Reformation 500_Sola Gratia -Grace alone
In 1517 a catholic priest by the name of Martin Luther took the church to task for what he felt were theological errors that needed to be corrected. He wrote a list of these errors and nailed them to the door of the largest church in the area, the Wittenberg Cathedral.
Martin Luther did not start down this road in order to start a new denomination. His intention, as a priest and theologian was to start a healthy debate within the church which would ultimately bring the church back to its roots. It was “The Church”, after all.
When theologians speak of the central teachings of the protestant reformation they refer to them as the “Five Solas”. Sola is simply the Latin word for “One” or “Only”. And while there was no attempt by men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other reformers to define what they were doing, church historians have gone back and packaged their beliefs and came up with the Five Solas.
Last week we looked at Sola Fide, or By Faith Alone, and this was the belief that it is faith that is the main component of our salvation, not works or good deeds and certainly not a belief in purgatory. So, we are saved by faith alone.
And that brings us to Sola Gratia, by grace alone. That is belief that our salvation comes completely by the grace of God, that it is not dependent on anything we do, other than believe in and accepting that Grace.
Today we will look carefully at, Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
There is no one scripture that sums up the teaching on grace more than these two verses.
The words come from the book of Ephesians which was a letter written to the church in Ephesus by the Apostle Paul. But Paul’s teaching on grace wasn’t limited to this one letter. Grace is mentioned in every book that Paul was the author of in the New Testament, which would kind of make us think that grace must have been fairly important to Paul and that he wanted it to be important for the early church.
And that sentiment is reflected in Martin Luther’s statement “This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.”
- Lets read Ephesians 2: 1-10
One author describes grace as follows, “Grace means you’re in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had absolutely no way to get there on your own.”
I like that description because it beautifully captures what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 2. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus about God’s saving grace. He described the way we were before receiving God’s grace. We were hopeless and helpless, completely dead in our trespasses and sins. But God then intervened in a marvellous way and saved us. He united us with his Son and translated us, as it were, into a completely new realm – the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
- Salvation Is by Grace (2:8a)
- Salvation Is Through Faith (2:8b)
- Salvation Is Not by Works (2:9) I. Salvation Is by Grace (2:8a)
First, salvation is by grace.
Paul said in verse 8a, “For by grace you have been saved….” What is grace? Kent Hughes rightly says, “It is unmerited favor – the love of God going out toward the utterly undeserving.” We are all utterly undeserving of God’s grace. We were all dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. Paul’s overarching point is that grace is an absolutely free gift. That is why he said in the second half of verse 8, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” John Stott summarized verse 8 as follows, “By God’s grace you are people who have been saved through faith, and this whole event and experience is…God’s free gift to you.”
Do you see that salvation is a completely free gift? We should never feel ourselves to be worthy of salvation. If we do, we don’t understand grace.
John Newton was nurtured by a devoted Christian mother who dreamed that her only son would become a preacher. But she died when John was a child, and he followed his sea-captain father to a sailor’s life. John didn’t care for the discipline of the Royal Navy: he deserted ship, was flogged, and eventually was discharged.
He then headed for regions where he could “sin freely,” and ended up on the western coast of Africa, working for a slave trader who mistreated him. Newton’s life during that period bore the appearance of a modern Prodigal Son’s: “a wretched-looking man toiling in a plantation of lemon trees in the Island of Plantains – clothes had become rags, no shelter and begging for unhealthy roots to allay his hunger.” After more than a year of such treatment, he managed to escape from the island in 1747.
The following year his ship was battered by a severe storm. Newton had read The Imitation of Christ, and during the life-threatening voyage he was converted and became a Christian. Later, he wrote America’s best-loved hymn, Amazing Grace, which captures God’s grace to a sinner:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
II. Salvation is Through Faith (2:8b)
Second, salvation is through faith.
Someone may say, “Okay, I understand that I am dead in my trespasses and sins. I admit that I cannot meet God’s standards of perfection. And I understand that salvation comes by God’s grace alone. But how do I receive that grace?” The Apostle Paul said that salvation is through faith. He said in verse 8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.”
There are many misconceptions about faith. Let me mention two. First, faith that saves is not mere head knowledge. Knowing about Jesus and the Bible and God and even salvation itself is not enough to save anyone. The Bible says that even the demons believe that God is one (James 2:19), but they are not saved.
