Category Archives: grace and works

That’s Really Frustrating

“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21).

One of the favorite doctrines of the denominational world is salvation by grace alone. Hiscox’s Standard Baptist Manual states, “We believe the Scriptures teach that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace” (1903, p. 61). Many in the religious world argue that we are saved by grace to the exclusion of any works on our part, especially baptism, since, they say, it is something we do. One of the passages often advanced to prove this point is Ephesians 2:8,9: “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.” Does this passage, or any other, teach we are saved by grace alone?

First, it should be mentioned that the same volume mentioned above also states, just one page later, that the “gift of eternal life . . . is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in Christ” (p. 62). These two concepts, “wholly of grace” and “solely through faith” are logically mutually exclusive. Both cannot be true, in the same way and same sense. Now, it may be partly through grace and partly through faith, but not both.

Second, the passage in Ephesians comes with a context. In the first verse of the second chapter, Paul contrasts two periods of time and two lifestyles. At one time the brethren in Ephesus were dead in sins, but now they are alive. To be dead in sin is to be living in sin and thus spiritually dead to God. Sin separates us from God (Is. 59:2). But sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4). So when they were living in sin they were acting in a way contrary to God’s law or His will. Now, he says, they are not dead in sin, but alive to God, meaning they are acting in a way that is in harmony with or obedience to God’s will. This language plainly speaks of works, of things done in one’s life.

In verses two and three he continues to describe the distinction between these two times and lifestyles. The former time and lifestyle were lived in the world. John tells us that this is the moral sphere of human conduct satisfying the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). In verse three Paul says that these Ephesian brethren had previously fulfilled the lusts of the flesh and of mind, but now they are not. Fulfilling these desires requires activity or works. Paul, in fact, describes them as “works” of the flesh (Gal. 5:19,20).

Furthermore, Paul said that they were the children of disobedience (2:2) and deserving of wrath (2:3). Paul elsewhere said that wrath is deserved by those who “are contentious and do not obey the truth” (Rom. 2:28). If, in their former life, they were disobedient, but now they are no longer so, that means they now must be obedient. That is, they are doing acts that God had commanded. This is works! Paul is describing how at one point in time they were disobedient, but now are obeying God.

Paul describes exactly when this time was. Paul said they were quickened and raised up together (2:5,6). When does this quickening and raising up occur? Paul wrote to the Colossian brethren, an epistle written at about the same time as the Ephesian epistle, that they were “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). They were buried and raised with him in the act of baptism.

Again, Paul wrote “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Just as Christ was raised from the dead, they were (and we are) raised from the watery grave of baptism to walk in newness of life. That new life came at the point in time when they were raised from the waters of baptism. That is when and where the change occurred, for them and also for us.

Furthermore, Paul says we are raised to sit in heavenly places in Christ (6). It is in Christ “in heavenly places” where all spiritual blessings are, including salvation (Eph. 1:3; II Tim. 2:10). How do we get in Christ? We get into Christ by baptism Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:26,27). Thus, the point at which the change occurred was in the act of baptism, when baptism is preceded by the appropriate moral conditions.

This is borne out in the historical account of the establishment of the church at Ephesus. Paul stated of the Ephesians that they trusted in Christ after they heard the word and were sealed with the Holy Spirit after they believed (Eph. 1:13). When did this occur? In Luke’s account in Acts the people of Ephesus heard the word which Paul preached to them and were baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:4,5). After this Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, and thus were sealed (Acts 19:6; Eph. 1:13). Thus, the point at which they were quickened and raised was when they were baptized for the remission of sins.

Paul further points out in the Ephesian letter’s context that God loved us even when we sinners (2:4). Paul said even while we were dead in sins God quickened us (2:5). What is being spoken of here? Paul tells us that even when we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-10). There is the manifestation of God’s grace! We, though undeserving, were the recipients of God’s favor through Jesus Christ’s death. Paul states that in our being saved it shows “the exceeding riches of his grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

If grace alone could save, then all would be saved for God’s grace has appeared to all (Tit. 2:11). But there is a hell and it is prepared for and will be populated by those whose works did not qualify them to be recorded in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:11-15). We are not saved by grace alone, or faith alone or works alone, but by all three (Rom. 1:5).

