The Ancient Faith
GRACE, FAITH AND WORKS IN THE JUSTIFICATION OF MAN
Contained within this subject is the very heart of Christianity. Grace, faith and works are the basic ingredients of the greatest plan of all ages. The plan that offers eternal salvation to fallen mankind. In this article we will examine these three concepts and how they work together for the salvation of man.
Let us begin with grace. I am afraid that there are those who do not properly understand nor appreciate the benefits of the grace of God. Grace is the reason for all things that pertain unto “life and godliness.” Had it not been for the grace of God, nothing else would have mattered. We must never forget that man was the transgressor. It was an impossibility for fallen man to reach over and pull himself out of the mire of sin by his own boot straps. God had to take the first step in our salvation. God took that first step because of His grace. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn.3:16).
The knowledge of God’s grace is made known to us in the New Testament. The New Testament is a literal manifestation of the grace of God. This book makes grace real to us. Notice the way grace is used in the New Testament:
- God the Father is called the God of all grace (1 Pet. 5:10).
- Christ came into the world “full of grace and truth” (In. 1:14).
- The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).
- John says we are in the dispensation of grace (Jn. 1:17).
- The gospel is called the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24).
- Peter commands us to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18).
- We are commanded to sing with grace (Col. 3:16).
In all, grace is referred to some 166 times in the New Testament. The importance of grace cannot be over-emphasized when we understand what it has done for us.
WHAT GRACE DOES
Following are a few of the manifold benefits of God’s grace:
- Grace provided an eternal sacrifice for our sins. Jesus, “by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9).
- Grace brings salvation. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men…” (Tit. 2: 11-12).
- We are saved by grace. “For by grace are ye saved” (Eph. 2:8).
- Grace should be the strongest motivation to living the Christian life. The Apostle Paul did not suffer all the things that he did (2 Cor. 11:23-28) because he was afraid of going to hell, but because of the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10).
- Grace helps us to bear our burdens. Again, using the Apostle Paul as an example, he was able to bear his “thorn in the flesh” because of God’s grace. (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul realized that he was far better off with the “thorn in the flesh” and with the grace of God, than he would have been without the “thorn” and without God’s grace. Perhaps Mr. Newton sums it up in his wonderful song, “Amazing Grace.”
Thru many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
WHAT IS GRACE?
We need to know more about something which is so wonderful and which can do so much for us. There are several definitions of the word “grace.” I would guess that “grace” is most often defined as, “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Mr. Thayer, in his lexicon, defines grace on as … kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved” (p. 666).
My favorite definition is: “Grace gives what is needed rather than what is deserved.” Let us notice some Bible examples that illustrate this definition:
David took Uriah’s wife and had Uriah killed (2 Sam. 1, 12) David wits guilty of adultery and murder. According to Leviticus 20:10, David should have been put to death. God sent Nathan to rebuke him. Upon Nathan’s rebuke David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan declared, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (2 Sam.12:13). David deserved to die! If David had received what he deserved he would have been put to death, but God gave him what he needed—forgiveness and restoration. God extended grace to David.
We have a story of grace in the New Testament in John 8. The self-righteous scribes and Pharisees took a woman “caught in the very act of adultery” before Jesus and asked Him to pronounce the death sentence upon her. As these hypocrites made charges against the woman and quoted the Law to Jesus, the Bible says that He kneeled and wrote with His finger in the dirt. Everyone wants to know what Jesus wrote in the dirt; Marshall Keeble said, “The Lord didn’t write anything, He was just giving those devils some time to sweat.”
After all the charges had been made Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” The guilty accusers of this woman slunk off one by one until there was no one left to accuse her. Jesus then said to her, “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:4-11). Jesus did not over-look her sin, he forgave her sin. What a story of grace! The woman deserved to die but she needed forgiveness. She received the grace of God. I have heard people say, “All I want out of life is what I deserve.” Well, I want to make it crystal clear, ] don’t want what I deserve, because the Scripture says, “for all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), and “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). We have all sinned and we all deserve to go to hell for our sins; but that is not what we need. We need redemption, salvation, forgiveness. Speaking for myself, I really do not even want justice—I need mercy and grace. Through Jesus Christ, God offers us what we need not what we deserve. God offers us salvation by grace.
