Obeying the Lord
by Clem Thurman
via Gospel Minutes, Vol. 58, No. 8, Feb. 20, 2009.
How can one talk about "obeying the Lord" in the light of what is said in Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 2:8?
First, let us notice what these two passages say:
"Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).
"For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Both of these passages teach clearly that we are saved by grace. And so do many other passages of Scripture. "Grace" is usually defined as, "Free mercy, unmerited favor." Salvation by works of merit, therefore, is utterly impossible. If we receive what is deserved, or merited on our part, no grace is involved. It is then a matter of debt, payment given for work performed.
Shall we ask for what we actually deserve?! "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). Again, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). When one has sinned, that is what is deserved -- death! And, "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). If God gives me what I deserve, it will be death. But man's need and God's grace is found in Romans 5:6-8, "For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We, as sinners, were helpless, without strength, when Christ died for us.
All the work that one might do can never take away one sin he has committed. This is pointed out in both passages under consideration in the question. As Isaiah 64:6 says, "All our righteousness is as filthy rags." And to further explain our need for the grace of God, Jesus uses the example of the servant who does exactly as he is told (Luke 17:6-10). The Lord then asks of the master of the servant, "Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which it was our duty to do" (Luke 17:9,10). Every act of obedience, all the works we might do for the Lord, can never "make up" for one sin we have omitted. If we were to live a life of perfect obedience, we still would not have atoned for even one sin we have committed, nor earned any "credit" before God. Because that is what God created us for in the first place. We would have only done our duty, fulfilled the purpose for which God created us.
God's grace is extended, or offered, to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. And our salvation from the guilt of sin is possible only through Him. As we read, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Salvation from sin is possible only because Jesus died for us: "That He by the grace of God should taste of death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). What man could not do for himself, Christ did for us. He made Himself the sacrifice for our sins. He then sent the apostles out with this admonition: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15,16). Note that this "gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24) was to be made known to everyone, in all the world. The apostle Paul wrote later, "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that , denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:11,12). So, God's grace is extended to all men. But that doesn't mean that all men will be saved. Man must still accept the grace of God. And this he does by faith.
We are saved "by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). Paul gives more details, "For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God set forth (to be) a propitiation, through faith, in His blood" (Romans 3:23-25). God's grace is extended in the death of Christ and accepted by our faith in the cleansing power of His blood. and the Lord says, "Faith, if it have not works, is dead" (James 2:17). Then, seven verses later, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2:24). The response of faith is obedience. This is called, "Faith which works by love" (Galatians 5:6).
Man does not earn, merit nor deserve salvation as a result of obedience. Perfect obedience still will not remove the guilt of sin. But the Lord shows clearly that our acceptance of His grace, which is extended to all men, is accepted by our obedient faith. That is why Jesus is the "Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him" (Hebrews 5:9). And it is the reason why Peter wrote, "Ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth" (I Peter 1:22). When one, by faith, obeys the Will of God in Christ, he doesn't earn salvation, he accepts it.
Notice again the reading in Titus 3:5. God saves us, not by our works, but by His mercy, "By the washing of regeneration." Jesus refers to this washing in Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." In obeying this teaching of the Lord no one earns salvation by his works. Nor tries to. But, through faith, he is baptized in response to God's grace. People on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) heard the gospel, asked what to do, and were told, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38). And in Acts 22:16, Saul is told, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on His name." This is the same man who wrote both of the passages in our question. When he, through faith, was baptized in order to be saved, he was "saved by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8).
If one is saved, he is saved by grace. But one cannot accept the grace of God while refusing to obey Him! So, while obedience doesn't earn or merit salvation, obedience by faith is the means which God has chosen for us to accept His grace. If we truly trust Him, we will do what He says, giving thanks for His grace that saves us from the guilt of our sins.
Let me add a few words with regard to the answer of the above question. As was shown by the Scriptures presented, we are saved by grace through faith; it is not of works of our own making. But the same Scriptures go on to say that there are works of God's making that we are to obey. First, let us notice the verses that follow Ephesians 2:8,9. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Now, notice a verse that follows Titus 3:5. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men" (Titus 3:8). Also following Titus 2:11,12 we note a couple more Scriptures in the context. "Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us form every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:13,14). So, it is true that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of our own works, but we are required to do the works required of God in order to enjoy the working of His grace in our salvation.