It is in this context that we are to read Eph. 2:8,9. We are saved by God’s grace, by His kindness shown toward us in the sacrifice of His Son. That part is God’s part for we could not save ourselves. We certainly are not saved by works of merit or works of the law of Moses, but we are saved by works of obedience (Rom. 16:26; I Thess. 1:3; Heb. 5:8,9). If we try to be saved by our own merit, or by the works of the law of Moses, then we frustrate (atheteo) the grace of God (Gal. 2:20). But we violate or frustrate (atheteo) God’s command if we suggest we can be saved by grace alone (Mark 7:9; Rom. 6:1). Either of these two views is really frustrating to salvation.

“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:15-18).

Eric L. Padgett


Some times in life we are required to make choices. Some of these choices can have very serious and lasting consequences. Which person should I marry? Which house or which car will I buy? Should I have surgery or not? Should I speak out or should I remain silent. These are real options that sometimes require a hard choice to be made between two or more alternatives. But some times the choices presented to us are false. Sometimes we are told we must choose between two or more possibilities and the necessity of a choice is only apparent.

For example, sometimes we are told we must choose between hating and loving. We understand that the first and greatest commandment in the law of Moses was to love God and the second greatest was to love neighbor as self (Matt. 22:35-40). We understand that Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 15:17). But we also understand that God, our Heavenly Father, hates iniquity (Heb. 1:9). Are we any better than our Heavenly Father? Are we more righteous than He? The Lord specifically commended the churches of Ephesus and Pergamus because they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which, the Lord said, He also hated (Rev. 2:6,15). We should hate what the Lord hates and love what He loves! The choice between hate and love often is only a false choice.

Another example of this is the false choice between building and defending. I have heard certain segments of our brotherhood derisively call those who are committed to defending the faith “brotherhood watchdogs.” Those who use this language are usually never willing to stand up against anyone except those who stand up against doctrinal and moral error. But once again, this is a false choice. Just as the Jew of old in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem wrought with one of his hands and with the other hand held a weapon (Neh. 4:17,18), so, too, we must both build and defend the Lord’s church. In fact, in the Christian dispensation, because Truth is so intimately connected with the salvation in the Lord’s church, we cannot but help do one when we faithfully do the other. The choice between building and defending is a false one.

Another false choice often presented as the only options is between God’s love and God’s justice. Some emphasize God’s love so much that it sounds as if God never has judged anyone or never will be judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25). Truly, God is love (I John 4:8). Indeed, no greater love has been shown than when God sent His Only Begotten Son into the world to be offered as a ransom for all (John 3:16; I Tim. 2:6). But, nevertheless, God is going to judge man for his sins because God is just (Zeph. 3:5; Zech. 9:9). To be true to God we must teach all His word says about Him. The choice between God’s love and God’s justice is a false one.

Another choice the religious world likes to force us to make is the one between grace and works. Most in the religious world will say we are saved by grace and nothing else. Still others in the religious world will say that we can merit our salvation by being good enough or doing enough to earn our salvation. Again, the choice is a false one. We are saved by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8) just as surely as we are saved by works of obedience (II Thess. 1:8). God’s grace is extended to all men but it teaches us that we must do something in response (Tit. 2:11,12). The choice between grace and works is a false one.

Finally, some want to force a choice between faith and baptism. Some will emphasize the necessity of faith to the extent they say we are saved by faith alone. In fact, the New Testament teaches we are not saved by faith only (James 2:4). The Bible clearly teaches that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). The Bible clearly teaches that he that believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:15,16). The right way of teaching this issue is to present the whole counsel of God and not just what we want to teach (Acts 20:27). The truth is, there is no choice between faith and baptism because it is not “faith or baptism” but “faith and baptism.”

In life, there are many serious choices we must make. Some are matters of life and death and eternity. Let us not add to these real and serious choices false and manufactured ones.

Eric L. Padgett

To Please God Must You Sin?

The denominational view of grace is, no doubt, sincere but, all too often, misguided. Often, even those in the Lord’s own church are mistaken about the nature of God’s grace. Grace is generally defined as “unmerited favor.” “Unmerited” means that it is not earned. There is nothing a person can do to merit or earn salvation. You can not be so good or so righteous that you could raise your fist to God and say “I deserve to be saved after what I have done.” Even when we have done all that we are commanded to do, we are still unprofitable servants (Luke17:10).

Because of this, those in the denominational world have concluded that, in obtaining salvation, works are excluded. Since we can’t do enough to earn salvation, they have concluded that works are not involved at all, that salvation comes solely through grace. Calvinists, in particular, because they want to emphasize God’s sovereignty in the universe, argue that we are so totally depraved that there is nothing anyone can do to “contribute one whit to his own salvation.” Some of our own brethren have made this claim. Consider the following heretical quotes:

  • “It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity. We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.” – Rubel Shelly, Lovelines, “Arbeit Macht Frei” Oct. 31, 1990.
  • “I believe deeply that the New Testament teaches that salvation is a free gift of God period. You are saved by grace alone.” – Randy Mayeux, 1989 Youth Minister’s Seminar.
    “Nobody has any right to preach anything other than the Gospel of pure grace. We are saved by grace plus nothing. You are saved by faith period. There is nothing you can do to be saved. There are no rules; there are no regulations in serving Jesus Christ.” – Glen Owen, 1982, Midtown church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX.
  • “Man’s salvation is based on God’s grace. Period. Man’s salvation is not a work of man in any way, shape, or form. We may extend our hand to receive salvation by believing in Christ and turning from our lives of sin to live lives for God and then being immersed, but this, in no way, puts God in our debt. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.” – Paul Woodhouse, What is Grace-Centeredness?, Rubel
  • “I, too, had believed that it was only when one’s faith led her to the point of being baptized for the remission of sins that she was saved. I no longer do…I would have been wrong. Heretically wrong. Without realizing it, in those days I had taken the salvation God by grace offers through faith and twisted it into the gift He offers through faithful obedience. Why is that so wrong? Because it violates the very principle of salvation by grace through faith.” – unnamed author, 2002, Grace Centered Magazine.

What these men are saying is nothing less than what those in the denominational world have been saying for generations. They are teaching “grace only” and “faith only” (although the logical mind is hard pressed to conceive how both of those views can be true in the same way). And what they have done is to confuse “human activity” with works of merit. But, again, the logical mind recognizes that all “works of merit” are “human activities” but not all “human activities” are “works of merit.” The conflation of these two concepts is irrational. There are many human activities that are not “works of merit.” It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach otherwise.

As noted above, Glen Owen says first that “We are saved by grace plus nothing.” Then, with his irrationality fully and ingloriously displayed, he says, “You are saved by faith period.” “Grace plus nothing” excludes faith. “Faith period” excludes grace. It cannot be both of these hell-conceived, humanly contrived schemes. In truth, it is neither. Neither are Biblical concepts but have been conceived in the bosom of our adversary. They have been devised so as to cloud the truth that God demands obedience to become His children (I Pet. 1:22,23). God’s grace does not remove the obligation for obedience. Rather it increases the obligation (Tit. 2:11-15).

To illustrate, consider this example. Some parents require their children to do chores around the house (unfortunately, this was much more common in days of old than it is in our present culture). Now suppose these parents who required their children to do some chores decided, at some point in time, to give their children a weekly allowance. Would this not be an act of unmerited favor? An act of grace? The giving of the allowance was not based on the children meriting or earning the allowance, for they had been doing the chores all along without it, but it was entirely based upon the good graces of the parents. Now suppose that, if, when the parents notice the children are spending this allowance foolishly, they decide to withhold from the children the allowance, so as to teach them the value of money and personal responsibility, does this mean the allowance is no longer an act of grace? Can the child then justifiably lift up his fist into the face of the parents and say “You owe me!” The children, in fact, owed their parents obedience to begin with, whether or not they received the allowance. The parents can justifiably set doing the chores as a condition of receiving the allowance without the chores becoming works of merit.

Furthermore, if it is the case that obedience “violates the very principle of salvation by grace through faith,” then, according to this “logic,” in order to be pleasing to God one would have to be disobedient. The more disobedience, the more grace. The righteous recoil at the very thought! But Paul had already anticipated this line of “reasoning” when he wrote “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” (Rom. 6:1). According to this way of thinking, in order for the children to continue to receive the allowance, they would have to refuse to take out the trash or clean their rooms or do any chores required of them by their parents for that would constitute works because, according to Mayeux, there are no rules or regulations. Such thoughts do not find their origin in God’s word!

Consider the following contrasts. Shelley says, “We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.” But Paul says “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). Owen said “You are saved by faith period.” James says “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Mayeux says there are no rules or regulations but Mark said one must believe and repent in order to have salvation (Mark 16:15,16). Whoever wrote the article in Grace Centered Magazine says baptism for the remission of sins violates the principle of salvation by grace through faith, but Peter said “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Paul Woodhouse may believe that “Man’s salvation is not a work of man in any way, shape, or form” but John recorded Jesus’ response to those who asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” as “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29). Now who do you believe?

The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews made the matter as clear as a bell when he penned these words: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).

Eric L. Padgett