The KJV: Distinguished by Never Teaching Works Salvation to Its Readers
Luke 21:19 No salvation by standing firm
KJV: In your patience possess ye your souls.
NIV: By standing firm you will gain life.
1. In Luke 21:19 the Greek can be read as saying life, salvation, is gained by standing firm in trials, which is works salvation. This is a lexical problem (variable Greek verb sense), and context determines the translation. The KJV handles the matter very well, expressing it in terms of the soul’s security revealed by patience in trials. Here context teaches what Matthew 10:22, teaches in saying, he that endureth to the end shall be saved, meaning our salvation is proved if our faith endures all trials inflicted by those who would destroy us. In Luke 21:19 the KJV Possess ye your souls correctly speaks of mastering circumstances, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 (same Greek verb) that tells a man to possess (master, not gain) his vessel (self) in sanctification and honor. The KJV imparts the proper sense of Luke 21:19, that of mastering, or possessing control of, our souls to speak in the power of God’s salvation in us in order to foil men who would condemn us by using our words against us.
2. 1 Jn.3:7 Good works make one as righteous as Christ?
KJV…let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous even as he is righteous.
NIV…do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous…
A works-salvationist can envision good works for salvation taught in this NIV verse that has a wrong sense of a Greek noun. In the NIV doing right, or doing good works, which many unsaved people do, would make one as righteous as Christ. Actually, as the KJV says, it’s the righteousness of Christ at work in a believer, which is by the Spirit given in salvation, that makes him righteous, something acquired by grace, not works. The NIV 1 John 2:29 & Acts 10:35 illustrate more of this unbiblical notion.
3. Matthew 5:27-29 No works salvation by body mutilation
Christ says that even thinking lustful thoughts is to be guilty of adultery, and that it’s better to pluck out an eye to avoid this than to be cast into hell. Some think this teaches works salvation by body mutilation. Actually, it relates to the spirit of the law that raises law standards to include the heart’s condition. The teaching continues that of Matthew 5:20 regarding Pharisees & scribes who believed they earned salvation by keeping the letter of the law. It tells works-oriented Jewish disciples that, in view of requirements invoked by the spirit of the law, the only way to avoid guilt for adultery on the basis of their works is to pluck out their eyes. No one can be expected to do so, though even that is better than going to hell. Christ is saying that, if salvation and the avoidance of hell depended on human works, people would need to do things like plucking out their eyes to avoid sin that condemns. He says this to show them they need something far greater than their works for salvation. This is meant to turn people from works-salvation theory, and make them see their need of God’s power in this matter. They need the Holy Spirit conferred in salvation by grace to resist sins like adultery. Resisting of lustful sights is a New Testament standard, and the degree of resistance attained depends on the degree of filling with the Holy Spirit, but we begin to develop resistance by possessing the Spirit.
Another aspect of this teaching is a figurative application on the life of righteousness for the redeemed. When Christ says, if thy right eye offend thee pluck it out and if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, this signifies separating from all that we favor most if it interferes with our service to God (i.e; that which has my right eye of favor or that which is at my right hand of favor). This includes our most favored joys or people. This secondary figurative application readily applies as idiomatic Hebrew language easily understood by Hebrews who would make this connection, but also needed to see the very serious literal consequences of depending on human works for salvation.
4. Mk.10:17-22 Salvation is not earned by giving up all our wealth
Christ seems to say that a young man in this passage must give up all his wealth to be saved, seeming to require that the man keep works of the law for salvation. But the matter pertains to the kind of faith that leads to good works. Before getting to this matter, we need to see the fallacy of comments by some that Christ denied His deity here.
10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Some suggest Christ is saying (in contemporary vernacular), "Why are you calling me good? Only God is good, so you shouldn't call me good, for then you're calling me God." This suggestion is clearly erroneous since it would contradict many passages where Christ affirms His deity (Jn.14:9, 10:30, 8:58, Mt.11:27, etc.). We must read scripture carefully to grasp subtleties of context in understanding a passage, or we’ll make the same mistakes that "scholars" do who find fault with scripture.
Here we must understand what transpired between the Lord and the man. The man seeks help about salvation, and of course only God gives the certain answer on this matter. Likely, the man has heard wonderful news about Jesus that convinced him he could get enlightenment from this one who did the wonderful works of God. Yet it’s unlikely that he knew any better than others who Jesus really was, and how qualified He truly was to provide the answer. The man probably thought of Jesus as a human worker of good things, a prophet who might have unusual insight into truth. Likely, in this limited sense he called Jesus a good master (master of good things). But the Lord would want the young man to know who it is that he’s asking about salvation. In His foreknowledge, Christ knows the man will refuse to follow His counsel, which is the very counsel of God, rejection of which has eternal consequences. Thus the question, Why callest thou me good? is meant to give the man cause to consider who it is he's talking to. If we emphasize the pronoun thou, we see that the question is, "Man, what’s your reason for calling me good? Only God is good, so are you recognizing that you’re asking God about salvation, or are you just using a title of respect?" In effect, the Lord is saying to this man, "Wake up and listen to the words of your own mouth, and you’ll realize who it is you're talking to and who you're about to refuse to obey." Thus the Lord is affirming, not denying, His deity here.
