Millions of people have struggled with the idea that we are going to talk about today. We naturally tend to think that we have to earn everything in life. For instance, money does not grow on trees, so we have to work to earn it. Grace given to us, completely free, seems like an unimaginable gift. It seems too good to be true and goes against our natural instincts.
If you look at most religions in the world, works are almost always involved. There is usually some level of doing your best in order to be made right with the god of that religion. What does the Bible teach about a Christian’s salvation, though? Are they saved by faith, or are they saved by works?
Paul starts Ephesians 2 by reminding us, yet again, that we were all dead before Christ. Our mistakes and imperfections had left us separated from God. Verse 4 then gives us two powerful words: “But God.” God, who is rich in mercy, showed how great His love for us truly is. Even when we were dead, He made us alive with Christ. Verse 5 then gives us the basis of this death-to-life salvation: “by grace you have been saved.” If we read on, we see that verses 8 and 9 give support to this truth.
By grace we have been saved, through faith. I want you to notice three things. First, notice that Paul adds nothing to that. Christians are simply saved by grace through faith. Nothing more. Second, notice that this is not our own doing. This grace is the free gift of God. Without Him offering this free gift, we would be dead forever. Third, notice that Paul says, “not a result of works.” God did not offer this gift based upon anything that we have done. No amount of effort helped bring the gift. Let me ask then: doesn’t this make the basis of our salvation pretty clear? We are saved by grace through faith. It has nothing to do with us. It is not a result of our works. We are saved solely by God’s grace for us, which He showed in the cross of Jesus.
We are saved by grace through faith.
If you know your Bible pretty well, or have just been around Christianity for a while, you may immediately be wondering about another text that we find in James 2. If Paul makes a pretty clear statement that our salvation is 100% God and 0% us, then why does James say that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26)? Isn’t that a contradiction? No! Paul and James are in no way contradicting each other. Scripture does not contradict Scripture. Let me try to prove that to you.
Sounds very different than Ephesians 2, doesn’t it? James just told us that faith is dead if it does not have works. Paul told us that the grace that saves us through faith is “not a result of works.” How in the world do those two go together? Great question! Paul is giving us the basis of salvation. He is telling us how a person is saved. James is giving us the fruit of salvation. He is telling us what a person looks like after being saved. Works, according to James, do not play a role in saving a person. Instead, those works are proof that a person has actually been saved. James is arguing that if a dead tree has really been made alive, it will start growing fruit. If a dead tree claims to be alive, but bears no fruit, it is still dead.
Let me try to summarize and simplify all of this. Our salvation, the way that a person becomes a Christian and right with God, is only by grace through faith. We cannot do anything to earn our salvation. God brings us to life only by our faith in the grace that He give us in Jesus. That faith in Jesus will then cause us to go and live different lives. That is where works come into play. A “faith” that brings no heart change is no faith at all. James calls that faith, “dead.” True, saving faith is 100% a free gift of God. However, true, saving faith also causes the recipient to change. Without the change, James would question whether that person has actually been saved by the free grace.
We cannot do anything to earn our salvation.
In this writing, I hope you see how gracious and loving God is. He not only gives us salvation freely, but He also then changes us and empowers us to live different lives. Please understand that you cannot produce fruit on your tree in your own effort. The works that James describes are empowered by God. God saves and God produces the fruit. I love this truth. We will look at how the Bible describes this further in upcoming posts. I pray that you join us. Clearly understanding all aspects of the gospel is crucial for our souls. When we fully grasp what God has done, it frees us up to live the Christian lives that we long to live.
- Do you ever find yourself trying to earn your salvation? Does Ephesians 2 help with that?
- Who can you share this truth of the gospel with today?