Three Works

Q – I am not clear about the three works of Grace and also about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Please, send me your reply at your earliest.

Jim – Let me say right at the top that I do not adhere to the “Three Works of Grace” theology. In fact, it’s a theology that is hotly debated even among its adherents. It is a man-made theological construct, and – like most teaching in this class – it draws conclusions that the Scriptures do not draw. But, I think you’ll see that as we progress.

The Bible does, in fact, have a preponderance of “three’s” in it – the Trinity, Jesus’ three temptations, three days and nights in the tomb, etc. Unfortunately, that fact serves as a springboard for folk to find groups of three where none exist. We must be very careful not to create theological structures and doctrines where the Bible does not.

In most instances, the “Three Works of Grace” theology is promoted by Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Normally, they enumerate the three works as:

1) Justification
2) Sanctification
3) The Infilling of the Holy Spirit – usually accompanied by speaking in tongues

Some modern Pentecostal denominations enumerate the Three Works of Grace as:

1) Basic salvation
2) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
3) The rest of God (an as yet unfulfilled, forthcoming work)

Then again, still other churches list them as:

1) Conversion (being born again)
2) Water Baptism
3) Receiving the Holy Spirit or Baptism in the Holy Spirit

So, it’s no wonder you’re “not clear” about the Three Works of Grace. Even the folk who promote it don’t have a unified concept of it.

The primary problem with the Three Works of Grace theology is that it assumes that these gracious activities are sequential. In other words, they occur in this particular order – regardless of how they enumerate them, or what they determine the works to be. They also see these works as somehow separate from each other. In other words, they are distinct manifestations of God’s grace in a Christian’s life, but they are individual events.

The Bible does not make such a distinction.

But, in order to see the error, we need to define some terms. Let’s start with Justification – the imputing of our sin to Christ, and His righteousness to us. The common assumption is that justification happens at the point of conversion. A sinner comes to God, makes some sort of decision (an inexplicable assumption, that ignores the natural, sinful state of men), and then God justifies that man in reaction to his decision, confession, or exercise of faith.

But, when exactly did the justification of God’s people occur? The Bible says that it happened two thousand years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem.

Follow me here – God chose a people, elected them to eternal life, and wrote their name in a book. And, He did all that before the worlds were formed (Mat. 25:34, Eph. 1:4). The failsafe to the plan was the determination that Jesus would be slain as an atonement for those people. He would bear their sin, pay the penalty they owed, suffer the wrath they deserved, and secure their Heavenly destiny. And, that decision to sacrifice the Son was also determined before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

Now, that act of sacrifice accomplished the full justification of God’s people. Their sins were fully atoned for and they were guaranteed the imputation of Christ’s own righteousness, perfecting them forever (Heb. 10:14). They are eternally secure because of His gracious work.

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:29-30)

Notice that, from God’s point of view, all the gracious activities that constitute “salvation” are accomplished, past tense. He foreknew them, or had an intimate love for them, and then predestined those He loved. Then, He called those predestined, loved people. Then, He justified those called, predestined, loved people. Then, He glorified those very same people whom He loved, called, predestined and justified.

That’s the Biblical view of Justification. It is not, as I said previously, an event that happens in a Christian’s life when they are converted. It is quite the opposite. Sinners are not justified when they are converted; they are converted because they were predestined to be justified.

Get it?

Secondly, Sanctification is not a single event that occurs at a definite place in time. God does not just heap a pile of sanctification on us and then leave it up to us to work it out. It’s not a one-time thing that happens in accordance with the Three Works of Grace chronology. I’ll come back to that chronological thing in a moment.

The word, “sanctification” is the same root word that is often translated “holiness.” It’s the Greek “hagios,” and it means, “to be separated, or set apart, for God’s exclusive use.” In other words, sanctification is the action of God setting His people apart, drawing them to Himself, and causing them to act in accordance with the destiny to which they were predestined (Rom. 8:29, Eph. 1:11).

Now, theologians speak of “progressive sanctification,” because that phrase accurately describes the experience of sanctification in an individual’s life. Every Christian knows the process of God’s chastening (Heb. 12:6-8). We feel the hand of God whittling away at those portions of our life that fail to glorify Him.

But again, it doesn’t happen all-at-once. We don’t profess to be Christians and magically start performing perfectly. Instead, the flesh fights and kicks as the overpowering grace of God brings us under conviction and teaches us to take sides with God against ourselves, so to speak.

So, here’s my point thus far. Both Justification and Sanctification are gracious acts of God that were established at Calvary and are made manifest in the life of the believer. But, they are not single, instantaneous events that work in chronological order as a sort of litmus test of a believer’s current state.

And, here’s where things really get interesting – the third Work of Grace.

Whether it’s counted as the second or third work, this theology invariably reckons the Baptism of the Holy Ghost to occur after the first two. In other words, first you’re justified – normally at the point of conversion, confession, profession, walking an aisle, making Jesus your Lord, etc. Then, you’re sanctified – usually through acts of willful obedience to a standard constructed by the particular denominational group. And, then you’re baptized with the Holy Ghost – usually accompanied by speaking in tongues, falling on the floor, barking, singing, having your teeth turn gold, or whatever the current “hip” manifestation is.

But, that is exactly opposite of the Biblical order.

Let me ask a simple question. Does anyone actually believe that they can come to saving faith without the leading of the Holy Spirit? That’s an impossibility according to Scripture. The indwelling of the Spirit precedes faith, which faith leads to the recognition of Christ’s work of Justification and God’s work of Sanctification. The Holy Spirit is antecedent to everything. Without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing.

