Faith, Works, and Obedience

by Todd Deaver

  • How can salvation be by faith and not works, and yet works be the necessary consequence of salvation?

It’s clear from many of Dad’s remarks that Jay and I have failed to communicate to him our understanding about the relationship among faith, works, and obedience. So here we want to try to clarify our view, and in doing so we’ll be addressing some of Dad’s points in his response to our answers to his True/False questions.

We believe that faith is the means by which salvation is received. Saving faith is always a submissive/obedient faith, which is to say it is a penitent faith. In other words, it is the acceptance of Jesus as both Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9). Consequently, saving faith will always manifest itself in good works (Jas. 2:14-26; Heb. 11).

Faith, penitence, and baptism are excluded from the category of works (Titus 3:5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-10; etc.). Therefore, we are not saved initially by our own works, but by faith. However, man’s faith-response to the gospel is obedience to the gospel (2 Thes. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17), so – and this is very important – not all obedience is in the category of works. Works are those acts of obedience other than believing, repenting, and being baptized.

This is why we said that Dad’s statement, “Obedience to Christ is a type of work (Jno.6:29; Heb.5:8, 9; Eph.2:10),” is not precise enough to answer True or False. Dad insists that we should have simply answered it False, given our view, but this indicates that he doesn’t understand our view. If by “obedience to Christ” Dad means the good works that result from salvation (as in Eph. 2:10), and not faith, repentance, or baptism, then the answer is True. But if he means faith, repentance, or baptism, the answer is False. He cites passages for both meanings, because he doesn’t recognize this fundamental distinction – and that made the statement ambiguous.

Initial and continuing salvation

Now, it is crucial to understand that, just as we were initially saved by faith and not by works, so we continue to be saved by faith and not by works. “[Y]ou stand by your faith” (Rom. 11:20). We are “protected by the power of God through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5). We remain saved the same way we became saved — by faith (Gal. 3:2-3). There is no other way that we could be “much more” saved after our conversion than at the moment of our baptism (Rom. 5:8-10).

Ephesians 2:8-9 states this very clearly:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The words “you have been saved” translate the Greek word sesosmenoi, which is a perfect passive participle. A perfect participle denotes a past action whose results continue in the present. Paul is saying that “by grace you have been and continue to be saved through faith…; not as a result of works….” We didn’t get saved by works, and we don’t stay saved by works. Salvation comes by grace through faith.

Dad answers that Paul is talking in verse 9 about only certain kinds of works: salvation “is not of works of the law and it is not of works of merit,” he says. If I understand Dad correctly, he uses “works of merit” to mean works that would earn salvation. And since nothing short of perfect obedience can earn heaven, “works of merit” would have to be perfect works (which, of course, we don’t do). So, if I understand him, Dad is saying that the only works mentioned in verse 9 are works of the Mosaic law and perfect obedience. He believes the works in verse 10 that Christians do in obedience to the law of Christ are not included in the works of verse 9, because we are saved by these works.

The problem is, there is nothing in the context that would so limit Paul’s meaning. He just says “works” (v. 9). There is simply no reason contextually to exclude the works in verse 10 (works of obedience to the law of Christ) from the works in verse 9 (works which do not result in our salvation). The works in verse 10 are the result of salvation, not a cause of it. In fact, as we’ll argue in a moment, any work that contributes to my salvation would be a “work of merit” or a work of which I could boast.

(See also 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 3:5 where Paul says we’re not saved by works. Again, he doesn’t limit these to “works of the law” or “works of merit.” In fact, in these same letters he admonishes the readers to do good “works” (2 Tim. 2:21; 3:17; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14), and he is certainly not requiring works of the Mosaic law or meritorious deeds.)

Paul is saying our obedient works do not contribute at all to our salvation. This stands in stark contrast to Dad’s belief that “the works we do because we are sons of God do contribute to our righteous standing before God.” According to the New Testament, salvation comes through faith (not works), because it is by grace. Faith is non-meritorious, because it looks to the merits of Christ rather than my own.

Faith acknowledges that I have nothing to offer in exchange for salvation: “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling.” It is only by Jesus’ righteousness that we are saved (Phil. 3:9). This is why faith corresponds to grace, whereas works correspond to law. Salvation by grace/faith is completely incompatible with salvation by law/works.

Grace or law: It’s one or the other

Now let’s try to explain this further. Paul says in Romans 6:14 that “you [Christians] are not under law but under grace.” He’s not saying Christians are not subject to divine law, because we are (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2; Jas. 2:8). He’s saying that we’re not under a law-system of salvation; we’re under a grace-system.

Under a law-system of salvation, the factor that determines whether you’re saved is your works: how well did you keep the law? The problem is, the only way to be saved under a law-system is to keep the law perfectly (Gal. 3:10). And, as Paul shows in Romans 1:18-3:20, no one has done that. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one, therefore, can get to glory by being good enough, by keeping the law well enough. So much for the law-system of salvation.

Fortunately for us, God made another way – an entirely different method of securing our salvation: the grace-system. In this system Jesus pays the penalty for our sins so that we who trust in him can stand justified before God (Rom. 3:21-5:21).

The grace-system and the law-system are incompatible with each other: “we are not under law [as a way of salvation] but under grace.” The way to be saved by grace is through faith. The way to be saved by law is through works. Either we rely completely on Jesus’ work to save us (faith), or we revert to a law-system in which our works are the deciding factor. And if we do that, we perish, because our works will never be good enough (Gal. 3:10; 5:3; Jas. 2:10).

Notice Romans 4:1-5:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work [i.e., does not rely on his works], but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness….

Again, Dad limits the meaning of “works” here, as he does in Ephesians 2:8-9, to works of the law of Moses and meritorious works (that is, works that are entirely sufficient to save). Dad believes Abraham was justified by his works (as well as his faith) – they just weren’t works of the Mosaic law. But notice that when Paul illustrates the kind of thing that saved Abraham, he speaks of his trust in a promise, not a work of obedience (Rom. 4:16-22). How does this fit with Dad’s view that Abraham wasn’t saved until he worked? Shouldn’t Paul have made it clear that Abraham was saved when he performed a work of obedience? Instead he says Abraham was saved by believing God. And then he says we’re saved the very same way (4:22-24). (Don’t worry – I’ll get to James 2 soon.)

You see, Paul teaches that salvation by grace through faith is incompatible with salvation by law through works, but Dad ends up combining the two. He believes we’re saved by both faith and works. Yet Paul says that “if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about” (Rom. 4:2). Surely we can see that if by my works I contribute to my salvation, I would be able to boast that I had made the necessary contribution.

Dad claims that we can’t boast because, even though we must be good enough to maintain contact with the blood of Christ, we still sin and need that blood to cleanse our momentary failures. We’re not perfect.

But clearly, if being good enough is required to remain saved, boasting is not eliminated. If God demanded 100% obedience and I achieved it, I could certainly boast about that. But if God demands 85% obedience (with the rest forgiven by grace), and I measure up to that, I could just as surely boast of that accomplishment as well.

Dad proposes a mixture of a law-system and grace that doesn’t exclude boasting in our works. It doesn’t fit the teaching of scripture. “[I]f it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). To add justifying works to faith is to “nullify the grace of God” (Gal. 2:21).