HOW ARE WE SAVED BY GRACE?
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24).
These verses and many others allow us to understand that we are not saved because of: who we are, morality, education, works of the law, works of merit, or works of the flesh. We are saved “by His grace.”
Many brethren have the idea entrenched in their minds that they must earn their salvation. Notice Ephesians 2:8 again: “That not of yourselves,” salvation is not of ourselves. In other words we do not save ourselves. “It,” that is, salvation, is “the gift of God.” Another way to put it, salvation is the “gift of God” that is “by grace” “through faith.” We must keep reminding ourselves that salvation is the gift of God.
The Apostle Paul tells us that before grace “we were without Christ and had no hope” (Eph. 2:12). We all should thank God every day that we live for taking the initiative in man’s redemption. Man could not save himself. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).In John 4:10, Jesus refers to himself as the “Gift of God.” Paul said, “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). In Romans 5:15-18, Jesus is described as a “gift” six times, and in three of the six he is called a free gift. We, in no sense of the term, earn or merit the remission of our sins when we: hear the gospel, believe the gospel, repent of our sins, confess the good name of Jesus, and are baptized in water. In our worship services when we: sing, pray, teach, observe the Lord’s supper, and give of our means, we are not earning our salvation. When we deny worldly lusts and live “soberly, righteously and godly,” we are not meriting salvation. It is still the grace of God that will afford us the gift of salvation in the last day!
However, the free gift of salvation is a conditional gift. As odd as it sounds many, in fact the majority of humanity will not accept this free gift of salvation! Jesus died for the “sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). Yet only a “few” will enter the way that leads to eternal life (Mt. 7:13-14). Actually, there is no such thing as an unconditional gift. Until the gift is accepted it is only an offer. Whatever is required to accept a gift is a condition. For example, I might offer you a five dollar bill but, before this five dollar bill becomes a gift, you must take it. In taking the money you have met a condition. Unless you take the money it remains only an offer. So it is with the gift of salvation, God offers us salvation, but salvation remains only an offer until we meet the conditions to receive it. Jesus is “. . . the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9).
Saved Through Faith
We dare not forget the second element in our study, that being “faith.” “For by grace are ye saved thru faith…” (Eph. 2:8). Faith is the means by which we appropriate the grace of God into our lives. Remember the grace of God is made known unto us by the Word of God. If 1 refuse to believe, I cannot expect to be saved. Unbelief is a clear rejection of the Gilt of God. “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). “Without faith it is impossible to please Him’ (Heb. 11:6). “He that believeth not is condemned already” (Jn. 3:18). Paul explains that “we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand” (Rom. 5:2). Using this reasoning, there can be no salvation without faith. It is faith that allows us an entrance into grace.
FAITH WORKS OBEDIENCE
The third principle of our study enters in here. Faith must produce work. For our faith to be of value it must be active. In Hebrews 11, the writer deals with God’s heroes of faith. You will notice that “saving faith” always produced works. By faith: “Able offered,” “Noah moved and prepared,” (It would have been a sad day for Noah if, when God told him that a flood was coming, Noah would have said, “I believe there will be a flood.” Then God said, ‘“Noah prepare an ark” and Noah would have said, “I believe I am going to need an ark,” but he didn’t prepare. When the flood came and the fountains of the deep opened up, Noah would have drowned just like everyone else. But Noah had an active faith, he moved and prepared because he believed God. Because of his faith, Noah was saved). “Abraham obeyed,” etc. James says, “Faith without works is dead” Jas. 2:17). We should now see that we are saved by the grace of God through faith and works. “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24).
Does this idea of “works” being necessary for salvation contradict what Paul said: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Not at all. There are two different types of works under consideration. Paul has reference to “works of merit,” in particular, the keeping of the Law of Moses. It seems the Jews had the attitude that if they kept the Law, God owed them salvation.
They had the same idea that some have today—they were trying to earn their salvation by their works. Paul further reasons that if salvation came as a result of meritorious works then salvation was not of grace but debt. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not of grace, but debt” (Rom. 4:4).
