Many years ago I wrote the following quote from John Stott in the back of my Bible. “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.” Galatians, Only One Way p. 70
I believed this quote when I first read it and I believe it even more today. My hope of eternal life, being reunited with loved ones, never being separated from those I love, and most importantly being in the presence of God are all founded upon what Jesus has done for me, not upon any actions or works of my own.
1 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:1-10
Let’s look at this encouraging passage of Scripture for a few moments. First of all Paul reminds his readers that they “all” were dead in transgressions and sin because they conformed and lived according to the ways of the world. (v. 1-2) They were all slaves to Satan (ruler of the kingdom of the air) and controlled to some degree by the working of evil angels. (the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient) (v. 2)
Paul goes on to state that “all of us” and that includes Paul, lived selfish lives gratifying our sinful natures and pursuing our lusts, passions, and desires, and in the process making them our gods. (v. 3) He also makes it clear in verse three that everyone one of us, therefore, deserves the wrath of God because of our rebellion, sins, and transgressions.
Paul doesn’t leave us in hopelessness, however, because of the unfathomable love of God. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (v. 4-5)
Only God can take the dead and make them live, and the wonderful good news of the Bible is it is not only in the realm of the spiritual that God gives life, but He can resurrect the literal body as well.
Look at the words in verses four and five, “mercy,” “made alive,” “grace,” and “been saved”. This is all the work of God’s “great love for us” who made us “alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
If we are dead then we can do nothing to contribute to our salvation. Only Jesus who is alive in us through the grace of God can bring life to this walking corpse.
“We are raised up with Christ” (v. 6) and God “seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (v. 6) Now contemplate these amazing words in verse seven, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
We are plucked out of this present evil age by the grace and kindness of Christ Jesus. We are given eternal life through mercy and love.
There is no trust and obey in the Gospel. The gospel is pure redemption poured out to us “while we were yet sinners”, before we understood the gospel, and before we had our hearts opened to grace. Everything that is done for our redemption is in Christ.
My Christian walk with God isn’t built upon obedience but upon love. I don’t do things for Ruth because I’m obedient and have to do what she asks of me, I do them because I love her and want to make her happy. How much more is this true of our relationship with God?
Don’t believe me? Well check out verses eight and nine; “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Could Paul be clearer? It is God’s grace that saves us from sin, death and Satan, and it is a gift of God. Salvation is not by works and the reason for that is “no one can boast” about what they may have contributed to redemption.
Let me be clear, all your good works, deeds, actions, doctrinal stances, church going, mission work, and local ministry do not add one iota to your status as a saved man or woman. If you are relying upon your performance to impress God with your piousness and good intentions then you are going to wait a long time and it is going to be outside of the kingdom.
To believe that even one minuscule drop of good works in us could add anything to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross where he carried the guilt, shame, sins, and judgment of the world on His shoulders and endured the complete cup of the Father’s wrath is to annul God’s redemptive plan.
Our place is at the foot of the cross, washing the nail torn feet of our Savior with our tears of repentance and sorrow for sin. It is only then that we can stand in the newness of life and be seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms.
But what about verse ten, doesn’t that demand works? “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Over the years I have heard this verse expounded upon and preached about many times but seldom in context with verses one through nine that clarify the point that it cannot be talking about works of merit.
So, what is being said in verse ten? The fact that we are “God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works” in no way nullifies what is said in verses eight and nine. Good works, which is manifested as love in the New Testament, is the result of redemption and never the means of redemption.
My point in this posting isn’t that a Christian shouldn’t live a life of love and compassion, but that that life is not the basis of redemption. Let me illustrate. Not long ago I was at a seminar on righteousness by faith. One of the speakers spoke beautifully about grace and then he paused and added, “but there’s more.” He then went on to talk about sanctification as part of the justification process.
To my way of thinking he would have done us a great service by finishing at our being declared righteous by the grace of God and talked about our spiritual walk in love as the fruit of the Spirit or of our relationship with God.
Too many Christians have tangled together God’s grace with their own relationship with Him and somehow come to the conclusion that these two different events go together hand in hand. They don’t.
Our walk with Jesus in love is the outgrowth of our love for Him because of His great love and sacrifice for us at Calvary. There is not one drop of merit in my Christian life that can add one iota to what was done for me at the cross.
For salvation we trust. For our walk with Christ we love. We obey God when we bear fruit in our life, which is the growth of love in our lives and allow that love to flow out to others. That obedience, let me say it again, however has no warrant on my relationship with Jesus.
God will never love me more than He does and He will never love me less because of my sins. God is the ultimate love and when we accept that our salvation is all His love we live in hope, peace, joy, and satisfaction.
* Folks, the persecution of Christians has not stopped. If anything it has increased. The main stream media doesn’t talk about it much anymore but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Pray and stay informed and inform others. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…