Saturday, November 17, 2007

Grace Alone

INTRODUCTION (Read Ephesians Chapter 2)

The 1646 London Confession of Faith states in article XXI,

XXI. JESUS Christ by His death did purchase salvation for the elect that God gave unto Him: These only have interest in Him, and fellowship with Him, for whom He makes intercession to His Father in their behalf, and to them alone doth God by His Spirit apply this redemption; as also the free gift of eternal life is given to them, and none else. Eph.1:14; Heb.5:9; Matt.1:21; John 17:6; Heb.7:25; 1 Cor.2: 12; Rom.8:29.30; 1 John 5:12; John 15:13, 3:16.

Brethren, the most common distortion of the Gospel of grace among mankind manifests itself in the silly and unwarranted notion that by our own human efforts, we can make ourselves right with God. This type of thinking is the product of our fallen, sinful nature, and this false confidence now fills the evangelical world. From the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have marketed the gospel as if it is a product to be sold and sinners are the consumers who want to buy it, to others who treat the Christian faith as being true simply because it works, the foolish idea that people can be made right with God through what they do has always been the one of the primary deceiving tactics of the devil. Contrary to Roman Catholic theology, the Scriptures clearly teach that God's grace in Christ is not merely necessary for salvation, but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. In light of that truth, Shepherd’s Fellowship of Greensboro confesses that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable of even cooperating with regenerating grace. On our website and in our foundational documents we state the following:

SOLA GRATIA (Grace Alone)

We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God's wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.

We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.[1]

Question # 1: What do we mean when we say “that we are saved by grace alone?”

When we use the term “grace alone,” we mean that our salvation from the wrath of God; our deliverance from hell, is because of something good in God, and not because of anything good in us. The Biblical conception of human nature after Adam and Eve's fall into sin is not a pretty picture, but many people seem to have an unlimited confidence in human nature and human goodness. These same people have a very difficult time accepting what the Bible says about the human condition. In a democratic culture such as ours, we believe that our vote counts, and that by exercising our right to choose, we can truly and significantly change the world around us. We are all taught from our youth that we have it within ourselves to accomplish anything if we simply put our minds to it and give it our best effort. When we become Christians, we end up thinking that salvation works the same way. In other words, if God tells us to do something, it must be because we have the inherent ability to do what He commands. “Choice” becomes the mantra of the modern American, and we see it revered in everything from Burger King’s “Have it your way” slogan to the frequent cry of pro-death abortionists who argue “Women have a right to choose!” And so we fall headlong into one of the greatest heresies in church history, the heresy of Pelagianism, a doctrine that denies that people are sinners by nature from the womb and that each person is born morally neutral, neither good nor evil and that we learn good or evil from others as we grow up.

Pelagius, an ascetic monk that lived in the 4th & 5th centuries, said that since all people are born morally neutral, it is theoretically possible for a person to live his entire life without sinning. And so, according to Pelagius, infants do not have original sin, but instead learn how to sin from others. He said that some children will go further on in their childhood than others in a sinless condition, but he said that even when they sin, it doesn’t affect their free will. He said,

All therefore have a free will to sin and not to sin. It is not free will if it requires the aid of God; because every one has it within the power of his own will to do anything or not to do it. Our victory over sin and Satan proceeds not from the help which God affords but is owing to our own free will . . . Whether we will or whether we will not, we have the capacity of not sinning.[2]

One of Pelagius’ favorite sayings was, “If I ought, I can.” He believed that God never commands something that is impossible for us to do. According to him, man is able to repent and believe because he is responsible to repent and believe. Responsibility implies ability, right? Pelagius also taught that God’s grace is given only to enable us to do more easily that which we are already able to do on our own. And so, according to him, man initiates, God responds. So it was with Pelagius, and so it goes for most people today. It’s really quite simple: the need for understanding that salvation is by grace alone doesn't make much sense to an American who doesn't think that there’s much wrong with people in the first place. For “If people are basically good” they say, “why do we need grace in order to be saved?” You can hear the echo of Pelagius in the most ardent pro-choice secularists, and this is because their doctrines have the same father (John 8:44).

Question # 2: What do the Scriptures teach about the Human Condition?

The Bible teaches that the unregenerate person is completely powerless to come to Christ on his own (John 6:44, 65). He cannot have faith without the work of God occurring first in his heart (1 John 5:1). He is spiritually dead and must have life breathed into him by God Himself before he can even repent and believe the gospel (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, the entire human race is unable of itself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt (Eph. 2:1-5; Jer. 17:9). His will is not free in the sense that he can choose to follow Christ of himself any good time he pleases. Yes, man does have volition or a will. He can and does make choices. But he cannot do anything. There are always limitations on man’s ability. The doctrine of Total Inability/Total Depravity says that he cannot, and indeed does not want to, come to Christ because it is not part of his nature to want to come to Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible is a stench to him and is spiritually repulsive to him (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14; 2 Cor. 2:14-16). Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ. It takes “regeneration” (“born from above” in John 3; “made alive” in Ephesians 2:1). Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit by which He makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Now that the sinner has been given the new heart, they have the ability and in fact the will to come to Jesus (this is what is called Effectual Calling or Irresistible Calling or Grace). Faith is not something man contributes to salvation, but it is a part of the gift of God in salvation as we will see later. It is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God (Phil. 1:29). Therefore, salvation is all of God and all of His grace. In light of our firm stand with the Protestant Reformers in their proclamation of the Biblical truth that salvation is by grace alone, we will look at Ephesians 2:8-9 under two main points:

I. The Entire Package of Salvation is a Gift from God.

II. Salvation is by God’s Grace Alone Apart from Works.

TEACHING/APPLICATION

I. The Entire Package of Salvation is a Gift from God.

NAU Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

“For by grace you have been saved . . .” – Notice that the text says that salvation is “by grace”. Grace is by definition, “. . . the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him.”[3] The 1646 London Confession of Faith states in article VI,

ALL the elect being loved of God with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, nor their own works, lest any any man should boast, but, only and wholly by God, of His own free grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ, who is made unto us by God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and all in all, that he that rejoiceth, might rejoice in the Lord. Jer. 31:2; Eph. 1:3,7, 2:8, 9; 1 Thess. 5:9; Acts 13:38; 2 Cor. 5:21; Jer. 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 1:30-31; Jer. 23:6.

