There is a lot of difference between attaining and obtaining; be­tween achieving and receiving. It is all the difference between the law and the gospel, between works and grace. It is in fact the difference that marks two opposite religions–the one of the flesh, the other of the Spirit; the one natural, the other supernatural; the one a religion of (at­tempted) self-salvation, the other a faith in the salvation of God. “All the world-religions,” says Sir Monier Williams, “however widely they differ in form and creed, are based upon one common principle, namely the principle of self-salvation by works of merit.” For that idea is natural to the fleshly man. It coincides with all his notions and inclinations.

Even Christians easily forget the foundation of grace on which they stand. They want to deserve God’s blessing, for that is the only way they think they can ever get it. But “to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4, 5). For faith is the only thing that is not meritorious, being simply the reliance of the lost sinner on Him who is able to save, and who saves freely all that come to Him. “Therefore it is of faith, that it may be by grace” (Rom. 4: 16). “For by grace have ye been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory” (Eph. 2: 8, 9).

Fighting For an Accomplished Victory

There is, too, a great difference between striving to attain a goal, and striving to take possession of what is already one’s own. In the one case you seek to achieve something for yourself; in the other you appropriate what has been given to you. In the one case you are fight­ing to gain a victory; in the other you are fighting on the basis of a foregone victory, already yours and secured to you in the confi­dence of which you go forth conquering and to conquer. Does the idea seem difficult to grasp?

Let us illustrate. There is Joshua, on the eve of crossing over the Jordan into Canaan to face seven nations more powerful and warlike, “greater and mightier” than Israel. Now the victory was already his by grant of God and already envisioned by faith’s discerning eye. “There shall no man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life,” Jeho­vah said to Joshua. “As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee.” And, “Every place that the sale of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it” (Josh. 1). It was not as though God had said,” Go over and fight, and if you win the victory you shall have the land, ” but “I have given you the land; go over and take it” They must fight indeed, and they did fight–but not uncertainly. Nor did they think that it was by their fighting that they had acquired the land. It was, they well knew, by the gift of God, not by their power and efforts, that they ob­tained it. “For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou wast favorable unto them” (Ps. 44:3). This assurance beforehand, far from making them lax and careless, caused them to fight all the more lustily and confi­dently. “See, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land,” said the Lord (Josh. 8:1). But how care­fully they followed instructions, and how energetically did they carry them out.

So does faith always act. But it makes a world of difference whether you are battling with a view to victory or whether you are fighting by faith on the strength of a foregone victory, already secured to you by definite gift of God. In the former case the victory is your own achievement; in the latter case it is of God. Therefore also the glory and praise belongs to Him alone.

Working On The Basis Of a Gift

This principle runs all through the gospel. It is in fact the distin­guishing principle between law and gospel, between works and faith. For “the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them” (Gal. 3:7). And “Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteous­ness of the law shall live thereby” (Rom. 10:5). The righteousness which is of faith, on the other hand, says that “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10: 6,9). In the one case salvation is to be worked for; in the other it is the gift granted freely from the start, to be worked out (Phil. 2: 12). Thus all the gifts bestowed in the gospel-order. .

Christians receive the free gift of righteousness (Rom. 5: 17) that they may “follow after righteousness,” and do righteousness. They are freely sanctified that they may “follow after sanctification,” “perfect­ing holiness in the fear of God.” In Christ they are dead to sin, and on that basis they “put to death their members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry” (Col. 3:3,5). Thenceforth they will be putting on Christ day by day (Rom. 13: 14). They are children of God, destined to be like Christ when He shall appear; and everyone who really has his hope set on Him will here and now “purify himself even as He is pure” (l John 3: 1-3). Because the gift and the calling is Christ’s and the outcome is sure, the Christian takes up the battle unto certain victory.

-R. H. Boll (1875-1956) was the  Minister of the Portland Ave. Church of Christ (1904-1956) and  Editor of Word and Work (1916-1956)