by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
One reason so many Christians are confused about their salvation under grace is that they fail to realize that the New Testament speaks of two aspects of salvation. We studied this topic earlier in this book, yet, because so many Christians are trapped in a subtle form of legalism, we need to review these two aspects very briefly here.
Two Aspects of Salvation
The first aspect of salvation is what God did in Christ some two thousand years ago; the second is what God is doing now in every believer and will bring to completion at the second coming. The New Testament refers to the first phase as “you in Christ” and to the second as “Christ in you” [see John 15:4-5]. These two aspects are related like two sides of a coin, yet they are also distinct in at least four areas.
This is an important distinction, especially since so many look to their own performance for the assurance of salvation. Our righteous performance, even though it is of God and is pleasing to Him, does not contribute in the slightest toward our title to heaven. Our performance is important, however, since it is the most effective witness of God’s saving power. As the pagan philosopher Nietzsche once said, “If you Christians expect me to believe in your redeemer, you will have to look a lot more redeemed!”
Standing in Grace
One of the great privileges we have as Christians is standing in grace [see Romans 5:1-2]. What does it mean?
It means that not only do we have peace with God and full assurance of salvation through the justification Christ obtained for all mankind, but that we also are now standing in a special way in God’s realm of grace. Although we still possess sinful flesh, we have within us the indwelling Spirit, who is able to reproduce in us Christ’s righteousness and to enable us to overcome every temptation. Through Christ, we possess the very life of God so that now He is able to work in us both “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” [Philippians 2:13]. Before, while living under law and in our own strength, we were always coming short of the glory of God [see Romans 3:23], but now, under grace, our situation has changed entirely so that we have the hope of experiencing God’s glory — His life of self-sacrificing love [see 2 Corinthians 3:17-18].
The apostle Paul often used the word grace in terms of the divine power that fitted him to do the work and will of God. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” [1 Corinthians 15:10; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Ephesians 3:7-8; 1 Timothy 1:14]. This is what it means to stand in grace, and this privilege belongs to all believers.
During a Week of Prayer that I was conducting at a Christian college in Ethiopia, an Egyptian senior student asked me, “Is it a sin for Christians to bear arms for their country and kill?” He was soon returning to Egypt to serve in the army in his country’s war with Israel.
“Do you know of any dead Egyptians fighting for their country?” I replied. I reminded him that, as a Christian, he was dead and his life was hidden with Christ [see Colossians 3:3]. Unfortunately, he refused to accept this biblical fact. Two weeks later, he was pinned beneath the school’s tractor in an accident and pronounced dead at a nearby mission hospital. Later, a nurse came to cover his body with a sheet. She saw his eyes blink and cried out, “He’s alive!” It was a miracle in apparent answer to the prayers of his fellow students.
When I visited him in the hospital some days later, I asked, “How are you?”
Through bandaged lips, he whispered, “I am dead, and my life is hid in Christ.”
I have always cherished that experience as an example of God’s Spirit working in a human life. That is what it means to stand in God’s grace.
Paul says that we Christians have an obligation — not to the flesh, to live according to it — but to the Spirit [see Romans 8:12-13]. In other words, we have no business trying to live — even trying to be good — in our natural strength and abilities. It is the Spirit of Christ who must live in us by faith. The life we now live in our bodies must be the life of Christ that we have received by faith [see Galatians 2:20]. This is all part of God’s program of being under grace.
The grace that has saved us from domination by the law will now continue to live in us and produce the fruits of the Spirit — “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [Galatians 5:22-23]. Against such things, “there is no law” [verse 23]. These fruits are in harmony with God’s law, so that, under grace, the law we could not keep in our natural strength is now actually being fulfilled in us [see Romans 8:4].
Of course, although we stand in God’s realm of grace, we still live in this wicked world, and the law of sin still lives in our bodies [see Romans 7:22]. But this law of sin should not reign in us or dominate us, because we now are under grace, not law [see Romans 6:12-14]. In our own strength we are no match for the law, as Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 7. But the power of grace is greater than all the power Satan can muster through our sinful flesh. “I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength” [Philippians 4:13].
To stand under grace, therefore, is to be under the reign of Christ’s life — the life that has conquered and condemned sin in the flesh [see Romans 8:3]. The law of sin that resides in our mortal bodies will always try to dominate us through the flesh. That is how we experience temptation [see James 1:14]. Taking advantage of our sinful natures, Satan turns the natural, God-given desires of the body into lust. He tries to make us slaves to these desires rather than being their masters. But, because we are under grace, we possess the life and power of God through which we can “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” [2 Peter 1:4]. Daily, hourly, by faith we allow Christ to live in us and “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” [Romans 13:14].
In becoming a Christian, we have undergone a radical change. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Christians are not just people whose sins have been forgiven so that they may go to heaven. They are people in whom everything that once belonged to the old has passed away. Our old position under the law, our old lives of sin, all have died on the cross of Christ. Now, through His resurrection, we have become a new creation in a new position that is “under grace.” We possess a new life; we are partakers of the divine nature [see 2 Peter 1:4]. When we understand these truths and allow them to work in and through us, we will no longer behave as members of this world who are controlled by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” [1 John 2:16]. We will act as sons and daughters of God. We will be walking in the Spirit, reflecting the character of Christ.
