Author: Ron Graham
It is said that our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross was a finished work of grace; therefore no work on our part is necessary for salvation. Grace alone saves us, by our Lord’s work alone. Is this true?
More and more, we hear something like this: “While people are commanded to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), these are not works required for salvation by grace. Adding anything to the work of the cross demeans the sacrifice of the Savior. It implies that His finished work wasn't enough. We are saved by grace, and grace alone: "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works lest any one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).”
How much of this is true? Do the verses quoted fully support the statements preceding the quote, or are people reading into the verses things that aren't there? Let's examine the matter carefully. Here's our first question...
The sacrifice of Christ on the cross need never be repeated, and needs nothing added to it to make it wholly an effective sacrifice. As scripture says, “This he did once for all, when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27). So it is true that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a “finished work.”
No work of ours can add anything to the price of our redemption. Jesus paid it all. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
The previous verse attributes this redemption “to the praise and glory of God’s grace by which he made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). Grace provided full redemption. We gave nothing to the price. Indeed, we had nothing to give.
So we shall regard the statement as true that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a “finished work.” But now we ask another question, and be careful how you handle it. It's dynamite.
Is God’s grace extended to all who have sinned? Did our Lord pay the price for all sinners to be redeemed and forgiven? The true answer is either YES, Christ died for all, or NO, a great many sinners are denied access to the blood of Christ and salvation by grace, and there's nothing they can do.
If you say NO, Christ did not die for every sinner, then aren't you implying that he did not finish his work? You, who may accuse others of demeaning our Lord’s sacrifice, aren't you demeaning his sacrifice, because you claim his work left many sinners to perish without any means of rescue?
John says, “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (1John 2:1-2).
If Christ did not die for every sinner, then John should have said, “He himself is the propitiation for our sins, for ours only, and NOT for the whole world”.
Perhaps you say YES, Christ died for all sinners and “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all humanity” (Titus 2:11). Well then, our final question is for you.
Let us examine two propositions:
Now if these two propositions are both true, then it follows that all sinners will be saved; no one will be lost. If all that needs doing has been done for salvation, and nothing is necessary to be done by the sinner, then no sinner is without salvation.
Some people, who believe both propositions above, also believe the conclusion, that all sinners will be saved. They have logic on their side assuming the propositions are both true. But the conclusion contradicts scripture.
Paul predicts “vengeance on those who do not know God, and who do not obey the gospel... who will be punished with everlasting destruction...” (2Thessalonians 1:6-9). Not everyone will be saved. So which proposition is wrong?
Some deny the first proposition, that Jesus died for all sinners. Obviously that means not all sinners will be saved. When we ask them why all sinners aren't saved, they simply reply that there is no sacrifice for all sinners. That also is logical.
However, what if we hold the first proposition to be true, and at the same time reject as false the conclusion that all sinners will be saved? Well then, to be logical, we must deny the second proposition, that sinners do nothing to be saved.
We must say that some sinners will be lost, not because there was any lack in what Jesus did, but because there was a lack in their response to Jesus: “They [perish] because they did not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved” (2Thessalonians 1:10).
Paul said, “God commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Peter says, “[God] is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9). God has made it possible for all people to believe and obey, but not everyone will obey, therefore not everyone will be saved.
Why do so many people say that the sinner does not have to do anything for salvation? It's because they think that if the sinner does anything for salvation, then the sinner has added works to grace and implied that Christ’s work of sacrifice was insufficient. But is that thinking true, or rather is it mistaken?
When conditions are placed on a privelege, that does not detract from the privelege. To illustrate... If your brother let you live in his house rent free, on the condition that you look after the place, would you think him less kind than if he allowed you to wreck the place?
Jesus taught us to pray, “Father forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” He then said, “For if you forgive people their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:12,14-15).
Is God’s grace diminished when he says that he won't forgive you unless you forgive others? Is your forgiveness of others adding works to God’s grace? Of course not. By being conditional, his grace is no less wonderful.
Something to think about: Peter told people to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins...” (Acts 2:37-39). Three thousand people obeyed and received forgiveness by grace. What about the rest of the people?