Jesus brings us the New Covenant, and provides for us Salvation. If we want to “accept Jesus as Lord and Savior” one of the most important things that we can do is accept what he taught on Salvation. If you say you accept Jesus as Lord, but reject what he says on salvation, then there is absolutely no way you can say that Jesus is your Lord. There are those who hold that the basic message of the gospel is to believe in Jesus and you get his imputed Righteousness. Your salvation is then set. How does this idea line up with Jesus’ teaching? Jesus does indeed teach on salvation, so it will be instructive to look at specifically his teaching on the issue.
I will break this article down into 5 Sections:
I. John 15:5-14
II. Belief Only?
III. Keeping the Commandments
IV. Jesus and the Final Judgment
V. Did Jesus only teach law to
point towards imputed righteousness?
I. John 15:5-14
First, Jesus teaches of the necessity of Grace as the only way to salvation. Man can not work to earn salvation. This is clear. However, He also makes it clear that cooperation with this grace that God gives is necessary. For example, Jesus says in John 15:4-6:
John 15: 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.
Thus, Jesus clearly teaches that God is the source of anything good that we do. If we try to do things on our own, outside God’s grace, it will avail us nothing towards salvation. Next, Jesus teaches on the necessity of us bearing much fruit. Some will try to argue that here Jesus is just mentioning that bearing fruit is only the evidence of salvation, not part of salvation. No doubt good fruit is evidence that one is in God’s grace, but that is not the main part of what Jesus is speaking about. If the man bears bad fruit, that is the criteria which Jesus says will cast him into the fire. That is the criteria that shows whether we abide in him. (BTW, if we look back in John 6:56-57, about abiding it also alludes to the grace of the Eucharist. But that is another topic). What are some of the fruit that is necessary to abide in him? Jesus continues:
7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Notice the criteria that God gives for remaining in his grace. It says that we must bear fruit. What kind of fruit? His words must abide in our lives (v. 7). If not, we are not abiding in him, and are subject to the casting into the fire. And what are some of the words in this very context? The words that he uses here are that we must keep his commands. Thus, we can only abide in him and his love if we keep the commands (v. 10). We can only be his friends if we do his commands (v.14). Thus, having a personal relationship with him, by his own words, is keeping his commandments. Criteria is given to remain in his grace. Otherwise, as Jesus already said, we will get cast into the fire (v. 6).
John 15:5-14 shows us that God is the source of all good fruit. We must believe in him and trust in him for salvation. We can not work to earn salvation; Nevertheless, as faithful sons we must keep his commandments. If we do not bear fruit (i.e. for example, by breaking the commandments), we can be cast to the fire.
Doesn’t Jesus teach that all we have to do is believe for our salvation? After all, Jesus says in the famous passage of John 3:16:
“16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Doesn’t that mean that all you have to do is believe, and his promise is eternal salvation? I am no Greek scholar or pretend to be one, but the understanding of Greek scholars is that the tense used in the word ‘believe’ in John 3:16, is a present, continuing action. Click here to see that. One must continuously believe, and act on that belief to avail for salvation. Belief and obedience can not be separated in any way, shape, or form. For example in John 3:36 belief is said to be necessary, Jesus contrasts belief with disobedience. He says:
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” Although some translate v. 36 as not believe, scholars note that disbelief is put in the framework of disobedience
John 3:20-21 also helps us get a clearer view of the meaning of Jesus’ words in John 3:16:
20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
Jesus clarifies that one must actually avoid doing evil, and do what is true, in order to come to the light. Notice that doing what is true, is not merely a byproduct of salvation. It is a condition for being and remaining in the light. The attempt to focus on v. 16 to the exclusion of the following verses does a grave injustice to the teaching of Jesus. Just prior to these verses, Jesus said that one must be born of water and Sprit, which Christians for 1500 years unanimously agreed, pointed to baptism. For an examination of John 3:5, See This, and this.