If grace is to be defined as God’s grace, it cannot be earned, purchased, or worked for in any way. It has to be freely dished out to unworthy sinners by God’s own good pleasure. This brings us to the next phrase in verse 8, “through faith”.

through faith – Technically speaking, Paul says that we are not saved by faith (as if faith had any power in and of itself) but through faith. In other words, faith is the instrument through which we are saved, but faith itself, does not save. B.B. Warfield said, “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests . . . it is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith.”[4] So, Christ saves us by His grace, through the instrumentality of faith. This faith comes about by hearing, and hearing by the preached word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Again, the confession states in article XXIV,

XXIV. FAITH is ordinarily begotten by the preaching of the gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or agency in the creature; but it being wholly passive, and dead in trespasses and sins, doth believe and is converted by no less power than that which raised Christ from the dead. Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:28; Rom. 9:16; Ezek. 16:16; Rom. 3:12, 1:16; Eph. 1:19; Col. 2:12.

“and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” – The confession states regarding the gift of faith at article XXII,

XXII. FAITH is the gift of God, wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God; by which faith they come to know and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and the excellency of them above all other writings, and all things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and of the power and fulness of the Spirit in its [His] workings and operations; and so are enabled to cast their souls upon His truth thus believed. Eph. 2:8; John 6:29, 4:10; Phi1. 1:29; Ga1. 5:22; John 17:17; Heb. 4:11-12; John 6:63.

But it’s not just faith that is given as a gift of God. The singular word “that” in verse 8 (“and that not of yourselves”) is very important because it points back to something mentioned earlier in verse 8, namely, the entire package of salvation. This includes the grace, the faith, repentance, and anything else associated with salvation.[5] Paul’s point in verse 8 is that the entire work of salvation does not find its basis in men but in God; a salvation that is dispensed freely to whomsoever He wishes in accordance with His sovereign good pleasure. That brings us to point number 2, the fact that salvation is by God’s grace alone apart from works.

II. Salvation is by God’s Grace Alone Apart from Works.

NAU Ephesians 2:9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

“not as a result of works . . .” – As said earlier, we are not saved by what we do, we never could be. This is because what we do could never overcome the original sin that we have inherited from Adam nor could it overcome the actual sins that we have willfully and freely committed against Christ as we’ve violated His law time and time again. Paul says the same thing in Romans 11:6 when he says, “But if it [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” and he says in Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness . . .”. We can never be saved by being a “good boy” or a “good girl” because what we do can never be good enough to satisfy God’s justice against the crimes that we’ve committed against Him! God’s love is not His most important attribute. His most important attribute is His holiness, which means that that He is supremely righteous and good, and since He must always be righteous and good, then He has to fairly and accurately judge your sin. Since God must judge your sin, then your works will always come up short because (a) they are not always done for His glory, which makes them worthless in His eyes [Isa. 64:6], and (b) you can never do enough good works to counteract the bad works that you’ve either willingly committed or unknowingly committed nor can you find a cure to fix the problem of being held responsible for the sin nature that you’ve inherited from Adam! My friend, if you are counting on your good works to get you to heaven, then you are in a sad, deceived state, desperately in need God’s grace. If you continue in your own self-righteousness and reject the righteousness that is found only through faith in Christ, then you’ll be given justice in accordance with your works. This means that you will earn a wage for your works-based system of salvation, and according to Scripture, this will be eternal torment in hell (Rev. 20:12-15). Not only must salvation be given freely to you, “by grace” alone because you cannot earn or merit God’s grace by anything you do, but salvation must be given freely apart from works to prevent you from being able to boast about what you did to earn your salvation.

“. . . so that no one may boast.” - For Paul says of Abraham, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. (Rom. 4:2-4) If you are made right with God by what you do, then you could boast about how you accomplished your own salvation. But Paul says that the entirety of salvation is a gift of God, “so that no one may boast.”

CONCLUSION

Many of you may realize that you have found yourself on a treadmill of good works, trying to get into heaven by being a good boy or a good girl. But Scripture says that we aren’t saved by what we do, but by what God does to us. God gives us the gift of salvation as a package deal to whomever He wishes, and just as you can’t earn a gift from a friend, neither can you earn or merit God’s gift of salvation. He regenerates our hearts and enables us to repent and believe the gospel. It’s either that or hell. Do you genuinely hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do you desire to know Christ and be accepted by Him? If so, then call upon Him in faith, and beg Him for mercy. It’s your only hope, for salvation is all of grace, and none of works!



[1] http://www.sfofgso.org/about.asp?href=solas

[2] Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, (Springfield, MO: Good Books, 2003), 13.

[3] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 2000), 93.

[4] B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of Faith,” Biblical Doctrines, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 502-504.

[5] For a detailed explanation of this, see James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom, (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), 295-296.