Dad insists that a Christian’s good works contribute to his ongoing salvation. We insist that these good works are the result of salvation and do not in any way contribute to it (Eph. 2:8-10).

What about James 2?

Genesis 15:6 says, “Then [Abram] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” As we saw earlier, this text is quoted by Paul in Romans 4:3 (and also Gal. 3:6) to show that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works. But James quotes the same passage to show that Abraham was justified by works and not by faith alone (Jas. 2:21-24). Dad’s solves this seeming contradiction this way —

James teaches us that Genesis 15:6 was a prophecy! I have already made this point. Todd and Jay are not dealing with it. Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled, according to James, when Abraham obeyed God by attempting to kill his son as ordered (Jas.2:20-23).

Think carefully about what Dad is saying: Genesis 15:6 is a prophecy and was not fulfilled until Abraham passed the test described in Genesis 22. That means until Genesis 22, Abraham was still in a lost condition!

Abraham was 75 when God called him from Haran (Gen. 12:4). He was 99 at the time of his circumcision (Gen. 17:24) and 100 when Isaac was born (Gen. 21:5). Assuming that Isaac was – to venture a guess – about 15 when God commanded Abraham to offer him up (Gen. 22), that means – on Dad’s view – that Abraham had been following God for some 40 years, yet he was lost all the while!

If Dad’s view is right and Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of his works, why was he lost until he did this work? Abraham had been performing works of obedience to God for 40 years already, and yet, according to Dad, they didn’t do his soul a bit of good. It wasn’t until he obeyed God’s command to offer up Isaac that he was finally saved. This doesn’t seem to make sense.

And besides that, in Romans 4 Paul makes a major point of the fact that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (vv. 9ff.) – which occurred some 15 years before he offered Isaac! Are we to believe that Paul’s point is only that Abraham’s justification was prophesied before his circumcision – even though he wasn’t actually justified until after he was circumcised? This would completely negate Paul’s argument. (Please read it for yourself and see.) The apostle plainly says that circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [Abraham] had while uncircumcised” (v. 11).

There is a better way to interpret James 2:23. When James says that Genesis 15:6 was “fulfilled” when Abraham offered Isaac, he uses the word pleroo. This word sometimes refers to the fulfillment of predictions, but it can also mean “to fill up, to complete” (cf. Gal. 5:14; Col. 1:25; Rev. 6:11). This meaning fits nicely right here because James has just said in the previous verse that “as a result of the works, faith was perfected” (teleioo; NIV has “made complete”). In other words, faith is never intended to remain by itself. It is perfected or completed when it leads to the doing of good works. It is still the faith – not the works – that save, but as we’ve said repeatedly, saving faith always produces good works, and those works demonstrate the existence of that faith. This is James’ point.

So, in 2:23 James is simply saying that the statement, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” was filled up or completed when Abraham, in his most famous work of obedience, offered Isaac. It’s just another way of saying his faith was completed by his works.

Incidentally, nothing in Genesis 22 says that God at that time forgave Abraham’s sins or that the “prophecy” that Abraham’s faith would be credited as righteousness was then fulfilled.

But again, as we explained in our answer to Dad’s question, James and Paul are using “justify” in different senses. Paul uses it to refer to the act in which God declares a sinner righteous; James uses it to mean “demonstrate or prove to be righteous” (see that earlier discussion). James is not saying that Abraham was first saved when he obeyed God in Genesis 22. Rather, Abraham was demonstrated to be righteous by this obedience – and by many prior works of obedience, for that matter, as shown in Hebrews 11:8ff. This was just the most prominent example.

Are good works essential or not?

Dad writes,

Todd and Jay say that they (1) do not believe in the doctrine of once saved-always saved, but then they (2) deny that works done by Christians have anything to do with their salvation. This is outright self-contradiction!

He says further,

When Todd says that the acts of obedience in Hebrews 11 did not save anyone, then he is admitting that … faith that does not obey saves. (Thus, the faith by which they were saved could have been non-obedient faith or dead faith). The obedience, then per Jay and Todd, was coincidental but not essential!

This again reflects Dad’s misunderstanding of our position. We have never said that a Christian’s works have nothing to do with his salvation. What we have said is that his good works do not contribute to his salvation. Instead, they result from and provide evidence of it. Dad is assuming that unless our works save us, they have nothing to do with salvation at all. That’s not true.

Let us be clear: good works are an essential consequence of salvation, but good works do not save us. There is no contradiction here. Even some conservatives recognize the fact that something can at the same time be essential to our salvation and yet not save us. For example, in the January 2009 issue of The Spiritual Sword, Hugh Fulford writes,

It is sometimes asserted that the church has nothing to do with our salvation – that one can be saved out of the church as well as in the church. It is true that “the church never saved anyone,” but that is a far cry from saying that membership in the church is not essential to salvation. (p. 16, emphasis added)

The same is true of all our good works: they don’t save us, but they’re still essential. How can this be? It’s simple: penitent faith is what saves us, and penitent faith always leads to good works. If there are no works, the individual is lost – not because works save, but because the absence of works proves the absence of penitent faith.

Dad writes,

Can you not see, dear reader, that if the absence of good works implies the absence of the faith that saves, then the faith that saves cannot save in the absence of good works! Todd and Jay have simply created a confusion ….

Not at all. We are simply balancing two biblical concepts, both of which are true: (1) our works do not save us, and (2) salvation always leads to good works.

The difference between Dad’s position and ours can be viewed this way:

Dad’s view

Faith     +     Good Works     —>     Salvation

Our view

Faith     +     Penitence     —>     Salvation    —>     Good Works

(As we’ve noted earlier, the scriptures often speak of “faith” as including penitence, so we could fairly omit the “+ Penitence.”)

In both scenarios, the absence of good works implies no salvation. In Dad’s view, this is so because those works contribute to or bring about salvation. But this contradicts the fact, repeatedly stressed in the NT, that we are not saved by our works.

In our view, the absence of good works implies no salvation because penitent faith leads to salvation and a saved person (one with penitent faith) necessarily produces good works. So if the good works aren’t there, you know the person isn’t saved.

Once again, we do not believe in the impossibility of apostasy. A Christian may lose his salvation by ceasing to have penitent faith. It is the loss of this faith, rather than the doing of some evil work, that causes one to lose his salvation.

[We hope the readers will forgive us for using the language of symbolic logic, but Dad understands this field of study well and hopefully this will communicate the point:

If (p —> q) then (~q —> ~p). That is, if p implies q, then (not q) implies (not p). The second statement (~q —> ~p) is said to be the “contrapositive” of the first statement (p —> q).

If salvation produces works (salvation —> works) then no works implies no salvation (no works —> no salvation).

Therefore, if a supposed Christian does not do works, he must not be saved.

However, (salvation produces works) does not imply that (works produce salvation). That would be to argue the “converse,” which would be an elementary mistake of logic.]

Trees and fruit

To borrow a metaphor from Jesus, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matt. 7:18). Restated literally, a saved person cannot produce evil works and a lost person cannot produce good works.