Secondly, faith that saves is not mere temporal faith. That is, saving faith is not trusting God for temporary crises, such as financial, family, or physical needs. People sometimes bargain with God when they really need or want something from him, but that is not saving faith. So many people think God is a genie in a bottle, that you turn turn to, when you want your wishes met.
So, what is saving faith? Saving faith is trusting in Christ alone for the gift of eternal life. It means resting in Christ and what he has done to save you. Saving faith is to “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). Kent Hughes says:
A story which comes from the last century makes this clear. During the 19th century Jean Francois Gravalet, better known by his stage name, Blondin, was a world-famous acrobat. Born in France in 1824, Blondin became well-known while still a child. As he grew older, his skill and showmanship brought him fame throughout Europe and America. Once in London he played the violin on a tightrope 170 feet off the ground and then did a somersault wearing stilts. His most spectacular feats were the crossings of Niagara Falls on a tightrope 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. On one occasion, he stood on his head on the precarious wire, another time he crossed it blindfolded. On still another he took a stove onto the tightrope and cooked an omelette above the roaring falls. On another occasion, he pushed a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded.
Then after all that was done, and the crowd was thoroughly convinced by his skills he turned to the large crowd and asked the audience, “Do you believe that I can carry a person in this wheel barrow across the rope?” “Of course,” the crowd responded, “We have seen you do great things, we do believe you can!” “Okay then,” said Blondin, “I’ll need one volunteer.” The story goes no one volunteered.
Saving faith is entrusting yourself entirely to Jesus. RELIANCE.
Frankly, I am not sure that I would have hopped into Blondin’s wheelbarrow. I am not sure that the rope would hold us. I am not sure that I would lose my balance and fall. And I am not sure that Blondin would not slip with me inside the wheelbarrow! So, while I might believe that Blondin could do this, I am not sure that I would entrust myself entirely to Blondin.
But, entrusting myself to Jesus is a completely different matter. Jesus cannot slip and drop me. He said in John 6:39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
III. Salvation is Not by Works (2:9)
And third, salvation is not by works.
Paul said in verse 9a that salvation is “not a result of works.” Every religion and every philosophy in the world teaches that salvation is achieved by works. Kent Hughes tells about preacher who illustrated this view. He writes:
I recall hearing a story of a frog which fell into a large milk can. Try as it would, it could not get out. There was nothing to do but keep paddling, which it did until it churned a pad of butter and presto! saved itself by leaping from its self-made launching pad. Personally, if I fell into a pail of milk I would keep paddling as long as I could too, but I would not make that my philosophy of achieving eternal salvation.
I often ask people a question to gauge their understanding of salvation. I ask, “Suppose you were to die today, and you were to stand before God, and he were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?” How would you answer that question?
People answer as follows:
- “I am not perfect, but I try to do the best I can.”
- “I try to obey the Ten Commandments.”
- “I am a good person, and I am better than most.”
- “I go to church, I pray, I read my Bible.”
- “I love Jesus. I will do anything for him.”
All of these answers are works-righteousness, and not faith. Not one of them will get a single soul into heaven. Apart from the grace of God in our lives, we all pray to God like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” We decide the sins for which we have no guilt. And we compare ourselves favorably to others.
The fact is that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins. All our works are like filthy rags in the sight of God, as Isaiah 64:6 says in The Living Bible, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we put on our prized robes of righteousness, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves we fade, wither, and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.”
It is only by God’s grace that any of us are given the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Our works will never save us.
Paul gave us a reason why salvation is not by works. He said in verse 9b, “…so that no one may boast.” Can you imagine if salvation was achieved by our works? We would be going around heaven trying to outdo one another with the works that got us in to heaven. No.
Therefore, having analyzed salvation by grace in Ephesians 2:8-9, let us thank God that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Let me ask several questions. First, do you believe that salvation is by grace alone? Do you see that salvation is a completely free gift? “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Second, do you believe that salvation is through faith alone? Do you know the truths of the gospel? Do you agree that they are true? Do you believe that Jesus is who he said he is? Do you believe that he died for your sins? Do you believe that he was resurrected and lives today? Are you resting in Christ alone for your eternal salvation?
And third, do you believe that salvation is not by works? What would you say to God if he were to ask you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” Are you trusting in your good deeds, good works, obedience to the Ten Commandments, church attendance, or anything like that? If you are, I must warn you that your trust is misplaced. Your works will never get you into heaven. But Jesus’ works will! “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). Amen.