If we as believers are to be “one” as God the Father and God the Son are one (John 17), we must unite around the core truths of the gospel. This is part 4 of a 5 part series on unity through the essential doctrines of Christianity. Read the rest here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We are saved Sola Gratia, by grace alone. In the Bible we see multiple types of grace but for the sake of the topic at hand we are looking specifically at saving grace. A general definition of grace is “unmerited favor”. It is getting something we don’t deserve and didn’t earn. When we deserve it, it ceases to be grace and becomes a wage. A proper understanding of grace is central not only to the Christian’s understanding of his own salvation, but also his humility and treatment of others.
Before Paul tells us we are saved by grace in Ephesians 2, he paints a wonderful picture of what grace is and does:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…
Paul gives us here a more specific picture of what saving grace is- it is God undeservedly bringing us from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life, it is regeneration, it is rebirth, it is to be born again from above. For the duration of this blog I will be using the word “grace” as a blanket term for “God’s action in salvation”. Not only is grace receiving something we don’t deserve, that something is being brought to life. The life giving grace Paul describes here is akin to what Jesus described to Nicodemus in John 3:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again [born from above].’
We discredit the work of the Holy Spirit when we reduce the saving of a sinner to mere human decision- “he accepted Jesus as his savior”, “she made Jesus Lord of her life”… while there is truth to those statements they fall incredibly short of describing the miracle of God’s saving grace in regeneration.
“The gospel is not a word of encouragement to those who are sort of well meaning people who would like to add a little religion, it is not a word of encouragement to those who would like a little Jesus in their life. No, the word of the gospel is a word that comes to the rebel heart and says, “I am a rebel against God. I may be indifferent to Him. I may be antagonistic to Him, but I am actually rebelling against Him.” He than comes by the Bible and says, “I am commanding you to do an about turn, to repent of your sins and to believe in me.” And the individual says, “there is no way that is going to happen …” It will take a miracle for that to happen. Yes, it will. That is the miracle of regeneration [grace].”
– Alistair Begg
What a beautiful picture of God’s grace, taking a wicked sinner who is hostile to him and giving him a new nature with a new heart. This is saving grace. With this understanding we can look at the relationship of grace and faith, for it is by grace through faith that we are saved. Just like a light bulb cannot flip the switch to turn itself on, the sinner cannot simply muster up the faith to be saved. God’s grace is the flipping of the light switch that turns on the bulb that is our faith:
When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed…
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him” 1 John 5:1.
God’s saving grace is unreservedly bringing us to life, it is through this grace that we have faith and not the other way around. The Roman Catholic Church in the Reformation era also believed we needed grace, but not grace alone- you do your part and God will do his, but this isn’t Biblical Christianity, rather it is salvation by works and therefore not grace. The Biblical picture of salvation isn’t “Jesus taking the ball to the 1 yard line and then handing you the ball to take it the last yard to get the touchdown”. The Biblical picture is Jesus getting The touchdown while you ride the bench. The Biblical picture of salvation is David against Goliath but Jesus is David, not you. David single handedly fought the battle and beat Goliath on behalf of the nation of Israel as a picture of Christ beating sin single handedly on the cross on behalf of all who believe. Even though we contribute nothing, we are accredited with the win by being on that winning team.
“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin than made it necessary.” -Jonathan Edwards
God. Does. It. All. This should cause us to lift up and worship. When we attribute even the slightest credit to us in why we are saved we spit in the face of grace. When we give reasons of why were saved that involve anything other than the unilateral work of God, we rob Him of his glory and show that we fundamentally don’t understand grace. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone. If we are to call ourselves “Christians” in any meaningful way we must affirm these truths.