Grace Faith, and Works

Dan Kessinger

Eph 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of
yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

How are we saved? Surely there is no greater question. To sinners faced with eternal consequences, there is no other question. The New Testament abounds with individuals asking variations of "What must I do to be saved?" Men continue to ask the same question, though opinions and answers differ, and these answers divide the religious world. Some tell us we are saved by grace alone, others by faith alone, and others (inexplicably) by both grace alone and faith alone. Are there real answers? If one is saved by grace, faith, and works (as we believe the Bible teaches), how do they work together? How important is it that we find right answers to these questions?

Eph. 2:8-9 teaches us that the source for salvation is external. This text has been used and abused in an effort to prove everything from "saved by grace only" to "God gives faith miraculously," and it certainly does neither of these. To argue "grace only" from this text is to propose that one is saved while refusing to obey God. The idea is absurd on the face of it, but Calvinism, in its various degrees, has never been overly infused with consistency. To contend for miraculous faith here is to argue against accountability in our beliefs, an absurdity that stills the very heart of faith. God doesn't believe for us. Aside from this, to make faith the gift in Ep. 2:8 requires a re-write of the Greek text. The gender of these words demands that salvation is the gift of which Paul wrote.

What do we learn from Eph 2:8-9? Again, salvation is external. Christianity is not a religion of personal fulfillment and development, but of grace, faith, and obedience. Obedience is not the same as "works" in Eph 2:9. Work is a very general word, defining any and all activities. It is even a physics concept, measured in ergs and joules. The Lord exerted much work on our behalf, and, just as clearly, he requires obedience (work) in response to his commands. If "works" in Eph 2:9 means "action," then Paul taught "It matters not what Jesus says we must do!" If so, then Jesus' commands are also vain, since he ordered men to do what they really didn't have to do.

Mt 11:28 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Clearly, Jesus, not the lost ones, is the source of salvation; but, if salvation does not depend on activity, didn't Jesus violate this principle when he called on men to "come"? How can we reconcile the inspired proclamation of Paul ( not saved by works) to the commands of Jesus, the other inspired writers of the New Testament, and, for that matter, of Paul himself? All of these, writing explicitly of requirements and condemning the disobedient, call on men to do various works.

Works of men are to be avoided; good deeds will not earn salvation. There are, however, commands of God. These are neither of human authority nor of any meritorious value at all. They are the works of faith and the response to the teaching of grace (Tit 2:11-12). Based on these concepts, we believe the following two propositions are justified. (1) We may not be saved in rebellion to God's commands. (2) Perfect obedience does not secure salvation of its own virtue. God's truth lies squarely centered among three sinful extremes on the moral compass: works salvation, faith only salvation, and grace only salvation. Lu 17:10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"

We are saved by grace, faith, and obedience. Lacking any of these elements, one will be lost. If there is no faith, one might as well not have heard at all. No confession, repentance, or baptism not motivated by faith is acceptable to God. Without faith, God's grace is nullified. Without obedience, God's grace is given in vain. Without grace, all the faith and obedience in the world is pointless. In Rom 1:17 God's gift of grace, faith, and obedient living are combined. "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'" PO Box 110, St. Marys, WV 26170.


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