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Professing Christians are divided into many denominations.  Much theological controversy centers around the subject of salvation and how one obtains it.  The range of difference covers a wide area.  At one extreme are those who hold that a person must keep the moral precepts of the Old Testament, honor all the commandments of the New Testament, and faithfully ask forgiveness if and when he fails.  At the other extreme are those who simplify the method by saying one must make a decision for Christ.  There are so many different sects; yea, even so many different religious spokesmen with their unique views, that the number of different theories concerning how salvation is obtained would be hard to count.

In one respect, however, most all groups are united.  They believe that salvation is based on the same system.  They hold that salvation comes by men's works.  Their doctrine is that God lays down the conditions, his commandments, and those who obey them are saved and those who reject them are lost.  True, these conditions differ from sect to sect, but most are agreed a person must do something to be saved.  Granted, there is a difference between those legalists who look for salvation in the Decalogue, and those decisionists who look for life in their acceptance of Christ.  The difference is, however, in commandments.  The system, human obedience to Divine conditions, remains the same.

The theology of the Old School, Primitive Baptists is different from other sects because it attacks the view that salvation results from obedience.  Not only do we attack this popular system, we proclaim that eternal life rests upon another foundation.  We believe that people are saved by the grace of God.  The church at Jerusalem came together to consider the doctrine held by certain Pharisees: "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).  The teaching was expressed another way: "That it was needful to circumcise them (the Gentiles) and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5).  Peter attacked this system by stating to the church: "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (Acts 15:11)

It must be noted that those who base salvation on a system of works still claim to believe that salvation is by grace.  This claim, to be worth anything, must, however, be supported by statements consistent with the claim.  One has a right to wonder about the sincerity of the bartender who professes to be opposed on moral grounds to people drinking alcoholic beverages.  By the same token one may question those who at one moment maintain salvation is by grace, and at the next moment contend a person has to do something in order to be saved.

    The antithesis of salvation by grace is salvation by works.  Paul shows this when he argues: "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.  And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be works, then it is no more grace:  otherwise work is no more work." (Rom. 11:5-6)  In other words, salvation cannot be by works and by grace at the same time.  Grace is defined as "unmerited favor."  If an employee works for his wages, he earns his pay.  So also, if a sinner could ever earn salvation by what he does, he would not receive it as an undeserved gift.  Paul explained to the Ephesians once "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1) why they were saved: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9)  To Timothy, Paul spoke of the God "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our woks, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim 1:9)  This same truth is also shown in Titus, chapter 3, where Paul speaks of men's deliverance from sin (vs. 3,4) "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us..." (v. 5); and in verse 7, he shows that justification is "by his grace."

The decisionists rightly oppose the legalists on the grounds that to believe that a person is saved by the Decalogue is the equivalent to believing that he is not saved by grace.  But how do the decisionists escape their own condemnation?  The legalists make the Ten Commandments the condition of salvation.  The decisionists replace the Law for men's acceptance of Christ.  Both in short hold that salvation is conditioned upon human obedience.  True, the decisionists simplify the method, but salvation according to this system remains on the basis of merit.  An employer may agree to pay one man eighty dollars a week for stock work, and another man the same amount of wages for simply answering occasionally the telephone.  The stock clerk may work harder than the receptionist, but if both do their assigned jobs, they equally deserve at the end of the week their eighty dollar salaries.  Likewise, if God makes acceptance of Christ the condition of salvation, any man who honors this requirement is no more saved by grace than the man who receives life as a result of constant observance of the law.  Both would have earned eternal glory because both would have fulfilled the conditions.

The roots of man's sin problem are deeper than human weakness and ignorance.  True, people often sin because they do not know God's laws, and because they succumb to temptation.  These are, however, only a part of a greater explanation why men sin.  Man's basic problem is that he is alienated from God.  He sins because he is anti-God.  Paul described the former state of the Christians at Colosse as such that they "were sometime alienated and enemies in (their) mind by wicked works." (Col. 1:21).  Unsaved men do not try to get along with God.  They rebel against God.  Now if a man puts himself in such a state of mind to will the favor of the Lord, he not only has taken a great step forward, but he has taken the necessary step (and all by himself) to free himself from his alienation.  Christ, His blood, His righteousness, under this system profits no one.  For if a man can decide for God, he becomes his own deliverer.  We Old School Baptists hold rather that grace wins our pardon, Christ's blood redeems us from sin, and His power turns our blinded, rebellious hearts to repentance and faith in Him that loved us.  We who hold truly and consistently that salvation is by grace do not remove the importance of obedience to God.  We rather put works in proper place.  Obedience follows salvation, it does not precede it.  Men love, believe in, and follow Christ not in order to become God's children, but because they are God's children.  We who are saved by God's grace are His "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

David Mattingly
from the BAPTIST EMPHASIS, Nov. 1969