just thinking  Salvation, Faith Alone or Faith Plus Works - Part II


Matthew 19:16-26, Mark 10:17-31
A rich young man asks how to have eternal life and Jesus tells him to give away everything he has and follow Him.

I don’t believe Jesus is saying that people must always physically give away all they have in order to gain eternal life, but rather that they should give up anything that prevents them from turning to Jesus. Much like Jesus’ admonition to cut off an offending body part, or to give up their families and to hate their very lives, so here I think he means that nothing should be allowed to stand between ourselves and God. Everything we have and are should be His.

At the end of this passage, when Jesus says that it would be harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, the disciples were amazed and asked (Matthew 19:25), “Who then can be saved?” Apparently they figured that if a camel can’t make it through the eye of a needle, well, neither can a mouse, and if that was the case, then how could anybody be saved? Jesus replies that while it is impossible for the rich (and others, the “mice,” so to speak) to enter the kingdom of heaven on their own, God can get them in.

Further, it is interesting that Jesus didn’t tell the rich young man to give away enough so he would be down to a modest lifestyle; He said to give away all, which would make him poorer than almost everybody, and it seems highly unlikely that Jesus meant that people may not have any possessions if they expect to have eternal life. Again, His meaning appears to be that we should completely give away anything and everything that prevents us from turning to Him.

Finally, we see that elsewhere that rich people – such as Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8-9) and apparently Joseph of Arimathea – entered in without physically giving up everything.

So, it isn’t the riches directly that are the hindrance, but the all-too-common idolatrous attitude toward those riches that makes people feel self-sufficient and unwilling to surrender to Christ.

It is also interesting that he rich man asked what he should “do.” I think Jesus wanted him to see that he couldn’t win eternal life by his own efforts. I think he first told the man to keep the commandments because he wanted the man to admit that he had failed to keep the commandments, so that he would understand his need to trust Jesus for forgiveness. But it seems the young man was rather self-confident. Yes, he said, he had kept all those commandments, which suggests he had a very shallow notion of the meaning of the commandments, so Jesus takes him further down into his heart, to what gave him his confidence, his wealth, and told him to give it all away. That hit home – he understood his confidence and love were in something earthly, something other than God. That misplaced confidence, Jesus was saying, was hindering him from surrendering and following Him.

Matthew 20:1-16
The generous vineyard owner gives those who worked less time the same amount as he gave to those who worked for him during the entire day.

As Matthew is writing specifically to Jews, it appears that in this parable Jesus was referring to the Jews as those who worked longest for God, and to various Gentile groups – who would hear the gospel later – as those who began working at later hours.

However, if Jesus is referring to individuals in this parable and if the payment given to the workers does equate to eternal life, then – since all the workers were equally rewarded – it seems clear that the amount of work we do does not qualify us for eternal life. Instead, what appears important is that we do it for the vineyard owner. If we have given our lives to the Vineyard Owner (God), then we will naturally work for him; if we don’t work for Him then we haven’t really ever given our lives to Him.

Matthew 21:43
In this, the parable of the evil tenants, he Kingdom of God will be taken from Pharisees and given to those who produce its fruit.

The Book of Matthew is addressed primarily to Jews, and Jesus is warning that the kingdom of God will be switched from being on a national basis (Israel) to being a spiritual basis (church).

Matthew 25:1-13
Parable of the ten virgins: Five virgins were wise and brought enough oil to last until the bridegroom arrived; five were foolish and did not. The foolish virgins were excluded from the wedding feast.

Again, as the Book of Matthew is addressed primarily to Jews, it seems that the foolish virgins represent those in Israel who had the oil of the old covenant, which by itself was not enough, but they didn’t have the oil of the new covenant. They never knew Jesus. The wise virgins had both.

Matthew 25:14-30
Parable of the talents: The servant who did nothing with the money he was given is thrown out.

