Saved by Grace Through Faith Alone, Not by Works (Christianity Explained Part 4) – by Brady Tarr
“For we have been saved by grace 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.”
There is only one true gospel (Gal. 1:6-9) which will save a sinner (Rom. 3:23) from his/her sin.In our relativistic and postmodern society, there are few statements that are more politically incorrect than the one just mentioned, but Christians must not forget that we are not called to be politically correct and liked by all, rather Christians are called to be loving, but bold proclaimers of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives because our hope is not found in achieving a political correctness or being liked by all, but rather our hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and being loved by Him.God says in the Bible that there is one and only one way to have eternal life (John 14:6, Rom. 10:9-10).
A person must affirm and understand the gospel in order to be a Christian and to communicate it accurately to others.This devotional is good for Christians to meditate on, but it is designed to continue to help give Christians the confidence and the material necessary to share the gospel with the friends, family, and strangers who are in need of salvation from their sin.
Thus far in these devotionals we have discussed the essential Christian truths about Jesus, but now we will begin to discuss how these things apply in the life of a person.On what basis can a person be sure of his/her salvation?Let’s start with a couple of questions that are good to first, personally think about and then ask others as you share the gospel with them.
Do you know for certain that you would go to heaven if you were to die this very moment?
Or another closely related question that we will discuss is:
Suppose you were to die tonight and give account of your life before God.On what basis would He “save” you from His righteous and just judgment, and allow you to enter into heaven . . . into His holy presence?In other words, what is your case, what is your defense before God?
Fundamentally, you can make your defense before God in one of two ways:
- Appeal to God on the merit of your own righteousness or at least your lack of wickedness
- Appeal to the merit of Jesus Christ and the work he accomplished
In other words you can appeal to an internal righteousness of your own, or an external righteousness of another.I would argue every religion in the world falls into one of these two responses.There is a religion of “Do”, which emphasize my efforts to become righteous and therefore be accepted before a holy God.Or there is a religion of “Done”, which relies solely upon the merit and work of Jesus Christ in order to be accepted.
One response is a salvation by the merit of your own righteousness. More commonly called SALVATION BY WORKS.
This approach is a religion of “do”, what “I” have done on this earth in order to be considered worthy of heaven, “I” being the operative word.The thought is that in some way God will honor my good works and deeds, or at the very least, he’ll recognize and give me credit for all the bad things that I could have done, but didn’t do.
Can you think of some common examples that people might appeal to in this regard?
- Keeping 10 commandments (at least the “biggies”)
- Don’t do certain things
- Give to charity
- Good citizen
- Bringing up family
- Bible reading and prayer
- Being an honest attorney
Everything mentioned has to do with my own merit.What we might call “good” deeds – what I have done or rightly refrained from doing.In a salvation by works approach, we believe that what we’ve done or avoided doing is good enough to get us into heaven.We are personally worthy of being accepted.
NOTE:Many times people who place their hope in their own works do not think they are perfect.They will acknowledge they have failed in various ways.But they do think that if and when they are required to give an account of their lives, they will sufficiently measure up in order to make the grade and be accepted.
This, according to Christianity, is the wrong answer.It is a hopeless endeavor to plead my case before God based on my own righteousness or merit.There is nothing I can do to make myself right and acceptable before God.There is no good work that I can do, nor any combination of good works over a lifetime, that can qualify me for heaven.
Why? Because God’s standard is 100% perfection. Now some of you may be thinking, “No way. Is that really what the Bible says? It can’t be that demanding? After all, nobody’s perfect!” Well listen to what James, the brother of Jesus, wrote:
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11).
But it’s not just James. The Apostle Paul also says this.Please look at Galatians 3:10-11:
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse.
Why is that?Why are all who rely on observing the law under a curse?He goes on to quote from God’s law itself,
for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Paul’s conclusion in the next verse makes it even clearer:
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law.
If you seek to relate to God by your observance of His law… His commands… you will fail because God says you must obey Him perfectly.His standard of obedience is perfection… and nothing less.
And by that standard we all fail miserably.We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), and therefore deserve His judgment.
This does not mean that some people aren’t morally better than others relatively speaking.Who would you say is one of the most respected men of this century?How about the most despised? So, for example, Evangelist Billy Graham is considered to be one of the most trusted men in America, even by those who have no religious beliefs. On the other hand, history is filled with brutal leaders who are universally reviled as evil men. We would all agree that Billy Graham is morally superior to Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot.
