Are You Saved by Grace Alone?

Are You Saved by Grace Alone?

If not, then you’re not saved.

 

Dr. Trey Talley, Lead Pastor and Elder
Author of The Missing Gospel of Modern Christianity
 
If you don’t understand grace, then you will never rightly see your sinfulness or the holiness of God. However, our world and even many professing Christians have a view of grace different from what Scripture teaches. This is extremely problematic, because a correct understanding of grace is vital for a proper understanding of the gospel.

 

SO, WHAT IS GRACE?

Simply defined, grace is unmerited favor received from God. Saving grace is not deserved, earned, or merited by us. Sadly, many people have distorted God’s grace by having too high a view of themselves and too low a view of God. Such a skewed view will often lead people to assume that they have worked to achieve God’s favor and that He is obligated to give them His saving grace. However, the moment any amount of self-merit enters one’s definition of grace, it is no longer the same grace taught by the Apostle Paul.

To correctly understand the beauty of saving grace, we need to remind ourselves of what we truly deserve. We are all guilty before God and deserve His wrath. Paul explained to the Romans that sins do not just disappear or go unpunished. Instead, every sin of every sinner will be punished by God. He writes:

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
 
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…. (Romans 2:5-9)
 
Wrath…judgment…fury…tribulation? Yes, this is the only thing that we truly deserve. However, Paul writes something absolutely amazing at the end of his gospel summary. He writes that he had “received grace.” Paul was a sinner who deserved the wrath of God, but now he was no longer a person owed the wrath of God; instead, he had received the free, undeserved, unmerited, saving grace and mercy of God. But, how can a sinner who deserves the wrath of God receive grace?
 
Many people think of themselves in a much better light than they should. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, grade on a curve if you will. You might hear people say something like, “Well, I am much better than most people.”, or “I do sin a little, but not nearly as much as my friends.” Such statements reveal a distorted view of God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. As Paul teaches, every sin deserves eternal punishment, and the wrath that each sinner deserves is being stored up for the Day of Wrath when God will fully execute his judgment.

 

ARE YOU A GOOD PERSON?

“What about all the good things that I have done? Don’t they act as a counterbalance the bad things?” Although people often assume that they have done enough good to outweigh the bad, that is not the way God operates. God does not place all of a person’s good deeds on one side, and all of a person’s bad deeds on the other side to determine who will receive grace. Even if this were the case, there would be nothing for God to place on the “good” side of the scale, for the Bible says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”, or as Paul writes, “None is righteous, no, not one.”1 While we might think ourselves to be “pretty good,” the Bible paints a much different picture of who we are by nature. As Paul writes in Ephesians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.2
 
“By nature deserving of wrath,” that is who we are. Wrath is what we deserve, and wrath is what God owes us.

 

DO YOU DESERVE SALVATION?

Salvation is not given to those who are doing better in life than others. God does not look to see who is working the hardest in life at being good to determine who deserves salvation. Those who think they are deserving of salvation because of their own merit are the furthest away from salvation. Just look at the parable Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisees depended heavily on their good works and believed that they had earned righteousness; however, tax collectors were the lowest of the low in Jewish society and were known to be horrible sinners. Let’s see what Jesus says of these two men who came to the temple to pray:

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)
 
The Pharisee pridefully trusted in himself and bragged about his goodness to God. However, it was not the “good” Pharisee’s prayer that Jesus approved of, but the “sinful” tax collector’s prayer, who acknowledged his sinfulness and his need for mercy. The tax collector understood his position before God. He knew that he was a sinner in need of mercy and that he was in dire need of salvation from God. However, the Pharisee did not admit his sinfulness, or need of any mercy, and instead boasted of his own righteousness to God.
 
At one-time Paul, himself was one such Pharisee and not just any Pharisee.3 He had climbed the ranks and was the Pharisee of Pharisees, yet by the grace of God, he finally saw himself for the sinner that he was and realized that everything good he was doing was useless to earn his salvation.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith . . . (Philippians 3:7-9)
 
Paul realized that all of his self-righteousness had the total combined worth of a pile of trash. For many years, he had worked very hard to earn righteousness as a strict adherent of the law, yet once he encountered true salvation by grace, he understood that all he had done to try to earn salvation was useless. He now saw the error of his ways, understood his inability to earn righteousness, and looked to the only truly righteous One, God incarnate; Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, Paul had gained everything. What is more valuable than being saved from sin and the wrath and curse of God that we deserve as sinners? Nothing. Additionally, what is more wonderful than knowing that this salvation does not rest on us and our own record, but on the perfect record of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

WHO GETS THE CREDIT FOR YOUR SALVATION?

It is impossible to wrap our minds around the nature of God’s grace completely. Still, in his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul attempts to enlighten us once again as to the magnificent beauty of God’s grace to undeserving recipients:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
 
According to this passage, who should receive the credit for salvation? The answer is, obviously, “God.” However, so many professing Christians still think that they have done something to deserve God’s grace in salvation. Yet, Paul says that salvation, “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Some will at least agree that they need grace to be saved, but they still believe that salvation is a mixture of grace and their own good works. However, any amount of self-worth or self-merit changes the unmerited nature of God’s grace to a grace that is merited. We must remember that grace is not a reward, it is an undeserved gift from God. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

Grace is a great word in the Bible, the grace of God. It is most simply defined in these words—it is favour shown to people who do not deserve any favour at all. And the message of the gospel is that any one of us is saved and put right for eternity, solely and entirely by the grace of God, not by ourselves… Do what you like, you will never save yourself… We deserve nothing but hell. If you think you deserve heaven, take it from me you are not a Christian.

Any man who thinks that he deserves heaven is not a Christian. But for any man who knows that he deserves hell, there is hope. Out goes all your self-righteousness. It is all by grace, and entirely the mercy and compassion and the grace of God. It is God, who, in spite of us, and in spite of the world being what it is, sent his own Son into this world and then sent him to the cross.4
 
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached salvation by faith in Christ that was received purely by the grace of God. Such saving grace is unmixed with human works. Even our faith, as Paul writes, “is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”5 God does not believe for us, we believe, but we only do so because He has chosen to give us saving grace.
 

WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE TO SALVATION BY GRACE ALONE?

Rightly understanding your inability to save yourself and that God did everything brings humility and thankfulness. Every day, we should thank God for not giving us the wrath we have earned and deserved. Instead, He has given us His unmerited, undeserved salvation through Jesus Christ. He did all of the saving work; you did nothing.

Today, if you realize that you have been relying on your goodness to save you, repent of that sin, see yourself for who you truly are, and look to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.

 

1. Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10

2. Ephesians 2:1-3

3. Acts 22:3-5

4. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Christopher Catherwood, The Cross: God’s Way of Salvation, 74-75

5. Ephesians 2:9