Part 1 Our Saviour God

His Achievement Are We

GOD ALONE is our Saviour. Through Isaiah, He declares, “I, I, Yahweh am El [God]! And there is no Saviour apart from Me” (Isa.43:11). He is the Subjector and the Saviour: “An El, just, and a Saviour. And none is there except Me” (Isa.45:21).

Our need for God is an all-encompassing one. We need Him “every hour,” continually, not merely upon occasion. For at all times we either need to be saved from sinful practices or to be preserved in the paths of righteousness.

The presence of God’s saving power is often unrecognized, even among those in whom it is operating extensively. Ignorance of divine grace is a primary cause of human ingratitude. Men are inordinately proud of their self-control, for they suppose it to be their own creation. They do not realize that self-control, along with all else that is virtuous and agreeable, is always a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:23); it is never a work of the flesh.

It is a major step forward when the unbeliever finally turns to God, having discovered that he is not really self-sufficient after all. It is at least as great an advancement when the believer repudiates all confidence in the flesh and begins to rely upon God alone.

Whenever we are faithful, it is true, in a relative sense, that thus we “save ourselves” (for example, from withdrawing from the faith; cf 1 Tim.4:1,16). But we only do this in His grace. Therefore boasting in man is debarred: “Toil I—yet not I but the grace of God which is with me” (1 Cor.15: 10).

Our actions are God’s channels; they are not a source, but a conduit. Any course of action which we may take which is essential to a goal, is the fruit, not the root of salvation. Though practical salvation is through our works, it is not out of our works. For grace is not out of works, and salvation is both in and by grace. “Now if it is in grace, it is no longer out of works, else the grace is coming to be no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). Should we be enabled to carry such marvelous salvation into effect in our lives, this will be so thanks to our Saviour, not ourselves: “For it is God Who is operating in you to will as well as to work for the sake of His delight” (Phil.2:13).

All that is faithful and pleasing to God is due in its entirety to His gracious provision and direction. A realization of this truth is essential to maturity and humility. For no one can walk humbly with his God who conceives of himself as the one who finally turns defeat into victory. Therefore, we must not boast of what we have “let” the Lord do in our lives. Submission to Him can never afford us an occasion for self-boasting, but only a further opportunity to thank God for His saving grace.

It wounds our self-respect to think that we might actually need such a gracious and powerful provision. And when we recognize God’s true grace, it cuts ever so deeply into our pride. Many are ready to assure us that such grace is neither given nor needed. We find such claims to be quite flattering; they make it easier for us to preserve our self-reliant attitudes and ways.

However, we will do well to consider the story of the gracious creditor and his two debtors, one of whom owed ten times more than the other. Since neither were able to pay, “he deals graciously with them both” (Luke 7:42). Though both were appreciative, it was the one “with whom he deals the more graciously” who was “loving him more” (Luke 7:42,43). Similarly, when God gives us an understanding and appreciation of the graciousness of His operations, both for us and in us, we are enabled to love Him more.

May we not, like Belshazzar, exalt ourselves over the Lord of the heavens, in Whose hand is our breath, and “for Whom” are all our paths (cf Dan.5:23). When we exalt ourselves, due to our failure to perceive God’s all-sufficient hand upon us, we fail to honor Him. When we take such an approach, our career can only be “weighed on the scales and found lacking” (cf Dan.5:27).

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TWO FUNDAMENTAL ERRORS

Most believers consider “free will” and “eternal punishment” to be foundational truth. However, a few consider these same concepts to be foundational error. Of course many among those on both sides of these questions have simply taken a position; most are not aware of the basic issues to be decided. Consequently, confusion is perpetuated, prejudice and ignorance prevail, and these important matters are never resolved.

We propose to examine many of the basic issues involved in these questions, such as faith, choice, foreknowledge, voluntary action, judgment, and trials. The fulcrum point of our considerations will be God’s achievements through the death and resurrection of Christ. What is the scope of these achievements in our salvation and with respect to His ultimate purpose to become All in all?

The prevailing idea today is that God saves us (from “eternal punishment”) only after we first save ourselves from being disqualified for His alleged “gift.” While He wishes to assist us even in this, He will only do so if we are willing and cooperative. One must save himself from unwillingness. Finally, we are left on our own. When we need Him the most, He will do nothing. That is: God helps those who help themselves.

Though it is acknowledged that we cannot earn salvation, it is insisted that we still have to qualify for it! Such a claim is nonsensical, for “earn” and “qualify” are synonyms. The basic idea of compensation is common to both. For example, a successful salesman qualifies for a luxurious vacation by earning a sufficient number of bonus points.

