentiles need to hear the Gospel and believe it in order to be saved. If one believes that all Jews are automatically saved, then they must also conclude that all Gentiles are automatically saved, for the passage says that there is no difference both of Jew or Greek in the matter of how they are saved. But the fact is, that the passage requires the hearing and the believing of the Gospel by both Jews and Gentiles for salvation. There is no way around it. It is air-tight. There is no difference both of Jew or Greek in the necessity of believing the Gospel for salvation. Jesus referred to this necessity as the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). The exclusivity of the means of salvation will be alluded to again shortly with more passages to consider.
2. Salvation by Virtue of Being a Member of a Believing Family or Household
Paul and Silas said to the Philippian jailor, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, and your household (Acts 16:31).
That phrase, and your household, has been a stumbling block to many, causing them to believe that if the head of the house becomes saved, all members of the household, even infants, become saved, as well. But let's look at the very next verse: And they spoke the Word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his household. The Word of the Lord was spoken not only to the jailor, but also to all who were in his household; and all of them, believing, were baptized.
33. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
No one was saved on the coattails of another. All needed to hear the Word and believe.
3. Salvation by
Virtue of Being a Member of a Church
True church membership has nothing to do with anything that's visible, such as declaring oneself a member of a particular denomination or local church or undergoing ritual initiation into the same. Membership into the universal church, which is Messiah's single body of all true believers from Pentecost to the Rapture, is forged at the moment of salvation before the believer is a member of any local church or denomination, and is forged solely by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:13). Therefore, any denomination or local church that claims that its members alone are saved is in serious error. The fact is, the believer is free to join any local church that preaches the true Gospel. Furthermore, there are many who attend no church and are yet true believers, though their non-attendance is disobedience to Scripture (Hebrews 10:25).
One of the Lord's parables concerning the nature of the then future Church Age was the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, in Matthew 13:24-30. The point of the parable is that not all professing believers will be true believers, and that even true believers will be incapable of distinguishing the spurious believer from the true with unfailing accuracy. This is another reason that no church can claim that all who join it will be saved. To do so causes many to believe that they are saved when they are not.
To sum up the points of the last two paragraphs:
To sum up this section, neither being Jewish, nor being a member of a believing household, nor being a visible member of a denomination or local church suffices for salvation. Believing the Gospel is the only ticket to ride.
Some hold that various human acts merit salvation. Among them are the keeping of the Mosaic Law, water baptism, partaking of the Lord's Supper, acts of penance, performing a greater weight of good deeds than bad. But Scripture is very clear in this matter:
Romans 3:28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law.
Ephesians 2:8-9. 8. For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, 9.
not of works, lest anyone should boast.
5. not by works of righteousness which we have
done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6. whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our
Savior, 7. that being justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
~ Titus 3:5-7 ~
Grace means undeserved and unmerited favor. We cannot do anything to deserve or merit salvation. A gift by its very nature must be freely offered and may not be purchased by the recipient. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
To sum up, neither earthly position nor works of the Law nor good or penitential deeds suffice for salvation, but only grace through faith.
The Bible is clear on the exclusivity of the way of salvation.
Jesus said to a crowd of listeners,
13. Go in through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and
broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it. 14. For narrow is the gate, and constricted is the way that leads away into life, and there
are few who find it.
~ Matthew 7:13-14 ~
To His disciple Thomas, He said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by
Me (John 14:6).
And to some Pharisees, For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (John
Peter said to a crowd of Jewish leaders and members of the high priest's family, And there is salvation in no other One; for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Though all of these declarations apply to all people, it so happens that they were all made by Jews to Jews, one of the speakers being Jesus Himself. As has been mentioned, some believe that merely being Jewish is sufficient for salvation. Obviously, this is contrary to Scripture. One is not saved by being born Jewish or by following any form of rabbinic Judaism or any other religion or philosophy. One is saved only by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Yeshua HaNotzri, Yeshua the Nazarene; Yeshua HaMashiach, Yeshua the Messiah. Note how a line is drawn between Jews who received Him and Jews who did not: He came to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave to them authority to become the children of God, to those who believe on His name (John 1:11-12).
