This morning as you entered you received a sheet with four choices. The sheets are totally anonymous--there is no request on those sheets for you to report any information about yourself. You share information with me only if you want to. If you want to share information, you can drop your sheet in a basket after we dismiss. If you do not want to share information, please take the sheet with you.

These are the choices:

Whether in fact you mark the sheet or not, in your mind make one of those four selections.

"I have to mark number one because I am really confused about God's salvation. I do not have an overall understanding of salvation. Salvation's 'big picture' completely escapes me. I believe God does it, but I do not know how God does it. Everything I hear just adds to my confusion."

"Well, I have to mark # 2 because of Paul's statement in Ephesians 2:4-10.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

"My understanding is the salvation is all God's work because it is His gift to us."

"Well, I would have to mark # 3 because of what Jesus and Paul said. Jesus said,
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:5-10:
Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--for we walk by faith, not by sight--we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

"I am convinced that salvation is primarily a matter of obedience."

"Well I would have to mark # 4. Unlike # 1, I definitely have an overall understanding of salvation. But # 2 and # 3 do not represent my understanding."

Let us ask the obvious question: how can salvation be a gift and at the same time be based on our deeds? Or, how can God give us a gift and we be judged on the basis of what we do and say?

  1. As we attempt to sort this out, we must begin with some critical observations.
    1. Every writing or "book" in the New Testament is an occasional writing.
      1. "What does that mean?"
      2. It means that each writing in the New Testament was written by a specific person to a specific group or person regarding specific needs or problems.
        1. Are all those writings inspired of God? Yes.
        2. Are all those writings scripture, writing whose original source is God? Yes.
        3. This understanding is essential: the primary meaning of any verse or chapter or point must begin by understanding the problem or need the writer addressed.
      3. We cannot merely string a group of verses from different writings together to support a position.
        1. When we make a point from a verse the writer did not make, we easily can misrepresent what the writer wrote.
        2. When we do that, we easily substitute our own conviction for the writer's point.
    2. When we use scripture, we must be careful and conscientious to understand the situation and the point of the person speaking or writing.
      1. If we are not careful, we declare a person in scripture said something he did not say or wrote something he did not write.
      2. What is at stake is misrepresenting God and misrepresenting the people God inspired to write scripture.
    3. Let me use Jesus' statement in Matthew 16:27 as an example.
      For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.
      1. The context of this statement made by Jesus:
        1. Jesus is the speaker and Matthew is the writer.
        2. Jewish men who are Jesus' disciples are the people to whom Jesus made the statement.
        3. This statement is made in the gospel written to Jewish people.
      2. This statement occurs as part of a whole group of statements:
        1. Jesus told Peter that he was acting as Satan's agent because his mind was concerned with human interests instead of God's interests.
        2. He told his disciples that they must take up their crosses and follow him.
        3. He told them that if they died because of him they would gain life.
        4. He warned them that if they preserved physical life by neglecting their souls, they lost everything.
        5. Then he made the statement concerning judgment by deeds.
      3. I want to call the obvious to your attention.
        1. Jesus was not talking about all mankind being judged when he made this statement.
        2. He was talking to his disciples about being judged.
        3. "As disciples, do not conclude that God's partiality will save you."
          1. "Even you need to have a clear understanding that it is not who you are but how you live that will determine your judgment."
          2. "Do not expect to be saved because God is partial to you as Israelites."
          3. "Do not expect to be saved because God is partial to you as disciples."
          4. "Being my disciple gives you the privilege of serving God's purposes."
          5. "So, as my disciple, use your life to do God's will."
          6. "Being my disciple provides you the privilege of opportunity--God will evaluate the way you use your life in honoring the privilege of that opportunity."

  2. Is salvation God's gift? Yes. Will Christians be judged by their deeds? Yes. How can that be?
    1. The statement made in Ephesians 2:4-10 was made to Christians who were not Jews, who were converted from idolatry and its lifestyle.
      1. Paul said before they entered Christ they were spiritually dead.
        1. At that time they were ruled by forces that opposed God.
        2. At that time the desires of their physical bodies controlled their behavior.
      2. They were not God's chosen people.
        1. Abraham was not their forefather.
        2. God did not deliver them from Egypt.
        3. God did not give them Canaan.
        4. God did not send the Israelite prophets to them.
      3. They are now in Christ because of the goodness of God, not because they had Israel's promises.
        1. It is not their worth that gave them salvation.
        2. It was God's goodness and kindness.
        3. They had no right to human arrogance.
        4. There was only place for service to God in the good works God wanted done.
    2. In New Testament language, we are Gentiles and we are a Gentile congregation.
      1. It is highly probable that 99% to 100% of us as Gentiles have only attended a Gentile worship.
      2. Our salvation is God's gift to us in Christ.
        1. We do not deserve all the gifts God gives us in Christ.
        2. For us to arrogantly think that God will be partial to us for any reason is totally unfounded.
      3. As people whom God recreated in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of devoting our existence to serving God by doing His good works.
    3. No one deserves God's gracious acts in Jesus' death.
      1. No one deserves God's atonement in Christ.
      2. No one deserves God's redemption in Christ.
      3. No one deserves God's propitiation in Christ.
      4. No one deserves God's justification in Christ.
      5. No one deserves God's sanctification in Christ.
      6. No one deserves God's reconciliation in Christ.
      7. The only way anyone can have these things is by God giving them to us.
    4. The statement made in 2 Corinthians 5:10 about appearing before Christ's judgment seat to be evaluated on the basis of the deeds done in the body was made to Christians in the city of Corinth.
      1. This congregation was primarily composed of non-Jewish Christians, though it had some Jewish Christians in it.
      2. These Christians were living as they pleased, doing "their own thing."
      3. The congregation was divided; they had a horrible, open case of incest they ignored; they were taking each other to pagan courts to settle differences; they were visiting prostitutes; and they were arrogantly competing with each other in worship assemblies.
      4. When Paul tried to redirect their understanding, some verbally attacked Paul and claimed they were superior to anything Paul said or did.
      5. Because they were Christians, they thought they could live as they pleased and God would not be concerned.
        1. Paul said they were horribly mistaken.
        2. God would evaluate them on the basis of how they lived for Him.

  3. Our salvation is a gift that we do not deserve, but we receive the gift to live for God, to serve God, to dedicate ourselves to doing good.
    1. Salvation is God's gift; that is the only way we can receive it.
    2. But we are saved to serve, and Christ will judge our appreciation of our gift on the basis of how we live and use our lives.
    3. From the beginning of Christianity, Christians have struggled with their understanding of salvation.
      1. Some Christians at Corinth basically said, "God's grace saves us and places us in Christ, and how we live and act really doesn't matter."
      2. Some Jewish Christians said, "We are Abraham's descendants who believe Jesus is the Messiah God promised us, so God show us partiality."
      3. Some Gentile Christians, like some in Rome, said, "Ha, ha, ha to all you Jews! Look at what God does for us in Christ! We have what you don't have!"
      4. Some Christians in the last of the first century said, "Jesus Christ is not all that important, and God does not care how people live."
    4. And the message of the New Testament epistles is consistent: "You Christians have a serious misunderstanding of God, of Jesus Christ, and of salvation.

And 2000 years later we struggle with the same misunderstandings. And 2000 years later we seriously misunderstand God, Jesus Christ, and salvation.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 July 2002

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell