Answering Objections to Salvation By Faith Alone

Title: Answering Objections to Salvation By Faith Alone

Text: Galatians 2:17-21

Time: October 31st, 2010

For the past two months I’ve been teaching from the Book of Galatians and we’ve seen the Apostle Paul trying to communicate the very important doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Just to summarize it a little bit, what Paul is saying is that no goods works can satisfy the justice of God; no acts of obedience fulfill the Law of God. Why not? Because nobody in fact does fully obey the Law; at best we only partially fulfill the requirements of God. That leaves us in the dilemma of being under obligation to obey God’s Law fully, yet being in the situation of never in fact fulfilling it and in fact not being able to fulfill it due to the sinful human condition and our own desire to do things our own way and live independent from God. That’s why if we are saved we must be saved by God’s grace and by faith alone, because if we could save ourselves by anything we do in the way of obedience to the Law of God, then that would require that we obey the whole law, fully and completely. But since nobody can or could fully obey the whole Law of God fully and completely, salvation by human effort or human obedience is an impossibility. That leaves us with only one alternative – we must be saved apart from works or obedience to the Law. That’s where salvation by faith alone comes in. Because Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law of God with his perfect life of obedience to the Father, he can impart his perfection to us, to our account. Because Christ died on the cross as payment for our sins and disobedience, we can be forgiven of our sins, our record can be wiped clean, and we can be free and clear from any charges against us, and free from any judgment of sin leveled against us. So when you combine Christ’s righteousness given to us as a free gift by faith and when you also include forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf, which we receive freely also by faith, when you combine these two benefits, we are counted as righteous and forgiven in the eyes of God the Father. That means we are given a place in eternal life, in heaven, through faith in Christ alone. We can’t try to include anything of our own, like so-called righteous acts or obedience, because these contribute nothing to our salvation because even these are tainted with sin and unrighteousness on our part. Only Christ and his righteousness satisfy the requirements of God the Father. Only through faith, faith alone, can we benefit from the work of Christ on our behalf. Now since this is the case, this is how we are saved, some people raised the objection – doesn’t salvation by faith alone destroy any motivation to live a holy life? If you tell people that they can be saved by faith alone without any of their own contribution to the equation, doesn’t that give people a license to sin? Doesn’t that open the floodgates to sin, since if we are saved apart from our works, then what’s to stop someone from just going out and sinning but claiming that it’s faith alone that saves them, not their works? This objection has been voiced not only in ancient times but is still raised today. So today, as we work our way through the Book of Galatians, we encounter this objection and then we also hear Paul’s answer, or at least, his partial answer to the objection. The Apostle Paul was no dummy. He understood perfectly well that for some people who heard his teaching on salvation by faith alone, it would be a problem for them because they would interpret it as a license to sin. So Paul tries to respond to some of these objections. If we listen carefully, we can hear these same objections today to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. I hear them all the time as I share God’s plan of salvation with people; sometimes I even hear them from church people. If you listen you’ll probably hear them too. Maybe you’ve even thought something similar. But let’s hear what Paul says in response to objections to salvation by faith alone. Maybe they can help us in sharing our faith today. Galatians 2:17-21 (read).

