In the back of my Bible is the following quote from John Stott’s commentary on Galatians, Only One Way “Sinners may be justified before God and by God, not because of any works of their own, but because of the atoning work of Christ, not because of anything they have done or could do, but because of what Christ did once when He died. The Gospel is not good advice to men but good news about Christ, not an invitation to us to do anything but a declaration of what Christ has done, not a demand, but an offer.” p. 70
I wrote that quote from Stott a long time ago in my Bible and I read it often because it sums up what it really means to be a Christian. The first thing we notice in the quote is everything that is done for our salvation is by Jesus and not by our own efforts and works. We are the recipients of grace, we are offered it freely as a gift and we may freely accept by the simple act of believing in Jesus’ atoning work on our behalf.
Let me tell you what is sad in the lives of so many Christians and that is the simple fact they don’t receive the gift with open arms. Way too many professing Christians believe that there is “no free lunch” and if you only have to believe in Jesus then somehow you have a cheap grace or have taken advantage of God. These brothers and sisters believe Jesus died for them, but there is something they must do to show their thankfulness for the gift. They believe you are justified or declared righteous by faith but your growth or sanctification must be demonstrated through your actions.
John 1:11-13, “He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not. But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Right from the beginning of his gospel John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes it clear that if we would be children of God it has nothing to do with our heritage, our own hard work or how much we will it, but it is a gift of God based on our belief in Jesus.
Also John the Baptist says, “John bore witness to Him, and cried, ‘This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was before me. And from His fullness have we all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:15-17).
John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness to the crowds who flocked to him to hear his message about the coming Messiah. Now he reveals that the promised one is none other than Jesus and He is the fulfillment of all that Moses and the law point forward to. The requirements of law keeping as a standard of righteousness was not done away with when Jesus came, but instead fulfilled in Him.
What we couldn’t do because of the weakness of the flesh, He accomplished on our behalf and instead of condemning us for our failure, He poured out grace and truth to us. Stott is right, the gospel is not, “a demand, but an offer.”
This is good news indeed. “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. It is Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not your own efforts.
No matter how hard you try, how much effort you put into it, how much you sacrifice and deny yourself you cannot add one iota of merit towards your salvation, because it is a gift already paid for and freely given to anyone who would accept. It is Jesus who takes away your sin, it is Jesus who freely gives the gift of eternal life and we can only kneel before the cross in utter amazement and thankfulness.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus inquiring about who Jesus really is. He comes as a leading religious figure in Jerusalem and yet he can’t figure out why Jesus is doing what He is doing. Jesus knows what Nicodemus needs and that is to break through the religious fog of his culture, background and prejudices and open his heart to grace.
Jesus tells him, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:15,16.
And just incase Nicodemus didn’t understand the plain and simple truth of His words as recorded in verses 15 and 16 Jesus added, “He who believes in Him is not condemned, he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God,” John 3:18. Remember, in chapter 1:12 that anyone who believed in the name of Jesus was given power to become children of God; now anyone who refuses to believe in the saving power of Jesus is condemned.
This is the great choice that we are confronted with; we either accept the free gift of salvation and receive eternal life or we don’t receive it because of disbelief or legalism.
It doesn’t matter if you are an atheist or a legalist. Either way you will be lost if you don’t put your trust in the free gift of salvation that comes through the substitutionary death of Jesus on our behalf at Calvary. John 3:36 tells us, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
If we believe we have eternal life, only when we don’t obey Jesus’ command to believe upon Him do we receive the wrath of God.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2:8, 9 Paul uses the past perfect tense, “you have been” saved to make sure there is no doubt about our assurance of salvation when we believe.
Someone reading this might say, Ladd you didn’t quote verse 10 and that changes everything. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
We know from verses 8 and 9 that verse 10 is not talking about salvation because we are told, “for by grace you have been saved through faith,” and “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” If verse 10 was talking about our good works contributing to salvation then verses 8 and 9 are a lie.
So we know that verse 10 cannot be talking about earning merit towards our redemption. The simplicity of the verse is that as saved Christians, we live as saved Christians. Our lives reflect through love what Jesus has done for us in redeeming us from sin, Satan and the power of the grave. Our good works are expressed in love towards others. (see John 13:34)
I can’t think of any better encouragement than to know that we are saved by grace through faith and it is the gift of God that makes that happen. I praise God that my salvation doesn’t depend on my efforts, perfection and striving, but upon what He has done already. I praise God that no matter how I feel about my relationship with God, what matters is that I am not saved or lost by feelings, but by acceptance or rejection of His grace.
When we realize that we have been saved because of the cross we just want to cry out in joy and shout the good news that they too can have this gift if they so choose. That is the works of the Bible, encouraging others to find eternal life in the Lamb of God who takes away their sins.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/