“He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Let’s put it another way. Can dead men make decisions? Can dead men activate their will and choose, against their nature, to turn toward God? No, of course not. The primary problem a dead man has is that he’s dead! First someone must make him alive, and then he can follow after his Lord.

“It is the spirit that quickeneth [makes alive]; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63)

So, before a man can do anything, or make the first move toward God, he must be raised from his spiritual death. Paul plainly declared that we are born “dead in trespasses and sins.” But, it was Christ who quickened us. (Eph. 2:1)

That spiritual quickening, that raising from death to life, is what Christ called being “born again.” The Greek word translated “again” is “anothen.” It means, “from above.” By inference, “anothen” implies a new birth. But, it does not simply emphasize a second birth, but a spiritual rebirth, from above. When that happens, the Spirit of God is placed in the elect person who God determined to save, sent His Son to Justify, and whom He intends to Sanctify. The indwelling of the Spirit precedes everything else that happens to an individual in the process of salvation.

Let me give you a Biblical example. The apostle Peter traveled with, lived with, and listened to Jesus for three and a half years. Nevertheless, he struggled with his faith and we read more about Peter’s human failings than any other apostle. Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus said to Peter –

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Even though he was on an intimate basis with the Son of God, Peter was unconverted. He lacked the genuine faith. And, by the way, so did all the apostles. Why? Because they had yet to receive the Holy Spirit. Flesh and blood are not sufficient to accomplish genuine conversion. They may be sufficient to accomplish a psuedo-christianity, based on manmade traditions. But, they cannot ultimately please the Lord of Glory.

Soon after this conversation, Jesus died and rose again, accomplishing Peter’s (and our!) justification. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit indwelt the Apostles and Peter stood before three thousand men, boldly proclaiming the faith of Christ, and instituting the New Covenant Church. And, for the rest of his life, right up to his death, Peter underwent the Sanctifying influence of God.

Are you catching my drift? The Holy Spirit must be residing inside a person before they can be converted to the Christian faith. Without the Spirit, we are powerless to rise up from our spiritual destitution and exercise the marvelous gift of faith.

Now, just so you get a complete answer here, the Pentecostal preachers make a distinction between the infilling of the Holy Ghost, which they may agree every Christian must have, and what they call “being baptized in the Holy Ghost.” They see these as two different activities of the one Spirit. The first indwelling brings a person to Christ, but the second “baptism” establishes Charismatic power, speaking in tongues, etc.

Again, this sort of thinking may appeal to our fleshly emotionalism, but it doesn’t stand the test of Scripture, or logic. The events of Pentecost happened as soon as the Spirit of God indwelt the Apostles. It did happen separately. There were not two distinct, separate events.

The Holy Spirit is a person, if you will. And, wherever He is, He is fully there. There is no such thing as getting “some” of the Holy Ghost and getting “more” of Him later. Once the Holy Spirit inhabits you, He will manifest Himself in faith, and the changed life (the meaning of repentance – “to turn from something, to something”). That is the “proof positive” of His presence. You don’t need some miraculous act in order to prove that you have the Spirit. Faith in Christ is impossible without the Spirit. Faith, itself, proves the Spirit. Now, I don’t disagree that the power of the Spirit may manifest itself in various ways over the course of your lifetime, but that is not a qualitatively “new” infilling. It is the same Spirit doing the same work.

“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” (1 Cor. 12:3-11)

One source of the Three Works of Grace preachers’ confusion is their misunderstanding of the word “baptism.” The English word is simply a transliteration of the Greek “baptizo.” The word means, “to be immersed.” So, the Biblical meaning of being baptized in the Holy Ghost is simply to be immersed in the Spirit, or to be under its influence. It does not automatically require miraculous manifestations, or ecstatic behavior.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God was unique to the New Covenant. Prior to Pentecost, and the Sanctification that Christ wrought, God had always lived external to men. But, something new, unique and astounding was promised as the result of Christ’s atonement.

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

The Spirit of God would live within God’s people. They would be under His influence. They would be immersed in Him, and He would be made manifest in their lives. But, that manifestation, as we just read, may take various forms, starting with simple faith.

There is so much to say on this topic, but I’m trying not to be too long. But, it’s worth pointing out that the notion of “speaking in tongues” has been badly abused in the Charismatic church. The Old English word “tongues” means “languages.” It’s an interpretation of the Greek word “glossa,” which also means “language.” It’s the root word from which we get “glossary,” a list of terms and definition particular to our language.

For instance, when I speak of people of a foreign tongue, everyone knows that I mean people who speak a different language than I. When Jesus is praised for redeeming people of “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,” (Rev. 5:9) it is the same word, “glossa.” And, it’s clear from the context that Jesus is saving people who speak every language on earth. That’s so clear that it befuddles me how people have misused that word and turned it into incoherent babbling.

The purpose of the miracle of tongues (languages) in the New Testament Church was to spread the truth of the Gospel among people who spoke a bewildering variety of dialects and languages over a relatively small geographic area. Because of the isolation of communities from each other, every area had its own lexicon. But, God caused the message of salvation by grace through faith to be heard in every language. He did not send His message out as a confusing chatter. God is not of confusion. (1 Cor. 14:33)

So, I’m going to wrap it up here, for the moment. I know this was a big chunk of information to bite off. But, I hope it was helpful and I hope that I have not muddied the waters even more for you.

The Bible is blessedly clear where these things are concerned. But, the traditions of men are quick to cause frustration and confusion. Feel free to write anytime, and if we have not fully satisfied your question, let me know. We’ll dig through Scripture together, my brother, and settle our hearts on “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

Thank you again for your correspondence and I hope to hear from you again. May God pour His richest blessings on you and keep you securely in His Son.

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.