Jesus isn’t saying that a sinner can’t do anything that’s right, but a sinner has a corrupt nature, lacks the Holy Spirit, and therefore cannot perform works that glorify God. Likewise, Jesus isn’t saying a Christian can’t sin, but his sins are continually cleansed (1 John 1:7) – so from the divine viewpoint he remains spotless and pure. When God looks at him he sees only good works.

But notice: in order for Jesus’ words to be true, something other than the works (fruit) must make the person (tree) good or bad! If the goodness or badness of a person’s works is determined by his spiritual condition – which is what Jesus says – then a person’s works do not determine his spiritual condition but instead only reflect it. What does determine one’s spiritual condition? The presence or absence of penitent faith.

How much fruit?

How much good will a saved individual produce? That varies widely from one Christian to the next because we aren’t all equally mature or gifted. We’re at different stages in the sanctification process. Some of us struggle with sin more than others, though we all struggle. But we’re all equally saved, because salvation isn’t based on our works; it’s based on the work of Christ.

In the case of a new convert, there might be much sin and precious little good being done, but still – if she’s really saved, if she’s a “good tree” – in God’s economy she’s producing only good fruit. The numerous sins don’t even make it onto her record, because they’re already forgiven. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit.”

How can a saint apostatize? How can a good tree become a bad one? Not by committing some sin that’s really, really bad (what sin isn’t?), but by giving up her penitent faith.

All the right answers or the right kind of heart?

One more question: what are these works that inevitably flow from a penitent faith? What kind of works demonstrate one’s salvation? As Jay’s earlier posts show, the scriptures consistently describe them as works of love and service. The saved aren’t identified by their a cappella, no-handclapping worship, the frequency with which they observe the Lord’s supper, their understanding of divorce and remarriage, the role of women, or the qualifications of elders. Mature disciples, including biblical scholars who are firmly committed to the authority of scripture, can and do differ over issues like these. You can have a very strong faith and penitent heart and yet disagree over divorce and remarriage.

That’s not to say we can’t know the truth about such issues. It’s just that, thankfully, God didn’t make salvation dependent on our intellectual ability to discern the right answers to multitudes of (sometimes extremely complex) questions about Bible doctrine. If I’m submitting to Jesus I’ll be a diligent student of the Bible and try my best to understand everything he wants me to do.

But salvation isn’t complicated. It’s simple enough for a child to understand. Trust Jesus. As you grow in your understanding, follow wherever he leads. But first and foremost, love one another. “This is My commandment, that you love one another”; “love is the fulfillment of the law” (John 15:12; Rom. 13:10).

Explore posts in the same categories: Apostasy

63 Comments on “Faith, Works, and Obedience”

  1. randall Says:

    Another great post Todd. It states the progressive understanding of things rather well.

    Please tolerate one comment: How does a person with a corrupt heart, who is by nature spiritually dead, and the enemy of God come to a good faith that produces penitence and good works that please God. My suggestion is that this is obtained as a gracious gift of God. If one person arrives there on their own and another person does not then logically the one who did has reason to boast. If it was given to him as a gift then he has no grounds for boasting, only for praise and thanksgiving.

    Do not feel my comment requires any reply or allow it to distract you from the discussion.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Romans 8:9 “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
    Acts 10:44-48 Cornelius and his household were given the Holy Spirit before they were water baptized they belonged to Him when God gave them His Spirit.

    We are saved by faith not water baptism.

  3. Royce Says:


    You have presented a clear, true to the gospel, case for biblical salvation.

    I only will add one verse that I am surprised you did not use. Imediately after the verse you quoted is one of the most clear in the Bible regarding a Christian and works. Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    “We”(Christians) are his workmanship, something he has crafted,”created”(born again)for good works. Gods design, his plan, for those who are in Christ by faith is that we do good works, that we “should walk in them”. Think of that, “created for good works”.

    As you correctly stated,those who are doing good works (walking in the light) are saved, doing what they were created to do. Those who are not doing good works (not walking in the light) are not saved, and have not been or else they would be doing what they were created to do.

    I have been preaching and teaching for almost 40 years that all any man contributes to his justification is one hopelss, helpless, wicked sinner. It will not win you any popularity contests but it’s the truth.


  4. Great job Todd. I do not envy what you are doing, but I thank God you have the courage. May God continue to hold you in His hand.

  5. Rich Says:

    Hi, Todd:

    I appreciate what is probably a lot of courage on your part.
    I have a question for clarification.

    You used the following to illustrate the discussion:
    “The difference between Dad’s position and ours can be viewed this way:

    Dad’s view

    Faith + Good Works —> Salvation

    Our view

    Faith + Penitence —> Salvation —> Good Works”

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that your father doesn’t believe a person is saved when they leave the water following baptism because they haven’t had time to conduct a good work required for salvation.

    Please let me know, because that would be a different belief than proposed by most conservatives I know.

    My guess is that most conservatives would agree with the following:

    Faith + Penitence + Baptism => Salvation => Good Works

    If I missed the point of your illustration, please let me know. I’m trying to understand the true nature of the differences here.

  6. Todd Deaver Says:


    I appreciate your question. The answer is no. It’s not that Dad believes a new convert is lost immediately after baptism. But he believes that as his Christian life goes on and he obeys God day after day, those good works of obedience keep him in God’s grace and thus contribute to his ongoing salvation. Jay and I say, in contrast, that his penitent faith is what maintains his access to grace, and his good works result from his salvation.

    Your depiction of the conservative view, I believe, is not exactly accurate, because it doesn’t reflect the conservative view that the Christian’s good works contribute to his ongoing salvation. That is one of the fundamental differences between Jay/me and Dad/Phil. We insist that good works are strictly the result of salvation and do not contribute to it. This is precisely what they deny.

  7. Rich Says:


    Thank you for your very quick response.

    I am still a little perplexed on the nature of the differences as described by you and your father. I hope you do not mind if I reflect some to see if I understand.

    It seems the issue might be our true motivation to do good works. I understand that a typical new Christian is motivated to do good works to maintain/insure their salvation. Many initially become Christians to get their life right with God. Early motivations are concerned with salvation. I think this is a reasonable motivation but perhaps not the most mature.

    A more mature approach to the Christian lifestyle (walking in the light) is to do good works as a token of thanksgiving to God for all of His gifts including salvation. I see this as a natural mature stage of the Christian faith.

    I have taught the above multiple times in multiple conservative congregations without any issues. I do not depict the first motivation type as wrong but only a natural early stage as a Christian. Therefore, I do not see the differences in these two stages as the true differences in this blog.

    Rather, I think you and your father believe that both faith and good works should be present. The difference seems to be how to respond when one of the two is missing. So what happens when good works are there but for the wrong reasons (perhaps selfishness, etc.) or how should we respond when good works are missing but the person has a good heart (perhaps the person is unknowingly doing the wrong thing.

    I do not remember any discussions concerning the first condition. Concerning the second, it sounds like you strongly advocate patience and acceptance for all who have a good heart but are not producing a full set of good works. You father seems to accept patience for a new Christian but does not buy-in to a system that, sounds like to him, condones ignorance as an end state.

    Am I getting closer?

    Thanks again for your efforts in this dialogue.