The popular idea that we must qualify ourselves for salvation in order to escape being consigned to everlasting punishment is a repudiation of God’s grace. Besides, all power and ability come from God, Who alone is our gracious Saviour.

This is our theme throughout this study. The purpose for its writing is to make known this great truth. We are taking up the error of human free will first, and the error of everlasting punishment second.

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FAITH AND THE EVANGEL FOR TODAY

It is wonderful to know that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim.1:15), not merely to make it possible for sinners to be saved. Similarly, we were not conciliated to God through accepting Christ or believing in the death of His Son. Instead, “We were conciliated to God through the death of His Son” (Rom.5:10). Likewise, Christ did not die in order that our sins might be forgiven; for He would never need to die for God merely to forgive us. He died that God as our judge might have a just basis for justifying us or declaring us righteous. He “was given up because of our offenses, and was roused because of our justifying” (Rom.4:25). We are “now justified in His blood” (Rom.5:9).

But this is only so “through Jesus Christ’s faith” (Rom.3:22), “the faith of Jesus” (Rom.3:26). This is what such passages as these say; they speak of Christ’s own faith, not of our faith in Christ. They no more mean our faith in Him, than the words “the faith of Abraham” (Rom.4:16) mean our faith in Abraham! It is incorrect to translate them otherwise. To do so is to interpret, not translate. But since men are so confident that they are saved (from “Hell”) through “accepting Christ,” they assume that any reference to faith in association with Christ must be their own, instead of His. They think of their own faith as what keeps them from being lost. Such a conception of “grace” is perfectly indistinguishable from a reward.

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THUS YOU BELIEVE

Faith is essential to our salvation, but it is not a “requirement.” It is “essential” only in the sense that there are none in Christ but those who have faith in Him; they all genuinely believe that He died and rose (cf 1 Thess.4:14). All such ones are brethren in Christ. For God gives all His people at least some faith in at least this much. God is especially (though not exclusively) the Saviour of believers (1 Tim.4:10); it is these chosen ones who alone are “happening upon the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with glory eonian” (2 Tim.2:10).

Why did the Corinthians believe? Was it merely the result of a “free will” decision of their own, or was it because, like Paul, God’s powerful grace was with them in a wonderful way? To all who have eyes to see, Paul’s words concerning this matter are unmistakable:

Paul had been the foremost of sinners (1 Tim.1:15). For beyond all others, he had committed much contrary to the name of Jesus the Nazarene, and punished and persecuted the ecclesia of God exceedingly (1 Cor.15:9; Acts 9:1; 26:9-11). Therefore it required “all His patience” (1 Tim.1:16) for the Lord to deal with this terrible sinner and to graciously save him. Many years later, when writing his Ephesian epistle, Paul painfully recalled those evil days, and in light of them could only speak of himself as “less than the least of all saints” (Eph.3:8).

Yet, in the grace of God I am what I am [now]” (1 Cor.15:10a), Paul insists to the Corinthians. For the Lord had met him on the Damascus road. The faith and love of Christ Jesus came over him and changed him from being the foremost sinner among men into the faithful and obedient apostle to the nations, of whom we are to become imitators (1 Cor.11:1; Phil.3:17).

Paul accounts for the faith of the Corinthians (even as the heralding of the twelve, cf 1 Cor.12:5) on this same ground: “His grace, which is in me, did not come to be for naught, but more exceedingly than all of them toil I—yet not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Then, whether I or they, thus [houtos, THE-SAME-AS] we are heralding and thus you believe” (1 Cor.15: 10b, 11).

The grace of God is effective, not merely potential. Faith is God’s gracious gift to us, with which He overwhelms our former unbelief, imparting to all whom He calls a measure thereof, whenever it delights Him to unveil His Son in us (cf Phil.1:29; 1 Tim.1:13-16; Rom.12:3; Gal. 1:15,16). This proves that salvation is not a refusable offer and that faith is not spiritual currency. Faith is not meritorious. Accepting Christ is not a transaction. Salvation is a gracious gift, not a covenant or agreement. Those who are yet of a mind to “strike a deal” with God, are in no mood to acknowledge their need of a Saviour.

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CHRIST PAID ALL

Salvation in Christ is not “the greatest bargain in all the universe,” for it is not a bargain at all. It is neither cheap nor expensive. It is free. We need not be “willing to pay the price,” for there is no price to pay. Christ paid it all. He was made sin; God condemned sin in the flesh in the sacrifice of His Son (2 Cor.5:21; Rom.8:3).

Salvation is not a reward for having done the right thing, or for “meeting conditions.” As with Abraham (Rom.4:16-21), our faith reveals to us what is already true, concerning what God has promised. It gives us assurance.

