The focus of “religion” from the earliest days has been on obedience to God and to a system of laws, procedures, ceremonies and practices in order to achieve the approbation (approval) of God. To put it another way if a person lives in accordance to established religious doctrine and a prescribed behavioral pattern, he has an excellent chance at eternal life. Several present-day religions, even some that call themselves “Christian,” adhere to this protocol. This is often viewed as living “a good life” and/or “doing good works.” The essential concept is that if a person at the end of his life has done more “good” than “bad,” he will achieve Heaven as his eternal abode.
Unfortunately this emphasis has no foundation in Bible doctrine. The Bible does not say that a person who lives a perfect life (without sin - disobedience to God’s Law) will not go to Heaven. If you can live without sin from physical birth to physical death, you will merit eternal life. But the fact is you can’t! No one has ever been able or will ever be able to do it!
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
The Bible is equally clear about the consequences of our sin.
For the wages of sin is [spiritual] death…. (Romans 6:23)
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and [spiritual] death through sin, and in this way [spiritual] death came to all men, because all sinned-(Romans 5:12)
But despite God’s Word on this matter, “religion” insists that it is within man’s power to be obedient to God and His requirements, which it says is the key to eternal bliss. The Bible says quite the opposite. Even Jesus Christ, while He sojourned upon this earth in His human body, railed against the religious and self-righteous. He called them hypocrites, snakes, blind, full of greed and open graves full of dead men’s bones. (Matthew 23:23-33) “Religion” has been and will always be the primary tool of Satan in his opposition to God’s plan for the salvation of mankind.
The Bible reveals the following fact to those who will take the time and effort to read it, i.e., Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship (union). It is not an organization; it is an organism. The Bible clearly teaches that when one becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a living part of the spiritual body of Christ. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27; also see Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:23; 4:12; Colossians 1:24; 2:19) When the New Testament refers to “the” church, it is referring to the entire body of believers - not to a structure or a localized assembly.
God’s Word is also quite clear how a person may gain entrance into the “body of Christ,” i.e., become a Christian. It is not by one’s self-righteousness or good works, because before God all “righteousness” or “good works” emanating (originating) from man is as “filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) And the Bible clearly states that our salvation cannot come by doing good, i.e., performing religious ordinances, giving to a church or the poor, being kind to persons and animals, praying, or any other “good work” or “righteous act.”
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. (Titus 3:5)
It is exceedingly clear that “our righteousness” gains us nothing eternal. It is only when the “righteousness of Christ” is imputed (accredited) to us through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone that we become eternally (permanently) saved, i.e., given eternal life.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)
. . .and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and lived a perfect (sinless) life for the express purpose of going to the cross for you and me. And what happened on that cross? Jesus Christ took your sins and my sins (everyone’s sins who has ever or will ever live) and He became that sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) in order to suffer the penalty (spiritual death) for our sins in our place - as our substitute, so that we would not have to experience such a horrible fate. He not only paid for our sins by suffering spiritual death, He also died physically. He was buried, but on the third day He rose alive from the grave and ascended to the Father’s right hand in Heaven. There He remains, making intercession for us, until it is time for His return.
The point is that Jesus Christ did everything that is necessary for our salvation. All we must “do” to obtain it is to turn from (the meaning of “repentance”) our “self-righteousness” or any “works-related” system of pleasing God and simply receive (accept) by faith what Christ has already done for us. When you simply make a conscious decision to trust Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for your own personal salvation, in that very instant you are permanently saved and become a member of the “body of Christ.”
Yet to all who received Him [Jesus Christ], to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God- (John 1:12)
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
The only form of obedience a person may execute for the purpose of achieving eternal life is to place his faith in Jesus Christ. But once that is done, obedience toward “good works” is required from a Christian (a “believer” or “member of the body of Christ”) in order to please God. Whereas “good works” cannot save us, the Bible does in fact say For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) This being the case, obedience to God in the accomplishment of His “prepared good works” is a must. The question being, what type of obedience are we talking about?