  8. laymond Says:

    Todd, as I understand the “progressive” side of good works it is this. Salvation is the cause of “Good Works” but “Good Works ” have nothing to do with salvation. If I understand this correctly, please explain to me how there are many people who do far more “Good works ” than you and I, and have never been submersed in the waters of baptism.

    Rv: 2:26: And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

    Mt: 25:34: Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
    35: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
    36: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
    37: Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
    .38: When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
    39: Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
    40: And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    Rv:20:13: And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    I guess I just don’t understand, what is said here, sounds to me as if “Good Works” is a prerequisite.
    please explain where I am wrong.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Matthew 25:34-40 They didn’t do works to earn salvation. Jesus tells about the works of those who were already saved, their works gave evidence they were of the blessed.

  10. Todd Deaver Says:


    I think our disagreement has practical consequences that affect our motivation for doing good works, but it goes deeper than that. I have strong objections to the conservative belief that good works are my contribution to my (ongoing) salvation. As much as conservatives deny that we can boast of our works, merit salvation, or work our way to heaven, this belief really involves all three. Dad would insist that he’s not working his way to heaven, but his teaching is inconsistent with that claim. It simply cannot be reconciled with Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith and not works.

    Another major difference involves the nature/scope of those works. Conservatives insist that they include all the “essentials” on their lists (a cappella worship, Lord’s supper every Sunday, etc.), so that getting any one of these wrong renders the person lost. Jay and I believe faithful Christians can disagree over such issues. The good works that demonstrate salvation are works of love and service (Matt. 25:34ff.; John 15:12-17; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-14; Eph. 5:1-2; Phil. 2:1ff.; Titus 3:1ff.; Jas. 2; 1 John; etc.).

  11. Todd Deaver Says:


    There’s a difference between saying “good works have nothing to do with salvation” (your summary of the progressive view) and “good works are the inevitable consequence of salvation” (our actual view). There is a relation between salvation and works.

    As for whether believers who haven’t been immersed can be saved and produce real spiritual fruit, I believe there are plans to discuss that in this blog in the future, so I won’t get into that here.

    Concerning your last statement re: Matt. 25; Rev. 20:13, the Bible does teach judgment “according to” works because good works are the evidence of (not the basis of) salvation and evil works are the evidence of a lost condition (see Matt. 7:17-18; 12:33-37). The “judgment according to works” passages must be reconciled with the “salvation is by faith and not works” passages, and I believe this is the biblical way to do that.

  12. laymond Says:

    Anonymous, how does that answer my question about those who do much more “Good Works” without being “already saved” ? are they among the blessed, just going to hell?

  13. Royce Says:

    Salvation is about who does and who does not have faith in Jesus. (John 3:16-21). Matthew 7:21-23 records the terrible end of those who rely on good works. Jesus declared “I never knew you.” He did not deny the works they claimed, he just didn’t know them.

    “I am THE way, THE truth, and NO man comes to the Father but by me.” That has not changed.


  14. Dusty Chris Says:

    Here is a link to a song that has helped me understand faith and works. It’s even acapella! Just cut and paste it to your browser address bar. Enjoy.

    I like Todd’s explanation…works are a consequence of our faith. There is a difference in works demanded of us (which tends toward revellion) and works because we love God and want to please (I want to do that all day every day). Anything that has demand behind it becomes a beat down for the worker. But when works are out of love and devotion, there is no end to what went WANT to do.

  15. laymond Says:

    Todd said, “the Bible does teach judgment “according to” works because good works are the evidence of (not the basis of) salvation”

    Todd, this is what is so confusing to many people, are you saying Jesus saw evidence that these people were saved/ Christians, because they were doing “good works” toward their fellow man therefore doing works that God commanded.
    I personally know people of other faiths that literally live to do “good” for their fellow human beings, and know for a fact they don’t believe Jesus is their savior.
    I believe being a good person is essential to be saved, but not all that is required.
    I believe when we repent, we make a promise to be a good person, when we come to Christ through baptism, we dedicate our self to being that good person. (good people are not necessarily Christians, but Christians are by necessity good people.)

  16. laymond Says:

    Dusty, that sounds like rebellion against God to me.
    he didn’t say do these things, if it don’t hurt your pride, he said humble your self before your God.

  17. laymond Says:

    I’m not talking about the song, I fully agree with it.
    I’m talking about doing only what we feel like doing, or what we want to, as opposed to what we are commanded to do.

  18. Rich Says:


    Thank you again for your response.

    Both sides understand that salvation is given to us prior to we giving good works to God. After that the discussion seems somewhat circular.

    I eagerly await discussions on the topics you presented in your second paragraph. I understand there may be significant differences here.

  19. Todd Deaver Says:


    No, I’m not at all suggesting salvation by philanthropy, or that all who serve others are saved. All who reject Jesus are lost (John 3:18).

    What I believe is this: An unbeliever cannot do good works in the biblical sense of that term. (Dad agrees with this, by the way–and is the one who helped me to understand this crucial truth.) An unbeliever has a corrupt nature, lacks the Holy Spirit, and is a “bad tree” that cannot produce “good fruit” (Matt. 7:18). He may do many things that to a degree resemble Spirit-produced fruit, but they are counterfeit, not real. They do not glorify God. Thus they are not “good works” that show evidence of salvation. Only Christians can bear Holy Spirit fruit (Matt. 7:18; John 15:5; Gal. 5:22-25) or do “good works” (Titus 1:15-16).

    This is why judgment can be according to works. It’s not a balance scale judgment, with each person’s good deeds weighed against his sins to see which are greater. Each person will have only one kind of works–they will be either all good (if he’s saved) or all bad (if he’s lost). See again Matthew 7:18 and our discussion in the above post. I hope this helps to clarify.

  20. Jay Guin Says:

    Rich and Laymond,

    Allow me to pitch in this thought. One distinctive difference between conservative and progressive theology is the insistence of conservatives on the performance of certain particular good works as a requirement to remain saved. For example, you must get certain aspects of worship or organization theology right to remain saved at all.

    The progressive view is that someone of genuine penitence and faith remains saved even if he honestly misunderstands God’s will regarding such things. His faith and penitence will produce good works but not necessarily those particular doctrinal understandings.

    To avoid this consequence, conservatives insist on works as essential to continued salvation, because requiring faith won’t draw the lines of fellowship they believe should be drawn. And they insist on not just any works, but especially those works that define the doctrinal identity of the Churches of Christ — boundary markers, if you will.

    I realize that the distinction we’re drawing sounds like mere semantics, but the distinction determines whether those who disagree over instrumental music or the particulars of when and how to take communion should be treated as brothers.

    If the test is a penitent faith that produces good works, the answer is easily yes. If the test is a penitent faith plus certain good works, including worshipping a certain way, as conditions of salvation, then no.

    Hence, the seemingly small difference has a huge impact on whom we perceive to be brothers in Christ — and whether by treating those who disagree with us on such things as damned we’re being faithful or dividing the body of Christ.

  21. laymond Says:

    Todd, you are losing me again, you said, “What I believe is this: An unbeliever cannot do good works in the biblical sense of that term.”
    are you saying Jesus no longer approves the “Good Samaritan” only Christian “Good Works” are approved by Jesus, when did he change his mind?

