We are All in One Category
"By grace are ye saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8).
Think of it! God has lumped all men from Adam to the present in one category ... the category of the totally depraved.
How the Pharisees howled! How the Jews protested! You can almost hear them in their anguish, "Put us together with harlots and drunkards ... with publicans and Samaritans? What kind of treatment is this that brushes aside our good works and prestigious ancestry and imputes to us total depravity? Doesn't God know that, though 'nobody's perfect,' some are more imperfect than others? Justice would demand that "good" sinners get a little credit for their goodness!"
In reply, we can hear God's rationale in today's lingo: "No ... if I give credit for goodness as a basis for salvation, where do I draw the line? If I accept works as the criterion ... if I weigh goodness against badness on a scale ... then the man who has just slightly more goodness than badness will 'crow' and the man who has slightly less goodness than badness will "cry"! The man who 'didn't make it' will insist that he was almost as good as the man who 'made it'... and he will be right. I'm going to make a way whereby every man will be on the same footing ... a way in which I can be both just and the justifier of them that believe."
So God ruled out works as a basis of salvation. "My salvation," God says, "will not be of yourselves. I'm going to make it a gift so that there will be no cause to either 'crow' or 'cry'! Since it is a gift, no one will be able to boast. Since it is a gift, there will be no need for anyone to perish. Under my plan of salvation, all will have the same opportunity. Everybody will start from the same position ... a position of total depravity. I will conclude them all in unbelief that I may have mercy upon all."
What a marvelous plan! It is altogether without respect of person.
What made this plan possible?
It was made possible by an act of love and grace. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ..." That was an act of love. "... that whosoever believeth on Him might not perish but have everlasting life." That was an act of grace ... of unmerited favor.
Without love and grace, salvation through faith would not have been possible. You see, it isn't faith that makes salvation possible ... it is love and grace. There is absolutely nothing we have done to merit it. It is a gift.
What part, then, does faith play?
Are we not "saved through faith?" Yes, because faith is our response to grace. Grace is God's initiative. Faith is our response to that initiative. Grace has set the condition of salvation. Faith is that condition. "By grace are ye saved, through faith." If it wasn't for grace, we could not be saved through faith.
So we are saved by faith. Grace made it possible. But what do we mean by faith? Will any faith do? Is "believing" the important thing regardless of what it is that we believe? No, friend, just any faith will not do. In fact, just believing there is a God will not do. "The devils also believe ... and tremble"! The faith that saves is faith in the Way God has chosen to save us. Being saved by faith is trusting in the unmerited favor of God through Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:9 says that if we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus (that's the incarnation) and believe in our heart that God hath raised Him from the dead (that's the resurrection) we shall be saved.
We are saved by grace ... through faith. Eternal life is a gift of God. Salvation is not of ourselves. It is not of works. And here is where I see a problem. We are not unlike the Pharisees. We like to receive "credit" for our goodness and our works. And we will. There is a judgment of works where believers will be rewarded. "Every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
But what bothers me is that I see people pointing to their "good works" as proof that they are Christians. Now, "good works" are a proof that you are a "good Christian"... but "good works" are not a proof that you are a Christian. The "proof' that you are a Christian is your faith in the grace of God. Being a Christian is a matter of faith ... not works.
Of course, faith and works are related. The faith that saves will result in good works. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
But we must never never think that we are Christians because we can point to good works. The only thing we can point to is the grace of God. We are saved by putting our faith in God's grace ... not in anything that we have done.
Not only are we saved by faith ... we are kept by faith. To listen to some preaching, you would think that we are saved by faith and kept by works. Not so! We are saved by faith, and we are kept by faith. Keep faith, and you keep your salvation.
Sometimes you hear it said, "If you do this, or if you do that, you will be lost."
Now hear me well, because I know I may be misunderstood. We are not lost because of what we do. We are lost because we refuse to believe! "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." We are lost when we refuse to accept the grace of God.
The man who gives all his goods to feed the poor and his body to be burned but refuses God's grace is just as lost as the harlot or the drunkard who refuse the grace of God.
Conversely, the weak, erratic, up-and-down believer who has accepted the grace of God is just as saved as the faithful, tithe-paying, praying church member who has also accepted the grace of God. That's kind of hard on those who pride themselves in good works, but it is so. We are saved by grace ... not works.
Perhaps you are saying, "If you believe that, you are saying that it is possible to sin and still be saved." Well, one thing I am not saying is that we should sin that grace may abound. I believe that sin will destroy faith. No one can go on sinning and hope to keep his faith. Faith and sin are not compatible.
Having said that, however, I must come back to the truth that we are not kept by works but are kept by faith. And I'm glad that this is so. I would dread to think that we had to be perfect in order to be saved. I have yet to meet a perfect Christian ... but I have no doubt that imperfect believers are saved ... including myself. I don't live with a question mark about my salvation simply because I'm still struggling to be Christlike. When I sin, I turn to God for forgiveness. I have an Advocate in Jesus Christ. But I know that I am saved ... even in my failure ... because I still have my faith. I am not lost because of my failure. The only thing that can cause me to be lost is to lose my faith. If I reject my faith, I reject the very basis of my salvation. "By grace are ye saved through faith!"
We are Imperfect
I know some people have problems in the presence of imperfection. They believe that, if a person is not perfect at the moment our Lord returns, he will be left behind. Consequently they live with uncertainty about their salvation. I don't believe that our
Lord ever intended that we should live in doubt. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
In the Early Church there were those who claimed that Paul was encouraging believers to sin by preaching justification by faith. "You are telling them to sin that grace may abound," they said. Paul's response was, "Godforbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
But Paul did not back off his "justification by faith" stance for one moment... even though he knew that some would use it as an opportunity for license and loose living. To make sure they understood his stand on holiness, Paul went on to warn them against sin and to show that sin is incompatible with grace. "Sin shall not have dominion over you," he said, "for ye are not under law, but under grace. What then, shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? God forbid!” (Romans 6:14,15).
Sin is not "natural" for the born-again believer. That is why he cannot deliberately and continually sin. To do so is to destroy faith ... and to destroy faith is to lose your salvation. Paul concludes in Romans 6:22 by saying, "But now being made free from sin and having become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life!"
So salvation is by grace through faith, whose fruit is holiness, and whose end is everlasting life! Hallelujah.