Is Discipleship “Works-Salvation”?
If you’ve spent any length of time in a Bible-teaching church, chances are you’ve got an ultra-sensitive works-salvation detector. If someone sounds like they’re trying to add an unbiblical requirement or some sort of legalistic demand to the gospel, an alarm goes off in your head. This is good. It’s good to be on the lookout for false gospels, especially legalistic add-ons. That is, unless your radar is misinformed. An ultra-sensitive works-salvation detector can actually be harmful if it causes us to think an essential element of the gospel, like following Jesus, is works-salvation.
This is an excerpt from The Discipleship Gospel (available in eBook and paperback). Get a discount by using code ‘TBP’ at checkout when you order here.
Is calling people to follow Jesus works-salvation? This is an important question because it cuts to the very heart of God’s amazing grace, not to mention our understanding of the gospel. We need to be crystal clear on the answer here; otherwise, people will dismiss Jesus’ gospel as a works-salvation gospel, which it is not. Rightly understood, following Jesus is always and only the work of the Holy Spirit. No one is able to follow Jesus without the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us. How, then, can following Jesus be works-salvation? How can something we do by God’s grace be works-salvation? It can’t be, and it isn’t. To say that “it’s done by God’s grace” is the same as saying, “we’re doing it in the power of his Holy Spirit,” because the Holy Spirit is a gift of God’s grace to us.
Following Jesus is the work of God in our lives, nothing less. Paul admonished us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13, emphasis ours). Following Jesus isn’t us working for our salvation; it is God working out salvation in us! Some people will object: “But I can follow Jesus in my own strength, without the Holy Spirit!” The truth is no, you can’t, at least not according to the Bible. Following Jesus in your own strength is not actually following Jesus (Gal. 5:17; John 15:4). It’s a work of the flesh. Following Jesus happens only and always in the power of the Spirit. This isn’t tricky semantics; it’s biblical theology. Calling people to follow Jesus isn’t adding something extra to the gospel; it’s restoring an essential element of it.