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By Grace Through Faith
by David A. DePra
For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)
What is the GRACE of God? It has always been said that the grace of God is, "God’s unmerited favor." That is true. We might add, "the grace of God is His unmerited initiative." The very definition of GRACE is that God does for man through Christ what man cannot even KNOW to do for himself. God then REVEALS to man what He has done, and offers it free of charge.
This is where FAITH comes in. By FAITH we embrace what God reveals that He has done through Christ and give ourselves to God because of it. Now, if you haven’t noticed, God’s grace and our faith compose a RELATIONSHIP. God takes the initiative by His grace, and we respond by faith.
The Ability to Believe
There has, of course, always been a controversy in the church with regards to faith. Calvinists teach that man cannot believe God, but also that man cannot WANT to believe God. Calvinism teaches this as part of their definition of the total depravity of man – they say that fallen man cannot believe God even once God reveals to us the light of the gospel. But if that is true, then it means that even our ability to believe is a gift from God. But the problem here is that this would lead to the Calvinist error of unconditional election and irresistible grace – that is, your salvation is the result of God having foreordained that you be saved, and consequently, you are WIRED for salvation from the start. Your salvation is the result of God acting upon you. Your faith is simply the result of God’s sovereign election.
I am not going to spend time on this argument, except to say that five point Calvinism is rank heresy. It is rank heresy, not simply because it conflicts with the teaching of the Bible, but because it completely misrepresents the character of God, and the nature of the Redemption. The Bible does reveal that man has no ability to believe God – but the REASON this is so is because man has no Truth in him. No one can believe unless there is something revealed to him TO believe. But the Bible states that once a person hears the gospel, and light does come into their world, that then they do have the ability to believe.
To say that fallen man has no ability to believe EVEN if he is given light and Truth denies what we see in the world everyday. Are people able to believe? At all? Sure. Are people able to make the choice between right and wrong? Sure. I realize this is not the same thing as a choice for Christ, but common sense ought to tell us that if people can believe ANYTHING – then they have the ability to believe, period! The ability to believe – once light is given – is clearly maintained within fallen man, simply because even fallen man continues to have a WILL. Thus, when God brings light, each one of us does have an ability to respond to it, one way or another.
The reality is, if you and I have a SELF, then, by definition, we can choose to either surrender our SELF, or refuse to surrender. And in the final analysis, this is the choice we must make when God brings the light of the gospel into our world. God never tells us to muster the faith necessary for salvation, to merit salvation, or to reach up to heaven and find God. But God does tell us that HE, by His grace, will take the initiative to bring light into our world. And most often, the FIRST light God brings, is to show us our need. And when God shows us our need, He asks only one thing: Come to Christ.
A dead person cannot bring himself back to life. But a dead person can be shown just how dead and helpless he is. And that is the first thing the gospel does do – show us we are sinners who need salvation; show us we are dead and need life. And when the gospel brings a person to that place of conviction, that person – while still unsaved – is enabled to come to Christ. The Truth of their condition, and the Truth of the Savior, makes it possible for any sinner – while yet still a sinner – to come to Christ and be saved.
Now, if you are silly enough to think that spiritual death means that you cannot think, reason, or choose morally, then you are deluded. For example, read the words of Paul: "For he that is dead, is freed from sin." Christian are said to be, "dead to sin." Well, do YOU SIN? Yes. Well, why can you still sin if you are DEAD TO SIN? Simply because you have to see Truth and CHOOSE if you want to stop sinning. Death – in the spiritual sense – does NOT remove the free will, or the need to see the Truth so that we can exercise our free will correctly. In effect, spiritual death does not mean you have no capacities for choice. It simply means you have NO LIFE and NO TRUTH – Christ is not in you.
The best scripture on this matter is found in John 3:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)
According to Jesus, the BASIS for condemnation is that light has come into my world, but I loved darkness RATHER than light. But if I must be elected unto salvation to be able to believe, how could this be so? For in that case, my love of darkness rather than light is the result, not of God bringing light into my world and my refusing it, but it is the result of God never electing me to begin with. This, and so many other passages, become utter nonsense, once we buy into Calvinism.
