WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM

by Thomas W. Finley


Chapter Five

"THEN WHO CAN BE SAVED?"

This chapter contains a critically important Scriptural discussion. The reader is urged to "stick with it" throughout the chapter and to think and seek the Lord about it. Sometimes doctrinal concepts are hard to understand, but we must learn to seek the truth, if we are Christ’s disciples, because He told us that "the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32).

We return to the story of the rich young ruler. Jesus had told the ruler that if he wished to "enter life", that is, if he wished to experience the glorious realm of life in the next age, the ruler needed to do three things: keep the commandments, sell his possessions and give to the poor, and follow Christ. Upon learning of these requirements, the rich young ruler went away grieved, apparently unwilling to give up his possessions. Jesus then told His disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23-24). After hearing of the Lord’s assessment of the difficulty of entering the coming Kingdom, the disciples were astonished and inquired, "Then who can be saved?" (Matt. 19:25). Jesus replied that this salvation was impossible to be achieved by man alone, yet with God all things are indeed possible.

The disciples’ question concerning "being saved", in its context of the coming Kingdom, opens the door for us to explore some very important Biblical truths and issues. And it is maintained, dear Christian reader, that these truths are not peripheral to the core of basic Christian doctrine. Rather, these truths are crucial to the Christian’s understanding of his relationship with God and his responsibilities toward God. Further, these principles have the utmost bearing upon the believer’s future for at least 1,000 years, which is surely a long time from the perspective of human experience. Therefore, I entreat you, in the name of Christ and for the sake of the truth, to be noble like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures to see whether these things be so (Acts 17:11).

Shortly, two great principles of the New Testament will be explained that govern many passages and teachings found there. If a Christian has a clear view of these two different and separate principles, much difficulty in understanding many passages in the Bible can be eliminated. A correct understanding of these two principles, and how certain Bible themes are related to them, will also help the Christian to resolve long-standing issues of Scriptural debate.

Before proceeding to the principles, let us say a word about the term "saved", since it has been introduced in the story of the rich young ruler and is so germane to the two principles. The verb "to save" in the Greek text is sozo. It means "to save, deliver, make whole, preserve from danger, loss, destruction." We Christians tend to take a very narrow view of "being saved", thinking of it as being exclusively applicable to the spiritual salvation of man, whereby Christ "saves" the sinner from the penalty of hell to the promise of heaven. Of course, as we shall see, there is application of the term in that type of realm. However, we must remember that the verb itself is not a "theological verb" with an explicit theological meaning, such as just stated. Rather, sozo is just another verb in the Greek language, and its meaning in any passage must be determined by the normal rules of interpretation, not by a preconceived notion.

The verb is used in the New Testament for a variety of "savings" or "deliverances". It is used of saving sick people from disease or death and restoring them to health (Matt. 9:21-22; Mk. 5:23), of delivering persons from demon possession (Lk. 8:36), and of delivering people from danger and death (Matt. 14:30; Acts 27:20). Therefore, the deliverance or "salvation" involved in any passage must be determined by looking at the context and comparing it to other Scriptures. Not every Biblical mention of salvation for man necessarily means a saving of the person from an eternity in the lake of fire to an eternity with God; only certain passages carry this meaning.

The two great principles will be called "SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH" and "REWARD ACCORDING TO WORKS". Please take time now to briefly review the table on the following two pages that outlines these two principles. Under the heading of each principle on the table some "related matters" are listed. These "related matters" are Biblical topics or doctrines, which must be seen as related to the general principle in order to be properly understood. As we examine these matters and review the verses noted, it will become apparent that these matters are indeed in harmony with the respective governing principle.

SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
RELATED MATTERS
REWARD ACCORDING TO WORKS
RELATED MATTERS
1. A gift. Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 5:17. 1. A "reward" or "prize" (recompense). Matt. 5:12,46; 6:4,6,18; 10:41,42; 16:27; Lk. 6:35; 1 Cor. 3:8,14; 9:17,24; Phil. 3:14; Col. 2:18; 3:24; 2 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 2:2-3; 10:35; 11:26; 2 Pet. 2:13; 2 Jn. 8; Rev. 11:18; 22:12.)
2. By grace through faith (unmerited; not conditioned by works on man’s part). Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 3:24-28; Rom. 4:1-16; 11:5,6; Tit. 3:5. 2. According to works (man’s cooperation with God; the reward is conditional upon man’s works). Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 2. Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:24,25; Heb. 10:35,36; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 22:12.
3. Salvation from eternal death to eternal life with God. Jn. 5:24; Eph. 2:5; Tit. 3:7; Rev. 20:14,15; 21:6,7. 3. Salvation from loss and ruin during the millennium to the enjoyment of Christ’s millennium Kingdom. Matt. 5:22-30; 7:21-23; 16:24-28; 18:8,9; 24:43-51; 25:14-30; Mk. 8:34-38; 10:28-30; Lk. 9:23-26; 12:41-48; 18:28-30; 19:11-27; Rom. 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 3:12-17; 6:8-10; 9:24-10:13; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:12; 4:18; Heb. 1:14-2:5; 3:1-4:11; 5:9; 6:1-8; 10:35-38; 12:16,17, 25-29; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; Rev. 2:10,11,25-27; 3:4,5,11,12,21; 20:4-6.
4. Salvation of the spirit. Jn. 3:6; Rom. 8:10; 1 Cor. 5:5; Heb. 12:9. 4. Salvation of the soul. Matt. 16:25,26; Mk. 8:35-37; Lk. 9:23-25; 17:32,33; Jn. 12:25; Heb. 10:38,39; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:9.
5. Justification by faith. Lk. 18:13,14; Rom. 3:24,26,28; 4:5; Gal. 2:16; 3:24. 5. Justification by works. Matt. 12:37; 1 Cor. 4:4; Jas. 2:21,24,25.
6. The judgment upon sin and unbelief. Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:18; 5:24; 12:48; Rom. 5:15,16,18; 2 Thess. 2:12. 6. The judgment upon the believer’s works. Matt. 5:22-30; 12:36,37; 24:42-51; 25:14-30; Lk. 12:42-48; 19:12-27; Jn. 5:29; Rom. 2:1-11,16; 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 10:26,27,30; 13:4; Jas. 2:12,13; 5:9; 1 Pet. 1:17; 4:17.
7. Becoming a child of God (sonship). Jn. 1:12; Gal. 3:26. 7. Growing (maturing) as sons of God (discipleship). Matt. 10:25a; 16:24-28; 19:27-29; Mk. 10:28-30; Lk. 6:40; 9:23-26,61,62; 14:26-35; Acts 14:22; Phil. 3:8-14; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; Heb. 10:35-39; 2 Pet. 1:4-11.
8. Receiving eternal life. Jn. 3:15,16,36; 5:24; 6:47; 10:28; 20:31; Rom. 6:23; 1 Jn. 5:11. 8. Eternal life in the coming age. Matt. 18:8,9; Mk. 9:43-47; 10:28-30; Lk. 18:28-30; Jn. 4:36; 12:25; Rom. 2:6,7; Jude 20,21.
9. Election according to grace. Eph. 1:4; Rom. 9:11; 11:5,6; 1 Pet. 1:1,2. 9. Choosing according to the believer’s preparation. Matt. 22:14; 2 Pet. 1:10; Rev. 17:14.
10. Entry into the present Kingdom of God. Matt. 21:28-32; Mk. 10:13-16; Col. 1:13. 10. Entry into the future Kingdom of God. Matt. 7:21; 18:1-4; [cf. Lk. 9:46-48]; 19:12; 22:1-14; Mk. 9:47; 10:23-25, 28-30; Lk. 9:62; 18:24-30; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:4-5; Jas. 2:5; 2 Pet. 1:10,11.
11. Heirs as children of God. Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:18,29; 4:6,7; Eph. 1:10,11; 1 Pet. 3:7. 11. Fellow heirs with Christ in His coming Kingdom. Matt. 5:5; 19:29; Mk. 10:17,29,30; Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:24; Heb. 1:14; 6:12; Jas. 2:5.

It is obvious that two key words in these principles are "grace" and "works". There is a danger in reducing these principles to simply "grace" or "works", because of many past arguments concerning "salvation" in regard to these terms. But for the sake of simplicity of reference only, let’s term them the grace principle and the works principle, with the full realization that we are not talking just about "salvation" by grace or works.

The grace and the works principles contrast different items. In a particular Scriptural sense, the terms grace and works are actually mutually exclusive. In speaking of God’s election of grace in relation to the remnant of saved Israelites that had recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Paul wrote:

"In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Rom. 11:5-6).

In this passage, grace means God’s unmerited favor, or gift, in choosing the Israelites to participate in the eternal salvation of God (from final condemnation and unto eternal life). The same principle applies to God’s choice of any Gentile in eternal salvation. In relation to this salvation, grace means that salvation is altogether a gift from God and is not in any way earned, merited or worked for by the recipient. As the epistle to the Ephesians tells us: "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, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2: 8-9).

