- Religion and Salvation – Most people are “religious” – including many who say they are “Christians” – and are very sincere and devoted to the ways of their religions; but they have never become saved. There is, however, a big difference between religion and salvation. Only a true believer – that is, one in whom the Holy Spirit “dwells” – has been adopted into God’s eternal family as one of His children and has become a “joint heir” of heavenly glory with Christ. A true believer is one who has entered into a personal, intimate and eternal relationship with God through salvation. Jesus Christ is the only way to escape the “second death” of God’s eternal wrath because He is God’s way: “I [Jesus Christ] am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6). Therefore, a true believer is no longer under God’s condemnation and wrath because the penalty for all of his or her sins – past, present and future – have been fully paid by Jesus Christ. John 3:16 declares “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Only a true believer has eternal life and his religion is “pure”. How can a religion be “pure and undefiled”? The word “undefiled” in Jam 1:27 means to be unsullied or unstained by sin: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this … to keep himself unspotted from the world”. How can one be sinless and “unspotted from the world” in the eyes of God? This word “undefiled”, for example, describes both the Author of salvation (Jesus Christ) – “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens … (Heb 7:26)”, as well as salvation itself – “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Pet 1:4)”, which God has so lovingly given to His people. God the Son, Who is perfectly holy, harmless [innocent], and undefiled, became unholy, guilty, and defiled in paying for the sins of each born-again Christian: “For he [God the Father] hath made him [God the Son] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21)”. Only a true believer has a “pure” religion – that is, the only religion that has eternal spiritual value because it is “clean”, or “undefiled”. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD” (Psa 119:1).
Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
1 John 5:11-13 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
Jam 1:26-27 “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27Pure religion and undefiled [uncontaminated] before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Tit 1:15-16 “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled [contaminated] and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. 16They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.”
- Unsaved Man’s Religious Ideas are Based on Superstition – God allows those who are perishing to obtain some measure of psychological satisfaction from their vain (empty) and defiled (unclean) religious practices in a manner typified by the physical satisfaction derived from drinking physical wine and strong drink (Isa 28:7). Pagan religions and false gospels are based on “superstitious” doctrines that involve a fear of the supernatural but not a reverential “fear” of the True and “Living God” based on the sound doctrines of the Bible (Acts 17:22-31). Unsaved (natural) man has no spiritual understanding of truth. His superstitious religious beliefs are based on man’s “wisdom” – not God’s as set forth in His Word, the Bible. One more common aspect of all the pagan religions and false gospels of the world is the notion that man must do something to gain favor with whomever or whatever they worship. That idea is perfectly “logical” from a human perspective because we are self-centered beings. God describes the spiritual covering of unbelievers by the word “rags” and says that all of “unclean” man’s attempts at being “righteous” are like “filthy rags” in His sight (Isa 64:6). Sadly, their religious efforts are totally useless for obtaining a right standing with God. Therefore, they will remain spiritually impoverished without repentance unto salvation because the unsaved are “spiritually” dead (Eph 2:1-5). God, however, has stated very clearly that salvation is by His grace alone, through the faith of Christ and not by man’s “works” (efforts) in any way, shape, or form (Eph 2:8-10, Tit 3:5-7). God must cover us with the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness to be acceptable to God (Isa 61:10). There is nothing a man can do to make himself right with God before salvation takes place. Eph 2:8-10 declares, “We [believers] are His workmanship” – that is, salvation is “the gift of God” and result of God’s work in the hearts of His children. Once God saves someone, He puts a sincere desire in that person’s heart to obey His commandments and to serve Him by performing “good works” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Eze 36:27). In other words, the only works of man that have any spiritual value are those performed after he becomes saved. Throughout the history of the world mankind has invented many kinds of religions and “do-it-yourself” salvation plans in order to get right with God, but only God’s actions that produce salvation from eternal damnation. The doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are repugnant to man. His natural, sinful pride causes him to reject the notion that God is totally in charge of His own salvation program. An unsaved person cannot bring himself to admit that salvation is totally God’s work for His glory. The complex aspects of the True Gospel are incomprehensible and illogical to the natural (or unsaved) man – in fact, they are “foolishness” to those who “perish” (1 Cor 2:12-16). 1 Cor 2:13 declares God’s wisdom is revealed by Holy Spirit: “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual [comparing scripture with scripture]”.
Acts 17:22-31 “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. 24God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 26And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 29Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. 30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man [Jesus Christ] whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
1 Cor 2:12-15 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual [comparing Scripture with Scripture]. 14But the natural man [unsaved man] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Eph 2:8-10 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that [faith] not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”
- Mans’ Works – Physical Circumcision, God’s Work – Spiritual Circumcision – Physical circumcision is an example of a perfectly “logical” works-type salvation doctrine that was being taught by some in the early NT church who tried to hold to the OT ceremonial laws (Acts 15:1-2, Acts 15:24), which were fulfilled and rescinded by Christ at the cross. Actually, God’s Law regarding physical circumcision was never a requirement for salvation. It was to be obeyed merely as a “token”, or a physical sign representing the spiritual reality of salvation (Gen 17:11). Ancient Israel “stumbled” over God’s salvation plan because they thought that religiously keeping the Law would make them “righteous” instead of trusting in God’s Mercy for salvation. When God said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart” in Deu 10:16 and “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” in Jer 4:4, He obviously had spiritual circumcision in view. By these statements God emphasized the fact that man cannot save himself by his own efforts (i.e., cut off his own sins) any more than he can circumcise the “foreskin” of his heart (i.e., his spirit essence). However, because mankind in general cannot possibly carry out those commands, neither can man keep God’s Law, so, the next logical question is, “Why then the Law?” God answers that question for us in these verses leading up to Gal 3:29. We see that God’s Law is intended to be a “schoolmaster” to teach us about our sin and our desperate need for a Savior – the Lord Jesus Christ. The Law is a representation of God’s righteousness and an indication of His very nature. “Circumcision” of the heart means spiritual circumcision – that is, the spiritual reality of salvation by the cutting away of sin and the shedding of Christ’s blood in the Atonement. Of course, no one can perform that operation on his own heart – only God can do it: “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deu 30:6). That is the meaning of the “circumcision made without hands” in Col 2:10-11: “And ye are complete in him [Christ], which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ”. God replaced the Old Testament sign of “physical circumcision” with the New Testament sign of “water baptism”, and many today stumble on the spiritual significance of baptism in the same way the Israelites stumbled on the spiritual significance of circumcision. They do not understand that God referred to spiritual baptism, and they erroneously believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation: “… Except a man be born of water [typifying the Word of God] and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. Man must be “baptized” (i.e., have his sins washed away) by the Holy Spirit in order to receive God’s gift of eternal life: “I [John the Baptist] indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me [Jesus Christ] is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt 3:11). Many pervasive and spiritually dangerous doctrines of man’s “works” being taught all over the world today insist that man must somehow participate in his salvation. These perfectly “logical” – but erroneous – doctrines have been taught and disputed throughout the NT period, but only the doctrines of God’s Sovereign Grace are true.
Rom 9:31-33 “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”
Rom 2:28-29 “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Gal 3:19-29 “Wherefore [Why] then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24Wherefore [Therefore] the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized [baptized with the Holy Ghost] into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.