By Dudley Ross Spears
Paul wrote the church in Ephesus, “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” (Eph. 2:8-9). No inspired writer ever wrote more about salvation by God’s grace than did the apostle Paul. Some have said that. Paul invented the phrase “the grace of God.” Of course, Paul did not invent it as a personal expression; he was led by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to write about this profound theme.
Grace means “unmerited favor.” Salvation is something we cannot earn or merit. It is a gift of God to mankind. It is not a reward God offers for obedience to His will; it is rather God’s goodness and mercy extended to all who meet the conditions which He has set. Salvation is conditional and, therefore, God extends saving grace only to those willing to comply with the conditions. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as a sinner or a lost person. The Hebrew writer says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9).
Grace from God has appeared to all men. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). Since the saving grace of God appeared to “all men,” does this mean that all men are saved by grace? Indeed not. No man is saved by grace who does not accept the grace God offers. It is “by faith” that the gracious salvation is accepted. The acceptance of God’s grace lies solely on man. God will not mold man’s behavior in such a way as to force acceptance.
Grace saves through faith. Whatever may be required by faith is mandatory to being saved by grace. Faith is something man must do; he is solely responsible for faith. Paul wrote, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness . . .” (Romans 10:10). The literal wording here would be, “for with the heart it is believed,” or that the belief is exercised with the heart of man. Those who advocate the erroneous doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty over the will of man cannot believe Paul’s statement. Faith is not a gift of God, it is a responsive act of man. Without God’s revealed word faith would be impossible, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17), but as one fine writer put it, “faith on man’s side is the mouth or hand by which the salvation is appropriated” (Cambridge Greek New Testament).
The only kind of faith that saves is working faith. Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). This is what might be appropriately called an “operable faith.” This is the only valid faith and anything short of it will not save. However, this work does not include anything about which a human being can boast. There are no meritorious or sacramental works involved. To love the Lord means one must keep His commandments (John 14:21). This includes a turning away from sin, an open confession with the mouth that Jesus is the Christ and submission to baptism in water for the remission of sins (Acts 17:30; Romans 10:9; Acts 2:38).
Salvation by grace through faith neither nullifies obedience nor eliminates grace. One must understand two important questions about such salvation. When is an accountable individual saved by faith and how is one justified by faith? Paul said that it is “not of works lest any man should boast.” There are some who erroneously understand this to include anything and everything men can do. Thus, they teach that there is nothing anyone can do to be saved and anyone who does anything is trying to earn salvation, thus nullifying grace. There are basically three things wrong with this view.
1. It is patently false. There is no scriptural support for it.
2. If there is nothing for individuals to do for the saving of their souls, how is it that God saves some and not others? Is God a respecter of persons? (Read Acts 10:34-35).
3. This view is directly contrary to what the New Testament plainly says about obedience to God’s commands (Heb. 5:9).
There is no greater truth than the fact that we are saved by grace – but there is no uglier falsehood than the assumption that we are saved by grace only. There is no instance in all of God’s holy word where anyone was blessed because of their faith before that faith became operative in obedience to God’s commands. Faith that does not obey does not save. It is a dead faith (Jas. 2:20-26).
In the transaction of a gift, there are two parties: the giver and the recipient. God is the gracious giver of salvation. He gives it through Christ to all who by faith will obey and thus receive the precious gift. Will you receive it now, dear reader, by a faith that will obey all God has commanded?
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 8, pp. 227, 241
April 21, 1983