Which Old Testament Laws Apply to Christians Today? a series of studies by Michael Morrison
14. Salvation by Grace
1. Does everyone fall short of what God commands? Romans 3:9-10, 23. What is the penalty of sin? Romans 6:23; 5:12. Did Jesus pay the penalty for us? 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Peter 2:24. Therefore, can we be confident that our sins have been forgiven through what he did? Acts 2:38; 10:43; 13:38-39; Romans 3:24.
God is perfect, but human beings are not. God is holy, humans are not. We do not deserve to live forever with God. No one can claim such an eternal blessing as a right. No one can claim to have earned the right to be with God forever. On judgment day, no one can say: “You have to let me in. I’ve been good enough.” No one is ever “good enough” to obligate God to do anything for them. What we deserve is death.
However, God wants us to live with him forever. That is why he created us. He loves us and wants us, so he paid the penalty for us, as a gift. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for our sins. Through his payment on our behalf, our sins are forgiven and we are given eternal life with God (John 3:16). This is wonderful news: God wants to live with us!
3. However, does sin also continue to live in us? Romans 7:17-23. Do Christians continue to struggle with sin? Romans 6:11-13; Ephesians 4:22-32. Is there anyone who does not sin? 1 John 1:8, 10. What must Christians therefore continue to do? 1 John 1:9; Matthew 6:12.
Therefore, we have a continuing need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. No one can say, “I’ve been so good that I deserve to live with God forever.” When judgment day comes, everyone will need mercy. Because all Christians sin, we continue to need God’s grace — and the good news is that we continue to be forgiven and made clean through the atoning work of our Savior. Salvation is a gift from start to finish.
Paul talks about forgiveness by using the term justification, which means not only forgiveness but also giving us the status of being righteous. Christians are not just declared neutral, but are declared good and righteous, acceptable to God. How can this be? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul wrote about justification.
4.Can a person be justified by obeying God’s law? Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16; 3:11; Titus 3:5. How then can we be justified — declared righteous and acceptable to God? Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:24, 28; 5:1; Galatians 3:24; Titus 3:7.
We are incapable of earning our salvation. We can never perform enough good deeds to make up for the fact that we are sinners. We can never be saved on the basis of righteous things we have done. Salvation is always by God’s mercy and his grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This gift was made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross. He paid the penalty of our sins, and through faith in him — by accepting what he has done for us — we experience forgiveness. God’s grace does not mean we are given permission to sin (Romans 3:31; 6:1). God created us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and grace teaches us to quit sinning (Titus 2:11-12). Throughout the New Testament, we are exhorted to obey God, and we are warned about sin. But regardless of how obedient we might be, salvation does not come from our good works, but through the grace of God.
Of all humans, Paul had an excellent claim to his own righteousness, both in the Old Testament law and in zeal for Jesus Christ. But he did not trust in his own works:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: …in regard to the law, a Pharisee… as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:4-9)
The righteousness that we need for salvation cannot come from ourselves. It can come only from Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel is that his righteousness is given to us, and we receive this by faith, not by works of the law. It is in Christ that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“Christ Jesus has become…our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). He becomes our righteousness, and in him we become the righteousness of God. We are justified — counted among the righteous.
Many Christians haven’t fully understood the gospel of salvation by the grace of Jesus Christ. Many people still think that salvation is by faith plus works. The truth is that works can’t save us, since even at their best they fall short of what God has commanded.
As an illustration, let’s suppose that people are at the gates of paradise, and the gatekeeper asks, “Why should I let you in?” Many Christians would respond: “Because I’ve been good. I went to church every week, I always gave a generous offering, I read the Bible every day, I never took anything that wasn’t mine, I never looked at pornography, etc.” Alcohol abstainers would mention what they did, and Sabbath keepers would mention what they did.
But the gatekeeper would reply: “So what? For one thing, you never did those things perfectly. For another, even if you did them perfectly, those things wouldn’t erase your sins and corruption. If that’s what God wanted, he could make machines to do those things.”
The correct reply, in contrast, is that we rely on the sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus Christ, knowing we have nothing to offer God. Salvation is given to us because of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ, nothing else. The faith and love God has granted us lead us into obedience and wholehearted devotion to him, but salvation does not depend on our success in obedience, or we wouldn’t be saved. Since our obedience is never perfect, it can never count for salvation.
Even so, obedience is important. If we have faith in our Lord, we will obey him. We live for our King who died for us and now lives for us and in us (2 Corinthians 5:15). Our deepest allegiance is with him forever.
The Bible sometimes describes salvation with the word redemption. This word comes from the ancient slave market. People who could not pay their debts were sold into slavery. If their friends and relatives were able to get enough money to pay the debt, then they could redeem
or buy the person back from slavery.
To use this figure of speech for salvation, we see that we have a debt to sin that we cannot pay, and we find ourselves in the slavery of sin. We cannot work our way out of slavery, but Christ is able to pay our debt for us. His death on the cross redeemed us out of sin and debt. He purchased us, and we belong to him. We are now obligated to our new Master, and we owe him our obedience and loyalty.
God values us much more than slaves. We are his children and heirs; we are his friends and family, members of his household. And through our Savior Jesus Christ, even our broken personal relationship with God is restored! We were once enemies of God, working against him. But through Christ, we are reconciled to him, made friends again. Once we were rebels; now we are allies. We have given our allegiance to God because of what he has done for us. Let’s see how Paul develops this concept.
5. How were we reconciled to God? Romans 5:8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18. Did one person — Jesus — die for all of us? 2 Corinthians 5:14.How then should we live? Verse 15. Do we have new life in Jesus Christ? 2 Corinthians 5:17. What work does God then assign us? 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.
Because Jesus died for us, we now live for him. We obey him. We have a new life. This is described in other places as being “born again” (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). Our purpose and orientation in life is changed by our new relationship with God. Our new identity as God’s children has practical implications for the way we live. As he is living in us, he is also changing our hearts and minds toward his purposes. The Holy Spirit leads us to continue to put off old ways and to put on Christlike ways. Because Jesus loved us, we love him, and we love the people he loves.
As part of our love for God and neighbor, we support the “message of reconciliation” — the good news that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ — the good news that forgiveness is given through him. As Christians, we are Christ’s representatives, and God is making his appeal to humanity through us. Just as Paul did, we implore people to be reconciled to God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel” (Colossians 1:21-23).
Peter says that Christians are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” And why have we been chosen? “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Once we were not God’s people — although he loved us, we were alienated from him. Now, through the reconciliation given to us through Christ, through the mercy of God, we are now his people, his children (verse 10).
How then should we live? Peter continues: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (verses 11-12).
6. What does the Holy Spirit put believers into? Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. What is that body? 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18. Whom is our fellowship with? 1 John 1:3, 7.
Throughout the New Testament, believers are often found meeting together. Although our homes may be scattered among unbelievers, we form a new community, the church. In the church, we are learning to love each other, to be reconciled to each other, to help each other. We worship God together, we pray together, we study the Bible together and encourage each other in the faith. And together, we reach out to share the gospel with those who walk in darkness.
As an organized community, the church encourages its members to serve others, each according to their ability. But our interactions are not just with one another — they are also spiritual. Our fellowship is also with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we express love to one another, we also express love for God, since God wants us to love one another.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).