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by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, October 24, 2015

“If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6).

All the religions of the world are divided by just two words: grace and works. The Bible says that grace and works are opposites. If it’s one, it can’t be the other. Our text says, “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” Salvation by works can’t be salvation by grace. Salvation by grace can’t be salvation by works. It can’t be both. It’s one or the other!

What is salvation by works? It means that if you work enough – if you do good things, you can satisfy God. Somehow you can get to Heaven by being good. You hear this all the time. “I’m good enough.” “I’m not a bad person.” “I’m better than most people.” “I’m trying to be a better person.” All that is the error of salvation by works.

What is salvation by grace? It means that you can’t get to Heaven by being good, because you aren’t good. You’re sinful inside. You have a sin nature. You can never be clean before God. You can’t get to Heaven by trying to be good. You have to be saved by grace. “Grace” means the love, the favor, the mercy of God – that you don’t deserve. You can’t earn it. Grace is a gift. What is that gift? “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Grace and works are opposites. There is a division between them. I call it “the great division of the ages.” Tonight we’re going to look at that division in three ways.

I. First, the doctrinal aspect of the division.

There are six hundred religions in the world. All but one of them teach salvation by works. They say you can work your way to Heaven. The Muslims say Jesus didn’t die on the Cross. You have to do works – to pray five times a day, to fast in the month of Ramadan, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and do other religious things. Even then you might not get in! For them, the only way to be sure of going to Heaven is to die fighting the “infidels.” The path of works is a hard road. Thank God for His grace!

The Hindus believe in works – many lifetimes of works. You have to worship the Hindu gods, and eat only vegetables, and chant prayers, and do meditation. They believe in reincarnation, that you come back in another body in another life. If you aren’t religious you come back as a person of low rank, or an animal. If you do lots of works you come back as a person of high rank. The highest thing you can be is a cow! You have to work for millions of years, and at the end your reward is that you go out of existence. The Buddhists are about the same. But reincarnation is a lie invented by Satan to keep people from being saved. The Bible says, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). You have to trust Christ and be saved in this life, or it will be too late forever.

The Catholic Church teaches salvation by works. They say that if you are baptized as a baby it washes away Adam’s sin. Then for your whole life you have to work hard to be saved. You confess your sins to a priest. After you confess, you go to Mass. You say prayers. You give money. You fast. If you really want to be good, you don’t get married. The girls become nuns and the boys become priests. Even then, after you die, you go to a place called Purgatory and burn there for a million years before you can get into Heaven. The path of works is a terrible road. Thank God for His grace!

There is only one religion in the world that preaches salvation by grace. That is Bible Christianity. The Bible says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us... Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). The Bible says, “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ...for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Doing good works can’t save anyone! The Bible says, “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Your “goodness” is like dirty clothes in the sight of God.

But God loves you even though you are a dirty sinner. The Bible says, “God commendeth [shows] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He shed His Blood to cleanse you from all sin. The Bible says, “Being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9). If you trust Jesus you are clean before God, not because of your goodness but because of Christ’s Blood. Salvation comes by the gift of God’s own Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Salvation is only by grace. We have no goodness to offer. Let our trust, and our claim, and our boast forever be the Blood of Christ and nothing else, for – “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

II. Second, the historical aspect of the division.

In the first century, the Christian churches grew mightily. The first great revival was at Pentecost, when three thousand people were converted in a day. Soon the Gospel was preached throughout the Roman world. Great local churches were established. The Gospel was taken to Africa, Iran, and India. From the early Christians “sounded out the word of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 1:8). What was their message? They preached that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3). The Apostle Paul said, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). Paul wrote, “You hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Again, Paul wrote, “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us...Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). No works here! Only the grace of God in Christ to lost and dead sinners! Yes, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). But if you trust Jesus, you are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25). No works here! Only the grace of God through the Blood of Jesus Christ!

The New Testament makes it clear that salvation is by grace and not works. The Bible says, “to him that worketh not, but believeth [trusts] on him [Christ] that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Did they tell him to be a better person? Did they tell him to confess his sins? No, they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). No works here! Trust Christ and that is all. Christ, only Christ, nothing but Christ!

Over the centuries, salvation by works came into the churches. The Apostle Paul warned of “false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4). Even then, people had come into the churches with a message of works.

The first works-error was that water baptism washes away sin. In the fourth and fifth centuries, millions of lost people were baptized to “wash away” their sin. Some waited until they were dying so they could do all their sins first and then be “washed.” In the Middle Ages, people had their babies baptized so that if they died they would go to Heaven. That’s why the Catholic Church baptizes babies. Even today there are people who say, “I was saved when I was baptized. All my sins were washed away.” What a lie! Only “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

In the Middle Ages the false doctrine of salvation by works went deeper. The Catholic Church taught that people got to Heaven by a process of confessions, prayers, being good, fasting, trips to holy places, and giving money. The Popes and bishops were interested in money above everything else. Five hundred years ago they said if you gave money it would pay for your sins, and even the sins of your dead relatives. John Tetzel said, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

But God saved a man named Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther had tried hard to be saved by works. He became a monk. He became a priest. He fasted and prayed for days. He made a trip to Rome. But none of that gave him peace with God. Finally God showed him in the Bible that he only needed to trust Christ in simple faith. Luther’s life was defined by Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.”