Read the passage again. It could not be more clear. It is really Ephesians 2:8-10 stated in the negative. It is saying that God takes the initiative, by His grace, to bring the light of the gospel in a person’s consciousness. At that point, the person is still unsaved, but KNOWS enough about his own condition, and knows that Jesus is the solution. But there is a tradeoff. In order to come into the light, the person must be willing to be exposed for what they are. They must be willing to continue to have all of their sins opened up to the light. In this case, they will not have it. Thus, they love darkness RATHER than the light which God has brought. Consequently, there is no longer any excuse. They cannot claim ignorance. The LIGHT has come on – they have seen – and they can never again say they never saw.
Now, you will notice that I did not say, nor does the Bible teach, that the LIGHT of the gospel is simply a matter of theological precepts. If LIGHT were only doctrines, then I would agree that fallen man could not see the Truth. But no. What is being described here, and what Jesus meant when He said, "No man can come to me except the Father draw him," is that when God brings light into our world, it penetrates our inability to see the Truth. Once LIGHT comes, there is something TO SEE and believe. This is not yet regeneration – but rather, the bringing of the light of the gospel into a person’s consciousness. God does this – we cannot do it. But once God does do it, we are responsible – and there is not turning back. The reason condemnation is able to be upon such people, is because they ARE ABLE to respond to God, but choose to love darkness rather than the light God has brought.
So we now see what Ephesians 2 means when it says, "It is the gift of God." The primary gift of God is GRACE. Sure. But faith is a gift of God in the sense that faith can only come about because God, by His initiative, brings light into our dark world, and gives us Truth to which we can respond by faith. You and I have never fully lost the ability to believe – and we prove that everyday on many matters. But unless God brings the light of the gospel into our consciousness, and thus, enables us to believe because we have seen, all the ability to believe won’t help us. We need LIGHT and TRUTH. But then we must believe.
The Cost of Grace
It has been aptly said that GRACE is so free because it cost Christ so much. This is quite true, and stands at the foundation of the gospel of grace. But it is just as true that the grace of God is utterly contrary to everything about us. Why? Because in order for us to experience grace, we must come to the place where we declare spiritual bankruptcy.
This is so even for those who are saved. We are saved by grace through faith, but once we are saved, we will spend a lifetime learning what it all means. And if there is one thing that it does mean, it is this: God is good, and we are not.
Now, that surely sounds negative – especially in light of today’s demonic gospel of self-esteem. In many churches today, any mention of sin, repentance, or of man’s true condition is met with disdain. We don’t want to be told that we are sinners in need of grace. Rather, today’s heresy tells us our problem is that we think we are sinners.
Part of the problem, of course, is that in times past the gospel has been preached as a big hammer that beats people over the head. This is no better than the false gospel of self-esteem. But there is a balance. And we need to see it.
The fact is, you and I will never see the goodness of God until we see our own need. You and I will never value the grace of God until we see our own helplessness. That IS the gospel. But this does not mean that we live forever, wallowing in depression over our sin. But neither does it mean that we turn the grace of God into license. If a person truly sees the Truth, he will have to come to terms with his sin and his need. But in doing so, he will see the Savior. And the result will be that yes, I will be evermore conscious of my need. But I will rejoice because it has been met in Jesus Christ.
People who are forever lamenting over their sin do not do so because they have seen the real badness of their sin. No. Rather, they have yet to see JUST how bad it is! If they saw that, they would not forever lament. They would take their sin to Christ. One who has taken their sin to Christ never excuses their sin. But rather than live in constant guilt and lamentation, they live in the forgiveness and grace of God. They become new creations.
All of this is part of what it means to truly repent. I cannot be saved unless I repent of sin, and I cannot really experience the grace of God unless I repent. And this requires that I see my sin and come to terms with it. But once I do, I find rest in the finished work of Christ. I emerge with a brand new freedom, from past sins, and from the reality of sin itself.