Here the believer can go astray early in, and even throughout, his Christian life. Instead of exercising obedience within God’s Biblical formula, the Christian often relapses back to a “self-righteous” or “self-motivated” form of obedience. He knows that he was saved “only by faith,” but now he relies “only on himself” to live the spiritual life. This will only bring spiritual failure, no matter how much “good” he performs. There is no doubt that a Christian who self-generates good works does much good, but none of this “good” is credited to him (for future rewards - not salvation) by God.
So, what form of obedience honors God? Here is the answer: Obedience that emanates (stems) from a position of faith. Over and over the “principle of faith” is emphasized in the Bible. It was the principle that permitted healings, the principle that permitted revelation, the principle that permitted the forgiveness of sins and it is the principle that permits proper spiritual obedience, which in turn permits the accumulation of heavenly rewards.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear [respect] built [obedience to God’s instructions] an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
By faith Abraham, when called [by God] to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham believed that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17, 18)
The book of Hebrews, and particularly the eleventh chapter, is proof-positive that the only form of obedience which pleases God and which allows the “child of God” to enter into God’s “Sabbath-rest” (victorious Christian living) and thereby accrue future heavenly rewards is by the principle of faith.
It is fact that our sin nature, which we have even as Christians, is capable of producing “human good,” i.e., what appears to all as “good works;” but not to God. It is “divine good” that alone is pleasing to God. Satan actively attempts to sidetrack Christians into “religion” or some form of “legalism;” thereby convincing them that they are good Christians because they are doing good deeds. Human good, which includes charity, altruism, philanthropy, is helpful to mankind, but has no value to God. Unless a Christian’s deeds stem from the principle of faith and the resulting motivation of the Holy Spirit (which is what produces “divine good”), he will gain no spiritual value before God.
After we are saved, Satan will always lead us toward “religion” and “legalism.” Satan is eager to encourage us in this direction, because this direction takes us away from the principle of faith, which is the basis for the control (fullness) of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the production of “divine good.” He will surely move in and convince us that it is “up to us” to keep the various laws outlined in God’s Word, and some that are not. We are quick to adopt various and sundry “convictions,” i.e., don’t do this, don’t wear that, don’t go there, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t, no, never, ad infinitum and ad nauseam.
Then there are the “ must do” items, e.g., giving of money a certain way, attending every church service, praying in a certain manner, mimicking the antics of others we deem “spiritual,” etc. And without realizing it, we soon find we become judgmental of all others who fail to do things as we either do or don’t do them. It is then that a “major” sin dominates our life - the sin of pride, which is most egregious before God.
We drift ever so deeper into legalism, prioritizing minor issues and minimizing God’s priority issues, e.g., love of God and fellow Christians and keeping focused on Christ and bringing others to Him. We give because we are “expected” to do so. We attend church “to be seen.” We dress a certain way because of the “opinion of others.” We use phraseology such as “Amen,” “Praise the Lord,” “God willing,” etc. because we believe this will convey to others our “spirituality.” We substitute emotionalism (feeling good) for true spirituality, which is the acceptance and application to our lives of Biblical doctrine by faith alone.
The truth is that while residing in “legalism,” our entire behavior is motivated by our sin nature. We are only doing “human good,” and this gains us nothing spiritually. It’s not that many of the actions mentioned in the previous paragraphs are wrong in themselves, but God looks at the heart, i.e., your motivation. If your motivation is not derived from the Holy Spirit, which comes by way of the principle of faith, you cannot produce “divine good.” And doing only “human good” will eventually rob you of the joy of your salvation and lead you into despair and in some cases a temporary turning away from God. If this happens you won’t lose your salvation, but you’ll exist in a life of misery and under the disciplinary hand of God the Father until He either brings you back to Him or He takes you out of this world.
