Saved by Grace Not Works
We are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works, yet not every religion believes this. Here are some quotes...
"There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it." - Brigham Young
Brigham Young was President of the Mormon church for 29 years.
"If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema." - The Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was held in the 1500's in response to the Protestant Reformation. The statements made there, including this one, still stand as official Catholic doctrine.
"The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys ... In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground." Charles Finney
Charles Finney was an American revivalist preacher in the early 1800s and a hero to many, yet he did not hold an orthodox view of salvation. Finney believed the ultimate determining factor in salvation was personal holiness. He taught that a person could become literally sinless in this life and that being sinless is what saved a person.
In essence, he taught we are saved by works. That is not what the Bible teaches, nor is it what we believe.
Here's what we believe...
We believe that eternal salvation, the complete forgiveness of sin, is motivated by the mercy and grace of God; made possible by Christ’s atoning death on the cross; is appropriated by individual faith and is not based on any work or merit of an individual (Ephesians 2:8-9).
As our statement says, the primary proof of this is found in Ephesians 2:8-9 but to understand the context of this verse we need to start in verse 1.
2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.
Summarizing these three verses…
1) We were dead. Spiritually speaking, we weren't partly dead, we were dead, dead. This isn't a figure of speech. He doesn't mean it's as if we were dead.
As we emphasized last week, we are Totally Depraved or completely unable to save ourselves. We may have the physical strength of a professional athlete, or the intelligence of Albert Einstein but in the area that matters most, salvation, we're dead.
2) We were enslaved. We were enslaved to the ways of this world, to Satan himself, the ruler of the power of the air, and to the inclinations of our own flesh and thoughts. We were completely enslaved, from the inside out, with no hope of escape.
3) We were condemned. We were, by nature, children under wrath. As we emphasized last week, we are born with a sinful nature and just the possession of that nature, by itself, deserves God's wrath.
The biblical truth is we are a messed up people with no hope. Without Christ, the only thing we have to look forward to is eternal condemnation and the wrath of God.
For those without Christ it can't get any worse, but for those who have faith in Christ it can't get any better than what we read in verse 4...
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
Summarizing, these verses say God has saved us. God has made us alive, raised us up, and seated us with him in the heavens.
We were dead but God made us alive with Christ.
We were objects of God's wrath but God in His mercy saved us by grace through faith.
We were slaves but God has raised us up seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.
We know that Jesus is the one who rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. But what should get us excited is that Paul is not writing about Jesus in this passage, but about us!
In our statement the word "appropriated" is used to explain this.
We believe that eternal salvation, the complete forgiveness of sin... is appropriated by individual faith…
When something is appropriated, it becomes your own. In a biblical sense, it means we are given something that belongs to someone else. Christ is the one who earned eternal salvation, the right to be lifted up and seated with the Father in heaven, but those things are appropriated to us by grace, through faith.
Why did God do this? Not because of any goodness that He saw in us, but instead, as verse 7 says,
So that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
God did this to show his grace and his kindness. He did it to show his love and mercy and to put them on display for all eternity. God didn't do this so that people will look at us in amazement but so they will look with amazement at Him!
8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—9 not from works, so that no one can boast.
So, this salvation, including faith, is not your own doing. It's all a gift. The gift of salvation isn't based upon our works, and because of this, there is no room for our boasting, not even about our faith.
If someone else painted a beautiful painting and gave it to you as gift, would you boast about the painting as if you were the one who painted it? No, you would boast about the one who created it.
We are God's workmanship and salvation is a creative process that God performs. We are His creation.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
Now, good works may be excluded from salvation, but Paul is not encouraging us to sin. Good works are important to do, but they are not the grounds or means of salvation; they are the evidence. We are not saved because of works, but we are saved in Christ Jesus to do good works.
Now, at this point, many appeal to James 2:24 which says,
"You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone."
But the context of James is speaking of dead faith as opposed to living, saving faith.
James states in 2:14 that if you "claim" you have faith but have no works, that faith cannot save you because, as he says in verse 17, it is a dead faith.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him?
17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.
So, in other words, mere intellectual acknowledgment of Christ is a dead faith that produces no regeneration and no evidence of change in a person's life.
See, there really are only two kinds of religions: religions based upon works, and the true gospel religion based upon grace.
Many false religions teach the importance of faith in God, but then add works to the faith so salvation becomes based upon both.
In Islam, for example, faith in God is not enough. On the Day of Judgment a Muslim's works will be weighed, and it will be decided who is saved and who is not--based upon whether or not they performed enough good works to outweigh the bad ones.
Even Jews, who also believe faith is essential, believe they are saved by the keeping of the commandments.
But Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear this isn't the case, and there are many other passages that do the same. Let me share a few...
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." (Rom. 11:6)
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom. 3:28).
"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." (Rom. 4:3).
"But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness," (Rom. 4:5).
"For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith." (Rom. 4:13).
So the New Testament is clear, and in some ways, it is mind boggling that anyone could believe it teaches anything other than salvation by grace alone.
The human heart is a sneaky thing, however, and our human nature leads us to boast our own effort if given the slightest chance. So, we need to be diligent in guarding against a works-based mindset.
Scripture teaches we are saved by grace through faith, but what is faith? It is more than belief, because even the demons believe. Is it some kind of power? Ken Copeland, a prosperity gospel preacher, says,
“Faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function...There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.” - Ken Copeland
The problem with this belief is that it turns faith into a work that we direct toward God to get what we want. That's not saving faith. It is a man-centered corruption.
Saving faith is believing God, and trust is what it looks like. Faith isn't some spiritual force that we use in order to get what we want. It is reliance upon God. Hebrews 11, “the faith chapter,” is filled with examples of those that demonstrated faith by trusting God even though they didn't receive what was promised. Hebrews 11:37...
37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised…
So, saving faith is believing God and trust is what it looks like. It excludes relying upon works.
Now, finally, I want to share some more contrasts between works-based religion and faith-based Christianity. These I borrowed from Tim Keller, but he won't mind.
Works: I obey God in order to get things from God. Faith: I obey to get God–to delight in and resemble him.
Works: When the circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life. Faith: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.
Works: My prayer life consists largely of petition [asking for things], and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment. Faith: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.
Works: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work, or how moral I am–and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. Faith: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different than me. Only by grace am I what I am.
So, I hope we can see that studying our statement of faith can have a very practical, positive effect on how we view God, ourselves, and others. Our beliefs affect what we do and why we do it and so it is essential that we understand and apply the biblical teaching of salvation by grace, not works.
Don't believe the anti-gospel that says “can do;” instead, believe in the biblical gospel of “it is finished” by Christ. We are saved by faith alone, and not because of any works.