In context, we can tell that the salvation spoken of above is one from spiritual death to an eternity with God, with the sinner being made alive in Christ. We see the antithesis between "grace" and "works". However, it is very important to note that this antithesis is within the framework of our eternal salvation. In other words, it is only our final salvation for eternity future that is purely a matter of grace with nothing whatsoever to do with works. To become a Christian and to "be saved" from the final condemnation of an eternity in the lake of fire to the enjoyment of an eternity with God is a matter of grace, not of any works of ours.

After we have been born again into the family of God by His grace, however, our works are not disregarded by God. On the contrary, our works as a believer figure very directly into the equation of our relationship with God and His dealings with us. Our salvation for eternity is "not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:9). However, in the very next verse, the Bible tells us that it is God’s intention that the saved person should have works: "for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Thus, there is a matter of works related to our post-conversion experience.

Based upon the works, or doings, of the believer, God will "reward" him. Actually, the word reward is misleading since we may think of a reward as only something positive. However, the Greek words used in the reward passages are neutral and carry the meaning of recompense, to pay according to the nature of the work or doing. When one studies the various verses where these words are used, one finds that the "pay back", or recompense, can be positive or negative. As we shall see, the recompense that God renders to a believer for his doings, according to Scripture, can be "good" or "bad".

As we go through the "related matters" listed on the table, remember that each one ties in to its respective governing principle. In that way, the interpretation of the cited passage becomes clear and comprehensible. Historically, much confusion in Christian doctrine has resulted from trying to relate a particular passage to the wrong principle! Also, since the time of the Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on salvation by grace, the grace principle has become so dominant that the "works" principle has either been unknown, heavily clouded and misunderstood, or even wrongly blended with the grace principle.

We will not cover all of the related matters in complete detail. This is an introduction that hopefully will encourage you to do more study on your own. Some of the matters will be looked at from one perspective or another in the chapters that follow. Please have your Bible handy in order to read some of the verses yourself as we approach each related matter shown on the table. Let’s begin.

A GIFT

There is the matter of pure gift in the Bible. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). How we all rejoice in this! We never need to strive or work to receive this gift! The gift is free; there is no cost to us. The gift is not earned or merited, but we must take notice that this gift applies only to a specific salvation.

A REWARD OR PRIZE

We must pay close attention to the Scriptural context of the reward or the prize. The context will always show us that the reward, or recompense, is connected with works, not a gift. The recompense is always earned by the recipient. Actually, some passages will show us that every man (believer and non-believer) will be recompensed according to his works. The recompense will, of course, differ between believer and non-believer. Now let’s look at one passage.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds" (Matt. 16:24-27).

Note that verse 27 starts with "for", meaning it is an explanation or commentary on what was said in the previous verses. So verse 27 is telling us that the Son of Man will recompense men according to their deeds. In context, the deeds are the deeds of disciples mentioned in the previous verses, namely deeds of denying one’s self, taking up one’s cross, following Jesus Christ, and losing one’s life.

The Greek word for both "soul" and "life" in the above verses is psuche. Self-denial means to deny one’s soul its gratification. The meaning of psuche will be explained in detail in the next chapter. These things are great works of an obedient disciple, not a gift simply received! These actions are not free; they are costly! Yet, a "saving" is mentioned here. How can salvation be here when works and recompense are mentioned? This "salvation" is not the same salvation that is mentioned in Ephesians 2:8! Also, the salvation in Ephesians 2:8 has already happened to us with lasting results. Here is a rendering of that verse by Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest in his expanded translation: "For by grace you have been saved in time past completely, through faith, with the result that your salvation persists through present time."

The salvation of Matthew 16, however, is future and is based on the disciple’s works during his lifetime. "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose [future tense] it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find [future tense] it ... for the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds" (Matt. 16:25, 27). The future "shall find it" is rendered "shall save it" in the parallel passages of Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24. This future salvation will be explained later.

Here are some brief comments on some other reward or prize verses. The "reward of the inheritance" (Col. 3:24), according to the context, is dependent on the rightness of our service. If we do not watch ourselves, we can lose what has been accomplished in us, and this will cost us some reward (2 Jn. 8). Even the great apostle Paul warns us to run the race (conduct our Christian lives) in a disciplined manner because only "one receives the prize" (1 Cor. 9:24). This implies that there will be those Christians in the race who will not receive the prize.

Even Paul himself was careful to discipline his sinful body so that he might not be disqualified from the prize (1 Cor. 9:27; cf. Rom. 6:6; 7:17-18, 23). Although Paul was a great apostle, he tells us in Philippians that he needed to continue further in his experience of Christ (3:8-10) in order to attain to a special resurrection (vs. 11-12). Therefore, he needed yet to press on for the prize (v. 14).

By all these Scriptures we can see how the reward, or the prize, is not a gift. It is definitely something that costs the disciple much carefulness, effort, discipline, endurance, and suffering.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)