What Are The “Not By Works” Passages Saying?

The “not by works” passages (like Eph 2:8-9, II Tim 1:9, and Tit 3:5) teach that works are not the earning basis (Rom 4:4) for our salvation (Jesus’ death is what earns it). But they do not teach we don’t have to meet God’s (non-earning) conditions in order to be saved. That would contradict James 2:24 (“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only”), and would rule out faith being necessary since John 6:28-29 says faith is a work (“This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent”).

Illustrations of non-earning conditions …

“I’ll give you a new Cadillac. All you have to do is pick up the keys.” The giver earned the Cadillac. All the receiver had to do was meet a condition in order to receive it.

A will that metes out the inheritance upon certain conditions required of the heir (like if she finishes college, or remains single until age 21). Who actually earned the money though?: obviously the one who died, not the heir.

In II Kings 5:9-14 Elisha said to Naaman – “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” God is the one who cleansed Naaman, but Naaman had to meet God’s conditions for doing such.

Joshua 6:2 reads “I have given unto thine hand Jericho.” Did they earn the taking of the city by walking around the city for seven days? Did the sound waves crumble the walls naturally? No, they would have had to use battering rams and sledge hammers to knock those walls down themselves. Instead the falling of the walls was a miraculous gift from God. But the Israelites had to meet God’s conditions. The walls “by faith .. fell down, after they were compassed about seven days” (Heb 11:30).

In Num 21:5-9 the Israelites had to look upon a brass serpent on a pole to be healed of their snake bites. Is looking what actually healed them, or was looking just a stipulated condition of God healing them?

Conclusion: Eph 2:8-9, II Tim 1:9, and Tit 3:5 are not saying we don’t have to do anything to be saved. That would contradict passages like Heb 5:9, Matt 7:21, and etc. that say we do. Instead they are saying we don’t earn our salvation by what we do, not even by meeting God’s conditions. The earning basis for our salvation is the blood of Christ. God is the one who saves us. But we do have to trust and obey God in order to receive the salvation provided for by the blood of Christ (Rev 22:14). We might say meeting God’s conditions provide “access into … grace” (Rom 5:2).

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