Message #3: Salvation by Grace & Missionary Journey #2
Signs and Wonders: Traveling Green River this past week…
Introduction: On the road again…and even though he would have walked most places, I don’t think Paul could wait to get on the road again…On his second journey, which we will look at in more detail later, a very significant thing happened in Acts 15.
Some of those who had accepted Christ in Antioch were being taught by other believers regarding the need to be circumcised. This brought up a sharp debate between them and Paul and Barnabas. So they were chosen to go to Jerusalem see the apostles and elders regarding this issue. Let’s pick the story up here at Acts 15: 3-11…
This was a huge turning point for many, including Paul…in fact, this influenced his teaching to the church Ephesus. I want to spend some time this morning on this teaching by looking at Ephesians 2: 8-10.
Salvation by Grace Ephesians 2: 8-10…Things to understand from this passage…
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith….” (2:8a)
The word “grace” in Greek is charis (caris) and simply means “favor.”1 To show grace is to bestow favor. It has nothing to do with reward for “good behavior.” The benefactor doesn’t show favor because we have earned it, but simply because he wants to. He or she is under no obligation to love because we have somehow driven them to it. The person just loves. The impetus for the favor is entirely the prerogative of the giver.
Illus: The Lockhart’s in Indy…my new suit and Ruth Crist’s Steakhouse…
God isn’t some celestial Santa Claus, “making a list and checking it twice, trying to find out who’s naughty or nice.” That view of Christmas was invented by manipulative parents trying to leverage the holiday to induce good behavior.
We grossly misunderstand God’s favor if we see it as wages or rewards — that would be justice not grace. This is gift-giving, pure and simple.
Like the runner to first base who knows he didn’t quite make it, but the base umpire lifts his hands and shouts out “Safe!” “That was a gift,” mutters the first baseman under his breath. Yes, our “safe-ness” is a gift, not our due. We were “out.” We missed it. We’ve been rescued from what is our due.
The word “Saved” here is the Greek verb sōzō, while “salvation is the noun sōteria. In classical Greek “both the verb and the noun mean rescue and deliverance in the sense of averting some danger threatening life. This could be physical danger, but can also be deliverance from an illness. Where no immediate danger is mentioned, they can mean to keep or preserve.”2 When speaking to non-Christians (and Christians, too, for that matter) you could substitute the word “rescued” for “saved,” since that word is may be better understood outside our “Christian-ese” language.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (2:8-9)
Paul was raised a strict Pharisee, whose highest value was complete obedience to the Torah, God’s law. If he obeyed then he was righteous. If he disobeyed then he was unrighteous. It was black or white. The Judaism of Jesus’ and Paul’s day had reduced the principles of God’s law into inflexible and sometimes petty rules. Keep the petty rules, they reasoned, and you are prevented from breaking the actual law. That was Phariseeism, prompted by a desire to obey God.
But evenually they mistook the petty rules for the law. Don’t say “God” because you might take his name in vain, so you substitute “heaven” for God and you’re safe. When God’s name appears in the sacred text as Yahweh, you pronounce it as if it said “Lord” (Adonai).
A minor verse in the law said, “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” obviously intended to instill some sense of mercy towards the animals one was butchering for food (Exodus 23:19b). Judaism turned it into a system of keeping a Kosher kitchen with one set of pots and pans used for dairy products, and a completely different set used for meat products, so they wouldn’t inadvertently boil a kid in its mother’s milk.
Paul’s Judaism had degenerated from faithfulness to God’s principles to strict and blind adherence to man-made rules. Then it elevated obedience to these man-made rules into a system of earned righteousness before God. By their right actions they put God in their debt.
Never mind that their hearts were still self-centered and self-serving. Never mind that they lived their whole lives to save themselves. They were righteous. That was what counted. When Paul says in Ephesians 2:9 that you have been saved “not by works (ergon), so that no one can boast,” this is what he is talking about.
Paul the Christian gives up “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law” (Philippians 3:9), and instead embraces “the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Paul the Christian isn’t lawless, but he has finally come to understand that God’s favor isn’t earned by surface observance of religious rules. This was real change of heart for a Pharisee.
He, who had gone to Damascus to imprison followers of Jesus, had himself been arrested by this Jesus (Acts 9). He, the righteous murderer of Christians, had received mercy from the hand of the One whom he was persecuting. He now understands the emptiness of a religion based on outward rules while fostering an inward self-centered rather than God-centered motivation.
With his transformation, Paul now rejects this kind of works-based righteousness in favor of a gift-based righteousness, which is received by faith — that is, simple trust, simple acceptance that believes at face value that God loves you — faith that puts out its open hand to receive, and says thank you to the Giver when it has taken hold of the gift.
We see in our Ephesians passage a radical statement of the roots of our religion. We are saved by God’s favor. Period. Not by our own goodness.
Our society is plagued by “easy believism.” “Oh, of course, I believe in God,” really means, “I acknowledge that there is a Supreme Being.” That’s an important step from atheism or agnosticism, but it is not faith. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (James 2:19).
The basic concept of Christian faith or belief is “trust,” having enough confidence in God to be willing to rely on Him. Of course, it is easily possible to have faith in some aspects of God’s provision for us and not others. So there is much room to grow in our knowledge and trust — or to persist in various degrees of unbelief.
