One of the most common questions people have when facing the concept of God and attempting to understand who He is and what His gospel is was asked by the Philippian Jailer in the book of Acts, chapter 16. “What must I do to be saved?”

This question has been asked, answered, asked again, and answered again. Everyone has an answer. But lately, in a group of people who have left legalism we have been asking the question, “Was I saved?”, and further, “Are THEY saved?” Turning to Scripture is the only way to answer that question.

The reality is, Scripture defines salvation over, and over again. Jesus started answering the question by saying things like “But he that endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) or “Thy faith has saved you, go in peace.” (Luke 7:50) and “I am the door; By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” (John 10:9)

Jesus said several times, “He that believes shall be saved“, but one time added the words, “and is Baptized” (Mark 16:16) to the mix, which seemingly gave denomination after denomination license to create more ‘and is‘ lines to the narrative. Although it is commonly believed in commentaries and by scholars that the ‘and is baptized‘ is not a salvific requirement, as in, ‘unless you are baptized you will be lost’, but that it meant, ‘Anyone who believed would then go on to be baptized.’

Apostle-Paul-58ebd8dd5f9b58ef7e7a2064The Apostle Paul spent excessive amounts of time writing about justification and salvation in his epistles, especially early on, indicating how necessary it was for him to clear the muddy waters on this subject then. There is nothing new under the sun!

As we have learned through scholarly study and historical evidence, much of Paul’s writings were completed before the Gospels were written, including the book of Acts. But we see a historical fight shaping up early in the linear reading of the Bible, in the book of Acts chapter 15 about this very topic.

It is here that Paul travels to Jerusalem to the Council of the Elders to report that many New Testament believers were teaching legalism – the need to obey the Law of Moses and circumcision in order to the saved. After the proceedings took place, the council dispatched letters, sent by Apostles (chiefly Paul) and couriers to tell the Christian world that the law did not save them.

Act 15:24  Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
Act 15:25  It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Act 15:26  Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Act 15:27  We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
Act 15:28  For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
Act 15:29  That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

So from the beginning, the answer has been debated, answers and changed and debated again, to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?

What is Legalism?

effort2At its core, legalism is the belief or doctrines that there are standards, rituals, and performances one must do in order to be accepted by God i.e., Saved. As noted in my previous article, “Forcing the Bible to say what it does not say”, I noted the comments of a person who said, “Grace is only applied (Ephesians 2:8) to an individual after they have performed the ritual seen in Acts 2:38.”

Legalism teaches that when Scripture says, “You are saved by Faith”, that this doesn’t actually mean having faith in and trusting in the works of Christ is what it takes to be saved. They would rephrase it into something like this:

“Faith is believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and thus, you would have absolutely no problem obeying these standards we made. If you believe in something, you do something about it, if you don’t do something about it, you don’t believe it. Your obedience is what saves you.”

There is always this thin veil of truth buried within the folds of every lie. Even Scripture says in James 2:18, “I’ll show you my faith by my works.” Later the writer says, “Faith without works, is dead.” Scripture doesn’t lie, but like when Jesus said, “He that believes on me and is baptized shall be saved“, the legalist uses these Scriptures as a license to modify the simple meaning of the Gospel to prove you must Do, Do and then Do some more, in order to be saved.

What we know IS true, is that no amount of dress standards, behavior control, ritual, ceremony, or pomp, can save you, nor is it required to ‘stay saved.’ I once asked a person who believed you had to have the initial evidence of speaking in tongues in order to be saved, “Am I still saved a month later if I don’t continue speaking in tongues or dress the way your church says I have to?”

So…Can Legalists be saved?

The crux of the question of salvation depends on having a mature and balanced understanding of what salvation is. According to Paul, when you trust in Law (standards, traditions, Law of Mose) rather than the finished works of Christ and His Blood, you fall from Grace.

Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. ~ Galatians 5:4, KJV

If it is then Grace that saves you (Ephesians 2:8), and you reject Grace by believing and/or causing others to believe another Gospel, you then fall from Grace, or never attained Grace in the first place. This is a hard truth to grasp, but a balanced understanding of Scripture.

What Paul was saying here is more easily read in a general translation that provides a modern understanding of the simple statement in this verse.

You have been severed from Christ, if you seek to be justified [that is, declared free of the guilt of sin and its penalty, and placed in right standing with God] through the Law; you have fallen from grace [for you have lost your grasp on God’s unmerited favor and blessing].

