“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is no small wonder these two verses are frequently memorized. They sum up the gospel of grace. Every heart’s desire is grace. We surely don’t want justice. If we got what we deserved for our sin, we would all be condemned. We want what we don’t deserve, and that is grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches our salvation has nothing to do with our works. It is a free gift from God which we receive by faith. Salvation is not something we work up or even work on. Works have nothing to do with it. If that were the case, we could boast, “I did this,” or “I did that.” But only God can say, “I did this: I provided all these sinners need through My Son.” Even the faith to believe comes from God, so it is grace from start to finish.
Paul knew about boasting. In Philippians 3, he referred to his past. It was quite an impressive past too! Talk about religious credentials! He was impeccably religious. He was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (vv. 5-6). If anyone could boast or have confidence in the flesh, it was him. But he looked at his impressive past and counted it all rubbish: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (v. 8).
According to Romans 3:23, none of us deserves salvation. We all have sinned. But God’s grace is greater than our sin. All we need to do is receive Christ. If we think any of our works add anything to the Cross, we insult God.
Have you ever looked at your circumstances and thought, I would love to have a chance to do that again? Or If I could just change that, I would. I need another chance. That is what grace is all about. I don’t mean after we die, we get another chance to receive the Lord Jesus as Savior. The Bible does not teach that. I mean in this lifetime God lavishes His forgiving love on us after we have thoroughly blown it. We are never outside God’s grace.
Most people hear the gospel many times before they receive the Lord. That is grace. God does not give up on wooing us to Himself. He is the God of second chances – and oftentimes a thousand chances. He sends someone our way to tell us of the Savior. We reject the truth. Because He is the God of grace, He sends another. We reject the truth again. Because He is the God of grace, He sends yet another. Sometimes, this process goes on for years until finally one day – because of pursuant grace – we become children of God.
This should encourage us to pray for unsaved people. This should encourage the Christian wife who has prayed for years for her unsaved husband. God’s grace is pursuing him. This should encourage parents who have been praying for their unsaved child. God’s grace is pursuing that son or daughter. We may give up. God does not.
Some of us were saved early in life, and some were saved late in life. But the wonderful fact is it takes the same amount of grace to save a five-year-old boy as it does a sixty-year-old man. Grace is abundant, no matter the age.
God is beyond time. It’s like being in a helicopter and seeing all of a parade at one time. That’s the way God sees time. He sees everything, from the beginning to the end. When God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin, He did so based on what was already in His mind accomplished – the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. His substitutionary death makes our salvation possible. God says to us, “I’m going to give you another chance.”
Many struggling Christians understand they have been saved by grace, but they still want to pay God back with good works. Some even think this is necessary to remain saved. The Bible teaches neither. God’s love for us flows from His character, not ours; it is not dependent on anything we have done or will do. In fact, if we do nothing to serve Him for the rest of our life, He will not love us any less.
I have a friend who reacted negatively when I told him he could not earn his way to heaven. He could not comprehend this kind of grace. He felt he had to earn God’s love and acceptance. In time, however, he was able to accept God’s unconditional grace and an enormous burden lifted off his back. After accepting this truth, he found that he still wanted to serve God, but his motivation was different. He served God because he loved Him, not to earn His approval.
This is certainly a liberating truth. God isn’t keeping score. We can’t pay Him back for His grace. No amount of good works can pay the debt we owe. It is only by God’s grace through faith in Christ that we are saved. We can’t do anything to make Him love us any more. And we can’t do anything to make Him love us any less either.
The book of Galatians was written to those who were adding law to grace. Paul wrote, “Therefore the law was our tutor until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (3:24-25). There is no way we could keep God’s moral code perfectly. We need a Savior. Even after we become Christians, God does not want us to add law to His grace. He wants obedience, of course. But the obedience is an overflow of a heart full of love, not legalism.
When Jesus tells us to keep His commandments, He emphasizes that obedience shows others that we love Him. The moral law shows us our need for a Savior. The corresponding imperatives in the New Testament help us see we cannot obey the Lord Jesus, even after we are saved, without His help. It is not ought to, should, must to gain His favor. Rather, it is children wanting to please their heavenly Father because we love Him.
This delivers us from legalism and keeps us on the ground of grace, not only for salvation, but also for living the Christian life. Grace brought us to the Savior, even after we spurned Him on many occasions. Grace brings us back to Him when we fail. Grace lavishes us with all the things we need to live for Him. Grace implores us to do good works out of sheer gratitude. Grace displaces us when we test the limits. Grace tells us we’re accepted. Grace is more than what we need when we suffer. Grace super-abounds where sin abounds. Grace invites us to God’s throne where we find help in times of need.
What about those who abuse God’s grace? Paul asked and answered this very question: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2). The implication is that it is unthinkable a Christian would be comfortable continuing in sin. Sin does not stay dormant. It grows. It enslaves. If we are saved, sin cannot destroy our relationship with God, but it surely can damage our testimony and our fellowship.
If you are struggling to earn your salvation, please know God’s grace is all you need. We become Christians through God’s unmerited grace, not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service on our part.