“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I love stories of redemption. The greater and more profound the turnaround, the better. They are even better when the person who experiences the most dramatic turnaround is the one you least expected, the one who seemed to be the furthest gone. At the end of this incredible passage, Paul helps us see that the turnaround God has planned for us is just this dramatic. We’ve seen how we were totally lost to sin. We’ve seen how God nonetheless planned to save us in Christ anyway so that His glory might be revealed in us. Here, we see just how amazing is the gift we have in Him. Let’s explore it together.
Perhaps the simplest definition of grace I’ve ever heard is that it is “unmerited favor.” In other words, you don’t deserve it and didn’t earn it. In fact, there cannot be even the slightest shred of merit to our understanding of grace, or it isn’t grace at all. I would actually add one more thing to that definition. Grace is not only a favor we don’t deserve and didn’t earn, but we couldn’t have obtained it on our own. If the favor we receive is something we could have accomplished on our own, then it’s not really grace; it’s merely a convenient gift. It is hard to overemphasize just how difficult an idea this is for us to get our minds around. Grace is something we love as an idea, but fairly well hate in practice. Better yet, we love to hear stories about other people receiving grace, but when it comes to us, we don’t really want it.
Don’t believe me? Just think about it for a second. If you receive something by an act of grace from someone else, what does that mean about you and the thing you received? Well, as a matter of definitions, it means you could not have obtained that thing on your own. If you think about it for a second, there aren’t very many things we receive in life that are truly acts of grace. When you receive a birthday gift, for instance, that’s a good thing. It is a convenient thing. But we could have gotten it for ourselves. It may have taken a lot of work and saving depending on what it is, but we could have done it. That’s not grace. It’s just a gift.
When Paul gets down to summarizing his statement of the Gospel here, he starts by fleshing out an idea he’s already introduced to us. Salvation is a gift of grace. The salvation of God we have in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is not merely a convenience or a nice gift. It is an act of grace. We do not deserve it. We did not earn it. We could not have otherwise obtained it under our own power. Paul doesn’t just say all of this here, he fairly well jumps up and down on it. He does this by saying the same basic thing four times in a row in different ways.
First: You are saved by grace through faith.
Second: This is not from yourselves.
Third: It is God’s gift.
Fourth: It is not from works.
Those may look like four different ideas, but they are all versions of the same point. Salvation comes from God and not from you. Yet again, how hard is this idea for us to really grasp! Embracing it strikes a blow at the very core of our being. Just consider all of the stories we tell. Someone faces a challenge or problem that seems insurmountable, but with a combination of grit and courage, they overcome it. They work extra hard. They remain steadfast in the face of adversity. They show incredible courage. And yeah, maybe there’s a bit of luck or outside help thrown in there just to keep things interesting. But at the end of the day, the real work of overcoming whatever obstacle lies in the path of the hero is done by the hero. He earns it. By himself. He deserves it. Because he’s the hero. That’s the story we want to be a part of. That’s the story that resonates with our deepest desires. We want to be enough. We want to be more than enough. We want to be able to look back on our lives, point to all the successes we have experienced and allowed others to experience, and say, “Look what I did.”
But when it comes to salvation, the script gets flipped. In this sense, accepting the salvation offered us in Christ is humiliating. In order for us to receive it, we have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t do it on our own. At all. No amount of work is going to get us there. There is no quest we can take to obtain it. Nothing we do will ever make us deserving of it. Nothing. All we can do is receive it or not. Too many have ultimately refused it because they just couldn’t bring themselves to accept their own inability.
Pride is a major stumbling block on the road to salvation. We want to play some kind of active role in our salvation. We are desperate for it. We want to be able to hold on to the false sense of autonomy that has held court in our hearts since the Fall. We want God and all that He promises us in Christ, but we want it on our terms. We don’t want to give up the position we have deluded ourselves into thinking we have.
The trouble is: We can either do that, or we can receive God’s salvation in Christ. Not both. We can live the life that is truly life, or we can continue playing at life until the death that truly characterizes our lives finally settles fully into place. Not both. We are saved by grace.
Indeed, if salvation wasn’t by grace, God wouldn’t still be God. He definitely wouldn’t be worthy of our worship. If there is even a modicum of merit to our salvation, then we are in at least some small part receiving what we are owed. It is not for no reason that Solomon said the borrower is slave to the lender. If God owes us salvation in even the remotest sense, then we are over Him on that point. A God who I am greater than at any point is not worthy of my devotion and service. I don’t need His salvation. I don’t want His salvation. I can do it just fine on my own. Such thinking may be delusional in terms of how the universe actually operates, but it is the only logical conclusion of our thinking that we can play a role in our salvation. As a point of truth, we don’t, and we can’t.
What all of this means is that the salvation God offers us in Christ is amazing beyond even what we have perhaps understood before. When you are saved, you are completely saved. Every single part of you. You are saved from the death of sin. You are saved for advancing His kingdom by spreading the good works reflecting His character that are currency of that kingdom. These good works, Paul says, were prepared in Christ long before you got around to doing them.
In other words, God planned to save you. He plans to save you. He’s just waiting for you to receive it. He won’t force Himself on you. He won’t force you into something you don’t want to receive. You have to overcome your pride. You have to embrace the humility that allows for you to be fully you and God to be fully God. It isn’t easy. It won’t take all at once. You’ll spend more time than you’re comfortable admitting battling back and otherwise ridding yourself of the false and deadly ways of thinking that marked your life before receiving Christ as King. But if you’ll do it, you will find life. Eternal life. You’ll find freedom. Freedom to be fully who you were made to be. You’ll find wholeness and healing and purpose and meaning and hope. You’ll find love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. You’ll find the life that is truly life.
This is the Gospel. It’s hard news. There’s no getting around that. But it’s good news. It’s the best news ever. I hope you’ll receive it in full.