Another example that is often used by Protestants who argue that one is saved by Faith Alone is John 5:24. That passage says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
If one ignores the context, one at first glance may say that all one has to do is believe, and his eternal destiny is set for life. That is indeed exactly what Protestant apologists must resort to, in order to come up with the idea that Jesus taught faith alone as necessary for salvation. For example, Norman Geisler, in his book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, says “Further, in direct opposition to the Catholic position, the Bible guarantees that eternal life is a present possession of those who believe...He quotes Jn 5:24 and says “But according to the Roman Catholic view, one must await a final justification at death to know whether one has eternal life and will not see God’s condemnation.” (p. 231) Well, a Catholic does not need to be in constant fear as portrayed, but one can have a moral, not absolute assurance of salvation. The reason why we don’t have the absolute assurance that Geisler seems to think one can have is because of what Jesus says, in the same dialogue only a few verses later!!!
John 5:28-29. "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
Yes, earlier in v. 24, Jesus says whoever believes in him has everlasting life, but he is clear that his judgment is not based only on belief. Jesus explicitly says that the judgment to heaven or hell is based on whether one has done good or evil. Thus, v. 24 can be analyzed only when we see vv. 28-29. We see that one’s final justification is determined by whether one has done good, or done evil. Obviously the context destroys any idea of faith alone. It must also be noted that one can look at the verses 28-29 only in the context of v. 24. The belief in Christ, and his grace being poured into our lives, can be the only way that one can do the good that is necessary to rise to the resurrection of life (cf. Jn 15:5). We must remember again that belief is not merely a one time thing. One must continually believe, and one’s life must reflect this belief with obedience.
In fact we have another witness for the correct interpretation of John 5:24. In John 5:24 Jesus said that when one believes, one has passed from death to life. What did the apostle John think that this phrase meant? Did the apostle John think that once one believed, there is no possibility of losing salvation? That clearly was not in Jesus’ mind when he said it, as the apostle says: 1 John 3:14-15: "We know that we HAVE PASSED FROM DEATH UNTO LIFE (same phrase as used in John 5:24), because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." If one hates a brother in Christ, he has cut himself off from eternal life. If one seriously hates another person he has committed a mortal sin (as John describes in 1 Jn 5:16-17). How do we know it is a mortal sin to hate with such venom? Because John said one who hates his brother is a murder, and that person (if he dies in such a state) will not have eternal life. Christians are warned of losing their eternal inheritance. John wrote this letter to Christians and warned them that such activity cuts themselves off from God’s grace. He even said that those people who think that practicing righteousness is not a criteria for actually getting into heaven are deceiving themselves:
John writes a view verses earlier in the same chapter: 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. 10 By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.” I bring the apostle John into the picture here, because he was a witness to not only what Jesus said (In Jn 5:24, 28-29), but what he meant. Practicing righteousness and love are conditions for salvation.
There are many other passages that talk about the necessity of belief, but this examination of these two passages are representative of the many, that some use to try to argue that Jesus taught faith alone. In any case, even if one scripture theoretically taught was that one had to believe only, they do not eliminate the verses where Jesus taught that other things were necessary. The verses do not cancel, but compliment each other.
As icing on the cake on the issue, that a onetime belief is not sufficient, let us examine Luke 8:13. Jesus specifically says “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.” Notice, that the word used here is the exact same word as used in John 3:16 and John 5:24. He believed, but only for a while. Thus, if somebody at one times says he believes, but falls away due to temptation, then the person is lost. Even if he was in grace, he fell out of it.
Jesus taught the necessity of perseverance to the end. Some Protestants (often from a Calvinist background) will argue that indeed those who endure to the end are indeed the justified, but that is never any of the grounds for justification, in and of itself. It is only a necessary byproduct of one being saved. However, Jesus nowhere framed it in that way. This endurance is always seen as a main criteria, not only a byproduct, of salvation. For example, Jesus said in Mt. 10:21-22:
“Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. Jesus said that enduring was necessary to attain salvation. Nothing about merely being a byproduct. Mt. 24:13 “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus teaches as though there are sins that one can do can cut you off from eternal life. He elaborates on the necessity of avoiding such sins if one wants to inherit eternal life, Mark 9:
42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.:
In unmistakable terms, Jesus, who is speaking to the apostles, who are presumably in a state of grace, that if they commit serious sins, they could lose their salvation and get cast into hell. That is why perseverance is of such importance to attain everlasting life. Jesus says that if one commits major actions, he cuts himself off from God’s grace. That is why Jesus said we must build our house on a rock, not shifting sand (Mt. 7:24-27).
