Category Archives: Salvation

If It’s Works, It’s Not Grace, Part 2

Peter Ditzel

Two pictures side-by-side. On the left is a picture of dirty, grim-looking child coal workers from 1911. On the right is a joyous child playing in the sand at the beach.
Jesus said, ““Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus didn’t have child labor in mind. He meant that we must humbly turn from trusting in our works and obedience to the law. We must become like simple and carefree children, trusting and resting in Him. This doesn’t take effort on our part. It’s not difficult. Jesus is the narrow gate into the kingdom. God gives us the faith; He takes us through.
Left: Child coal workers in Pennsylvania in 1911. Right: Photo by Barbara Ribeiro from Pexels.

In Part 1, we saw how some preachers promote the idea that finding the kingdom and living the Christian life are hard work and use derogatory terms such as “cheap grace” and “easy believism” against their opponents. Yet, the Bible teaches, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If it’s works, it’s not grace!

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If It’s Works, It’s Not Grace, Part 1

Peter Ditzel

A Euler diagram of two, separate circles. One is labeled grace and the other is labeled works. The diagram shows that there is no intersection between the two sets. Grace and works are separate.
Grace is God’s unmerited pardon. Jesus Christ purchased grace for His people by His atoning sacrifice on the Cross, and God gives that grace freely to believers (Romans 5:15-19). For grace to be grace, it must be entirely apart and distinct from works. It must be pure. It can never be mixed with our works.

Something I’ve learned over the years is that many people profess to believe in salvation by grace alone received by faith alone. Yet, a good number of those same people throw works into the formula, often without even knowing it. You might be one of them. The Bible clearly teaches, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6). Like oil and water, grace and works don’t mix. Our salvation either stands on grace or it falls on works. Let’s look at some commonly held beliefs and see what they’re really based on.

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How Does Election Occur?

by Peter Ditzel

This is part 2 of a two-part series on the doctrine of grace called Unconditional Election.

A wide-angle view of the Milky Way with a silhouette of a man looking skyward. Does election depend on our works?
The Bible says, “God chose you from the beginning for salvation….” Did He do this by looking ahead to see that we would believe or do good works?

We ended part 1, “Chosen in Him,” with several questions: Is saving belief a work that is a condition to becoming elect? Does election have conditions? Are there good works we must do to remain one of the elect? Is Jesus’ testimony in Matthew 7:21 that “he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” will “enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” a reference to such works?

Chosen in Him

by Peter Ditzel

This is part 1 of a two-part series on the doctrine of grace called Unconditional Election. It answers the question, What must I do to be saved?

A blue sky with white clouds and a big hand coming out of a cloud with the index finger pointing at the viewer. What must you do to be saved?
Contrary to popular opinion about free will and choice, the Bible tells us that God chose us before the foundation of the world.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without defect before him in love; having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely gave us favour in the Beloved, in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

In the above passage, found in Ephesians 1:3–7, the apostle Paul declares that God the Father has “predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself.” As we will see, the implications of this passage answer the question that so many people have, “What must I do to be saved?” Since Paul and the Christian Ephesians were faithful saints—that is, true Christians (see Ephesians 1:1)—the “us” in the passage refers to true Christians. So, what Paul appears to be saying is that God has predestinated Christians (pre-chosen their destiny) to be His children through Jesus Christ. In other words, Christians (who are the children of God by Jesus Christ) are Christians because God predestinated them to be so, not by any choice of their own.

The New Birth

by Peter Ditzel

This is the second and last part of a two-part series on the doctrine of grace called Total Depravity.

A close-up picture of John 3:5 from a print Bible. Being born again is the new birth or regeneration.
The Bible tells us that no human is naturally good. But there is hope. Jesus teaches that we must be born again, born of the Spirit.

Election and Calling

We’re going to talk about the new birth or regeneration called being born again. In the article, “No One Is Good” (which is part 1 of this series on Total Depravity), I asked, “If no one can choose Jesus Christ as Savior, how does He become one’s Savior?” Briefly, the answer is, we don’t choose Him, He chooses us.

We have no part in this choosing or election. It does not depend on our goodness, our cooperation, or our faith. In Romans 9, Paul is writing of God’s calling or choosing or election of Jacob and rejecting of Esau before they were even born: “For being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls” (verse 11).

No One Is Good

by Peter Ditzel

This is part 1 of a two-part series on the doctrine of grace called Total Depravity.

In this article: Total depravity explained. An artist's rough sketch of a person sitting and holding his head in his hands dejectedly.
Jesus said no one is good but God (Matthew 19:17). Other Scriptures back this up. Why is this so, and what can be done about it?
The LORD looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who understood, who sought after God. They have all gone aside. They have together become corrupt. There is no one who does good, no, not one.

These two sentences, penned by David in Psalm 14:2–3, contain some powerful ideas. They say that none of the “children of men”—no one in all of humanity—does good, not even one. Now, if you read or watch the news you might be willing to admit that there are some bad characters in the world. But can it possibly be that no one does good? that everyone has “together become corrupt”? If this is true, if additional Scriptures support it, it might revolutionize your understanding of sin and salvation and even your entire worldview! In this article, you will find total depravity explained.

The Two Powers

A picture of Moses with the Ten Commandments on the left and the Cross on the right.
The Bible speaks of two powers that have different purposes and are mutually exclusive. Yet, many insist on teaching that we are under both.

The two powers I have in mind are at opposite ends of the compass (Psalm 103:12). One is the power of sin and of death and of Satan, and the other the power of God for salvation. These two powers are mutually exclusive, each working against the other. As believers, we have experienced the power of God for salvation, and we remain safe under that power. And yet, Christian teachers abound (some of them even claiming New Covenant Theology) who insist that believers are under both powers and that the power of sin and of death and of Satan is the power we are to use to guide our lives and accomplish our sanctification. I want to show you where the Bible speaks of these powers and how we cannot be under both.

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Must We First Forgive to Be Forgiven?

Picture of lighthouse on cliff overlaid with the Scripture, For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don't forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
We commonly see pictures with Bible verses like this one posted on social media as a form of encouragement. But is it really encouraging to be told that God won’t forgive us unless we first do a work? Jesus did say these words, but did He intend them for believers?

As part of what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, and in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Again, in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus taught, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” These passages have caused theologians some consternation. They seem to pin our receiving God’s forgiveness upon a human work—the work of our first forgiving others. Will God not forgive us unless we forgive others first?

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Q. If God makes sure we persevere, how can we be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19) and become castaways (1 Corinthians 9:27)?

The wreck of the SS American Star (originally named the SS America) on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.
The wreck of the SS American Star (originally named the SS America) on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. Can we make shipwreck of our salvation?

A. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19, Paul wrote to Timothy, “This instruction I commit to you, my child Timothy, according to the prophecies which led the way to you, that by them you may wage the good warfare; holding faith and a good conscience; which some having thrust away made a shipwreck concerning the faith.” How can some have thrust away their faith and good conscience to become shipwrecks at the same time that God is making sure that they persevere? Is the perseverance of the saints an unbiblical doctrine that gives us false hope?

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