Why do we so easily drift toward legalism? In addition to not applying the principle of faith, it is because we are lazy in learning Bible doctrine. We spend very little time actually studying the Word of God. The principle of faith is the engine, but the Word of God is the fuel. By faith we apply what we know. Without knowing Bible doctrine, our faith has little to apply to our Christian way of life. As we confront various issues and difficulties in life, without the understanding and application of Bible doctrine (truth) we won’t know which way to turn. The Word of God has countless promises and truths that God would have us know and believe. These we must take and make our own so that we will have something concrete in which to place our faith. Faith must be anchored in Biblical doctrine. God has given us the written Word, which is able to intimately acquaint us with the Living Word even beyond that which was available to the original disciples when they walked with Him. Yet, we don’t take advantage of it.
So how can we combat Satan and his hordes? How can we be assured that we will fulfill our ambassadorship for Jesus Christ? How can we know spiritual success? How can we exercise Biblical obedience? The answer is in the principle of faith and the consumption of Bible doctrine.
With faith we start the Christian life, and it is by faith we must live the Christian life if we are to do any spiritual (divine) good, for which later we will be rewarded. This principle for living the Christian life, i.e., by faith and not by works, is seen in the following Scriptures.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
(Colossians 2:6, 7)
So how did you receive Christ Jesus as Lord?
Yet to all who received Him [Christ Jesus], to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (John 1:12, 13)
Do you get it? Do you understand? Do you see the light? You didn’t receive Christ through a system of works or some religious ritual. You didn’t receive Him by attending church, being baptized or confessing to some minister or priest. No! The only way you could receive Christ Jesus was to turn (Biblical repentance) from all self-effort and systems of works and turn to Christ by exercising faith alone in Him for your eternal salvation. It was by utilizing the principle of faith and nothing more.
And in order for you to “live in Him,” i.e., live the spiritual life; you need only exercise the same kind of faith that saved you. This is the only spiritual “work” that God will recognize and honor. This is the proper exercise of Biblical obedience. Just as you received by faith alone Jesus Christ alone for your personal salvation, you now need to claim by faith alone the truths and promises of God’s Word for your personal spiritual life. And one these truths is that Jesus Christ through the personality of the Holy Spirit lives within you and will work through you to accomplish “divine good.” This is to be claimed by faith.
Do you still think it is up to you to do the work of God? Then here is the “work of God.”
Then they asked Him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:28, 29)
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. . .For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:1, 2, 8-10)
The Bible teaches that there is only one way whereby we may be saved - by faith. And it teaches that there is only one way we may exercise Biblical obedience and live the spiritual life - by faith. You say that the Bible teaches that we are to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit in order to live the spiritual life. You are correct; for it is “Christ living through us” by means of the Holy Spirit that divine good is accomplished. The word “fill” or “full” as used in regards to the Holy Spirit within us only means “control.” It’s not like we have part of the Holy Spirit sometimes, and more of Him at other times. At our salvation experience the Holy Spirit indwelt and sealed us. At that moment we were “full” of (controlled by) Him. But in time and because we fail to exercise faith in the application of Bible doctrine we choose to sin and thereby “quench” (limit the control of) the Holy Spirit.
So how do you turn it around and maintain the fullness of the Holy Spirit in your life and thereby exercise Biblical obedience? The steps are simple, yet quite profound.
First, you must confess (acknowledge) any “known sins” in your life, i.e., admit to God and take responsibility for the sins you know you’ve committed. By doing so, God will automatically forgive you of your known sins and the sins of which you’re unaware or have forgotten within your life. He then will restore in you the “fullness” (control) of the Spirit of God.
If we confess our [known] sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our [known] sins and purify us from all unrighteousness [unknown and forgotten sins]. (1 John 1:9)
Second, you must accept by faith alone God’s promise that you are filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit and that Christ is not only able but will live through you by means of the Holy Spirit. Accept this as matter of fact. Don’t trust your feelings for you may or may not have feelings in the matter. Simply trust God’s promise - His Word. Then continue to study God’s Word, so that you will have no end of truth (Bible doctrine) in which to place your faith. Make this a daily event. Then watch as God directs your life. Don’t get ahead of Him. Don’t attempt to lead or direct Him. By faith alone allow God to do the work.
Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Psalms 37:4-6)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5, 6)
For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
And without faith it is impossible to please God . . .(Hebrews 11:6)