Jesus declared that the road to salvation runs only through Him. A narrow way, indeed, but that should not be surprising. All of nature is narrow. Precise and inflexible natural laws control our digestion or indigestion, a successful flight to the moon or a disaster. It should not be surprising, therefore, that spiritual laws are precise and inflexible, as well; nor should it be surprising that a loving and caring Creator has made known to us, whom He created in His likeness and image, the precise rules and principles we need to follow for our own blessed good and for the blessedness of our earthly and heavenly relationships. Nor should it be thought odd that breakers of the rules should be penalized. In civil societies it is understood that "if you do crime, you do time." We are relieved when murderers and rapists are judged and sentenced. It should not be thought odd, therefore, that God requires the same for sinners in His court of justice. Understanding these things lays the foundation for our acceptance of the fact that God, who is love (1 John 4:8,16), offered His sinless Son on the cross to satisfy divine justice in our stead, freeing us to receive forgiveness of sins and entry into the blessedness He always desired for us. For He [Father] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus] (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Many of the concepts in this statement have been addressed already. We will now address those that have not.
Why shed blood? In Leviticus 17:11, God said, For the life of the flesh is in the blood. And I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls. For it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, atone means to cover. From Adam until Yeshua animal sacrifice was required by God to atone for sin. Those sacrifices did not remove sin from the sinner's account (Hebrews 10:4), but when offered in faith (Habakkuk 2:4), they "covered" the offerer's sin. This means that the offerer's sin, though remaining on his account, would not be held against him; but that when the Son of God would come and shed His blood on the altar of the cross, the sinner's sins would be uncovered and removed from his account, having been paid for by Yeshua.
Hebrews 9:22: And almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission.
Ephesians 1:7: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace . . . .
Righteousness has the meaning of right standing before God. Only One is in right standing before God by virtue of holiness of nature and sinlessness of thought, word and deed, and that One is Yeshua. No mortal born of two human parents is righteous before God in either nature or thought, word or deed, for as Isaiah said (64:6a), But we are all as the unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as a menstruation cloth. Only those mortals who are in Messiah are in right standing before God, and it's by virtue of Messiah's righteousness, not their own.
The sins of the world were imputed (transferred and reckoned) to Yeshua' account, and He died to pay the penalty for them. When we believe, the righteousness of God in Yeshua is imputed to our account, placing us in right standing before God. But of Him [God the Father] you are in Messiah Yeshua, who of God is made to us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). We are still sinners experientially and in our natures, but in terms of our legal standing before God we are as righteous as Yeshua is, For as by one man's [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One [Yeshua] shall the many be made righteous (Romans 5:19). For He [Father] has made Him [Yeshua] who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Yeshua] (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Our Statement says that we are declared righteous on the basis of His shed blood alone. Leviticus 17:11, Once again: For the life of the flesh is in the blood. And I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls. For it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.
And in the New Testament: To the One loving us and having bathed us from our sins in His blood (Revelation 1:5b).
It's because of the shedding of Yeshua's blood unto death on the altar of the cross that God's righteousness could be imputed to the accounts of those who believe. Thus, the shed blood of Yeshua alone is the basis of salvation. There is no other.
Our Statement says that we are declared righteous on the basis of His shed blood alone. Being declared righteous by God is an important aspect of salvation that is identified in Scripture as justification. We will first examine the doctrine, then reconcile certain of James' statements with it, and then view its interplay with the dynamics of reconciliation.
1. The Doctrine of Justification
Whereas righteousness in the context of eternal life is right standing before God, justification is God's declaration of a sinner's righteousness. Justification is a forensic (legal) act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner forensically righteous in His court of justice.
This begs the question that Job asked: How then can man be justified with God? Or how can one who is born of a woman be clean (Job 25:4)? Great question, Job! We've answered it repeatedly, but we'll consider the question again through the lens of justification. We'll take a look at some scriptures which I've arranged in a developmental sequence, and then bring the various concepts together in a couple of summary and explanatory paragraphs:
Job 9:20. If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me; though I am perfect, He shall declare me perverse. Job declared correctly that his own testimony could not justify him before God.
Isaiah 53:11. He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul. He shall be fully satisfied. By His self-knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify for many; and He shall bear their iniquities. In this passage, Isaiah prophesied that Messiah, knowing full well who He is and what His mission will be, will bring justification to many by bearing their iniquities.
Romans 4:25. who was delivered because of our offenses and was raised up because of our justification. Messiah was delivered to the cross because of our offenses, and was subsequently raised from the dead because the work which He accomplished that enabled our justification had been completed.
Act 13:39. And by Him [Yeshua] all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses.