Friends, it is not possible for us to do enough to put God in debt to us. The following illustration should make us all sit up and take notice:
A certain Christian died and met Peter at the pearly gates. Before the man was allowed entrance into heaven Peter explained that he had to pass a test. Not only did he have to pass the test but he had to score 100 points. The test only had one question, Peter asked the man, “What did you do while you were on earth?” The man was confident that he had all the right answers because after all he was a Christian. So with much confidence he said, “I obeyed the gospel at an early age, I attended all the church services, I gave 20% of my income to the church, I taught the assembly on a regular basis, I lead a number of people to Jesus, I brought up my children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” I visited the sick, cared for the needy, I lived a morally upright life, setting a good example before my fellow man.”
The man looked expectantly toward Peter. Peter said, ““That’s one.” To say the least, this flustered the man and totally shook his confidence. Finally he stammered, “well, I …, I guess I’m going to have to depend on the grace of God.” Peter said, “That’s 99!”
“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lk. 17:10).
By removing salvation from the works of man, man has no place to boast. As Paul said, salvation is “not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:9). To further illustrate this point, suppose that you want to take a trip, but the trip will cost $2000. You do not have the $2000, but you have a good friend who offers to give you the money if you will get the passport. Could you boast of earning a trip? No, you could only appreciate the generosity of your friend. This, in effect, is what God offers—you get the passport, He will provide the passage.
What about the type of works that James refers to in James 2:24?—“by works a man is justified.” There is a vast difference in the “works of merit,” spoken of as unnecessary by Paul, and the works that James refers to. James has reference to works of love or the works of God’s righteousness- The difference being that works of merit are motivated by an attempt to earn salvation, while the works of love are motivated by gratitude for being saved.
Another difference: works of merit are devised in the mind of man while works of love are devised in the mind of God. Let us notice some examples of works of love that were devised in the mind of God. This first one is interesting because of those who believe in salvation by faith only. They will cry long and loud that there are no works involved in salvation and that only believing is necessary. Do you know the answer that Jesus gave when He was asked, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?’, Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Jn. 6:28-29). To believe ts a work! It is a work devised in the mind of God without which one cannot be saved.
Baptism is a work of God. The command to be baptized for the remission of sins is a work devised in the mind of God. No one can be scripturally baptized with the idea that he is earning his salvation. Baptism is a part of man’s obedience to God through faith.
All the good works that are expected from us as a result of our Christian duties and obligations should be understood as works of gratitude rather than works of merit. We are grateful for the gift of eternal life, for that reason we obey and serve God.
WHY AREN’T ALL MEN SAVED?
The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men (Tit. 2:11). Salvation is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). “The Spirit and the Bride say come, whosoever will let him drink of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17). Why isn’t everyone saved? They just do not believe. I’m sure there are millions of excuses as to why people do not believe. Some may think that God’s scheme for redemption is too good to be true. Perhaps the plan is too simple. Many may think that they must do something big or wonderful to earn God’s favor.
Many years ago when money was scarce and times were hard, a preacher was trying to make this same point that I am now trying to make. In his audience, on the very front seat, were several teenage boys. The preacher took a dollar from his pocket, held it up high and said, “If one of you boys will come up here on the platform with me I will give you this dollar.” The boys snickered and nudged each other, but no one made a move. The preacher continued to plead. Finally two of the young men got up and went to the preacher. The preacher gave the first boy the dollar and took the second boy by the arm. He asked, “Son do you really want a dollar?” The boy replied, “Yes sir.” The preacher asked, “Have you done anything to earn a dollar?” The boy said, “No sir.” The preacher took out another dollar and gave it to the second boy. Don’t you know those other boys were kicking themselves for not going up. Why didn’t they go up and get the dollar? Perhaps they thought the preacher was only kidding. They didn’t really believe that preachers went around handing out dollars. They did not really believe that he would give it to them. They knew they had not earned or deserved a dollar.
Their failure to accept the preacher’s gift was due to unbelief. This is the same reason people will be lost in judgment day. They will not receive the gift of God because of unbelief.
I would like to briefly summarize. The justification of a sinner is not merited (earned) by faith or works or a combination of the two. The meritorious cause of man’s justification is Christ’s obedience to death on the cross. Therefore I serve God because I am saved, not in order to be saved.
[This study is from the Christian Expositor June 1996 Vol.10 No.2].