We are not to Imagine that Our Lives must be Changed Before Trusting in Christ
by Walter Marshall
By nature, we are inclined to base our salvation on our own works. Even if we cannot make them procuring conditions or causes of our salvation by Christ, we will at least strive to make them necessary preparations to make us fit to receive Christ and His salvation through faith. People are easily convinced that this is not contrary to salvation by free grace, because everything attributed to our works or good qualities in this manner is simply seen as putting us in a suitable position to receive a free gift. Just as good manners and proper respect would lead us to tidy ourselves up before approaching a prince for a free gift, like Joseph did when he came out of the dungeon before appearing before Pharaoh. It appears to be a brazen disregard and disrespect towards the justice and holiness of God and Christ, an intolerable insult and indignity offered to the divine Majesty when anyone presumes to approach His presence in the filthy state of their sins, completely covered in festering sores without any attempt at healing or cleansing. Moreover, it is even worse when they attempt to invite the Most Holy One into such a foul and stinking cesspool as a sinner's heart, before it has been reformed in any way. The parable about the man who was bound hand and foot and cast into utter darkness for attending the royal wedding without a wedding garment serves as a warning against all such presumption (Matt. 22:11, 13). Many who are horrified by the abominable filth in their own hearts are hindered from coming directly to Christ by such thoughts, which Satan strongly reinforces and amplifies in them through his suggestions, making it impossible to persuade them otherwise until God inwardly teaches them through the powerful illumination of His Spirit. They delay the saving act of faith because they believe they are not yet properly prepared and qualified for it. For the same reason, many weak believers postpone partaking in the Lord's Supper for many years, even for as long as they live in this world, and would likely delay their baptism as well if they had not been baptized in infancy. Against all such thoughts, I will present the following considerations.
- The error discussed in the previous section is equally detrimental to the practice of holiness and our entire salvation. It can be refuted using the same arguments presented earlier. Whether holiness is considered a procuring condition for our salvation through Christ or simply a condition necessary to qualify us for receiving Christ, we are still subjected to the legal terms of first fulfilling the duties required by the law in order to obtain life. Consequently, we are deprived of the assistance provided by the means of holiness mentioned earlier, such as union and fellowship with Christ, and the experience of His sanctifying gifts through faith, which should precede the practice of holiness in order to empower us. We are left to toil in vain for holiness while trapped in our cursed natural state, which only exacerbates our sinful corruption instead of putting it to death. As a result, we can never truly prepare ourselves for receiving Christ as long as we live in this world. Thus, our attempts to prepare the way to Christ through holy qualifications only serve to fill it with stumbling blocks and deep pits, hindering our souls from ever attaining salvation through Christ.
- Any change, no matter how small, in our hearts and lives from sin to holiness is not necessary before we receive Christ and His salvation by faith, according to the terms of the gospel and the Word of God. Christ desires even the most wicked sinners to come to Him for salvation immediately, without delaying to prepare themselves. When the wicked jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul directed him to believe in Christ, with the promise that he would be saved. The jailer and his household were baptized without any requirement to first reform their hearts and lives (Acts 16:30, 33). Similarly, the three thousand Jews who were converted by Peter's preaching and added to the church on the same day had no need for considerable time to prepare themselves, despite their recent involvement in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:41, 23). Christ commands His servants to go quickly into the streets and lanes, bringing in the poor, the maimed, the blind, and compelling them to come to His feast, without waiting for them to cleanse their sores or change their filthy rags (Luke 14:21-23). Christ wants us to believe in Him, the One who justifies the ungodly, and therefore He does not require us to be godly before we believe (Rom. 4:5). He came as a Physician for the sick, not expecting them to recover before coming to Him (Matt. 9:12). The vilest sinners are aptly prepared and qualified for His purpose, which is to display the surpassing riches of His grace by forgiving our sins and saving us freely (Eph. 2:5, 7). The purpose of the law of Moses was to increase offenses, so that where sin abounded, grace would abound even more (Rom. 5:20). Christ loved us in our sinful pollution, so much so that He died for us, and He will love us even in it, receiving us when we come to Him for salvation. He has fully satisfied God's justice on behalf of sinners, granting them righteousness, holiness, and salvation through fellowship with Him by faith. Therefore, it is not an affront to Christ or a disregard for God's justice and holiness to come to Him as polluted sinners. On the contrary, it would be an affront and a denial of the saving grace, merit, and fullness of Christ if we attempted to make ourselves righteous and holy before receiving Him and all righteousness and holiness in Him by faith. Christ did not hesitate to touch a leper or wash His disciples' feet without expecting them to be cleansed and perfumed beforehand, unlike worldly great ones who imitate Christ by washing the feet of the poor.
- Those who receive Christ with sincere faith will never lack a wedding garment to adorn them in the sight of God. Faith itself is highly esteemed and holy in God's eyes (2 Peter 1:1; Jude 20). God loves it because it attributes the glory of our salvation solely to His free grace in Christ (Rom. 4:16) and renounces any reliance on our own efforts to earn a right to Christ or to make ourselves acceptable to Him. It encompasses a genuine love for Christ as our Saviour and a deep hunger and thirst for His salvation. It is through faith that the soul hungrily feeds on Him. What more delightful wedding garment can sinners bring to their generous God, whose grand purpose is to display the abundant riches of His glorious grace and bounty at this wedding feast? The Father Himself loves them because they love Christ and believe that He came from God (John 16:27). However, we must acknowledge that the excellence of faith lies in the fact that it does not consider itself or any of our works sufficient to make us acceptable in God's sight. It does not seek to be the wedding garment itself but rather purchases from Christ white robes to clothe us, so that the shame of our nakedness may not be exposed (Rev. 3:18). Although faith loves and desires the gift of holiness, it abandons the notion of immediately practicing holiness before coming to Christ for a transformed nature. It embraces Christ Himself and in Him finds everything necessary for life and godliness. Thus, every true believer is clothed with the sun (Rev. 12:1), even with the Sun of Righteousness, the Lord Jesus, who is pleased to be our wedding garment, our feast, and the source of all our spiritual and eternal joy.