First, Question: does salvation by faith alone actually promote sin? Galatians 2:17, “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!” Here’s the problem. It’s obviously the case that when a person becomes a Christian he doesn’t automatically become a saint – in the technical sense of holiness and perfect obedience to God. He doesn’t instantly becoming the model of love and Christian perfection. Now, this is obvious. Think about your own life; think about after you made your decision for Christ or after you become born again through Christian conversion, or after you gave your heart to Christ, believed and received Christ – did you become sinless? No. Some of you are laughing, that’s because you know you didn’t become blameless nor are you today even a long time after your conversion to Christ. But according to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, according to Paul’s teaching, we receive the righteousness of Christ and we receive forgiveness of sins through faith and faith alone. So then, if we are declared righteous in the sight of God, why then aren’t we righteous in life, in the real world? And if we don’t have to earn our salvation, if we don’t have to earn our status before God through our own good works, what then is the motivation for being good now? If Christ’s holy and righteous life is given to us as a free gift through faith, then what is our motivation now for being good and trying to live a holy life? It seems that under Paul’s teaching – so-say his critics old and new – that if Christ’s righteousness counts for us, then Christ himself contributes to our own moral laziness today, since if Christ earned our payment of obedience to God the Father, then I can just sit back and free-load off Christ’s work. Doesn’t that make me morally lazy and doesn’t that make Christ himself a contributor to my moral laziness? For example, if a parent tells their teenaged son or daughter, “Any time you spend more than you can afford at the mall, I’ll come along and pay your debt,” what do you think will happen every time the teen goes to the mall? The teenager will run up a big bill at the stores, on the credit card, and the parent will come along and just pay the bill. What motivations will the teenager have to show self-discipline and good judgment in spending? None. In fact, whose fault is it if the teenager never learns to spend money wisely? A big part of the blame will fall on the shoulders of the parent, because under such lenient guidelines who wouldn’t become casual about spending money? How would you like it if someone would come along behind you and clean up your money problems? That would be nice to have, but it wouldn’t help us any in learning how to manage our money properly and responsibly. Well, people argue that if Christ earns our righteousness before God the Father, then if the debt is already paid, if people have no motivation to work hard in order to please God with their own good works, then they won’t try very hard to be good. May as well go out and sin and do as you please because the mess has already been cleaned up by Christ, with his holy life and with his death on the cross. They also say, if people believe in salvation by faith alone, if they don’t think their own actions contribute anything at all, then they’ll sin casually and Christ himself will be the one to blame, since his paying for sins destroys any motivation on the part of people to try to live a moral life. Part of the argument against Paul’s teaching is that he’s actually making people worse sinners, since obviously Christians still do sin after their conversion. If they believe Paul’s doctrine of salvation by faith alone they’ll probably sin more, since they won’t have any motivation to be good. So go the objections. So what can we say about these criticisms to God’s plan of salvation? Is it too lenient? Does it spoil people? Does it make them morally sloppy? Let’s see what Paul says.

Second, if we die to the law, why would we want to go back and rebuild it again in our lives? Galatians 2:18-19, “If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.” Paul’s talking about two different motivations for being good – one is law and the other is grace. The motivation by the law is that if I want to please God and be justified in his eyes I must perform up to the standards of the Law of God. So I go about trying to obey God in everything, at all times in order to justify myself in the eyes of God. But the problem with this plan of salvation is that it doesn’t save me because I can’t satisfy its demands. If I have to live up to the standards of God’s law, then I can’t do it because I’m not able not to sin. I’m not capable of not sinning. Sure I can resist some specific sins – and I should resist any and every sin – but overall, I can’t just will myself into a holy life. Let’s talk just about living up to the letter of the Law of God. Let’s assume that I could live up to the letter of the Law in every case. Where would that get me? It wouldn’t get me any closer to salvation because in order to justify myself in the sight of God I not only need to live up to the letter of the Law, I need to live up to the spirit of the Law as well. I not only need to obey all the laws in my outward behavior, I also need to obey the spirit of the law in my heart of hearts. For example, you’ve all heard the story of the little girl who wanted to stand up and eat one evening meal. Her parents told her to sit down and eat her dinner, but she didn’t obey them. They told her again and again to sit down because it’s not right to stand at the table and eat when everyone is seated, still she wouldn’t sit down. I don’t know, maybe she just got a stubborn streak. Finally, after many attempts, she finally sat down, and her parents said, “Well, see, that wasn’t so hard was it?” She replied, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside.” That’s defiance, and that’s what we all do from time to time with God. Yes, we went to church, yes, we said our prayers, yes, we read from the Bible – but here’s the thing, we didn’t always do these things from the heart, and so it wasn’t true, full obedience. Now how are you going to please God the Father if you are conforming to his will on the outside, but inside you’d rather not. Don’t you think God sees your heart? Don’t you think God knows your heart rebellion? We are such sinners that we can fool everyone – everyone except God! Now the whole legalistic salvation plan is built on external conformity to the Law of God. A legalist thinks that because he can appear good that he is good. Because it’s possible to appear holy, the legalist thinks that all he has to do is come across as holy and that’s good enough for God. But the legalist is only fooling himself. If he’d think about it deeper he’d realize that he’s only obeying superficially. But here’s the thing, nobody can even obey God superficially perfectly. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, that means outwardly and inwardly. Trying to save ourselves by our own works is a futile plan. Why would anyone want to go back to that performance based system? It never saved anyone, it can’t save anyone, so why put on the pretense that it can or could? Why go back to a failed system and act as if it’s the way of salvation? That’s what Paul is saying. If I go back to the failed system of law in order to be saved, then maybe I’m not really saved to begin with, since that old system can’t save, what am I doing trying to work it again? Christian salvation liberates us from the old law system and its failure to save. The only thing the law does is condemns, not saves. Why go back to that unless I’m confused about grace and true salvation. And that’s true today. If someone who professes to be a Christian begins looking to obedience and the law to be saved, it really does call into question their state of grace; at best they are confused, at worse they aren’t truly saved by Christ.