The Master in the parable indicates that anything would have been enough, that the servant could have simply given the money to a banker for interest, but the servant did absolutely nothing. There is nothing of the love of God in this servant’s heart. He did nothing because he does not love the Master.

Matthew 24:45-51
The master will reward the faithful servant, but will cut up and cast out with the hypocrites the unfaithful servant.

Jesus describes one servant as “faithful and wise” (24:45) and then describes his actions. Next he describes the other servant as wicked (24:48), then describes his actions. By describing their natures first, Jesus suggests that the servants’ actions were a result of their natures.

Supporting this view, Jesus warns that the wicked servant will be assigned a place with the hypocrites, the reason is most likely because the wicked servant is a hypocrite. He pretends to be something he isn’t – a good servant.

If we give our lives to Jesus He will change our nature and we will do good. We’ll slip up, yes, but our general inclination will be to do good. If we just pretend, like the hypocritical wicked servant, we may do all sorts of evil.

A question remains: Why does Jesus describe both the good and wicked as “servants.”

I think it is because Jesus – especially in the Book of Matthew – is mostly addressing Jews, God’s chosen people on earth, His servants. So, if Jews are the servants in this parable, Jesus may be saying that those Jews who obey their master are faithful and wise, but those who are wicked can expect to be rejected.

Matthew 20:28
Jesus came to give his life a ransom for many.

By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we can be saved if we believe in Him.

Matthew 23:12
Jesus says that whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
A humble faith in God is what He wants; humble because we are trusting in God, not ourselves.

Matthew 24:13 – See entry for Matthew 10:22

Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3
John the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John’s baptism is a public declaration of repentance and belief in Jesus (Acts 19:4). Repentant trust in Jesus saves, not water. The water is important as a tangible, public step of obedience in response to repentance, but repentance is the focus. Mark 1:5 says the people were baptized as they confessed their sins, and in the baptismal passage, Luke 3:7-8, John the Baptist emphasizes the need for repentance when he tells the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Mark 2:5
Jesus sees the faith of the people who bring the paralytic (and the paralytic, himself, I think) and says his sins are forgiven.

They had faith and were forgiven. It is not recorded that they specifically asked for forgiveness, but they got it by their faith.

Mark 3:28-30
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgiven.

I think the only sin that isn’t forgiven is the sin of not being willing to be forgiven, and that is done by blaspheming the Holy Spirit, by rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit who seeks to draw us to Christ, by treating the Spirit as unclean, unholy, irrelevant, or even by just ignoring Him.

Mark 8:34-37
You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus. If you lose your life for Jesus and the gospel you will save it.

Faith in Jesus involves giving our lives to Jesus, and giving our lives to Jesus means following His leading, even through difficult times. If we are unwilling to take up our cross then we haven’t really believed in Jesus in the true sense of giving Him control of our lives. See also Matthew 10:38-39.

Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26
If you are ashamed of Jesus and His words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

Being ashamed of someone means being uncomfortable being associated with him. It seems unlikely that a person who does not want to be associated with Jesus ever really believed in Him in the first place. At the very least, this passage must mean that such people are not living for Jesus as they should, and that if they are believers at all then they are the kind about whom Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, where he says everyone’s work will be tested by fire and, “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

Mark 9:19
Jesus laments his “unbelieving generation.”

This verse is not directly related to salvation, but it shows that faith is critical and Jesus is concerned about the people’s lack of faith.

Mark 9:23-24
Jesus says everything is possible to the one who believes, and the father of the demon-possessed boy says he believes but needs help with his unbelief.

Though not directly related to salvation, in this passage Jesus shows the centrality of faith by encouraging the worried father to believe.

Mark 9:42-48 – See entry for Matthew 5:29-30

Mark 9:42
If you cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble, it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and be cast into the sea.

This is apparently directed at nonbelievers.

Mark 10:14-15
Jesus rebukes the disciples who tried to prevent people from bringing little children to him, saying that people must receive the kingdom of God like little children.