All this is crucial because of what the Lord is about to tell this man about obedience in the next few verses. The man is rich and is about to be told to give away all his wealth to prove he loves God more than wealth (the right kind of faith). Of course, this would be impossible for anyone to do unless he knew that the command came from God Himself. Otherwise, a man would say to himself that he doesn’t know who this man is who tells him to give away everything he owns, and he's not about to comply with such an extreme request. Thus the man must know that the one he refuses to obey in a matter involving his own salvation is the author of salvation Himself, so the Lord gave this man cause to consider this in His response to the question about salvation. This man was very serious about wanting to be obedient since he went away grieved that he was unable to comply. This passage plainly shows that, even with the very best of intentions, mankind can’t overcome in his own strength the hold that worldly material things have over him. It is this subject that we now address further in the next few verses of this passage as the Lord answers the man's initial question about how to inherit eternal life. Now we see that Christ didn’t teach works salvation in this passage.
10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal…
10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
10:22 And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great pos- sessions.
At this point the reader might ask, not only why Christ requires this man to give away all his wealth to be saved, seeing that there's no requirement like this elsewhere in the New Testament, but why the Lord encourages what seems to be an Old Testament method of salvation in telling the man he needs to keep the law. Treatises of theology have arisen from these words of our Lord to try to account for His seeming reference here to salvation by works of the law in the New Testament era. Now the Bible isn’t meant to be privately interpreted by theologians, but to meet practical needs of the common man who has always been its main reader, so the straightforward inter-pretation based on common sense is always the correct approach.
We know Christ taught the New Testament need for the born‑again experience, as in the incident with Nicodemus in John 3. Why then did He depart from this teaching for the rich man? A little study shows the answer lies in this man's faulty understanding of salvation and the need to correct this. He seems to think salvation in the era of the Old Testament is earned by keeping of the law, judging by the way he phrased his question in verse 17. He doesn't quite ask what the method of salvation is, but offers his own slant on the method by asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Indeed the supplemental parallel Matthew 19:16 passage reveals this, showing that the man's request in its amplified complete form was the question about what good thing he had to do to have eternal life, as if man is capable of doing something good enough of himself to earn salvation. The man's thinking in this matter is revealed to us in the answer given him by the Lord who knows mens' hearts. In effect the Lord is saying to him, “All right, if you want to earn your salvation you must keep all the law perfectly in your own strength.” That the man thought he could earn salvation is further indicated in his reply to the Lord about how well he felt he had done in keeping the law, and asking what more of this sort of thing he yet lacked to achieve salvation.
But the Lord answers in this way only to show the man he can’t earn salvation and that his understanding of salvation is faulty. In the Old Testament era salvation was not earned, but given on the basis of faith by God’s grace. Then, as now, God judged men on the basis of the heart's condition, and in the era of Mosaic law, the heart's attitude toward the law was crucial. But no one earned salvation, for no one can keep the law perfectly in his own strength, and the Lord is showing this man he can’t either. In Mark the Lord shows this man that, despite his good intent, he hasn’t kept the law perfectly. The Lord recognizes the man's desire to keep the law in the notation of verse 21 that, Jesus beholding him loved him, in response to the man's statement that he had kept the law very well. But the Lord shows this man that if he were a perfect keeper of the law, he could not be a rich man. Christ tells us in Matthew 22:39 that perfect fulfillment of the spirit of the law requires loving your neighbor as yourself, and you don’t love your neighbor as yourself when you’re rich and your neighbor has needs. Thus the man is given the opportunity to become a perfect keeper of the law by giving away his wealth, and he refuses, proving he too can’t keep the law perfectly himself, and thus can't earn his salvation. He’s even given a most unique opportunity to become a perfect keeper of the law in the knowledge that God Himself is the one offering him the opportunity (i.e. Why callest thou me good, only God is good). But this shows New Testament readers how impossible earning salvation is (i.e. even with God’s personal encouragement, we still can’t do it). The Lord showed this man his inadequacy in keeping the law to clarify to him the New Testament way of salvation by Christ. We learn this here as part of New Testament teaching on Christ's role in the superseding of the law as the focus of our faith in the church era. That is, in Christ’s salvation power by His Spirit, true Christians fulfill the spirit of the law.
In this incident the Lord takes this man from where he is regarding salvation to where he needs to be. He isn’t requiring that the man keep the law perfectly, but is showing him that this way to salvation is impossible. If the man had been willing to show more trust in God than in earthly riches, he could have learned the futility of his works-salvation philosophy and could have learned the New Testament path to salvation. And he’d undoubtedly have learned that God would allow him to use his wealth to the glory of God as he saw fit himself. But the man saw only loss of all his goods, and could not comply. His wealth had a hold on him he could not break, showing us his inability to fulfill the law himself to earn his salvation. This passage shows how the Lord dealt individually with the lost to enable them to understand salvation. Unlike Nicodemus, this young man wasn’t ready for the direct approach, needing first to see his inability to earn salvation before he could grasp the truth