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Are We Saved By Grace Alone?
by Dave MillerMany religious thinkers insist that salvation is by "grace alone" or "wholly of grace" and that man's obedience is not essential to salvation. We're going to the Scriptures in order to examine the biblical doctrine of grace.
The religious world, which claims to be Christian, almost universally claims that salvation from sin and the action of becoming a Christian is achieved solely on the basis of God's grace apart from man's obedience. The denominational world has held this conception since the time of the Reformers, largely as a reaction to Roman tendencies toward a "works salvation." In recent years in churches of Christ voices are taking up these sentiments and accusing the church of having failed to believe in and preach grace. They say we are just now "discovering grace." Consider the following quotations:
"I spent too many years of my Christian life not knowing what grace was. The only thing I knew for sure was that `we' didn't believe in it." 1
"In spite of years of negative, legalistic, 'guilt-trip' preaching, I discovered GRACE!" "I had absolutely nothing to do with my own salvation!" 2
"Nobody has any right to preach anything other than the Gospel of pure grace. We are saved by grace plus nothing. You are saved by faith period. There is nothing you can do to be saved. There are no rules; there are no regulations in serving Jesus Christ." 3
"It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity. We do not contribute one whit to our salvation." 4
"For me, for years, Christianity was a moral code. It is now becoming a love affair. For years there were rules and regulations, now, it's a relationship." 5
"I believe deeply that the New Testament teaches that salvation is a free gift of God period. You are saved by grace alone." 6
"There is no human part of salvation." 7
"Grace and law are mutually exclusive." 8
One implication of such thinking is that all those who have preceded us and failed to "discover" grace as these persons claim to have done, must be lost in their ignorance, or the present "discovery" is unnecessary and irrelevant. However, on the contrary, the restorers and pioneer preachers among churches of Christ knew and preached the doctrine of grace and it is both presumptuous and insulting to suggest otherwise. The facts of the matter are, as we shall see from plain Bible teaching, those who currently claim to have discovered grace have in fact discovered a cheap grace that distorts and neutralizes the truth of God's word concerning the plan of salvation.
No one who studies the Bible thoroughly would deny that we are saved by grace. What we do deny is that we are saved by grace alone or faith alone. The Scriptures no where say we are saved by "grace only" or "faith only." If grace only saved, then everyone on earth would be saved because Titus 2:11 says: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." Yet most people will not be saved (Matthew 7:13-14). Paul is simply telling Titus that God's grace has appeared to all men in the sense that Christ died on the cross and shed His blood for the entire human race: "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). God was being gracious to the whole world by making provision for the sins of humanity by sending His Son. However, obviously not everyone will be saved. Therefore, something is required on man's part in order for the individual to appropriate the benefits of God's grace.
Granted, if God had not taken the initiative to provide man with a way out of his sin problem, man would have no hope. In that sense, we are completely dependent on God's grace and favor. But it does not follow that man has no actions to perform or no commands to obey before--prior to--the actual forgiveness of sin.
In reality, the Scriptures identify several items which are said to "save" a person: 1 Peter 1:18-19 (redeemed with the blood of Jesus); 2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 11:18 (repentance is unto salvation/life); James 2:24 (justified by works); Rom. 5:1 (justified by faith); Titus 3:5 (mercy saved us); Titus 3:7 (justified by grace); 1 Peter 3:21 (baptism saves). If the Bible states that each one of these items have a part to play in our salvation, then it is just plain wrong to say that any one of these items alone, by itself, saves.
In reality, "grace" is a word that simply means "undeserved favor." As it relates to God and salvation, "grace" is simply the approval that God offers or extends to human beings, though human beings do not deserve His kindness (Romans 5:8). According to the Bible, when God offers His grace, that divine approval may be secured, received or accepted if the individual complies with whatever conditions God specifies.
Let's consider two simple illustrations and then we'll go to the Bible and note several plain statements. Suppose I tell you that I am going to give you my Cadillac as a free gift--an act of grace on my part which you do not deserve and have not earned. All you have to do is believe me or trust me, decide to stop driving your Ford, come down to the studio and get the keys, and then allow me to open the door for you and help you into the driver's seat. Would you take me up on that offer? Would you joyfully and eagerly comply with the stipulations which I outlined as being prerequisite to receiving the car? After complying with those requirements, would you feel you had earned the car--or would you still consider the car a free and undeserved gift?