Third, Christians live by faith in Christ not by working the Law of God. Galatians 2:20-21, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” As Christians we have a new motivation for living for God – it’s gratitude not obligation, it’s love for God rather than fear of God, it’s delight not duty. Under the old law system there was always the fear of failing to live up to the standard of God’s Law, fear of judgment, fear of condemnation and fear of eternal punishment, of hell. There was the fear of rejection by God if we didn’t perform obediently in life. There was always pressure, always failing to live up to God’s expectations. But when Christ came and lived for us and died for us, when Christ imparted his righteousness to us freely, by grace through faith; when Christ died on the cross for our forgiveness, when all these things were done for us – and all we had to do was simply trust Christ and what he did for us – then the fear and pressure was gone. Now we don’t have to live under the pressure of judgment and condemnation. Now we don’t have to worry about living up to the standards of the Law of God, which we can’t live up to anyway, either before or after salvation. Salvation isn’t based on our performance; it’s based on Christ’s perfect performance and our identification by faith with Christ. Now our motivation for obedience isn’t law-based, but grace-based. I want to please God – even though I know I will never do so perfectly in this life in and of myself – I want to live a holy life out of gratitude for the love of God in Christ. Love for God motivates me now, not fear of God. The inspiration of eternal life in heaven motivates me to live for God rather than fear of damnation in hell. The objection that under salvation by faith alone people will go out and sin, or use grace as an excuse or license to sin is false. Anyone who truly knows the grace of God in Jesus Christ, anyone who is truly saved won’t go out and sin or try to take advantage of God’s grace to live that way. I guess a person who only superficially understands salvation by faith alone, or maybe someone who isn’t really saved but happens to know about the doctrine of salvation by faith might by motivated to go out and disobey and sin thinking that, “O well, I’m saved by faith not by works, so it really doesn’t matter.” No true Christian, truly saved by grace through faith, thinks that way. Rather they say, “I’m such a sinner on my own, I could never save myself through any amount of good works or obedience to the Law. I’m so thankful that Christ lived and died for me in order to provide me a way of salvation apart from my old sinful life, that I choose to live for God and not myself, I choose to follow God’s will freely and not rebel against God. Will a Christian live in total conformity God’s will? No, unfortunately we still battle the world, the flesh and the Devil. Unfortunately we will still stumble and fall into sin from time to time. In our hearts we’ll still rebel at times, but these things won’t affect our status as saved, if we’ve truly trusted Christ and his righteousness for salvation. The irony is, under the new motivation of gratitude for being saved, we’ll actually live holier lives than under the old system of legalism. Love is a better motivator than fear. The critics have it all wrong. Love of God, gratitude for salvation as a gift motivates us better to holy living than the fear of judgment and condemnation. What is your motivation in life today? Is it out of fear of God or out of love for God? Love is the only proper Christian motivation. Let’s pray.

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