Many say that keeping the commandments are impossible, and that is why we need an imputed righteousness of Christ to be the only grounds of our justification. They will argue that one will necessarily try to keep the commandments, but it will never be part of the grounds of one’s justification. On the contrary, in our examination of John 15, we saw Jesus teach the necessity of keeping the commandments to remain in him. This is something that Jesus had mentioned prior to John 15. In fact he said, “"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (Jn 14:15).” He does not say that it will be impossible to keep the commandments, and thus you need to believe, and get an imputed righteousness. He says those who love him will keep the commandments. Some may object, well, if one breaks one of the commandments, he can not be saved in that way, and thus, you need an imputed righteousness. The fact is that Jesus never taught that in any way, shape or form.
Jesus was specifically asked what one must do to inherit eternal life. In response to a question of how to attain eternal life, Jesus answered:
16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments."
Notice that Jesus said that keeping the commandments are the necessary means of entering eternal life. Now it is true that the Rich young ruler was proud of himself, and thought that he did keep the commandments. Jesus did show him that he really did not keep the commandment because his god was money, and Jesus did expose him (Mt. 19:21-22). However, even his command was possible to keep because in the next verses Jesus says that with God all things are possible (i.e. the commandments can be kept, of course under the auspices of God’s grace (v. 26)). He never retracted the statement that keeping the commandments were necessary for salvation, and as we saw, he reiterated this teaching with the apostles at the Last Supper, and again as a condition for salvation, after his death and resurrection (We will see this later).
What about the fact that we know that we can not keep the commandments perfectly? Does that show we need an imputed righteousness? Jesus knows very well that there is a distinction between sins. He teaches there are “weightier matters of the law (Mt. 23:23-23, cf., Lk 12:47-48, Lk 10:12). John spells out the distinction from sins that lead to death, from those that don’t (1 Jn 5:16-17).” Some sins are worse than others. When one is in his grace, there are degrees of sins. In the parable of the prodigal son, we can see this. First, the son who left his Father, went into mortal sin, when he left all that the Father(representing God the Father) had given him and squandered it on loose living (Lk 15:11-15). How do we know that it was mortal? Because two times in the story, the Father proclaimed that the sin had caused a real separation, and his loose-living Son had put him out of his grace. He said “bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.'(vv. 23-24). .... “ your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. (v. 32)” The prodigal came back into his Father’s divine life by repenting of his sins. However, did not the older brother, who had been in his Father’s grace also not sin, when he became envious of his prodigal brother? The Father explained to the older brother the situation that his younger brother came back into God’s grace. The Father revealed to his older brother the truth of the situation, and thus exposed a sin of envy to him. However, this sin of envy was not a magnitude of sin that cut off the relationship with the Father that the sins that the prodigal son had. The Father said to the older one also, that even though he was wrong and envious, he was still with him “and all that is mine is yours.” He committed a sin that was bad, but did not cut off the relationship with the Father that the younger Son did when he sinned mortally. This story also shows that true repentance under the auspices of God’s grace, can restore the relationship. (Jesus later established this wonderful sacrament of forgiveness in John 20:22-23; Mt. 18:18, but that is another story).
Whatever our beliefs are, we must line them up with what Jesus taught on the issue. They are self-explanatory and need no explanation:
Matthew 7:21-23. "21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
Matthew 16:24-27. 24 "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. 26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then HE SHALL REWARD EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS WORKS."
We have already seen John 5:28-29 say likewise. Mt. 25:31-46 makes the separation of the sheeps and goats purely based on the works. Whenever Jesus speaks about separating those who go to heaven, from those going to hell, he always makes it based on whether people have obeyed God, or not. It is not an after effect, or about this being the evidence of one’s justification, as some argue. It is the very criteria that makes the separation from those going to heaven, and those going to hell. Only those who do the will of the Father go to heaven. There is absolutely nothing here about belief as the only criteria, and absolutely no hint about an imputed righteousness. Nothing about "well since you really believed in me, you go to heaven, and since you did not believe in me, you go to hell." The context here is about gaining salvation, or losing one's soul. According to Jesus, what determines it? Works. One must follow Christ, take up his cross, not just to get extra rewards (as proposed by Protestant apologists), but to achieve eternal salvation.
