Saved By Grace

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8, 9

Scripture is clear. We are saved by grace through faith, all works excluded. Yet throughout the ages the church has always had to contend with those who held to the error of salvation by works.

Already when Cain brought of the fruit of the ground as an offering unto the Lord he was giving God part of the precious crop that he had grown, with which God should be pleased and which He should appreciate.

Carnal Israel boasted of being God's chosen people, as if that alone was sufficient to merit salvation for them. The Pharisees of Jesus' day made law upon law, precept upon precept, as requirements to enter the kingdom.

The Pelagian error of the free will and the Roman Catholic error of salvation by works dominated the church before the Reformation. Works were regarded as essential to our salvation.

Soon after, the Arminian error arose, which was so strongly condemned by the synod of Dordt, 1618-'19. Yet, ever since, this same error has made its appearance in various forms. Today even the "conservative" church-world tenaciously maintains that God loves and earnestly desires the salvation of all men, and freely offers His salvation to everyone. Faith is not regarded as a gift of God, but rather as an act dependent upon man's free choice. One must accept God's proffered salvation to be saved. Without that, no one can be saved.

Even the common conception of God's covenant of grace makes faith a condition unto salvation. The covenant of grace is regarded as a contract between God and man, consisting of a promise and a condition, or grace and works.

The Antinomian objects to good works only because he regards works as that which we must add in order to be saved. 

Good works are necessary.

It would be impossible, nor is it necessary, to cite all the passages of Scripture to demonstrate this. A few will suffice.

Psalm 1 strikes the keynote for the entire Book of Psalms. There we are taught: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night."

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declares that: "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law (with its 'Thou shalt' and 'Thou shalt not'), till all be fulfilled." Then He goes into detail to explain the true demand of the law (Matt. 5:18-48).

In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), Jesus speaks of the man who traveled to a far country and entrusted his goods to his servants. To the one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to the third, one, each according to his ability. Upon the master's return, the one who received five talents had gained other five. The one who received two had gained other two. To each of these the master responded: "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord." But the unprofitable servant, who buried his talent in the earth, is cast into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Thereupon Jesus speaks of the final judgment, in which the King will say to His sheep on His right hand: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

Yet, to be saved by works is a human impossibility.

We are an utterly dependent people, dependent upon the providential hand of the Almighty. God gives us our life, our ability to breathe, our very existence. He determines and directs our lives from the moment we are born until the moment we pass on to eternity. We cannot take one step, utter one word, or think a single thought, except by the sustaining hand of the Almighty. All that we are and all that we have we owe to God. If it were possible for us to do all that God requires of us, even at best we would be unprofitable servants, as humiliating as that may seem. That applies also to every spiritual blessing—we have added nothing, we have merited nothing!

Besides that, we are depraved sinners, enemies of God, self-seekers, proud, carnally-minded, dead in trespasses and sins. The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. There is none that doeth good of any sort, no not one. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of the living God.

The fathers said that if we must add as much as a blade of straw to our salvation we are lost forever.

We are saved by grace only.

In Romans 11 Paul speaks of a remnant that is saved according to the election of grace. To which he adds: "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Rom. 11:6).

By God's grace we are saved through faith. Someone will ask: Does not Scripture require, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"? Surely God does not believe for us. The answer to that is: True, but this does not mean that faith is the part that we add to God's work, nor that faith is the condition or the prerequisite to our salvation. Salvation is God's gift. Faith is also God's gift. It is all through grace, not of works, lest any man should boast. As the fathers of Dordt expressed it: God "produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also" (Canons III/IV, 14).

We are and we remain responsible creatures. God reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ as the God of our salvation. He raises us from our spiritual death and implants in our hearts a new life. He gives us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. The Spirit of Christ awakens in us an awareness of our sin and guilt before the most high majesty of God. Only the Spirit can create a godly sorrow unto repentance, not to be repented of. It is the voice of Jesus that calls us: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And we come! All boasting is excluded.

The fact that is most amazing is that we remain accountable creatures. God is so great, beyond all comprehension, that as His creatures we respond to His call—either we embrace it or we reject it. By nature we reject it. It is the wonder of sovereign mercy that the Spirit gives us the ability to believe and to continue to walk in faith. We believe! We believe in God. We experience that God is our heavenly Father, who loves us with an eternal love. We confess Him as our God and Father, calling upon Him with prayer and supplication and thanksgiving. We know Christ, God's Son, as our Redeemer and Lord, placing all our trust in Him. We are justified, assured of the forgiveness of our sins and the right to eternal life by faith only. Faith reaches out in hope, expectation, and longing for our perfection in glory.

At times that faith is weak. We pass through fiery trials that sorely try us, so that doubt and fears arise within us. These trials are temptations. And we do falter and fall. But our faith never leaves us completely, for God is faithful. He who has begun a good work will surely finish it in His own time and in His own manner. God is our refuge and our strength, our ever present help in trouble.

Our good works are the fruit of that grace wrought by the Spirit in our hearts.

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22, 23).

We are united to Christ as branches of the vine. Jesus says: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:4).

We are admonished in Philippians 2:12, 13 to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, "for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

Paul teaches us that we are God's workmanship. Each of us is, as it were, custom-made in Christ Jesus. He is our Head, we are the members of His body. Even as the branches of the vine draw their life and fruit from the vine, so we draw our life and works of faith from Christ. Each of us is cut out, shaped, and formed, as it were, with his own personality, talents, and gifts for his particular place, task, and purpose in God's church.

From eternity God has planned our lives, our place in our family, our own particular place in the church and in the community. God has also ordained certain duties for us to perform on our pathway through life.

Every day we are carrying out those works which God has determined from all eternity. In spite of all our human weaknesses and sins, yes, even through those weaknesses and sins, God carries out His purpose with each one of us. We do the works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. That is, God carries out His work of salvation in us and through us. His counsel stands and He does all His good pleasure, realizing His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus to the glory of His great name.

The most amazing wonder of it all is that God rewards us for the good works Christ accomplishes in and through us. He gives us the privilege, the desire, and the ability to carry out His work in this present time. It is none of self, all of Him.

He takes us unto Himself to love and serve Him in all the fullness of His glorious, infinite perfections—His holiness, righteousness, grace, truth, love, and mercy. We shall reflect and show forth His glory to the praise of His matchless name forever, world without end.

This is eternal life, to know God in intimate covenant fellowship and to grow in that knowledge endlessly. Since God is infinite, all eternity will be required to know more fully the riches of His grace and to experience with increasing intimacy the blessedness of His covenant life. The reward is the reward of grace. Amazing! Amazing grace!