To provide further satisfaction and comfort to distressed souls who are gripped by the fear of their own sinfulness and God's wrath, and who hesitate to trust steadfastly in Christ for their salvation until they can observe some change from sin to holiness within themselves, I will mention several things that such individuals should find in themselves. I will demonstrate that if some of these aspects are not already encompassed in faith itself, they are the fruits and consequences of faith. Therefore, they cannot be reasonably expected before we place our trust in Christ for our salvation.
- They believe that repentance is necessary before placing faith in Christ for salvation, because repentance is indeed crucial for salvation: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). Christ also emphasizes the duty of repentance before faith: "Repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). However, it is important to understand that Christ requires repentance as the ultimate goal and faith as the means to attain it. Although the goal takes precedence in intention, the means come first in practice and execution. Both repentance and faith are absolutely necessary for salvation. Repentance involves a sincere turning away from sin towards God and His service. And the only way to turn to God is through Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, and without whom no one can come to the Father (John 14:6). And how can we come to Christ except through faith? Therefore, if we desire to turn to God in the right way, we must first come to Christ by faith. Faith must precede repentance as the essential instrument provided by God's grace for its effective fulfillment. Repentance is indeed a duty that sinners naturally owe to God, but the crucial question is, "How can sinners fulfill it?" This question is answered by the gospel of Christ: "Repent and believe." The way to repent is to begin with believing. Thus, the central message of John in his baptism of repentance was that they should believe in the One who would come after him, namely, Christ Jesus (Acts 19:4).
- They believe it is necessary to receive Christ as their Lord and Lawgiver by sincerely surrendering themselves to His authority and making a resolution to obey His laws before accepting Him as their Saviour. This is a key teaching of the new theology, where receiving Christ as Lord is considered the essential act of saving faith. Without this surrender to His kingly authority, the faith I described earlier, which involves trusting in Christ for salvation, is deemed nothing more than presumptuous. They assert that Christ will not grant His salvation to those who do not first submit to His rule. He regards them as His enemies because they refuse His reign over them, and He demands that they be brought before Him and put to death (Luke 19:27). I affirm as an absolute truth that Christ will save only those who sincerely yield themselves to obey His royal authority and laws.
However, we must observe that individuals are not brought to this holy surrender or sincere resolution of obedience before receiving His salvation, but rather through receiving it. People who have never truly recognised their spiritual death in sin may easily make a resolution of complete obedience to God when they are on their deathbeds, facing imminent danger, or preparing for the Lord's Supper. They do so in order to reconcile with God and trust in Christ securely for salvation. Yet, all such resolutions are futile and hypocritical, easily broken as soon as they are made. Those who are aware of the corruption within their own hearts understand that their minds are hostile to God's law and cannot submit to it (Romans 8:7). They know that they cannot sincerely devote themselves to obedience before trusting in Christ for His salvation and for the gift of a new heart that enables them to will and do what pleases God. If Christ had never come into the world to save us, we would still be bound to obedient purposes, resolutions, and surrender. However, He knew that we are incapable of holy obedience unless He first makes us partakers of salvation. We will never obey Him as our Lawgiver until we receive Him as our Saviour. He is a saving Lord. Trust in Him first to deliver you from the guilt and power of sin, the dominion of Satan, and to grant you a new spiritual disposition. Only then, out of genuine devotion, will the love of Christ compel you to wholeheartedly surrender yourself to live for the One who died for you (2 Corinthians 5:14). You will be able to declare with unwavering resolve, "O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds" (Psalm 116:16).
Some people believe that certain good works are necessary before we can safely trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. They base this belief on the teachings of our Saviour, who said that if we do not forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive us. He also instructed us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12, 15). Additionally, restitution is required for things acquired wrongly from others before receiving sacramental atonement through the trespass-offering (Leviticus 6:5, 7). In response, I would like to point out that these teachings highlight the close connection between forgiving others, making restitution, and receiving forgiveness for our sins. These actions are necessary to prepare us for prayer and to receive the grace of pardon through the sacraments.
A living faith cannot exist without these fruits. Therefore, we cannot pray or partake in the sacraments in faith without demonstrating these qualities. However, if we strive to perform these actions before placing our trust in Christ for forgiveness and salvation, our efforts will be in a slavish and hypocritical manner, lacking true holiness and acceptability. Our forgiveness of others will not be accompanied by genuine love for them, as we love ourselves for the sake of God. Similarly, our acts of restitution will be forced and insincere, comparable to Pharaoh allowing the Israelites to go or Judas returning the thirty pieces of silver out of fear and pressure. Once the fear that compelled us is removed, we will be quick to retract our forgiveness and wrong others again, just as Pharaoh brought the Israelites back into bondage after releasing them (Exodus 14:5).
Excerpt: The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, chapter 7