What we often see in American religion today is this: If you’re good you’ll go to heaven. If you’re bad you’ll go to hell. Of course, we’re not bad enough to go to hell, we say nervously.
We’ve been generous (sometimes), we’ve been good neighbors (at least the times we remember), we haven’t stole from work (I don’t think a stapler really counts does it). We are basically good people and so a fair-minded God will send us to heaven when we die. Won’t he?
Our culture, you see, doesn’t understand a gift-righteousness, only a works-righteousness. We can justify ourselves only by means of a confused mind that ignores our real spiritual condition:
spiritual deadness, self-centeredness, and an adoption of the world’s (and ultimately Satan’s) values.
A works-righteousness puts us in control; a gift-righteousness makes us utterly dependent upon the Giver, something that our lack of trust — lack of faith, in reality — makes us push away.
By now we’ve talked about what “works” is referring to. But to be complete, we need to talk about what it does not mean. For that we turn to James chapter 2, where we talk about:
“… Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action (works, KJV) is dead” (James 2:17)
The word “works,” Greek ergon, referred to “a deed, an action, by contrast either with inactivity or a mere word.”4 This is the sense in which James uses the word.
However, Paul uses the word in a technical sense: “In Judaism … the view of works necessary for the fulfillment of the law and therefore for righteousness is developed and consolidated. The way to godliness is casuistically prescribed for the Jew by a multiplicity of regulations for the performance of the law.”5 As mentioned above, Paul’s background as a Pharisee (Philippians 3:4-6) had led him to believe that if he acted righteously enough he could merit salvation.
Today’s strict Hasidic Jews are the spiritual descendents of the Pharisees. They believe they will be saved by their strict adherence to the 613 commandments in the Torah. Paul firmly rejected this view.
Now Paul is coming from a Pharisaical understanding of the idea of “works” meriting favor in the eyes of God, James uses the same word “works” but by it means something entirely different: deeds, actions.
James writes in response to people who had perverted salvation by grace into “it doesn’t matter how you live or what you do, you’re saved anyway.”
James’ point is this: Saying you have faith isn’t enough. Your faith needs to be evidenced in your actions, your deeds, your lifestyle. If it isn’t, it probably isn’t genuine faith. If it isn’t, you’re probably kidding yourself about really trusting God with your life.
James isn’t saying that our deeds save us. He doesn’t even come close. He is saying that if our faith hasn’t affected our lives, then it probably isn’t real but “dead.”
Works follow faith, not the other way around. Of course, we don’t change everything overnight. Our character took 15 or 20 or 30 or 40 years to get to where it is, and it takes God’s Spirit a while to form in us the character of Christ. Don’t beat yourself up because you see areas of sin in you that Christ has not yet softened and lifted out of you.
Our salvation springs from God’s gift, and is consummated by our trusting acceptance (“through faith”). It is after salvation has been received that God begins his real work in us, not before. It is as a result of salvation that we begin to produce actions, which reflect our faith. James says it this way: “Faith without works is dead.”
Paul says it a different way in our passage:
“For we are God’s workmanship (a gift), created in Christ Jesus to do good works (the result of our faith-response to God), which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (2:10)
Faith-energized works are our destiny!
The word “prepared in advance” is the Greek verbs hat means “before” and “get ready, hold in readiness”.6
God planned for us before we were even born to do special “good works.” The scripture says he “prepared in advance” for us to do them. I take this to mean that we have been prepared in advance by having been given particular aptitudes, special spiritual sensitivities, unique abilities — “spiritual gifts,” if you will — which equip or prepare us to fulfil our destiny here on earth.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9not by works, so that no one can boast.” (2:8-9)
By now we’ve looked at each of the important concepts contained in this classic passage, Ephesians 2:8-10, except for one: “and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” Okay, so what is the gift here? Possibilities? Grace, salvation, and faith. The phrase “and this not from yourselves” could refer to any or all of them. This what?
This grace is certainly not from us. It is the generous gift of the Giver, given against all odds, against all of our self-centered, rebellious history. Grace is certainly not from ourselves.
This salvation? The rescue operation, which culminated in the cross, was launched by the Father with the willing cooperation of his Son Jesus. We had nothing to do with it that we can boast about. Unless we can boast about uttering a feeble “Help” at the when we became aware of the desperateness of our situation and need to be rescued from our sin. Without a doubt, we did not rescue ourselves.
This faith? Faith is certainly something which comes from us, isn’t it? Well, the best we can say is “sort of.” The New Testament is filled with what John Wesley called “prevenient grace,” grace which comes before, grace which precedes the actual event of our salvation. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” exclaimed Peter. “This wasn’t revealed to you by man,” Jesus replied, “but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17).
Peter’s faith-insight into Jesus’ true nature was a God-given revelation, not from himself so that Peter couldn’t boast. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” Jesus said (John 6:44). So our faith is in response to the Father’s gentle drawing, the Holy Spirit’s persistent conviction that we are sinful (John 16:8-11). We can’t take credit for our faith, either.
Most recent commentators see “this not from yourselves” as referring to salvation by grace as a whole, including faith.
Faith in Action: Remember you are saved by grace. A grace that is meant to be shared with others. And once again, you are now entering the mission field. Keep planting seeds. God will do the rest!