Another illustration: Suppose you go on a cruise and midway through that voyage you fall overboard and are left behind to thrash in the waters. You are left alone in the middle of nowhere with no hope of saving yourself. Just when you are about to go under for the third time, you see a fishing boat. As it approaches, a fisherman stands up in the boat, throws out a line with a life-saving ring attached to the end. You frantically grasp the ring and pull it over your arms and head. The man then reels you in, pulls you over into the boat and you are saved. How were you saved? By the kindness and unmerited favor of the fisherman? Or was it the boat that the fisherman was in? What about the line and the ring? Were they necessary to salvation? What about your own effort in accepting the life line, grasping the ring, pulling it over your head and hanging on as you are pulled into the boat? Would you even for one moment claim to have saved yourself? Would you not extol the grace and kindness of the fisherman (without which you could not have been saved) and yet recognize that his grace alone did not save you? There are several variables, constituent elements, involved in the salvation event.
So it is in Scripture. God's grace is unfathomable and indispensable. Without the grace of God, we human beings would have no hope and no prospect of salvation. So in a very practical, concrete way, the grace of God consisted of the sending of Jesus to atone for the sin of humanity in His death upon the cross. His grace is also seen in the fact that He gave us the Bible which describes for us His scheme of redemption and tells us what we need to do to fit into that divine plan.
Paul summarizes the twofold plan of salvation in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Notice that "grace" sums up God's redemptive activity in making a way for people to be saved. "Faith" in this passage refers to the response which we human beings are to make without thinking we are earning our salvation or in some way matching God's contribution to the salvation process. "Grace" includes all God has done on our behalf and "faith" includes all man is to do in response to God's grace so that man can receive the offer of salvation in Christ. Listen to Romans 5:1-2: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
Anytime the New Testament speaks of being saved "by faith," it is referring to a faith that includes whatever actions God specifies as necessary. James makes this clear in James 2:22: "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" And notice his concluding remarks in James 2:24,26: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
These statements harmonize with many other passages which place the spotlight on the responsibility of human beings to appropriate God's grace and spiritual blessings by obedience to prerequisites stipulated by God. After proving that Jesus is the Lord and Christ predicted in the Old Testament, Peter commanded individuals to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). He then urged them to "save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40). He later summarized man's obedient response to the gospel in Acts 10:34-35: "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Paul instructed Christians in Philippi. "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
Consider Peter's sermon in Acts 2. After preaching the gospel, many were convicted to the point that they asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). If salvation is by grace alone, Peter should have said, "there's nothing you can do! Salvation does not depend upon human activity. God's grace saves you without any action on your part." But Peter did not say that! Instead, he identified specific actions which those present had to do. So it was with Saul in Acts 22:10 when he asked Jesus, "What shall I do Lord?" That was the perfect time to set everyone straight concerning salvation by grace alone! Yet, He told Saul he would have to go listen to an inspired preacher who would give him instructions. Those instructions included: "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Notice that Saul had to get up and do something before God's grace would wash away his sins.
Consider these additional Scriptures: "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." (Hebrews 5:8-9). "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:8). All these passages show that while God's grace makes it possible for a person to be saved, nevertheless, in order for one to be saved initially and to stay saved, one must obey God's commands; and man's obedience does not nullify God's grace.
Notice other passages: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). "We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1). "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). "For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalms 84:11). Once again, these passages show that their are conditions, prerequisites to receiving the grace of God and keeping the grace of God.
1. Jim Hackney, Jan. 1991
2. Quoted in The Handley Herald May 30, 1984 Vol. 13#5,Fort Worth,TX.
3. Glen Owen, sermon at Midtown Church of Christ,Fort Worth,TX,1982.
4. Rubel Shelly
5. Max Lucado
6. Randy Mayeux, 21st Annual Youth Minister's Seminar, Oct. 16-19,1989 at Lubbock Christian University,Lubbock,TX.
7. Mayeux, "Saved by Christ," Image 7 (Jan/Feb 1991), pp. 5,12.
8. Charles Hodge