Some believers of Salvation by Faith Alone, by an imputed righteousness, are honest enough to admit that Jesus did not really teach it, but that was because he had not died yet, and nobody would have understood it, as he had not died yet. In another vein, Protestant apologist James White even argues we can ignore Jesus teaching on salvation. He justifies ignoring Jesus teaching on salvation because, as he writes:
“The Lord Jesus did not choose to address every issue that His Church would need to know or understand”, James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 147. He then argues that Paul teaches an imputed righteousness. Besides the obvious silliness of no one having any idea on salvation until Paul started writing about 20 years later, Jesus mentioned many times the necessity of how one gets salvation. In fact, Jesus was asked this question by the rich young ruler, as we saw earlier (Mt. 19:16-17). If one must argue that Jesus was unfit to answer this question, it is an implicit assault on Jesus. As we have seen, Jesus specifically says what one must do to be saved. The entrance into the kingdom is by being born of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). He says one must repent and be baptized (Mk. 16:16). He speaks on justification in many ways. The only reason why people say that Jesus does not teach on the issue of salvation is because his views do not line up with faith alone theology. He says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:51-58). For an examination of John 6, click here He says we must believe (Jn 3:16, 5:24). He teaches we must bear fruit. He says “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 5: 20” Jesus does not say that you must have my righteousness imputed to you. He says your righteousness (which is God’s righteousness being poured intrinsically into our souls), in an of itself must exceed it.
What about the argument that he left it to Paul to teach about imputed righteousness, because they wouldn’t have understood his teaching about death? For those who twist Paul to teach Faith Alone, I have examined some of their very favorite verses, in the following places: Romans 4:4-8 Proof for Justification by Faith Alone? , Galatians 3:10-14, Dialogue With an Ex-Catholic, Now Protestant Author on Justification.
That is an attempted diversion away from Christ’s teaching. What does Jesus teach after his death?
I didn't read any of the New Testament writers, after Jesus' death write, "well, Jesus was just kidding about obedience being necessary for salvation, and now imputation is the only means of salvation." Remember, on the very verge of his death, he said that if one wants to be in relationship with God, one must keep the commandments, and bear much fruit (John 14:15, 15:5-14). Besides that, after his death and resurrection, when he made his appearances to the disciples, (Lk 24, Jn 20-21, Mk. 16, Mt. 28) Jesus didn't say, "Just kidding" about salvation, now teach people that you need an imputed righteousness.” That is when he makes the commission that they must repent and be baptized (Mk. 16:16) Remember, he said in Mt. 28:19-20: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." The apostles had to teach what Jesus taught on salvation. Jesus didn't say, "well teach everything else that I taught, but now the only basis for justification is my imputed righteousness." The righteousness that is imputed, must be imparted into our lives.
If belief only, and a one time imputation of righteousness was true, surely Jesus would have taught so after his death and resurrection. And it would have been recorded if that was the case (for those of you who go by the Bible Alone). I don't see anything in the Bible saying that Paul is the only one to look to who writes about justification (although I love Paul's writings as well).
Let us look at what Jesus says: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt. 23:27, 28) Jesus taught that this is not the way of salvation. Yet many say, that God is one who will only look at the outside covering of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to the account, and ignore the inner filth. That is not Christ’s way. He wants to clean us from the inside out, and that is the means of justification. He will not pretend one is holy, if you are not actually.. On the contrary, Jesus called to deliver us from the bondage of sin, not externally, but internally (Jn 8:32, 36). He came to set us free, and if one is truly in Jesus, he is free indeed. If one does fall, however, he always has open arms to call us back into his grace. In any sense, this salvation is a process, not a one-time event.
In fact, we do have a definite teaching of Jesus, after his resurrection, and in the Book of Revelation, about what the grounds of justification. He teaches the necessity of endurance, just as he did earlier (Mt. 24:13; 10:22). It is Jesus himself speaking in the book of Revelation 3:11: “I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
Rev. 2:25-26 “only hold fast what you have, until I come. He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations,
11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. 12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. 13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
In the book of Revelation, the same criteria is used as was used when Jesus separated the sheep from the goats as Matthew 25 showed. Exactly the same thing as he said in Matt. 19:16-17. If you want to enter life, you must keep the commandments. However, as John 15 so clearly shows, one can only do it in his grace. Apart from his grace, we can do nothing; nonetheless, as we have seen, obedience to God is part of the grounds of one’s justification.
Changes last made, Saturday, March 6, 1999