“But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Acts 15:11
Our son was desperate to go on the short-term mission trip to Africa. But to do so, he needed to raise the money. So, he along with some of the other young people who were also hoping to go on the trip, set in motion a fund-raising plan. They were offering to clean cars, cut grass, babysit, make meals, do sponsored walks etc. I was extremely impressed by their efforts, and being the good Father that I am, I said to my son: ‘If you raise as much as you can, I will make up the shortfall’, thus ensuring that he would reach his hoped-for destination.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the story above, and it has probably been played out countless times by children and parents all over the world. A problem arises though when people believe that this is how salvation works.
‘Do Your Best and God Will do The Rest.’
I am sure you have heard, or even used, the phrase ‘Do your best and God will do the rest.’ Like a loving parent willing to make up the deficit, some believe that to reach their hoped-for destination, they just need to do all that they can then trust that God will make up the shortfall.
Now some would argue that there is biblical support for do your best and God will do the rest. Here is a passage of Scripture which could be offered up as supporting evidence:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)
Do this portion of Scripture support the notion that if you do our best, God will do the rest? Well, it can appear so, but what are these verses talking about?
There are a few things to notice in this passage. It does indeed teach that we have a part to play: ‘you ought to walk and to please God’, and it does mention ‘instructions’ to follow. It also says that God will play His part as He ‘gives his Holy Spirit to you.’ But what is the context of these verses? What is it that the Apostle Paul is speaking about to the believers in Thessalonica?
The first thing we should notice is that he is not talking about salvation. Nowhere does Scripture teach the idea that, to be saved, you must do your best and then God will do the rest. Elsewhere in the Bible the Apostle Paul is abundantly clear about this:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy… (Titus 3:4-5)
Paul is clear that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Therefore, the Apostle’s admonishment to those in Thessalonica is written to believers, those who are already saved. His instructions are not regarding how a person is to become justified before God, but rather about how they are to become holy. Note that he says:
‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification…’
Paul is teaching that those who have already been saved, now have a work to do, a part to play. They ‘ought to walk and to please God.’ They are to do this by vigorously engaging in obedience in the process of sanctification. In this it could be said that if ‘you do your best, God will do the rest.’
When Sanctification Becomes Justification.
‘So, if I am hearing you correctly, are you saying that I just need to believe and then I can just sit around and wait for heaven?’ I have heard this thought expressed in countless ways, on countless occasions; and though Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons repeatedly ask me this question, it has never been what I am saying.
Cults of Christianity are prone to confuse sanctification with justification. Before we consider this more fully it would be helpful to define terms.
Sanctification is the action of making or declaring something holy.
Justification is the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.
If we were to ask a Jehovah’s Witness, a Latter-day Saint, or a member of a similar type ‘Christian’ cult if they believed in the statement, ‘Do your best and God will do the rest’, I would believe we would receive a resounding ‘yes’. Bible believing Christians could also affirm the statement, but our disagreement would be regarding the category into which this popular saying should be placed. You see, sanctification is something we do in co-operation with God; however, justification is something God does alone.
Whereas cults seek to make the statement the grounds for their justification, orthodox biblical Christians should place it in the category of their sanctification. The cults make a serious category error here. I say ‘should’ because I have come across Christians who also erroneously believe they have a part to play in their salvation.
I Must Have to do Something
One of the marks of a Christian cult is their insistence that they must do something to be made right with God.
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they have to play their part in being justified, that is being made ‘righteous’ before a Holy God. The following quotes prove the point:
‘I do not believe that a man is saved in this life by believing, or professing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but that he must endure to the end and keep the commandments that are given.’ (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports, April 1915, p.119)
“One of the most pernicious doctrines ever advocated by man, is the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone,’ which has entered into the hearts of millions since the so-called ‘reformation’” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Restoration of All Things, 1964, p.192)
“In effect, Jesus also conveys Jehovah’s voice to us as he directs the congregation through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45) We need to take this guidance and direction seriously, for our everlasting life depends on our obedience.” Watchtower 2014 Aug 15 p.21
“During the final period of the ancient world that perished in the Flood, Noah was a faithful preacher of righteousness. (2 Peter 2:5) In these last days of the present system of things, Jehovah’s people are making known Gods righteous standards and are declaring good news about the possibility of surviving into the new world. (2 Peter 3:9-13) Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah’s universal organization.” Watchtower 2006 May 15 p.22 “Are You Prepared for Survival?”
Faith Without Works
The verse of Scripture most used and quoted by Christians must be John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This is a great ‘go to’ verse. It is a shame though that most Christians do not know the next two verses:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
Notice what John clearly says here. People are saved by believing in the name of the only Son of God. Who is that? Jesus! This aligns to other biblical texts:
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)
These verses are handy to share when you are speaking to share with those, who seek to justify themselves before a Holy God. They will then undoubtedly take you to their own favourite ‘go to’ verse:
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17)
I recently interviewed a married couple who had been Jehovah’s Witnesses for several years. They spoke of their experience of trying to earn favour with God. So busy were they in trying to please a distant deity, and never knowing if they had done enough, that it led to complete mental and physical exhaustion.
How different it is for them now that they know the grace of God. They are still busy in God’s work, but all that they do comes from a different place, one of peace, assurance, love, and salvation. Where once they sought to appease God, they now seek to please Him. They have moved from death to life and, because they now trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, they have eternal life.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
Sadly, for those who do not believe in the Son and who refuse to obey him, God’s wrath remains upon them. Jesus said elsewhere:
‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…’ (John 5:39)
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)
James 2 does indeed point out that there is a place for works in the life of the believer, but these works do not contribute to our salvation, but rather flow from our salvation.
In other words, you work for God, seek to serve God, and do your best to honour God, because of His amazing grace.
Charles Spurgeon rightly comments on the place of works in the life of the believer:
‘Although we are sure that men are not saved for the sake of their works, yet are we equally sure that no man will be saved without them.’
James is correct that faith without works is dead. True faith will be shown by works.
A few years back I, along with several other Christians, were involved in an outreach to Mormons. With several thousand Mormons gathered outside the Manti Temple in Utah, waiting for the pageant to begin, music began to be played through the Temple speakers. The song, was remarkably familiar to us, it was Amazing Grace. How strange, I thought, that they would sing about something, they didn’t really understand.
Commenting on 2 Nephi 25:23 in the Book of Mormon, which says that we are saved by grace after all we can do, a Mormon gospel reference says this:
“The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him.” (True to the Faith, 2004 p.77)
The LDS Bible Dictionary says that: ‘This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.’ (p.697)
Grace is Enough
I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily suppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me, and I knew what it was to truly rejoice in God my Saviour.
– George Whitefield
It is terribly sad to meet those who, through their own best efforts, hope to appease the wrath of God. They never have an assurance of salvation, and never know if they have done enough so they continue the broad road that leads to destruction. My prayer is that they would accept God’s free gift – His wonderful Amazing Grace, before it is too late.
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, Was blind, but now I see.