Furthermore, Paul told us in Romans 5:19 that it was the obedience of Christ that makes us righteous and placed in right standing before GodThis is exactly what Paul was saying in Ephesians 2 when he said, “You are saved, by Grace, through Faith, and that not of yourselves…”

gano-1There is nothing we can do, aside from placing our complete trust in the works of Christ, to be saved. There are of course things we SHOULD do, in response to our faith, and complete trust in Christ. We should follow the early church tradition of being baptized into the family, and we are to follow the charitable and love filled example of Christ.

But those things do not ‘save’ us – they are our response to being saved. Titus 3:7 says, “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul said again in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 that it was God, not something we did, that anointed us with his Spirit which is the eternal seal of promise.

Now it is God who establishes and confirms us [in joint fellowship] with you in Christ, and who has anointed us [empowering us with the gifts of the Spirit]; 22 it is He who has also put His seal on us [that is, He has appropriated us and certified us as His] and has given us the [Holy] Spirit in our hearts as a pledge [like a security deposit to guarantee the fulfillment of His promise of eternal life].

The Bottom Line

…is this. If you are trusting in the works of Christ, and are sealed with His Spirit, which He gives you as a gift, which is not something you must beg for, or ‘seek’ after, then you are fulfilled in the requirements of Faith. You are saved!

My legalist friends will hate that sentence because they label the ‘no works to be saved’ doctrine as ‘easy believism’ and reject Scriptural, mature and balanced soteriology. But unfortunately, the hard truth is, if you believe you must do something above and beyond what Christ did, and Paul taught, you are fallen from Grace. If you are fallen from Grace, you are severed from Christ as Scripture says.

If you believe or cause others to believe that there are performances you must make to be initially saved, and equal and additional performances you must continue to make in order to stay saved, you have made Christ of no effect to you. You’ve rejected Christ – and sadly, according to Scripture, are not saved.

The bottom line is truly this – Only Christ can judge, the quick (alive) and the dead (severed from Christ). You, nor I, can say what the end of another is. And as a former, surviving legalist, I know believe that I was NOT saved, because I was not trusting in Jesus. I was trusting in legalism, my denomination. I was trusting in my speaking in tongues, the fact that I was ‘baptized’ in the right formula, that I went to church 3x a week, that I obeyed the dress standards of the pastor.

And, I trusted that if the pastor was pleased with me, so was God. But, Paul again refuted this misdirected mindset of faith, when he said, “Do I now seek to please Man or God?” (Galatians 1:10)

If you perform and live certain ways because your organization says you must, and will remove you for not doing so (dress standard, worship standard, etc), that is not trusting in God, and Faith in Jesus is required to be saved, not works.

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Posted by dividinghisword

I am the father of two, husband of one, and lover of Christ! I simply seek to spread the Word of God unadulterated, not filtered by denominational interpretation. I have a degree in Theology from Texas Bible College but more so I have His Word!

10 Comments

  1. Great article!! Israel is our example and the consequence of their action should be a stern warning to us:the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, because they pursued it strickly by faith, while the people of Israel pursued righteousness by earning it through law. Israel didn’t obtain their goal because they didn’t pursue it strickly by faith. (Romans 9:30-31). Anything not of faith is sin. Israel was sinning by the way they pursued salvation. And yes, they were severed from Christ. The ax was laid at the root and they were severed. We too will be severed if we attempt to pursue salvation by effort of our own. Christ already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe (totally trust Him) in Him are made right with Him. Jesus said unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we will never enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:20). The Pharisees followed the law to the letter. They along with Israel, had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge, they didn’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself (Rom 10:2-3).

    Legalist are not saved. But they can be by repenting and trusting in Christ’s obedient works and atonement on the Cross, alone.

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  2. So I have an honest question, are you saying that if someone believes in the finished work of Jesus Christ and puts their complete trust in him but still fornicates, gets drunk occasionally, uses profanity etc. they are still saved? What about Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:20-22? Aren’t the wages of sin death and the gift of God is eternal life? What about Titus 1:16? Aren’t our works extremely important? Not meaning that they save you because they don’t, but good and righteous works should be a proof of your salvation, no? Jesus said ye shall know them by their fruits. I’d like to know your thoughts.