  22. laymond Says:

    Todd, When the lawyer asked how to be saved, what did Jesus say to him? (Luke ch 10)
    25: And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
    26: He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
    27: And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
    And when Jesus was asked who is my neighbor, Jesus told the story of the “Good Samaritan” and his good works. Then asked.
    36: Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
    37: And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
    Surely Jesus was not saying , go do good works to be saved, was he?

  23. laymond Says:

    Oh by the way, Jesus answered vs 27 with 28: And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) showing the lawyer how a man had and gave compassion to another man. Jesus has and gives compassion to people, He revealed God’s nature to people. Those who have His Spirit should have and give the same nature of comapssion to other people, not to be saved but because they are saved.

  25. Jay Guin Says:


    Jesus could hardly have demanded Christian good works at the time he taught the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    More importantly, Jesus was answering the question, who is my neighbor? He wasn’t telling his listeners how to be saved.

    Anyone who lives as Jesus lived will be saved on their merit. Everyone else has to rely on grace. But grace requires submitting to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9). And those who submit to Jesus will love their neighbors and therefore will do good works.

    But their good works will not earn salvation, but they’ll have already been saved.

  26. Rich Says:


    Thanks for the comeback. My posts/comments here have been with the intention to clarify for me what is being stated.

    Let’s see where the next topic goes

    I appreciate your leadership in this discussion.


  27. laymond Says:

    Jay, The lawyer asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
    Jesus said well you know the law, what does it say, the lawyer quoted the first two great commandments, and Jesus said you are right.
    But the lawyer ( as most lawyers are,) :)couldn’t accept a simple answer, so he asked “Who is my neighbor” Jesus gave an example, and said do as this man did. “do unto others as you would have then do unto you”. Jay, were we commanded to do “Good Works” under the old covenant, or law.If so what commandments were done away with under the new covenant? Jesus said not one “dot or tittle”. What has changed is the sacrifice offered for our short comings, when we fail to keep those commandments given long ago.
    Sin hasn’t changed, only the way in which it is forgiven, and how those laws are given to man have changed.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    laymond, of course Jesus would want us to do good works, I certainly don’t believe He wants us to do bad things, though our works cannot earn us salvation. When people fall away from grace trying to earn God’s grace and love, I believe Jesus asks, was I not enough?

  29. Jerry Starling Says:

    Would it be fair to call the “good works” necessary to salvation in the conservative view something else – such as “correct worship and doctrine”? It has been my experience that most “conservatives” do not get very excited about failing to, say care for widows and orphans or actively support world evangelism. In fact, they can find many excuses for NOT doing these things that are clearly taught in the Bible. Where they get their knickers twisted is when someone neglects the parts of the “pattern” that have to do with public worship, the organization of the church, and (sometimes) MDR.

  30. mattdabbs Says:

    I haven’t read all of the comments but here is my 2 cents in brief.

    A work is something done to earn salvation. Nothing we do can earn salvation. Therefore we are not saved by works (just as Paul says in Romans). Instead, salvation is a gift (again consistent with Paul’s message in Romans) that is given to people who have responded properly to the gospel. So there are preconditions for who receives the gift but it is not earned by accomplishing those preconditions.

    It is like saying I will give all my possessions as an inheritance (a gift) to someone who meets certain criteria. They don’t work to earn the inheritance. They receive it because they met the conditions I set as someone I would freely give everything I have to. In the same way, God gives us so much more than anything we could ever earn by works.

    Paul lays this out quite clearly in Romans. If we are saved by works we have no hope because none of us can do enough to earn what God is freely offering. And yet God does expect us to fulfill certain criteria (as a response…faith being one) in order to receive the free gift.

    I think the gift/wages language of Paul in Romans 4-5 makes the most sense out of how to fit all the pieces together.

  31. Jay Guin Says:


    I think there’s a lot of merit in your analysis. The conservative viewpoint see certain works — such as worship and church organization — as essential to salvation regardless of one’s heart or level of Bible study. However, a church that’s guilty of most other sins can be within grace.

    It’s really a Catholic viewpoint: mortal and venial sins.

  32. Randall Says:

    I suppose there must be several ways to define what is a work and what isn’t – at the very least a variety of people have a variety of perspectives. To my way of thinking an absolutely free gift is something I give to someone unconditionally or b/c it pleases me to give it to them. Of course, I could give someone something based on their meeting certain conditions. Indeed employers do this as a matter of routine with their employees. Of course, if the pay far exceeds one might expect for the level of work performed then we would not equate it with a work for pay relationship. I guess there are several shades of gray between unconditional gifts and actual pay for work/performance.

    The way I understand your comment we must meet certain conditions in order to receive grace. Do we then have to meet additional conditions in order to continue to enjoy the blessing of that grace. Is that correct? If not please help me to understand a little better.

    By some definitions following commands to be circumcised, or make certain sacrifices or observe certain feasts (all positive law) are works. Apparently in the minds of others these are not works but simply acts of obedience. I wonder if we should only regard things like tithing and taking care of widows and orphans (all moral law) as good works while viewing obedience to the positive laws of God as not being works. Just thinking out loud here, but would welcome insight into the issue. I know none of us want to regard our salvation as based on our own works but we do want to use language and definitions appropriately.

    In professing Christendom it does seem there are disagreements b/c different people use the same terms but define them differently.

  33. laymond Says:

    Randall, those who say we cannot contribute to our salvation,by works, are judging value of works done, against value of gift received. I doubt that is possible, that as a weak human being we can offer works that is as valuable to God, as everlasting life is to us. No we cannot buy our way into God’s grace. but Jesus never said that is what is required of us to gain eternal life, but there are works we must perform in order to have that gift bestowed upon us. If the young rich man had sold all his belongings and given it to the poor, do you think he would not have saved his soul, Jesus said he would. If a 16 yr old boy comes to his father and asks dad will you buy me a car? his dad asks, can you drive ? the boy answers no, the dad says well if you learn to drive well and learn to take care of a car I will give you one. The dad is asking works from the boy, but what real value is this work to the dad. The boy learns and earns the gift of a car.
    That is what God asks us to do, do what he asks and let him place the value on it.

  34. Randall Says:

    I understand the logic or your comment. It does seem that anything we do, any condition we attempt to meet in order to gain our salvation (or keep it) could well be called works. It does not seem logical to call it anything else. Thanks very much for your reply.

  35. mattdabbs Says:

    The New Perspective on Paul probably sheds appropriate light on grace and works. It would be too much to get into that right here and now but it is something to look into if you want to try to understand this better.

    Baptism is not a work. Baptism is something done to us and is always in the passive voice in Greek when referring to the one being baptized. You don’t baptize yourself. When referring to the one who is doing the baptizing that is when it is active in Greek. So baptism is not a work. It is a submissive act that we allow someone else (ultimately God) to do something to us in that act. It is obedience in the sense that God wants us to be be baptized and so we submit to it. But it doesn’t earn our salvation.

    It is possible to obey something without it being a work that earns salvation. That is the crux of this whole thing and where people get confused. They figure if it is obedient and has anything to do with or is connected with salvation in any way then it is also a work. A work is something we would do in order to earn salvation. Salvation is a gift.