We must be trusting, like little children, to receive the kingdom of God.

Mark 10:17-31 – See entry for Matthew 19:16-26

Mark 13:13 – See comment on Matthew 10:22.

Mark 13:22
False Christs and prophets will perform signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that was possible.

Mark is indicating the extremely persuasive nature of these false miracles, false miracles strong enough to deceive even those God has chosen, if that was possible. By adding, “if that were possible,” Mark seems to be indicating that it is not possible, probably because while the fake miracles are strong enough to deceive the elect, God will protect his chosen ones.

Mark 14:24
Jesus’ blood is poured out for many.

By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we can be saved if we believe in Him.

Mark 16:16
Believe and be baptized and you will be saved. Do not believe and be condemned.

Does this mean if you are not baptized in water that you will not be saved?

No. The thief on the cross whom Jesus said would be with him in paradise was not baptized, yet was saved, so then, important as it is, water baptism is not a crucial element in salvation.

The term “baptism” is used in various senses in the New Testament, senses that do not all include water. For example, Jesus even seems to refer to his crucifixion as a baptism (Luke 12:50) and suggests to his disciples that they will be baptized with the baptism he is baptized with (Mark 10:39), apparently a reference to the martyrdom of several of them.

While Mark 16:16 is a debated passage, if we accept it as written I think we should understand the first part of this verse – the part that says we should believe and be baptized – as meaning that if we really believe, not just believe in an intellectual sense that Jesus existed or is the Son of God, but believe in the sense of surrendering our lives to Jesus, then Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and we will be saved. And of course, if we really believe, we should follow Jesus’ example and be baptized in water as well.

But does this baptism of Jesus’ require physical water?

Again, the thief on the cross was not baptized in water, but certainly a baptism in the Holy Spirit may coincide with a baptism by water, just as the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus when he was baptized with water. But, as we have seen, baptism does not necessarily refer to water, and in Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist intentionally contrasts his baptizing with water to Jesus’ baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire, again suggesting the baptism Jesus provides does not require water.

Luke 1:50
Mary says God’s mercy is on those who fear Him.

Those who surrender their lives to God will fear Him in the sense that they will show a deep respect for His power and majesty, but not fear Him in the sense of worrying that He means His children any harm. This kind of fear and fearlessness can coexist. So, in this passage we see Mary praise this respectful type of fear, and then just a little further on, in Luke 1:74, Zechariah says God rescues us so we can serve him without fear.

Luke 1:69, 74-75
Zechariah prophesied in song, saying that God has “raised up a horn of salvation” (1:69) to rescue the people from their enemies and enable them to serve Him in righteousness (1:74-75).

The horn of salvation is “in the house of His servant David” (1:69), making it clear that the salvation Zechariah refers to is Jesus.

Luke 1:77
Zechariah says Jesus will give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 2:11
Christ is Savior and Lord.

Luke 2:29-31
Simon holds the child Jesus and says of Him that his (Simon’s) eyes have seen God’s salvation.

Luke 2:30
Simon identifies Jesus as God’s salvation.

Simon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Christ, takes baby Jesus in his arms and says Jesus is God’s salvation.

Luke 2:38
The prophetess Anna speaks of Jesus to those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 3:3 – See entry for Mark 1:4

Luke 3:6
Luke, quoting Isaiah referring to Jesus, says all flesh will see the salvation of God.

Jesus is the salvation of God! All flesh will not necessarily be saved – people must believe to be saved – but all will see.

Luke 3:7-14
John the Baptist warns that repentance must be accompanied by fruit.

John says the people should produce fruit “in keeping with repentance.” If you really repent then your life will change. If your life does not change then that should be a warning to you; perhaps you simply need to know the kind of fruit you should be producing, or perhaps you have not really repented and given your life to God.

Luke 3:16-17
John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire and gather His wheat into His barn and burn up the chaff.

