Given the vital role of God’s grace in the scheme of human redemption, it is simply tragic how little understood and how often misrepresented the subject is. Even some so-called “gospel” preachers are losing sight of the definitions and descriptions of grace that are found in the Bible, and they have adopted the concepts and terminology of the sectarians. They are shying away from the biblical notion of grace-through-faith, which is a conditions-based concept of grace, and they are regurgitating the failed and false concept of grace alone. They join with the sectarians in making fun of the notion that man must answer the call of grace – that he must do something in response to it (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).
At the conclusion of God’s creative processes He told Adam and Eve that he had given them all plant produce for their food (Genesis 1:29). His post-flood instructions expanded this gift to include the consumption of all living creatures (9:3). Are we to assume from these passages that fruits, vegetables and meats jumped from the ground and fell from the sky directly into the mouths of men? Did they do nothing to obtain them or to use them? People certainly had not earned what God had “given” them. In fact, man had sinned, and was punished by having to struggle for his sustenance (Genesis 3). God “gave” him food, but in order for man to benefit from God’s free, unearned, undeserved, unmerited gift, he would have to work hard for that food. The New Testament teaches exactly the same principle (Ephesians 4:28). Those who are unwilling to work have no right to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Through His providential arrangements and gifts, God makes food available to man (Acts 14:17). However, man must meet certain conditions in order to avail himself of the provisions of God’s grace. What is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm.
God’s “grace” is His unmerited favor towards man. It includes all of the various provisions that God has made for man’s salvation; things that man could not provide for himself. Chief among these is the sacrifice of Christ: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). No mere man possesses or sheds soul-saving, conscience-purging blood. The sin-stained conscience can be cleansed only by “precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 9:14). By His death, Christ provided something for man that he had not earned and which He could not provide for himself. This is grace. As we shall see later, man must respond to the gospel message if he wishes to avail himself of God’s gracious provisions.
Titus 2:11-14 is indispensable in defining and describing God’s grace. Paul identifies two basic components of God’s grace: gospel teaching (vs. 11, 12) and the sacrifice of Christ (v. 14). Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works.” John 3:16 speaks of God, the Father’s giving of His Son, but Paul here speaks of the Son’s giving of Himself. This was an act of grace.
Just prior to his discussion of the sacrifice of Christ, Paul had said, “For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men. Instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world.” Paul here states that “grace” provides “instruction.” This is only possible if God’s “grace” includes the gospel, and indeed it does, for it is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). God’s grace cannot be detached from His gospel, for it is the gospel that reveals God’s grace.
The point is clear: Those who wish to be the beneficiaries of God’s grace must themselves follow God’s instructions. God’s grace does not nullify man’s faith – It requires it.
Paul told the Ephesians,
“For by grace have you been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God – not of works, that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Sadly, the basic concepts of this passage are often overlooked due to various efforts to prop up long-standing misconceptions about salvation. In the ever-expanding effort to strip man of all personal responsibility in salvation, the word “alone” or “only” is affixed to the word “grace,” thus suggesting that salvation is only God’s doing and requires nothing of us at all. Ephesians 2:8 is (wrongly) cited as teaching a “grace-only” style of salvation.
Interestingly, Ephesians 2:8 is also used to support the doctrine of “faith-only” salvation. How is it possible for one to be saved by “grace-only” and by “faith-only?” If we are saved by “faith-only,” then we are not saved by “grace” at all! And while I have never known a single person who held this position, this conclusion is the logical consequence of the faith-only / grace-only arguments. Truth does not contradict truth – it is error that contradicts truth. We must be willing to give up any view that pits Scripture against Scripture. Though men often grapple with the subjects of grace and faith, Ephesians 2:8 reveals a perfect harmony between the two.
The contradictory applications of Ephesians 2:8 illustrate how passages are twisted in order to accommodate particular beliefs and practices. Rather than examining passages in order to determine their actual meaning, passages are interpreted so as to support preconceived notions. In such cases, interpretation is not the honest effort of one desiring to know the truth, but the effort of someone to uphold a cherished and long-held view. Each of us must be careful to avoid this approach to the Scriptures. It is possible to “twist the Scriptures” to one’s “own” spiritual “destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
Ephesians 2:8-10 divides salvation into two general parts: God’s part, which is “grace,” and man’s part, which is “faith.” Of course, words are subject to definition, and as I said above, some people make up their own definitions for Bible words. Paul’s word “faith” automatically becomes “faith-alone,” and is described as a mental act only.
“Not of Works”
Some argue from Ephesians 2:9 that man’s salvation cannot involve any action on man’s part. They argue that it must be wholly of faith (only). If this is what this passage means, then the Ephesian saints had already violated this passage at their conversion and with Paul’s own help! Acts 19:1-6 records Paul’s acquaintance with the disciples at Ephesus. Upon his arrival he learned that the Ephesians were not familiar with the Holy Spirit, which prompted him to ask them of their baptism. They explained that they knew only the baptism of John. Upon hearing this, Paul taught them the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. Acts 19:5 says, “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” By this point in the book of Acts we have learned three things about baptism “in the name of” Christ: (1) It is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and (2) It is “commanded” (Acts 10:48), and (3) It is in water (Acts 10:47). The Ephesians were baptized in response to Paul’s instructions. Incidentally, the Philippian jailer was also “baptized” in response to the faith-producing instructions that he received (Acts 16:33). Not all “works” are bad! Some works are simply acts of obedience to God’s commands. The “works” that Paul condemned in Ephesians 2:9 are the works that were required by the Law, which Paul later said was “abolished” – that is, the works of the Law of Moses! (see Ephesians 2:14-15). The context holds the key to understanding. “Works” that are nothing more than doing what God commands are encouraged in the Gospel (Matthew 7:21; Philippians 2:12,13; James 2:14-26). They are not condemned.
Yes, we are saved by grace, but grace contains conditions that must be met for salvation.