Justification by Grace Alone

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 in Justification, Reformation

solasFor by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Apostle Paul makes what should be relatively simple statement concerning the most important subject of a man’s life, “For by grace you have been saved.” In his sermon on this text, Martyn Lloyd Jones remarked, “He (Paul) says that we are Christians entirely and solely as the result of God’s grace. Now surely no one can dispute that.[1] I agree with Lloyd-Jones—no one can dispute the truth of Scripture.  But just because no one can does not mean they won’t try to dispute it.  I am not suggesting that a person would out-and-out deny that a person, any person, is saved by anything but “grace.” As a matter of fact, I doubt that any confessing evangelical Christian would deny this truth in word.  However, while they might agree that one is saved by grace, sometimes their practice does not line up.  For instance, while they outwardly profess salvation by grace alone (sola gratia) they often want to talk about what they did for salvation.  What they do is move ever so subtly from salvation being a work of God’s grace alone to some work that they have done and consequently added to His grace.  And if they don’t hang their hat on their own good works, then they claim that God showed grace to them because of some good He found in them or based on some foreknown decision He knew they would make.

But this destroys the truth of God’s gift of grace.  There is no possibility, the apostle Paul says, that salvation had anything to do with our works, good or bad.  Nor has God looked at certain people and said, “Here are a very beautiful, attractive, intelligent, hardworking, moral group men and women.  I think I’ll save them.”  Is that what God did with Israel?  God didn’t size them up and say, “Well, at least those people are trying; they are sincere; they are a little bit different from others – I’ll have them.”  Is that what God does with anyone?  It was not at all because of our efforts, or because we were interesting or unusual, or that we had some character trait that God favored and because of those factors in us God saved us.  Geoff Thomas put it this way:

God didn’t foresee all that we might offer the kingdom of God in the rest of our lives, our energy and our preaching, and for those reasons he invested in us his salvation. The apostle is making it clear that it had nothing to do with such works. That was not the reason at all for God putting us in Christ. We were as dead as anyone else, as much under the sway of the devil as anyone breathing God’s air. We followed the crowd just like the rest. There was no difference at all between us and the rest. It was not that we weren’t quite as dead as others; it was not that in us there was actually a little spark of life. We were as dead as mutton, just like them. We were as ugly as sin could make us, and God wasn’t moved at all by any moral difference, any promise or potential in us. There was nothing in our character at all that motivated God to give his salvation to us. We cannot look to any of those things as the reason for God saving us. We look simply at his grace.[2]

We need to be reminded of this.  Saving grace is all of God!  It is His undeserved, unmerited favor.  It is not based upon any work, thought, action or deed, moral or otherwise, in us.  It is based upon His character and His nature alone.  Remember how Paul put it in Romans 9:10-16:

Romans 9:10-16 – 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

There is perhaps no greater testimony of God’s grace in Scripture than these verses.  Again, I can not overemphasize the point that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace.  So much so, Paul keeps hammering it home, that man has absolutely no claim on it, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The entire purpose in Ephesians 2:8-10 is for man to take his eyes off of self and focus on God.  Paul warns against boasting in our salvation in other texts (most notably 1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  To boast in our salvation, as if we had anything to do with it, is to rob God of His grace.  Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved… not as a result of works.” Do you believe that today?

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, 130, italics mine.

[2] Geoff Thomas, http://www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk/?page_id=1963, accessed 10/22/2009.


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