“Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 NRSV)
Read Galatians 3:1-5.
Why do people not believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ? One reason is because Satan has bewitched them (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
However, some Christians who believe that God graciously accepts them by virtue of what Christ did for them and not because they deserve to be so accepted on the basis of their performance, think that maintaining that acceptance is something they should earn by their efforts. They find it hard to believe that from first to last God accepts them by grace through faith in Christ alone and not by works.
Here are some reasons why people find it hard to believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ from start to finish, even if initially they trusted in Christ alone for salvation.
1. THEY’VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE CROSS (verse 1b).
- John 19:30. “It is finished,” says Christ on the cross. The debt is paid in full. There is nothing more to add. Christ’s finished work on the cross is sufficient to cleanse us from all our sins. Why then should we think that we need to add our efforts (i.e., good works or obedience to the law) to what Christ did on the cross to ensure our salvation? It’s like flapping our arms inside an airplane in order to help the plane fly!
- Hebrews 7:25. He is able to save to the uttermost! Once again, Christ is sufficient to completely save us. What more can we add?
- Hebrews 10:14. By one offering he has already perfected us. In Christ we are completely righteous even though we still need to go through the process of becoming holy in ourselves. God’s acceptance of us is based on Christ’s perfect righteousness. There is nothing more of our personal righteousness that we can add in order for us to be more accepted by God.
2. THEY’VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE SPIRIT (verse 2).
- Romans 8:14-16. The Spirit is the proof that we are really God’s children and heirs of God. In other words, having the Spirit is the sign or evidence that we are really saved. But how is the Spirit received?
- Gal. 3:14; Acts 2:38-41. The Spirit is received by faith (repentance is the sincere expression of a believing heart and baptism is the public profession of faith)! Faith, sincerely expressed in repentance and publicly professed in baptism (1 Pet. 3:21) , results in the reception of the Spirit.
But if the Spirit – which is the proof that we are really God’s children and therefore saved – is received by faith as God’s free gift of grace when we put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, what makes us think that maintaining his presence and his salvation in our lives is now a matter of deserving and earning and meriting his favor by means of our efforts and performance?
- Romans 1:16-17; 2 Corinthians 3: 18; Hebrews 12:2. The Christian life (salvation in its holistic sense: perfect salvation from the penalty of sin, progressive salvation from the power of sin, and perfect salvation from the presence of sin when Christ returns) is by faith from first to last. As we behold Christ in faith, contemplating his glory in Scripture; daily growing in our knowledge and appreciation of, trust in and love for him; the Spirit transforms us to become more and more holy like Jesus. The just shall live by faith from beginning to end.
3. THEY’VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE (verse 4)
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6. If we look back to that joyful time when we experienced God’s forgiveness of all our sins and were assured of his salvation, was that experience the result of our good works or performance or obedience to God’s law, or because we simply put our faith in Jesus Christ? It was by faith! We came to Jesus Christ just as we were: undeserving and unworthy sinners whose only hope of salvation was God’s love, mercy and grace as demonstrated in Christ’s sacrifice – the Christ who, while we were yet sinners, died for us.
To be sure, we are not against good works or obedience to God’s law. What we are against is relying on our works or obedience or performance in order to be accepted by God and saved by him. Salvation is all of grace from first to last. The just shall live by faith from first to last. But if they truly believe, Christ through his Spirit dwells in them and will produce good works in and through them (Galatians 2:20). Good works are the result of being saved by faith alone in Christ alone. They are never the condition for being saved or for remaining saved.
In the same way that God first gave us the Spirit because of our faith alone in Christ and not because we deserve that the Spirit should dwell in us, God continues to supply us with the Spirit’s power by faith alone and not because we’ve earned the right to his continued presence and power by our works or obedience. Ironically, it is because we are saved by faith alone and not by works that we now receive from the Spirit the willingness and the power to do good works and to obey God’s law! Paradoxically, it is those who are not under the law who truly love the law and freely keep the law. And the reason why they obey the law is not in order to be saved by it, but because of their love for the lawgiver who freed them from the condemnation of the law by offering his Son to pay the penalty for their disobedience on the cross of Calvary.