“God, Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling,” has promised to glorify and conform to the image of His Son, all those whom He chose “in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian;” this evangel “now is being manifested” (2 Tim.1:9,10). “Now you, brethren, as Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal.4:28; cf Rom.9:9-11). This is the gospel—not some offer of a way to escape “Hell.”

The customary “invitation” or “altar call” of today is simply a vain tradition of men (cf Mark 7:8). Since it “gets results,” it is used. Through it, many become converts to the “Christian religion.” The number of those from among such throngs whom God Himself has already chosen is known to Him, not ourselves. Such popular techniques are based upon the false idea which has well been termed, “decisional regeneration.”

However, such presentations are not faithful ones. For Christ is to be announced and proclaimed, not offered as a “great opportunity” (cp Acts 13:38,39). This is to be done so that, “whoever were set for life eonian” (Acts 13:48; cf Eph.1:3-6) may believe “through grace” (Acts 18:27; cf Rom.10:14,15). “Yahweh, our Elohim, You are the Setter of welfare on the hearthstones for us, For, moreover, You contrive all our doings for us” (Isa.26:12).

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THOSE WHO ARE CHOSEN

It is no part of our calling or service today to be crying out to men, “Repent! for near is the kingdom of the heavens!” (Matt.3:2); or, “Return and turn away from all your transgressions, And your depravity shall not become a stumbling block to you” (Ezekiel 18:30). Instead, in this present “day of salvation” (2 Cor.6:2), we are to dispense “the word of the conciliation,” “how that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them” (2 Cor.5:18, 19). This tremendous change in the divine dealings during the present administration is “the world’s riches” (Rom.11:12) quite apart from their acceptance or appreciation of it.

The terrible judgments which are predicted for “the conclusion of the eon” (Matt.24:3) are yet to come at the close of this present age. They are for that era. But this present era is not that future era. The present administration, as a foretaste of God’s glorious plans for the new creation, is not concerned with such matters. It is utterly anachronistic to herald wrath in a day of conciliation.

The evangel for today is to be proclaimed on behalf of those who are chosen, that they also may be happening upon the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with glory eonian (2 Tim.2: 10). Most of those who are naming the name of the Lord have never heard a clear presentation of the evangel of God. Instead, they have been subjected to a great deal of confusion, in the midst of which, and in spite of all the error, “Christ crucified” was still proclaimed (cf 1 Cor.1:23). And, in such cases, God has used this marvelous message—not the contiguous “profane prattlings” which were also present (2 Tim.2:16)—to bring many of His people into the beginning of their life of faith. Therefore, “seeing that, by every method, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being announced, I am rejoicing in this also, and will be rejoicing nevertheless” (Phil.1:18).

The evangel is not to be conceived as the presentation of an investment opportunity, a “good deal,” through which all who are smart enough to recognize a good thing when they see it and willing to pay the price to “get in” may do so. One does not “join” the ecclesia (out-called ones) of God, as if it were a fraternal organization or some popular “church”: “Yet now God [the Placer] placed the members, each one of them, in the body according as He wills” (1 Cor.12:18).

The truth is, though we too were once terrible sinners, even as the rest, “when the kindness and fondness for humanity of our Saviour, God, made its advent,” it came to us “not for works which are wrought in righteousness which we do, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:4,5a). God chose to be merciful to us, we did not put Him under obligation to be merciful. He decides to whom He will grant His mercy, and when He will do so. We did not qualify for it; therefore God was not obligated to give it.

Salvation is not afforded man at his own convenience, whenever he would care to take it to himself. Furthermore, there is no injustice with God in acting purposefully, choosing some for certain blessings and positions which He does not grant to others. “For to Moses He is saying, ‘I shall be merciful to whomever I may be merciful, and I shall be pitying whomever I may be pitying’” (Rom.9:15). When God is merciful to us, it is only because He is also gracious to us (cp Exodus 33:19).

Most seem to conceive of one’s obtaining of the holy spirit in a way similar to that of Simon, the magician. Like him, they “infer that the gratuity of God is [somehow] to be acquired” (Acts 8:20). Whether one seeks to acquire the holy spirit through money, or faith, the principle is the same. God’s gifts are not for sale. Peter’s testimony to those who would represent salvation in Christ as an acquisition for which men may qualify, is, “Your heart is not straight in front of God. Repent, then, from this evil of yours” (Acts 8:21,22).

Let us rejoice in the realization that God is our Saviour!—“He saves us, through the bath of renascence and renewal of holy spirit, which He pours out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Saviour” (Titus 3:5b,6). This is so, “that, being justified in that One’s grace, we may be becoming enjoyers, in expectation, of the allotment of life eonian” (Titus 3:7).

James Coram

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