Luther stood up against Tetzel and the Pope – and salvation by works. Thus began the great revival called the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation message was simple: Sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide – the Bible alone, grace alone, faith [in Christ] alone. Back to the old faith! Back to the old Gospel! The Reformation revival changed the world. Uncounted thousands were converted. We remember it today. Tomorrow we will celebrate Reformation Sunday, the 498th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

For centuries the true Gospel of salvation by grace was preached in the Protestant churches. God sent many revivals. But in the nineteenth century the Devil brought salvation by works into the churches. Charles Finney (1792-1875) preached that Christ’s death and Blood on the Cross weren’t important. What mattered was that the sinner had to make himself good by his own will and decision. That’s salvation by works. Finney’s most important sermon was called “Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts.” Where is Christ in that? Where is the grace of God in that? It’s all works. Somehow a sinner has to change his own heart. How can a lost, dead sinner do that?

Finney preached salvation by a decision. This is called “decisionism.” It’s salvation by works. Since then, decisionism has ruined many churches and made millions of false converts. Today people say, “I’m saved because I prayed the sinner’s prayer.” “I raised my hand.” “I went forward in church.” “I rededicated my life.” These are human decisions. Where is the grace of Christ? Where is the Blood of Christ? This is salvation by works.

Today men like Dr. John MacArthur and Paul Washer say, “If you prayed a sinner’s prayer, but you’re living deep in sin, you’re lost.” That is true. But what do they tell people to do – to come to Christ and be washed in His Blood? No, they tell people to stop their sins and make Christ Lord of their lives. They tell people to follow Christ as a disciple and study the Bible for hours. That won’t save anybody! They preach the law, not the Gospel. They preach salvation by works. But “a man is not justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16).

Today salvation by works through decisionism is found throughout the Western world. It has made millions of false converts. Here in Los Angeles, we are trying to build a church of people who are truly converted through trusting Jesus Christ. And this brings us to the last point of the sermon.

III. Third, the personal aspect of the division.

On one side – salvation by grace. On the other side – salvation by works. Where do you stand? On which side are you? In this room there are people who have been saved by grace. They have trusted Christ and had their sins washed in His Blood.

Where are you in this? There are people here who are trying to be saved by works. One person said, “Christ helps me with my life. He’s helping me to be a better person.” That’s salvation by works. How does that wash your sins away? You’re a lost, dead, guilty sinner. How does a better life wash your sins and make you clean before God? It doesn’t.

Others are analyzing themselves, studying their own thoughts and feelings – salvation by works! You’re a lost, dead, guilty sinner. Your thoughts and feelings can’t wash your sins away and make you right with God. But you refuse to look away from yourself and trust Christ Himself. You remain lost.

Some people are trying to learn how to be saved. They want to learn facts and doctrines. They want to learn about our church. They want to “see” things. But learning is a human work. You’re a lost, dead, guilty sinner. How can learning wash away your sins and make you clean before God?

In your heart you don’t think of yourself as a lost, dead, guilty sinner. That’s why you analyze yourself. That’s why you try to learn things. But you are lost, dead, and guilty all the same. Oh, I wish you would see that. May God grant you conviction of sin. May God show you your helplessness. May God show you Christ Himself as your only hope and draw you to Him.

You’re a lost, dead, guilty sinner. You can’t be saved by works! You can try it for years and still be lost. A person is “not justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). You can’t “get yourself saved.” You’re lost. You’re dead. You’re guilty. You can’t change yourself. You can’t do anything to “get yourself saved.” You’ve got to be saved by grace – by a gift from outside yourself – or you’ll never be saved at all.

Look away from yourself! There’s nothing there but sin. Look to Christ! He died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He gave His Blood to cleanse you from sin, to wash your sin away, so that God will not see it. Trust Christ and be “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9). Look to Jesus! Trust Him! Be justified by His Blood! Amen.

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by Dr. C. L. Cagan

“If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6).

(Romans 6:23)

I.   First, the doctrinal aspect of the division, Hebrews 9:27; Titus 3:5-7;
Galatians 2:16; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 5:8, 9; John 3:16; I John 1:7.

II.  Second, the historical aspect of the division, I Thessalonians 1:8;
I Corinthians 15:3; 2:2; Ephesians 2:1, 4-5; Romans 3:23, 24-25;
Romans 4:5; Acts 16:30, 31; Galatians 2:4; I John 1:7; Romans 1:17;
Galatians 2:16.

III. Third, the personal aspect of the division, Galatians 2:16; Romans 5:9.