Various Christian denominations differ about what the Bible says. This is acceptable . . . unless those doctrinal differences challenge the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.
For example, the Bible clearly states there is only one way to be acceptable to God: faith in Jesus Christ. This truth is the cornerstone of Christianity and can never be compromised. No matter what any person, any church, any denomination may teach to the contrary, we can only be saved by faith—never by works.
“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4–5)
We have all sinned—the Bible makes that clear. None of us deserve God’s love. None of us can earn His favor. We cannot “work” our way to heaven.
“No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:9–12)
No matter how many good works we do . . . no matter how hard we try to be perfect . . . we cannot make ourselves acceptable to God. The good news is that God made a way. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose to life the third day. He offers us salvation, forgiveness, righteousness as a gift. Jesus Christ is the only way.
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:22–25)
No works on our part can remove our guilt in the sight of God. Only faith in Jesus Christ can save us. Further, no works on our part can make us worthy to stay saved. Only our faith in Christ can do that.
God’s Unconditional Love
Nothing we do can make God love us any more than He already does. Nothing we do can make Him love us any less. He loves us unconditionally—with a love so great we cannot begin to comprehend it.
If you are a parent, you have an inside track to understanding unconditional love. None of us can love like God does, but most parents love their children unconditionally. When your children misbehave, do you love them any less? When they do something that angers you, do you disclaim them as your children? Of course not. You are pleased when they make right choices, but you love them even when they make wrong ones.
Similarly, God’s love for us is not changed by our behavior. We can never earn His favor or His forgiveness, but we can receive them as a gift.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
If any Seventh-Day Adventists (or anyone else) believe that their salvation is contingent on their behavior, they are missing the truth of God’s love and grace. We cannot earn salvation by obeying biblical laws. We cannot earn salvation by obeying church laws or teachings. And we cannot keep our salvation through good works.
Keeping Our Salvation
Okay, we understand that we are saved only through our faith in Christ. But then it’s up to us. If we want to keep our salvation, we’d better get busy. We’d better start doing all the good works we can to be sure we stay okay with God. To be sure we will make it to heaven. Right?
We don’t need to perform—to do good works—to keep our salvation. But that truth can easily be twisted, causing Christians to slide back into legalism. Christians are not on probation. God’s love for us is not based on our performance. Rather it is based on His character, which never changes. God does not want us worrying about losing our salvation. Paul addressed this in his letter to the Roman church. He admitted he was far from perfect, but after crying out what a wretched man he was, he gave us this great assurance:
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:1–2)
The apostle John echoed this reality.
If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. (1 John 4:18)
God does not want us to walk in fear of losing our salvation. Of losing our relationship with Him. Grace—God’s undeserved favor—is unconditional. If it was necessary to keep the law to gain God’s acceptance, we would all be doomed. That is why Paul wrote this to the Galatians.
Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.
Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (Galatians 3:21–25)
God gave the Law to the Israelites to guide them until Christ came. It became apparent that no one could always keep the Law. Everyone sinned. Everyone still sins. And so it serves as a tutor—showing us we need another way. We cannot earn our way into the presence of our holy God. We cannot earn our way to heaven. And so Jesus came and paid the penalty for our sin. He offered us salvation as a gift. We can be saved only because of what Jesus did—we can never be saved through our own effort.
If we must keep the law to get saved or stay saved, we are placing responsibility back on ourselves to please God by our good works. But God wants us to place our faith in Christ’s good works. By trusting only in Christ, we are liberated from any attempts to try to earn our way. Our perfection is a gift from Christ through faith in Him. God’s love is a gift freely offered apart from any performance. That is the Gospel and that is truly Good News!
After we are saved by faith, we continue to walk in salvation—not by earning it but by continuing to place our faith in Christ. Paul reminded the Galatians they would stay saved the same way they got saved—by faith, not by works (human effort).
How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Galatians 3:3)
So What About Good Works?
Faith and works are the elements of the Christian life that if seen incorrectly can cause great distress. We are not saved by works. We are saved by faith to do good works. Knowing the love of God sets us free to rest in our faith. Believing that God’s love is conditional or tied to our effort will never produce the peace of mind that God wants us to have.
So the question is “how do our good works fit into God’s plan for our lives?” Good works will determine our reward. They should come not from an effort to earn our way to heaven . . . but as an outflow of love to our Savior and gratitude for all He has done—and does every day—for us. True faith in Christ spurs us on to good works.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:18)
God wants love, not legalism. Christ wants relationship, not religion. He came to set us free!
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)