Jesus will one day separate the wheat from the chaff. If you believe, you are wheat; if you don’t, you are chaff.

Luke 5:20
When Jesus sees the faith of the sick man and his friends who lowered him on a pallet through the roof, Jesus forgives the man’s sins.

Luke 5:24
Jesus tells the Pharisees that he has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Luke 5:32
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance.

Luke 6:23 – See entry for Matthew 5:3,10

Luke 6:35
Love and do good to your enemies and expect nothing in return. Then you will receive a great reward and you will be sons of the Most High.

I think this means that if you do this you will be acting out what you really are – sons of the Most High, and you will receive a “great reward” rather than, perhaps, a lesser reward. It is as if a proud father were to say after his son did something commendable, “Now, that’s my son!” Not that he wasn’t his son before, but rather that he has just shown it.

Thought experiment: Suppose you live in a small town where everyone gets along and you don’t have any enemies, are you not a son of God because you don’t have any enemies to do good to? Clearly not. This, again, refers to our willingness to love and do good. If we really believe in Jesus, we will do good, even to our enemies. If we don’t believe in Jesus, we won’t.

Luke 6:37-38
Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and be forgiven. Give and you will be given to.

If we trust in Jesus we will do what God wants us to do and not judge, not condemn; we will forgive and give. Luke 6:35 says that loving our enemies is being a son of the Most High, and 6:36 says showing mercy is imitating our Father. So, doing these things is what children of God do. If they do not exhibit these attributes in any way, are they really children of God at all? Did they ever really believe? Most likely not.

Luke 6:43-45
A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Figs do not grow on thorn bushes.

Good actions are the results of salvation, not a precondition. Good works are a result of who you are.

Luke 6:46
Jesus asks why people call him Lord but don’t do as he says.

Jesus is saying the natural outflow of trusting in Him as Lord is to obey.

Luke 7:50
Jesus tells the woman who poured perfume on His feet that her faith had saved her.

Luke 8:12
The Word sown in the heart leads to believing and being saved.

Luke 9:24-25
If you lose your life you will gain it.

Losing our lives means giving our lives to Jesus, believing and trusting in Him.

Luke 9:26 – See entry for Mark 8:38

Luke 9:48
Whoever receives a child in Jesus’ name receives Him.

In order to receive a child in Jesus’ name, you have to believe in Jesus and be motivated by Him.

Luke 9:62
No one who puts hand to plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (or fit for service in the kingdom of God).

Jesus wants his servants to be single-minded in service to Him, not distracted from plowing a clean furrow by looking back at the world. While this does not indicate that someone who is not single-minded in his service to Jesus will be excluded from heaven, it does suggest that such a person may not be used by God – or not used much – to advance his kingdom in this world.

Luke 10:20
Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice that their names are written in heaven.

Jesus seems to be indicating that the disciples have heaven guaranteed; it is not something that they will have to strive for throughout the rest of their lives to earn. If there was a chance their names could be erased from the book of life for their missteps, it wouldn’t make much sense to rejoice.

Luke 10:25-28
When a lawyer asks how to have eternal life, Jesus asks him what is written in the law. The lawyer answers 1) Love God, 2) Love your neighbor. Jesus commends him on his correct answer.

Loving our neighbor is a natural outflow of our love of God. If we love God we will love others.

Luke 10:38-42
Jesus says to the busily-working Martha, who complained that Mary was not working, that Mary’s way is best – to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him.

I think Jesus is saying that if we trustingly and attentively wait on Him, everything else flows from that – the life He wants us to live and the work He wants us to do.

Luke 11:41
Give what is within as charity and “all things are clean for you.”

I don’t think this refers to eternal life, but means we should give with love. Jesus wants us to give not out of compulsion or habit – outwardly, that is – but from the heart – “give what is within.” I believe this is supported by the following verse, Luke 11:42, in which Jesus says the Pharisees were neglecting justice and the love of God. So, if we are acting out of godly love, God counts what we do as clean.