The Law as a Standard
In light of all this, how should we Christians view the law? Is it still binding on us?
The answer is most emphatically No; the law is not binding on us as a means of salvation. But the answer is most definite Yes if we are speaking of the law as a standard for Christian living.
One reason for the misunderstanding and antagonism about the law among so many sincere Christians is a failure to understand what the apostle Paul has said about the law. On the one hand, he makes statements that appear on the surface to imply that the law is abolished [see Romans 7:1-10; Galatians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 3:4-17; Ephesians 2:14-16]. We can quote other statements, however, to prove that Paul upheld the same law and totally rejected the idea that faith abolishes it [see Romans 3:31; 7:12-22; 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-14].
How can we solve this apparent contradiction? Much of our problem understanding all that Paul has to say about “law” comes from our failure to realize that, in Greek, he had no separate word or phrase to denote what we, today, call “legalism.” Therefore, Paul used the same term for both his positive references to God’s law (which he upheld) and his negative statements about the law when it was used by human beings to produce their own righteousness (which he condemned).
If we read Paul carefully, we will find that he upheld the law as the standard of Christian living, but he condemned anyone who used it as a substitute for faith or as a means to gain that righteousness which can come only from God. In studying what Paul has to say about the law, it’s helpful to note that, when he is condemning what we call “legalism,” he often uses the phrase translated in the King James Version of the Bible as “works of the law” [see Romans 3:20; 9:30-32; Galatians 2:16; 3:1].
Falling from Grace
Too many Christians believe that once a person is saved in Christ through faith, nothing at all can remove that salvation from such a person. This is a great deception.
True, the righteousness that saves us is always in Christ and, since He is in heaven, where no thief can enter, it cannot be touched. But the faith that makes that righteousness effective is in us, and we can renounce or forsake it. That is why the Scriptures so often admonish us to hold fast to our faith at all cost [see Matthew 10:22; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 3:6; 4:14; 10:23].
Each person who becomes a Christian automatically becomes a traitor to Satan, the prince of this world. Satan will not willingly lose one of his subjects, so he increases his efforts sevenfold to regain that person [see Matthew 12:43-45]. How does he do this? Satan uses three primary methods to tempt a believer to fall from grace. He will try any, or all, that he thinks necessary.
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love [Galatians 5:4-6].
To be under grace means that Christ is our righteousness in every way and in every sense of the word. Through the Gospel, we receive Christ’s righteousness both as an objective fact (imputed righteousness) and as a subjective experience (imparted righteousness). Both are received by faith alone, and nothing must be added to our faith [see Romans 1:17]. Anyone who tries to justify himself before God in the slightest by his own actions is actually denying that Christ is his righteousness. He is fallen from grace.
We simply cannot have it both ways. We cannot receive Christ by faith, acknowledge that we are spiritually bankrupt and cannot save ourselves, and then claim that we can save ourselves by somehow having our good works add something toward our salvation. This subtle form of legalism puts us in danger of losing Christ entirely.
Salvation is not partly from Christ and partly from ourselves. To be under law or under grace are opposites that cannot be mixed. Either we receive Christ by faith as our total righteousness both in terms of our standing before God and in our daily living, or we must try to justify ourselves entirely by our own law keeping, which is impossible. It is either one or the other; we cannot have some of both.
Even if we have experienced salvation by faith in Christ, this does not mean that our eternal destiny is secure. Only those whose faith endures to the end will receive the crown of life [see Mark 13:13; James 1:12]. If our hold on Christ is weak, we can be drawn away [see Matthew 13:22], and, thus, faith becomes a fight to the end [see 1 Timothy 6:12].
Of course, as long as we are united to Christ by faith, our salvation is secure. But this does not mean that our faith itself is secure. Unless we allow it to grow through Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and witnessing, we will find ourselves vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. He will continue to try to snatch us out of Christ if possible. A believer can most certainly forsake Christ and the church and return to the world. He or she can fall from grace and be lost [see Hebrews 6:4-6]. But even then, the Saviour still loves that lost sheep and seeks to restore it to the fold.
Persecution may come from the world or even from our own families or the church. Mistreatment, discrimination, or unfair practices in the church can cause us to become so discouraged or filled with self-pity that we become targets for Satan’s attacks. He will try to manipulate us to fight the church, then leave it and become its enemy.
Satan may persecute us by making life extremely difficult. The temptation is to compromise with truth, and the result is to slowly lose one’s grip on Christ. We can overcome this temptation if we remember our Saviour led a difficult life as well; He had not so much as a place to lay His head [see Matthew 8:20].
The hostility of the world may include even the threat of death. Paul warned Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” [2 Timothy 3:12]. And Peter counseled his readers,
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings [1 Peter 5:8-9].
Finally, a scriptural warning about the consequences of falling from grace: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back” [Hebrews 10:38]. But this warning need not apply to any of us, for verse 39 goes on to say, “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”
As we rejoice in the wonderful truth of salvation by grace in Christ,
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. ...The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. [1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 28].