    We do have to do have criteria to be met in order to maintain our relationship with God. If you deny God and reject him, obviously you don’t stay in relationship with Him. We have to continue in our faith/walk in the light to have fellowship with him (1 John 1).

    Here is my whole point. Nothing, nothing, nothing we do EARNS Jesus dying for us on the cross. Jesus doesn’t look at us and say, “Well, they were so good and did everything so perfect that they deserve I should die for them.” This whole matter is a matter of what we can or cannot earn and how then we receive what is impossible to work so much that we deserve. That doesn’t mean we do nothing or have no part it in. It does mean that our part is necessary but is in response to God’s free gift. Hope that helps a bit.

  36. laymond Says:

    Randall, wouldn’t it be great if we could consult Jesus on this subject?
    Actually, that is not as difficult as it may seem. That question was directly put to Jesus, and the Bible preserves His reply for us. Matthew 19:16-17 “Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments'”.
    That is about as clear as one can be. Jesus said that He expects any who desire to receive the gift of eternal life to keep God’s commandments.

    As we see the question was “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (what shall [I] do)
    According to some, Jesus should have answered, don’t worry about it, I’ve got you covered.

  37. laymond Says:

    Matt said, “Here is my whole point. Nothing, nothing, nothing we do EARNS Jesus dying for us on the cross. Jesus doesn’t look at us and say, “Well, they were so good and did everything so perfect that they deserve I should die for them.”
    Matt, that is what happens when we teach that “Jesus is God” we forget that Jesus was obeying his Father, we forget that Jesus said to God “your will, not mine”

    Jn:3:14: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
    15: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
    16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    17: For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
    Matt, when we say Jesus did not mean what he said, to the young man mentioned in Matthew 19:16,17 – to do the good works of the commandments, is that believing in Jesus/ the Son of God?
    When we say we don’t deserve the love of God to the extent that he is willing to sacrifice his son for us, could that be construed, as criticizing the actions of God/making judgment of God.? He seemed to think differently, even though we are all sinners, then and now. No Matt if everyone was “good and perfect” there would be no need for The Son of God to be sacrificed. Your point just might be missing the true point.

  38. Anonymous Says:

    Water baptism is a performed act that symblolizes what He has already done in us.

    Jesus who revealed God’s nature to man gave us many examples of people who had faith in who He is who He gave mercy to.

    Matthew 9:27-29
    “When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.”

    These men asked Jesus to have mercy on them, Jesus said they had faith and gave them mercy.

    Luke 5:12-13
    “And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.” Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him.”

    This man had faith calling on Jesus and Jesus gave him mercy.

    Luke 18:35-43
    “Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

    This man asked Jesus to have mercy on him, Jesus said he had faith and gave him mercy.

    When were the disciples baptized with water in the name of the Lord, please provide the Scripture?

  39. randall Says:

    At least several denominations teach that salvation is by grace through faith. These churches also teach that a person should be baptized and be obedient to all the commands of scripture, but they view all these acts a person participates in as works.

    Even baptism is falls into that category in their minds b/c we actively make the decision to do it; except in the case of paedobaptist churches where the parents of the infant actively make the decision for the infant to be baptized. So even though baptism may require another person to help us do it, it still requires the active choice of the recipient to do it. The churches I have in mind teach that the person was saved before they were baptized even though they view baptism as necessary.

    One of the things that makes the CofC distinct from the denominations is that we do not view the person as saved prior to their baptism. In most cases we teach that a person must hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized and they are not saved until they have met these conditions. Sometimes it is easier to say a person must have faith, be penitent and be baptized.

    During the 1960s and 70s the CofCs I attended were perfectly willing to acknowledge baptism as a work b/c it was something a person did and was meritorious (big payoff for such a little bit of work) in that it was something we did in order to gain salvation. In most cases faith was also regarded as a work or just like it as it was something we believed in order to gain salvation. That is we believed that Jesus was the Christ. This also made a distinction between us and some denominations as they taught that faith was a gift that you received as God gave it to you. Thus it was not something you did or decided in order to gain salvation. Seems like the denominations place the emphasis on what God did and we placed the emphasis on man’s role in it.

    There now seems to be some division in the CofC with some acknowledging faith and baptism are works and that they must be accomplished to order to gain salvation and that we do them ourselves (perhaps with the assistance of a baptizer). Others say they are not works b/c we “are passive” in our baptism. As to faith, I believe it is also not regarded as a work by some because it is something we do in our head/soul rather than a physical act.

    And then there are the difficult and unusual situations (most likely only hypothetical) like what if a person was killed in an auto accident on their way to the church to be baptized or died of a heart attack before they came up out of the water. They don’t fit the mold, but today we almost argue God’s grace in those situations. In years gone by I actually heard arguments the other way, like the person should have obeyed the gospel the first time they heard it rather than putting it off for months or even longer.

    In the CofC the term “obey the gospel” (which is a scriptural term even if applied in a less than scriptural manner) was the normal and usual way of talking about the gospel. Some congregations have gotten away from the terminology of late. The denominations usually use other terms such as “receive” the gospel and this just underlines the differences between our thinking and theirs.

    So the CofC continues to change. The CofC of 2009 is different than the CofC of 1979 which was different from 1959. I do wish someone would provide me with a good definition or what is and is not a work that we could all agree on. It seems there are several opinions just from the last half dozen that have commented on this. Right now I am sensitive to the denominations saying that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, has feather like a duck then it is a duck even if I refuse to call it a duck. Since it is the denominations making that criticism maybe I should just let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.

  40. Anonymous Says:

    randall – one of the things that makes the CofC distinct from the denominations is that we do not view the person as saved prior to their baptism.

    Not true randall. There are many extreme Baptist church denominations, extreme Penetecostal church denominations, and Catholic church denominations that believe the very same about water baptism as the CoC denomination does. No that does not make you distict from other denominations, the CoC is a denomination.

  41. mattdabbs Says:


    How on earth does what I wrote have anything to do with forgetting Jesus was obedient to the Father and how does it have anything to do with standing in judgment of God’s decision to send Jesus to the cross? It meant nothing of the sort.

    Just one question. Are you saying we deserved to have Jesus die for our sins?

  42. Jay Guin Says:

    Nearly all non-Reformed Churches consider baptism as the moment of salvation, including Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists. The notion that salvation precedes baptism, as a matter of church history, began with Zwingli and Calvin and comes to American evangelicalism via that route.

    Pentecostal denominations largely have roots in Methodism (indirectly), and so tend to see baptism as the moment of salvation. There is also considerable Restoration Movement influence among many. But Pentecostalism can be found in every religious heritage.

  43. Anonymous Says:

    Calvin did not believe in a faith only salvation but in a works based salvation that the believer had to do.

    Martin Luther started the Reformation of the church that did not believe in a works based salvation but a faith based salvation.

  44. laymond Says:

    You asked, “Are you saying we deserved to have Jesus die for our sins?”
    No Matt, what I am saying is God thought so. and evidently you think he was wrong.

  45. mattdabbs Says:


    I am in no way taking on a contentious spirit when I say what I am about to say. Laymond, try to understand what I am saying before you say things like I think God is wrong.