Galatians 3:11. But that no one is justified by the Law in the sight of God is clear, for, "The just shall live by faith." The quote that Paul is employing is from Habakkuk 2:4. It reveals that even Old Testament Israelites could not be justified by the works of the Law no matter how meticulously they kept it (which they were required to do), but by faith alone.
Romans 3:28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law.
Romans 3:24. being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Messiah Yeshua;
Romans 5:1: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
Romans 5:9. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Titus 3:7. that being justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Now, to pull it all together: No one can stand justified before God on the basis of any human testimony or defense. The ground of one's justification must be the shed blood of Messiah, who died for our iniquities and was raised up because His sacrificial work that made our justification possible had been accomplished.
Human courts deal with matters of crime. God's court deals with sin. There have been cases in human courts where an innocent party voluntarily took the punishment due a guilty party, and the guilty party was declared free. Similarly, in God's court, Messiah was punished for the ungodly, and by virtue of the sinner's faith in Messiah's atoning work he is justified (declared forensically righteous), meaning that he is pardoned of the need to bear any of the condemnation or punishment for his sin, and is free to enjoy all of the privileges of one not condemned and sentenced. It is by God's grace that He justifies the believing sinner. Strict adherence to the Law of Moses never justified anyone, nor could it. Only faith could justify. One justified in Messiah is in a state of peace with God, is saved from all aspects of God's wrath, and is heir of all that eternal life entails.
In the following passages, James seems to say that one may be justified by good works: Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (2:21);
And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she had received the messengers and had sent them out another way (2:25)?
However, the preceding passage puts those questions in context:
14. My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has
faith and does not have works? Can faith save him? . . . . 17. Even so, if it does not have works, faith is dead, being by
itself. 18. But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your
works, and I will show you my faith from my works. . . . 20. But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21. Was not Abraham our father justified by
works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
~ James 2:14, 17-18, 20-21 ~
There are two keys to understanding this passage:
With these keys in mind we can see that what James is saying is that so-called faith that does not produce good works is mere profession of faith, and is not faith, at all. What he is saying, then, in verse 18, is: Show me your [professed, so-called] faith without your works, and I will show you my [genuine] faith by my works.
Now to apply these observations to the questions regarding Abraham and Rahab: James is not saying that Abraham and Rahab were justified by their good works apart from faith, but that their good works were the outgrowth of their underlying faith, and were evidence of their justification on the basis of their faith.
In 2 Corinthians 5:19 (examined in Part 1), it is declared that God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself, meaning that God did His part in reconciling the entire world of sinners to Himself, rendering them savable; but in no passage is it declared that God justified the entire world of sinners. Justification is only for those who have faith in Yeshua. It says, in Acts 13:39, All who believe are justified from all things. And again, in Romans 3:26, To declare at this time his [Yeshua's] righteousness: that he [Father] might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Yeshua. Justification is solely for those who heed Paul's admonition, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20), which is accomplished through faith.
To review the interplay of the two concepts in sequence:
1) God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).
2) The sinner exercises faith in the atoning work of Yeshua
3) By virtue of his exercise of faith he is immediately reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
4) On the basis of the sinner's reconciliation to God, God justifies him by declaring him forensically righteous.
Stages two through four have been presented in logical sequence, but in actuality they occur simultaneously. There is no gap of time at all between the sinner's exercise of faith and his justification before God. As soon as the sinner exercises faith he stands justified before God.
We have seen that good works do not, nor ever did, save. Nevertheless, they are commended and exhorted throughout Scripture. What, then, is the relationship between
salvation and good works?
Ephesians 2:8-10 answers the question clearly and succinctly:
8. For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, 9. not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10. For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
Verse 8 tell us that salvation is through faith, and verse 9, that good works have no bearing on salvation. The phrases we are His workmanship and created in Messiah Yeshua are akin to the concepts of being born again (John 3:3,7; 1:Peter 1:23) and of being made new creations in Messiah (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) - all conveying the work of regeneration - and verse 10 tells us that we are created in Messiah Yeshua for good works. We are not saved by good works. We are saved to do good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
We are each saved to glorify God through particular good works that He has ordained for each of us to do. Let us walk in them for the Savior, who walked to Calvary for us.
What must I do to be saved? was the cry of the Philippian jailor. (Acts 16:30)
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, was
the reply of Paul and Silas.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
And, brothers, I declare to you the gospel . . . . that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Jesus implored His listeners, Believe the Gospel. So we humbly implore you.
Please let me know if you've just begun to believe so we could talk some more. God bless you!
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