Luke 12:4-5 – See entry for Matthew 10:28.

Luke 12:42-46
Jesus says that the faithful servant will be rewarded for doing his duty; the unfaithful servant will be cut in pieces and assigned a place with unbelievers.

The reason that the unfaithful servant is “assigned a place with unbelievers” is because he is an unbeliever, like Judas, who appeared to be a believer, but was not.

Luke 12:47-48
The servant who knows his duty and fails to do it receives many blows; the servant who didn’t know and sinned receives few blows. To whom much is given, much is required.

This is at the end of a parable about a master returning home and finding his servants either ready, or not. It comes right after Luke 12:46, which says the calculating, cruel, drunken servant is cut into pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers, apparently because he was, in fact, an unbeliever. This seems to refer to hell.

But in verses 47 and 48, Jesus turns from the intentionally rebellious servant to the neglectful servant; the servant who really does believe but is either lazy or ignorant. In this case it appears the punishment is temporary, “many blows” for the one who knew what to do and didn’t do it, and “few blows” for the one who didn’t know. This does not seem to indicate hell because the number of blows is limited. So, the blows may be similar in concept to the fire in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, where Paul says everyone’s work will be tested by fire and, “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

Luke 13:6-8
The parable of the fig tree keeper: Fertilize the tree first, if it still fails to produce, cut it down.

Since Jesus is speaking to Jews, it appears that the fig tree being cut down may be a warning of the earthly destruction that would soon come upon the Jewish nation.

Luke 13:23-28
Jesus says to strive to enter by the narrow gate, and that at some point the Master will lock the gate and ignore the entreaties of those outside. The people will say that they ate and drank with Him and He taught among them, but the Master of the house will say, “Depart from me, I don’t know you or where you come from.”

Jesus is responding to a man who asks if only a few people will be saved, and judging from Jesus’ comments in verses 28-30, it appears more specifically that the man was wondering if only Jews will be saved.

Jesus responds by telling him to strive to enter through the narrow gate. He seems to be saying that, yes, the gate to heaven is narrow and not everybody will enter and be saved, however, if he is counting on coasting to heaven on the basis of his birth as a Jew, he is mistaken.

Just as is true for Gentiles, he needs to surrender his life to Jesus. He needs to force himself out of the thoughtless crowd, to overcome any lethargy, any reluctance, all distractions, and make sure he knows Jesus. Notice that when the Master of the house finally turns people away, it is because He does not know them. We need to make sure Jesus knows us by giving our lives to Him.

Luke 14:26
You must hate your own family – and your own self – to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point. To actually hate your family would violate Jesus’ commands to love others. I believe He means that we are to value Him far above all things, including ourselves, if we want to be one of his disciples. Also, this may simply address the question of who is suited to serve as disciples to Jesus and not particularly who goes to heaven.

Luke 14:33
You must give up all your possessions to be Jesus’ disciple. Jesus says we must count the cost and make a good choice, as the king with a 10,000-man army does when faced with a king with 20,000-man army.

Jesus is addressing a large crowd (Luke 14:25), so he is speaking to all kinds of people, some of whom are not suited to be among his core disciples, and He wants these people to consider the difficulties these core disciples face. So, the opposing king with 20,000 men represents those difficulties.

Perhaps some of these people in the crowd are more suited to supporting the core disciples than actually being one. Perhaps, then, Jesus is paring down the number of close disciples to only the most suited, much as Gideon pared down his army to a mere 300. But just as that paring down did not mean that the rest of Gideon’s army was punished in any way, so I do not believe those who decide not to be part of the core group of disciples are punished in any way or excluded from heaven.

Luke 18:28-30
The disciples tell Jesus they have left all to follow Him, and Jesus tells them they will receive back much more in this life, and eternal life as well.

Jesus is promising an earthly reward to those who have given up family for the sake of God, and is assuring them they will not miss out on eternal life either.


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