    Thanks and God Bless

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    1. Hi Chris,

      All fantastic questions and points. First, you mentioned two things in a way or context the Bible does not relate them. You say, “If someone gets drunk occasionally, uses profanity etc. they are still saved?”

      A proper study reveals that ‘drunkenness’ is an addiction and being out of control. Your wording would indicate that someone who imbibes is sinning, which the Bible does not teach. In fact, in cases (Old Testament) Scripture recommended imbibing to the point that it altered your mentality. Secondly, the Bible no where says using profanity is a sin, and what IS profanity would be entirely up to your individual ears wouldn’t it? To some, saying Dangit is profanity. Who judges that line? The culture you are in? The city? The state? Church? Denomination?

      Hebrews 6 is clearly not speaking of ‘sinning’ in the nominal sense, as you say, of cussing, drinking, smoking etc. This was speaking of rejecting Christ, the doctrines of Christ, rejecting Grace. The Bible says if you reject Christ, the Son you have not the Father. If someone rejects Christ, Paul says they are reprobate. Thus the language would imply ‘It will be impossible to illuminate their minds again’, which reminds you of what he said in Romans, how that ‘God gave them up’.

      2 Peter is saying essentially the same thing – that turning away from the faith is what condemns the soul, not each and every individual sin. If EVERY time we sinned, it became impossible to return again to God, WHY would we have an advocate with the father? Why would Grace even exist?

      I agree, as stated in the article, that our Works show our faith – the question is not whether we should have works, the question was, “Are you saved by Grace if you believe and teach others to believe that you cannot be saved and/or stay saved unless you perform particular acts or works?”

      I hope that makes sense – as Paul said, Grace is not the excuse of Sin, but it IS the realization that while we were yet sinners, Christ Died for Us. That is Grace. When we don’t deserve his Grace and forgiveness, He gave it to us anyway. Are you then to say, after He gave you forgiveness once, and you mess up again, it’s over? No more Grace?

      That is the fear-based religion of legalism – that every minute of every day you could lose your salvation for not performing good enough when Scripture teaches us over and over we cannot perform good enough. We can never be perfect. We lie if we say we sin not. Can someone fornicate, drink, ‘cuss’, and still be saved? Absolutely. If they willfully continue in that sin without repentance then they would be reprobate.

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    2. Faith plus works does not equal salvation. However, faith alone with the evidence of works is a living faith. As the Reformer, Martin Luther, once said, “we are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.” It is very important to note that we can’t take credit for the good works which are produced in us after salvation. We are only vessels for God and He alone works in us “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). All glory goes to God alone!

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  3. There is a belief called Antinomianism which means “against the law.” Theologically, antinomianism is the belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey. Antinomianism takes a biblical teaching to an unbiblical conclusion. The biblical teaching is that Christians are not required to observe the Old Testament Law as a means of salvation. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). The unbiblical conclusion is that there is no moral law God expects Christians to obey.

    The apostle Paul dealt with the issue of antinomianism in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” The most frequent attack on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone is that it encourages sin. People may wonder, “If I am saved by grace and all my sins are forgiven, why not sin all I want?” That thinking is not the result of true conversion because true conversion yields a greater desire to obey, not a lesser one. God’s desire—and our desire when we are regenerated by His Spirit—is that we strive not to sin. Out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness, we want to please Him. God has given us His infinitely gracious gift in salvation through Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Our response is to consecrate our lives to Him out of love, worship, and gratitude for what He has done for us (Romans 12:1-2). Antinomianism is unbiblical in that it misapplies the meaning of God’s gracious favor.

    A second reason that antinomianism is unbiblical is that there is a moral law God expects us to obey. First John 5:3 tells us, “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” What is this law God expects us to obey? It is the law of Christ – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). No, we are not under the Old Testament Law. Yes, we are under the law of Christ. The law of Christ is not an extensive list of legal codes. It is a law of love. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will do nothing to displease Him. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will do nothing to harm them. Obeying the law of Christ is not a requirement to earn or maintain salvation. The law of Christ is what God expects of a Christian.