But while nearly everyone would agree that Hitler has earned a spot in hell, the Bible says that Billy Graham has earned a spot in hell, too. And so has all of humanity because of their sin against God. When the standard is perfection, the comparison game does not work.The standard we will be judged against is not the lowest common denominator of human goodness.Rather, it is the perfect standard of God’s holiness and righteousness expressed in his law.
Understanding this failure to meet God’s standard becomes clear when we recognize that sin is not just a matter of doing, or saying, or even thinking wrong things.No, it is much more fundamental than that.Sin is naturally in our hearts.All the evil things we do come from within us.Sin is not fundamentally just a matter of what we’ve done, but rather who we are. Let’s look at the way Jesus explains this in Mark 7:20-23.
And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
As we can see by Jesus’ words, we have a problem, and the source of the problem is us. We are sinners. The specific sins we commit are just the symptoms of our condition. It’s not that we’re sinners because we sin. It’s that we sin because we are sinners. This is our nature.
Think of it this way.
- A person went to the doctor to be treated for measles because he was unsuccessful when he tried to cure it by placing band-aids over the spots.
- The illness is inside!It’s in the bloodstream.
- Sin is the same way.When we say or think wrong things, these are only symptoms of the sin within us.
- Doing a few good works is like putting band-aids on the evil symptoms of sin.We’re still sinners, and thus stand condemned before God.
This is the testimony of Jesus and numerous other Biblical texts.And in our heart of hearts it is something that we all know about ourselves. We know that we are guilty. We feel guilty, and we spend a lot of mental and emotional energy trying to suppress those feelings of guilt.We are guilty because we are all sinners, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.
Once again, we come back to our question . . . On what basis should you ask God to save you from His judgment?
From all this we can see why pleading our own good works will not get us very far when we make our case before God. The judge demands perfection and we are far from it.Therefore, according to Christianity, salvation by works is the wrong answer to this question.
What, then, is the right answer to the above question?Christianity teaches that we are saved not by our works, but by grace. We do not plead our own efforts, but instead to plead the efforts of another, namely Jesus Christ.
Christianity teaches that we are saved by GRACE alone.The word “grace” means an undeserved free gift.Grace is unmerited favor.Grace is receiving the opposite of what we deserve.And it is only on this basis that we can expect God to save us.
This is strikingly clear in Ephesians 2:8-9.
For it is 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.
Given what we’ve already seen about the effectiveness of our good works, God’s grace… God’s unmerited favor towards us… is the only hope we have.But this grace is not groundless.It does not just appear out of this air.This unmerited favor is found only in Christ, in his divine authority, substitutionary death, and resurrection.God’s favor towards us is based on what Christ has done on our behalf.And this is where we need to recall all that we have studied about Christ in the last three devotionals.
Paul is saying that God saves us by the faith we have in the LORD Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus the Son of God who lived and died and rose again from the dead.Jesus-as our substitute-is offered to us as an undeserved, free gift. This is Grace! God shows grace to sinners by looking to Christ’s work, not our work!
Good works are still important
One of the most likely questions that may come to mind at this point is do good works matter at all in Christianity?If salvation through faith in the finished work of Christ is a free gift, if it is based on what He has done and not on what I do, does that mean I can live any kind of life I want?Do good works have any part to play?
There is a danger here, because there are many who want to cheapen the grace of God and presume upon His forgiveness.They treat salvation and forgiveness as a free ticket to “enjoy” or make light of their sin.
Going back to our passage in Ephesians, after the Apostle Paul declares that salvation is by grace alone in verses 8-9, he says in the next verse that, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”Good works do not lead to salvation, but rather salvation leads to good works.When we are saved by grace, we are made new in Christ and good works will follow.But these are never performed as an effort to gain salvation.They are always the fruit of salvation that is given freely to us in Christ.
The evidence of true Christian faith is not a momentary decision, but rather the fruit of a faithful life.
Father, please cause our minds and thoughts to be consumed with a reverent awe of you and the work of salvation that you accomplished through Jesus Christ. Help us to fear you more than we fear man when we have opportunities to love others by sharing the gospel with them. Please give us boldness and love. Amen.
This six part series was developed from Christianity Explained Evangelism course: