I get accused a lot of not believing in grace, and I mean…A LOT. Allow me to clear the air here for a second: I’m just a sinner saved by grace.
I can make that statement without zero hesitations, zero apologies, and zero second-thoughts.
As a matter of fact, I feel like it’s really, really important to believe that. In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul prayed that the church at Ephesus would lean into this concept. He prayed that “the eyes of [their] heart may be enlightened,” and that they would know the “hope of His calling” and the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”
That doesn’t sound to me like being “saved by grace” is anything worth hem-hawing about.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. In Ephesians 2:1-7, he goes even further into explaining why it should be so special to us. Chiefly, because we were lost – i.e. “dead in our sins” – and now are “alive together with Christ.”
So, no. I don’t have any problem telling people I’m saved by grace. I glory in it. I revel in it. And I don’t want there to be any more confusion over it.
The Infamous “Saved By Grace” Scripture
On the back end of Paul’s discussion of grace comes Ephesians 2:8. It’s been debated about, argued against, and radically defended by all corners of the globe.
Here’s what it says: “For by grace you have been saved by faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Nothing too controversial, right?
Unfortunately, this verse has been hijacked by both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, you have a group of people that are adamant that grace requires human participation. On the other, people argue man plays zero part in salvation whatsoever – zip, zero, zilch.
Where’s the truth? Somewhere in between.
Two statements inside of Ephesians 2:8 clarify this for us. The first is “by grace.” This is nearly universally agreed upon as God’s part in this process. “Grace” is often defined as “unmerited favor” – in other words, there’s nothing you can do to earn this.
Bingo. That’s exactly what Paul intended, and that’s exactly what 99.9% of the world believes.
The other phrase though – “by faith” – is what causes most of the issues. If salvation is received “by grace…through faith,” then it can be argued that “faith” is just as important as “grace.”
So, what is faith then?
Hebrews 11 provides a ton of examples. In every single one, a person is described as doing something “by faith.” Noah built the Ark, Abraham left Ur, and Moses left Egypt. All of them did that “by faith.”
At the very least then, faith is something that you do. It’s not just something you think, as some people would argue. The concept of the “sinner’s prayer” is debunked in a matter of seconds.
Perhaps the best way to put it is that “faith” is a natural response to the “grace” that a loving God has extended to us. God has done His part through the Cross, it’s up to us to accept it and live it by faith.
Grace in the Old Testament
Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time with this comparison. The balance between grace and obedience has been wrestled with for thousands of years.
It’s so important that James dedicated the entire second chapter of his epistle to it.
But I would argue that true grace has been seen before in a story you probably know very well: The Israelites’ Exodus out of Egypt.
God’s Grace Appears
The Exodus starts with the response of God to His people.
In Exodus 2:23-25 and 3:7-9, God hears the cries of His people and decides to rescue them from slavery. He sends Moses, there’s a few plagues, and the people eventually are driven from Pharoah’s sight.
Here’s the thing: No part of that can be done apart from God. He’s the One that gives Aaron the words and He’s the One that sends the plagues. That’s grace on His part.
What’s sad is the people didn’t ever really want to get out of bondage. Sure, they complained about the whips, but they enjoyed the various things associated with Egypt: running water, stability, the watermelons (Numbers 21:5).
When push comes to shove, we don’t really want to be freedom from our slavery either. We may not like the effects of the sins that we participate in from time to time, but there’s no doubting its appeal.
After all, if sin wasn’t fun, there wouldn’t be any temptation.
That’s why it’s so important that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice comes with empathy attached to it (Hebrews 2:14-18). He knows what it feels like to be human; that’s what drives His compassion.
At the same time, His sacrifice brought about the “grace that has appeared” to all men (Titus 2:11-15). He’s sympathetic to our situation, so He provided a way we can be delivered from it.
We just have to leave Egypt, first.
God’s Grace Agreed
Circumcision is kind of a big deal in the Bible.
It’s one of the main divisive factors in the New Testament (Acts 15, Galatians 2, et. al.), but in the Old, it’s a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-14). Circumcision and Judaism and Judaism are almost synonymous, which is part of why (probably) it was such a huge deal for it to be done away with under the law of Christ Jesus.
Weirdly enough, it was stopped during the 40 years of Israelite wanderings in the desert. Joshua picks it up intentionally before the people enter Canaan (Joshua 5:1-9).
There are lots of theories as to why it wasn’t practiced under Moses at this time, but the text indicates that that generation needed to perish (as punishment) before they entered the Promised Land. Once they did, the “reproach” was gone.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 is very clear that that the Mosaic covenant is gone – and circumcision along with it. Baptism is how we enter into the new covenant (Colossians 2:8-15), and it’s just as imperative to Christians as circumcision to the Jews.
Without it, there’s no new creation. Without it, there’s no covenant.
God’s Grace Preserved
The problem that many people have with a Biblical relationship of grace and obedience is that there seems to be strings attached to it. In other words, certain conditions have to be met – and maintained – for the covenant to exist.
But isn’t that what happened in the Old Testament? Deuteronomy 7-8 plainly relay the conditions of the Covenant – namely, that the Israelites must obey God. Failure to do so will result in the revocation of the covenant blessings (Deut. 7:1-11; 8:11-20).
For some reason, we think that the limits of God’s patience have changed with the switch of covenant. Romans 8:1 does talk about how we can’t lose our salvation, but Romans 8:2-8 says that only applies to those who are “in Christ.” And according to that same text, those that are “in Christ” are also obedient.
I’m not really sure why there’s any kickback on this point at all. The fact that God requires our obedience to his grace doesn’t change the fact that it’s a gift. Our obedience doesn’t come close to equalizing the magnitude of salvation. Only a crazy person would argue otherwise.
God’s Grace Rewarded
We need to remember something about the Exodus. Getting out of Egypt was never the goal, getting to Canaan was the goal.
The religious world today wants to promise you a life stuck in the wilderness. They argue that an existence with the love of God is better than one without God. That a life lived with Jesus at the helm promises a more peaceful, happier, and hope-filled life full of love.
Those things are absolutely true, but again…that’s not the goal. The goal for all of us is to go to Heaven. That’s where God is, that’s where eternity is – anything less is just a tragedy for our lives (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
That’s the real reward of God’s grace. The other bits that we may have in this life are great and need to be celebrated, but we should never let that distract us from the real purpose of God’s grace – a life lived eternally with Him, where death will never find us again.
I Repeat…I’m Just a Sinner Saved By Grace
But there’s more to it than that. We can’t be lazy and just think that God’s grace will make up for my willful disobedience. I’ve seen people wreck their lives, refuse to change, and then try to claim that God’s grace is all they need.
Hogwash. God’s grace is the most powerful thing in existence, but His patience will run out.
Don’t believe me? Let the words of Jesus ring true in your ears:
“Do you think these Galileeans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans just because they sufered this fate? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-3).
Sounds pretty serious to me.Last modified: December 6, 2022