    Antinomianism is contrary to everything the Bible teaches. God expects us to live a life of morality, integrity, and love. Jesus Christ freed us from the burdensome commands of the Old Testament Law, but that is not a license to sin, but rather a covenant of grace. We are to strive to overcome sin and cultivate righteousness, depending on the Holy Spirit to help us. The fact that we are graciously freed from the demands of the Old Testament Law should result in our living our lives in obedience to the law of Christ. First John 2:3-6 declares, “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”

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  4. Got it, I mostly agree with your perspective. Also, I wasn’t implying anything, I was just asking questions, provoking thought and encouraging dialogue. Just for the record, I was a member of an Apostolic Pentecostal Church with an extremely abusive and manipulative “leader” and was also licensed in the UPC. I do not agree with any of the teachings anymore and this blog has helped me in my journey towards freedom very much so. I would however, challenge you on the profanity issue. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 mentions “revilers” which by definition means to vituperate which by definition means to use harsh condemnatory language. I will acknowledge that, that definition is not limited only to profanity but also to abusive language in general. I also don’t believe that just because the Bible doesn’t mention something specifically, that it is excused (not saying that you were implying that) because that would contradict the end of 1 Timothy 1:10 (any other thing) and Galatians 5:21 (such like). Who determines the any other thing and who determines the such like? I believe the Spirit of God is able to convict us of things that are contrary to Gods word even if it may not be written specifically in the word. This may be your view as well or it may not be, I am not implying either. I’d love to know your thoughts on that. Keep up the great work, I was surprised to see how similar our experiences are (exactly the same in some cases) when reading your blog. It’s unbelievable.

    God Bless

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    1. Chris,

      I always talk about this stuff in a challenging way, because I’m a) unwilling to believe I have it all right, and b) someone else has it all right. I personally do not believe any living human being will get it ‘all right’. I loved your questions and perspectives. Disagreeing on points is not combative or wrong in any way, so please feel fee to continue sharing, and challenging, as you have with the ‘language’ issue.

      I too stand with you on the reality that it is up to God to convict us, individually of things that He wants us to refrain from. As Paul taught in Romans 14, specifically capping it off in verse 22. That is not to excuse things that are obviously sin, but things that some would call ‘standards’.

      For instance, my church left the United Pentecostal Church over 20 years ago for them allowing wedding rings. We could wear no forms of jewelry, not even metal tie clips or metal hair clips. Why? The Pastor was convicted against them. But that doesn’t make his ‘conviction’ equal to Scripture and he, or you, or me cannot teach others that they violate God’s law by doing things the Bible does not teach against.

      I do understand the comment, ‘Just because the Bible doesn’t mention it…’, but I continue to counter with, “If God is all knowing, and provided EVERYTHING we needed in His Word, then either you stick with exactly what the Word says, or you admit your God isn’t as all knowing and all powerful as you keep saying He is.”

      I personally feel like the Word IS all we need. If the Bible doesn’t say it, don’t make it a ‘law’.

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  5. Agreed. The church I was a part of also left the UPC (actually was not part of the UPC when I joined, but ended up joining to infiltrate and rescue the lost as the “leader” put it but then left after a while). He viewed the UPC as a devilish cult but held the same standards and views as they did and exceeded even them in my view. We couldn’t wear cuff links, watches, shorts, shirts with sleeves above the elbows etc. when I was in the UPC I couldn’t have a beard, when I was out of the UPC my beard couldn’t exceed a certain length. I could go on and on but I just want you to know that I stand with you my brother. I’ve only been out of the madness for about 2 years but the damage has been done and I am recovering day to day, it’s hard but ive come a long way. As I stated before, finding this blog and reading your posts have aided me in my recovery. My Wife literally asked me a few days ago, “were we saved when we were under “said individual” leadership?” My views were conflicting and then I see that you go on to post this. Keep letting the Spirit use you, I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers, do the same for me if you will.

    God Bless

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    1. Chris,

      I’m sorry to hear you had to go through all of that. You and I have mirror-image stories. I left Feb 2017. My wife has remained in the church ,which I would deem a ‘cult’, so I have that strain, but healing has been a very long process and I don’t know how long it will take.

      I’ll most definitely pray for your family and I appreciate yours.

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    2. I agree, the Word is all we need. I believe the Bible is the authoritative, infallible word of God which points to the Word (Jesus Christ). My conviction regarding profanity based on the word of God is “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
      Ephesians 4:29 NASB

      That could be swear words which offend or mean-spirited words which reveal the hatefulness of the heart. Paul’s point in every Epistle is that we are to honor others regardless of who they are. We may feel like we have freedom to say what we want but in Christ we are slaves to righteousness which should prompt us to love others more than ourselves.

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