“For by grace are ye 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.”
One of the most commonly misapplied passages in the Bible, this text is perhaps one of the most beautiful expressions of Divine truth in the whole of Scripture. It is a tragedy that so many have missed the point of this most vital message. We are saved by grace through faith.
Grace is — by definition — the gift of God. It is Greek “charis”, the root from which terms such as charisma and charismatic are derived. As such, it denotes a favor or gift bestowed without having been merited or earned.
Who would contend with the assertion that fallen humanity contributed nothing towards the providing of a means whereby the world might be saved? It was God alone, through his specially wrought agency that procured for us a marvelous salvation plan.
Yet, the mere existence of a plan of salvation does not automatically save the lost. The plan must be enacted in the lives of sinful men and women in order for individuals to actually be “saved.”
Hence, we are saved not alone by grace but also through faith. “By grace” denotes the act of providing a means or a plan of salvation; “through faith” denotes the actual actions of an individual who avails himself of the plan already established.
“Not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” speaks of that which was implemented by the grace of God. So, too, does “not of works, lest any man should boast.” This is exemplified by that which follows: “for we are his workmanship….”
Notice carefully the next words, however: “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Faith, it will be recalled by the student of the book of James, is dead without works. We are created “unto good works,” and God has preordained that “we should walk in them” (i.e., good works). Since we were created for the purpose of “working,” it follows that it is impossible to please God without the good works of faith.
It is clear to see that simply quoting “By grace are ye saved” falls somewhat short of the total message this passage is intended to convey. And it is downright deceptive to quote “not of works” in such a way so as to imply salvation can be had apart from works! This is perhaps the most insidious of all false doctrines.
Clearly, grace is the work of God, not of man. And it is just as obvious that faith is the work of man, not of God.
No one has ever truly believed in God (another way of expressing faith) without obeying his teachings. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation” teaches us how we should and should not live. Yet it is not simply the teaching of the lesson that saves us; it is our complicity with or obedience to what is taught that actually saves us.
Another example may help make the point clearer. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16) Obviously, baptism is a “work” that must be done in order for the “believer” to be saved. There has been much debate, discussion and contention over this passage, as the majority of modern theologians prefer to wrest this passage to their own destruction in the following fashion: He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized. Sadly, such an interpretation virtually ensures the damnation both of its proponents as well as its adherents.
However, a closer look at the last clause in this verse shows very clearly the key to understanding this passage. “He that believeth not” could just as properly be rendered “He that disobeys,” which puts the proper light on the whole text.
Thus we see that unbelief is equivalent to disobedience. Notice carefully the following passage:
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
(I Peter 2:6-8)
Until “faith with works” is activated, salvation by grace will never be experienced. Again we appeal to the scripture:
“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:”
The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands more than mere intellectual assent; there must be an accompanying obedience to the gospel. Notice that the much celebrated “Roman Road” leads straight to this same conclusion!
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel.”
Once again it is made abundantly clear that faith demands obedience. By grace, through faith!
How exactly does one “obey” the gospel? By meeting Jesus Christ at each step.
1) Death — Repent;
2) Burial — Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;
3) Resurrection — Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This is precisely what the Apostle Peter preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). And, it should be noted, the only way a sinner can actually receive the wonderful gift of God is to obey Him.
“And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”
The careful observer will notice that John 3:16 describes how we are saved by grace, while Acts 2:38 explains how we are saved through faith. John 3:16 describes what God gave (gift, or grace) to man; Acts 2:38 describes what man must do (works, or faith) to receive the gift of God.
It would be a terrible mistake to de-emphasize the grace of God, while teaching that through good deeds and pious behavior men can “work” their way to heaven. It is equally appalling to know that some teach that a sinner has to do nothing to be saved — just mystically “believe!”
The New Testament emphatically teaches — by precept and example — that salvation, while being a free gift from God, is only bestowed on individuals who meet the necessary prerequisites of obedience through faith. Simply believing the historical account of the Gospel narrative will never transform the life of a sinner; rather, the Gospel must be obeyed with simple child-like trust in the Savior, who committed the preaching and administration of it to the Apostles.
Without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, salvation as we know it today would not even be possible. The God of all grace is poised even now to deliver the gift of salvation to all who will act upon their faith by doing the “first works” of repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and receiving the Holy Ghost.
Rev. Tim D. Cormier
Reprinted from the April, 2000 issue of the Apostolic Standard.
(C) Copyright held by Tim D. Cormier. This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part, except for personal use, without the express written permission of the author