    Now correct me if I am misreading you here. I could go off an make all kinds of accusations about what you think, as you tend to do here but I will refrain. Let me make sure I get what you are saying here. You are saying God believed that we deserved to have Jesus die for our sins? Specifically, that God viewed us as holy enough, righteous enough, and had done enough good works to warrant him dying for our sins.

    If you are saying that God loves us so much that he would die for our sins and sees us so valuable that he would send his Son to die for us because He loves us so much, not because we deserved him to do it, then I would agree with you. Help me understand where you stand on this and whether or not I am in error on this matter.

  46. Rob Woodfin Says:

    I attended a Catholic mass a year or so ago. During the service as the priest was preparing the Eucharist, the deacon reached into a cabinet and rang a bell. Curious, I later asked about that and was told it signified the moment of transubstantiation. That caused a bell to go off in my head about “the” moment we insist that we “contact the blood of Jesus.” Because of this phrase, frequent in our sermons despite the fact it is not stated thusly in scripture, the Church of Christ is often said to believe in “baptismal regeneration.” We deny this, of course, because we don’t want to be mistaken for the mistaken, a.k.a. “people who call themselves Christian.” And yet we mandate our own “magic moments” by which we are able to disqualify the rest of Christianity “en masse” (pardon the pun) who have not been able to successfully complete our Sudoku puzzle of patchwork scripture.

    The idea that all, most, or even a significant number of early Christians each had copies of Paul’s letters to the Romans, Colossians and Galatians (which would have been necessary to assemble the “contact” doctrine among others) reveals how we Americans often look at the first century through Coke bottle glasses. How was it possible for people to be saved all those years before the Bible was readily available … or even completely written? It was possible for the same reason that Jesus shouldn’t take it on the chin for having unrealistic expectations when He prayed for unity. Because the gospel is much simpler than we allow it to be.

  47. Randall Says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Several commented on when various denominations and even large organizations like the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) or the Orthodox Church think a person is saved – i.e. at baptism or prior. It was not my intent to speak of RCC or Orthodox doctrine but rather to address, in a very general manner, what various Protestant denominations think or how they differ from the CofC on baptism. When making such a general statement there are bound to be a lot of exceptions as there are so very many different denominations and beliefs.

    Historically, baptism has been viewed as the “magic moment” by many groups and influential individuals. This may be b/c baptism was probably practiced universally by the church in the first few hundred years. Even today, I think nearly all churches view baptism as important and something that should not be neglected. I certainly agree with that. I have no problem with a person being baptized as soon as they recognize they have come to faith in Jesus. I think that is very biblical and I prefer it to waiting until the next Sunday, or next baptismal service, or when your grandparents will be in town to see the blessed event.

    My personal experience with Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and many other denominations (and non denominated groups) is that they do regard a person as a Christian if they have a true faith in Jesus, even if they have not yet been baptized. The United Methodist Church may still be conservative in some places, but I believe there is a liberal wing of the UMC that will hardly require anything. I have personally heard Methodists question whether a Christian ever needs to be baptized.

    Though I have been a member of a CofC almost all of my life there have been times when I was not. I have lived overseas where there was no English speaking CofC and been on the leadership team of a Southern Baptist Church and been an elder in a non-denominational (really a multi-denominational) church. Thus I was able to know the beliefs of the church leadership. In each case baptism was required for church membership, but it was not required to view a professor of Christianity as a Christian. I think it has been a long time since the Baptists or Methodists said that people of differing opinions and practices were not Christians.

    As to the Pentecostals, there is a lot of variety. Many view the United Pentecostal Church in the USA as being modalists and some of them think they are the only ones that are true Christians. (And they practice baptism isn the name of Jesus only.) But I knew a lot of Canadian Pentecostals (and even a few Mennonites) that did not view a not yet baptized person as not yet a Christian.

    So I still hold the opinion that generally many denominations (or those active in the them) do not view a not yet baptized person as not yet a Christian. I know the Baptists I worshiped with did not regard a person waiting for the next baptismal service to be not yet saved. They emphasized that the person was already saved as soon as they came to faith in Jesus and placed as much distance as they could between salvation and baptism. (Note this be, in part, a reaction against the CofC teaching. David Lipscomb warned it would happen if we kept on insisting on re baptizing them.)

    I am curious as to whether the SBC, UMC or other of the larger denominations in the USA have doctrinal statements that state a person is not yet saved between the time they come to faith and the time they are baptized. If anyone knows the answer for sure please share it.

  48. Zach Cox Says:

    Jay and Todd,

    I wanted to throw a couple of thoughts your way and get your response. I was holding off on this to see which way the discussion went, but since Matt finally used the phrase “New Perspective on Paul” I thought it was the right time to initiate the discussion. Whether or not I am an adherent to the New Perspective, I don’t know yet; let’s just say that for about three years I have been challenged time and again by it’s proponents (Wright, Hays, Dunn, McKnight, Marshall, etc.). For anyone not familiar with the topic, simply google it and you’ll have plenty of material to read (both pro and con). See also It’s basic premise is that Martin Luther read his current controversy (whether or not you can merit salvation) back into Paul’s writings, i.e., assuming that Paul was fighting the same battle. The New Perspective asserts that Paul was not fighting the same battle. The basic premise is that second-temple Judaism was NOT a system of merit-based salvation. This was underscored by E.P. Sanders in his 1977 Paul and Palestinian Judaism. The N.P. affirms that the Jews understood themselves to be God’s people purely by election and grace. The idea of earning salvation would have been completely foreign to Paul or his contemporaries. Rather, their debate about justification and works was much more of an ecclesial topic rather than a soteriological one. The debate was more of an ethnic/national discussion centered around identity markers (dietary laws, sabbath and circumcision, etc.), rather than one about whether or not obedience is important.

    I bring this up because if the basic premise of the N.P. is correct, then the bulk of Protestant readings of Paul (and conservative church of Christ readings for that matter) are largely misguided. This is no small pill to swallow (as is demonstrated by John Piper’s strong reaction to N.T. Wright). I simply don’t know. I have a suspicion that the N.P. is on to something. What makes it incredibly relevant to this discussion is that it provides the framework for solving the fellowship dilemna between conservatives and progressives. It requires concessions from both sides. The conservatives must make concessions regarding their fabricated lists of identity markers. According to Paul, “faith” is the identity marker. However, they must not concede that how you live is important (they just place the emphasis in the wrong place, like patterns of worship and church organization, rather than justice, love and service). The progressives must not concede their emphasis on faith. However, they must concede that behavior, or keeping God’s law, does determine whether or not a person receives a well done from the Father (this will be the point that I imagine you might take issue with, plus my wording may not adequately express what I mean here). What I mean by this is that we cannot read every reference to good deeds and then automatically say they are a result of salvation only, for they might be the determinants/antecendent of it. I believe Paul would say that our deeds can determine whether or not we will be saved (2 Co. 5:10).

    The one passage I would like to hear addressed specifically from Jay and Todd is Romans 2–about those who live in a particular way being granted eternal life (about 2:1-12 or so) and then Paul’s statement that the “doers of the law are just before God.”