Grace cost me nothing – except my sin. I have to pay the price of coming into the light and seeing who I am, and confessing it. That will cost my flesh and pride everything. But once I do that, I will see that the cost was really NOTHING. In fact, I will see that I am now free from that which held me captive – my sin, yes, but also my unbelief.
The grace of God means that I can come to God JUST AS I AM. But what we often don’t realize is that, "just as I am," is the only way we CAN come! What? How far do we think we can get if we come to God, "just as we AREN’T?" See what I mean? But again – we are right back to coming to terms with who we are – needy!
In Jesus Christ, God has already WON our redemption as an act that is completely independent of anything about us. Our redemption is won – whether we believe it or not. But the whole point is, unless we believe, and embrace what Christ has done, what He has done will do us NO GOOD. By grace we are saved THROUGH faith.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Rom 3:19-24)
Here we again see the great Truth of justification by faith. The righteousness of God that is a chasm apart from any works of man has been manifested – it is the righteousness which is both IMPUTED and IMPARTED to us by God, by His grace through our faith. This righteousness is not OURS – but belongs to Christ. And yet because CHRIST IS IN US, He is our righteousness by faith.
Some folks have trouble with this Truth because they cannot get by the notion that if we must believe to be saved, that this makes FAITH a meritorious work. Well, in one sense of the word, faith is a work, because it is a choice WE make. But faith is never a merit. Why? Because faith is the result of seeing we have not merits!
Get that. Faith is not a merit. Paul says, later in Romans 3:
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. (Rom 3:27)
Paul is telling us that faith is NOT a merit – it is nothing about which we can boast. Why? Because if I place my faith in Christ, I am doing so because I have seen that I have no merits, no works, and nothing I can do about myself. Faith is the result of seeing this Truth. My faith is my trust and reliance upon Christ precisely because I know there is nothing about myself that will save me.
I said earlier that the gospel of grace states that Christ won our redemption as an act completely independent of anything about us – He won our redemption completely independent of our works, merits, and our faith. But when we do believe, and place our faith in what Christ has done, we are acknowledging this. We are saying, "Christ won my salvation as an act of grace – fully independent of anything about me. I will therefore put my trust and reliance on the fact that my salvation is a free gift, completely independent of anything about me."
Can we see that faith steps outside of ourselves, and is simply a full reliance on HIM – to the complete disregard of our merits, or lack thereof?
Can we also see that when we cannot let go of our sins, that we are NOT trusting in Christ, but rather, in our works? Sure. Although our trust is presently a frustrated one – we are trusting in our works, but see they come up short! But nevertheless we are basing our faith on our works, instead of in Christ – whose finished work is independent of anything about us.
Can we also see that when we cannot let go of our GOOD works, and supposed merits, that we are NOT trusting Christ? Sure. In that case our trust in ourselves is a somewhat satisfied one – we are trusting in our works and think that make the grade! But nevertheless we are basing our faith on our works, instead of in Christ – whose finished work is independent of anything about us.
Faith is trust and reliance upon God – which always results in an unconditional surrender to Christ. (None of which is possible unless we see we are helpless sinners.) Faith stands upon that which has NOTHING TO DO WITH US! It stands solely upon what Christ has done FOR US – and wants to freely give TO US.
We are saved BY GRACE through FAITH. Those few words describe the backbone of our relationship to God, not only with regards to salvation, but with regards to so much else in the Christian life.
The Grace of God
The grace of God is a foundational Truth of Christianity. And yet, like so many other foundational truths, Christians have simply accepted it as a doctrine and moved on. The trouble is, when you don’t become solid in the foundational Truths of Christianity, you will build upon the wrong foundation, or build with the wrong materials. Furthermore, we are never to acknowledge foundational truths and move on, in the sense of discarding them. We are to LIVE IN THEM, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us with them AS a foundation.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men -- teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. (Titus 2:11-15)
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