    I believe these can be reconciled with salvation by grace in the sense that God judges us based upon how we live, but it is by his grace and power that we are able to live this way in the first place (by the Spirit–all of Romans, especially Romans 8:4–the righteous requirement of the law being fulfilled in us who walk after the Spirit). Didn’t he say through Ezekiel that he would “move” his people to keep his commandments (this of course is grace, not merit).

    I have further thoughts and questions but I will hold them for now.

    P.S. I am not a conservative. My fellowship practices are probably identical to Todd and Jay’s, I just arrive at them from a slightly different angle.

    P.S.S. If this didn’t make any sense just disregard it (I’ve been out in the sun a long time today).


  49. laymond Says:

    Matt said, “Let me make sure I get what you are saying here. You are saying God believed that we deserved to have Jesus die for our sins?”
    (yes Matt, that is what I am saying)

    Matt, I can’t say what God believed, but I don’t question what he did. He did deliver his son up to die for sins of his creation, mankind. Evidence says he did think mankind/his creation did deserve another chance of salvation, not because mankind had behaved so well, but because we were created by God.
    Since a savior was spoken of in the Old Testament,evidently this was not a spur of the moment decision, we have to think God thought about it, and if we believe Jesus was born for this purpose, as he said he was, I just don’t see how anyone could question the plan. And when someone says God’s creation does not deserve a second chance, I simply believe that is a decision better left to the Creator.
    When we say works have nothing to do with our salvation, lets examine the judgment brought upon the very first humans, it was brought about by something they did.

  50. zach cox Says:

    Jay, it’s been awhile since I read your posts on the New Perspective but I recall you being sympathetic to at least Wright’s version (which I favor). I see this and appreciate it in your remarks about the Spirit.


  51. mattdabbs Says:


    Thanks for being patient with me. When you said “God thought so” I guess I figured you knew what God believed. It seems the more we study about God the more we do indeed know but the more we realize we don’t perfectly understand.

    No where in here am I saying what we do has “nothing to do with our salvation”. I am saying nothing we do earns God’s salvation in a way that forces his hand or does it out of obligation to us because it is a wage to us. The only thing we have earned or merited is death because that is the wage of sin. So works are related to salvation…you and I agree on that. I am just saying they don’t merit it or gain us so many credits that God is forced to say, “Now I must save Laymond because he just did his 1,098,477th good deed and that was the cut off.” Salvation comes by the grace of God. I think Paul makes that abundantly clear and he also makes it clear that salvation is not a wage given because we have done enough works.

    Thanks for clarifying a few things. That helps.

  52. Jay Guin Says:


    Methinks you misunderstand Calvin:

  53. Jay Guin Says:


    I’ve just finished NT Wright’s “Justification,” which is a masterful response to Piper’s critique of Wright. He deals with Romans 2 in considerable detail — concluding that the “doers of the law” are those who are “led by the Spirit” as described in Romans 8.

    You’ll find that his take on faith and works is very similar to mine. We get there along different pathways, but we arrive at very similar places — salvation brings the Spirit, and the Spirit leads Christians to do good works.

  54. Anonymous Says:

    Jay, I ran short on time and wasn’t able to get my point across, here is my point.

    I was responding to your implication that Calvin started the Reformation. Luther started the Reformation years before Calvin ever left the legalism of the Catholic Church during the 1500’s.

    John Calvin left the Catholic Church in 1530, Luther left the Catholic Church in 1517 starting the Reformation.

  55. Ed Boggess Says:

    Randall, faith and repentance are conditions that must be met. You may not believe that it is a “free gift” unless there are no conditions, but salvation is a gift, it is free, it is based on grace and there are conditions.

  56. randall Says:

    If faith were received as a gift rather than a condition that must be met in order to receive the gift then one might view it differently. And if the quality of that faith was such that it led to repentence and devotion to the giver then the gift would be unconditional. Sometimes people understand coming to faith in such a way as to make it meritorious. (I met the condition therefore I received the gift; but the other guy did not meet the condition therefore he did not receive the gift. Receiving the gift was DEPENDENT upon meeting the condition.) If that is the case then the gift is not completely free, just relatively inexpensive.

  57. Harold Scott Says:

    I just found this discussion and after reading all the posts have this observation. Good works are essential to growth in knowing God. Obedience to the revealed will of God in scripture produces maturity and growth. Knowing God will be incomplete if we disobey the Spirit’s law (rules,commands) for they mature our faith and love of God as faith is tested by obedience. We can not begin to know God as love until we undertake to love as He loves. I believe knowing God to be the emphasis of all scripture and even nature. (John 17:1-5)

  58. MFearghail Says:

    A father has two sons. The father loves his sons. He does so much for them, and he expects faithful obedience, knowing that they will not be perfect. Both sons desire to honor and obey their father.

    The first son feels inadequate constantly, thinking that he is not obeying well enough, even though he tries hard. He is unhappy.

    The second son knows that he is inadequate, despite his every effort to honor and obey his father, but due his understanding of his father’s love, he finds immense joy in serving his father.

    Which son understands his father’s love and grace?

  59. […] Faith, Works, and Obedience, by Todd Deaver […]

  60. […] A more technical argument can be found at GraceConversation — Faith, Works, and Obedience, by Todd Deaver […]

  61. snake Says:

    There are definitely numerous details like that to take into consideration. That could be a nice point to bring up. I provide the ideas above as common inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you carry up the place the most important thing will probably be working in sincere good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around things like that, but I’m certain that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Each boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.

  62. Ken Sublett Says:

    Peter says that “Baptism saves.” The reason baptism saves is according to Peter is our way of REQUESTING from God A good conscience or A holy spirit. That is conversion (2 Cor 3) which permits the baptized to read black text on brown paper.

    We are washed with water INTO THE WORD or into the School of Jesus Christ.

  63. Ken Sublett Says:

    Justification does not mean salvation: a justified person is one who is ceremonially qualified to appeal to God to give him a good conscience or A holy spirit. Peter was told that even pigs were purified by “the faith of Jesus Christ.” I may be the best lawyer in the world but I do not have the standing to make a request to the Supreme Court. A citizen had to have the standing to appeal to the courts of that time and ask that his sentence be commuted.

    Acts 10:35 But in every nation
    he that feareth him,
    and worketh righteousness,
    is accepted with him.

    Liddell and Scott
    Dikai-ôma , atos, to, act of right, opp. adikêma, prop. amendment of a wrong, opp. dikaiopragêma,
    b. justification, plea of right, c. pl., pleadings, documents in a suit, etc.; also, credentials

    dikai-ōsis , eōs, h(,
    A. setting right, doing justice to: hence,
    1. condemnation, punishment, Th.8.66, D.C.40.43 (pl.), cj. in Plu.2.421d.
    2. plea of legal right, justification, Lys.9.8, cf. Harp.
    3. making or accounting righteous, justification, Ep.Rom.4.25, etc.
    II. demand of right or as of right, just claim, Th.1.141, Plu.Demetr.18.
    III. judgement of what is right, antēllaxan tē dikaiōsei altered at their will and pleasure, Th.3.82.

    But, Peter told Cornelius what to do to be “saved”: be baptized.

    We are washed in water INTO the Word or into the School of Jesus Christ. He was identified as a SON only after he had been baptized as an act of submission.

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