Summary: A debate has raged for centuries regarding salvation. Is salvation an act of grace, obtained through works, or the result of a combination of grace and works? The Bible is clear regarding this question.
By Grace unto Works
Ephesians 2: 8-10
Our text today deals with doctrine that has been debated for centuries. This debate was central to Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses being nailed to the chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany, sparking the Reformation. Men and scholars have long debated the means by which salvation is obtained – is it an act of grace through faith alone; is it obtained through our works, the keeping of certain ordinances and religious sacraments; or, is it a combination of the two.
While this debate continues to rage, there is really no reason for it to continue. If we believe the Word of God to be the final authority for all of faith and practice in life, then we must be content and willing to allow the Bible to speak for itself. While this passage isn’t the only one to address this doctrine, it alone will settle the debate, if we allow the Word to speak.
I want to closely examine the certainties revealed in the text as we consider the thought: By Grace unto Works. If you are unsure about the means of salvation, I hope our time today will settle your confusion and offer the assurance you need. As we consider the passage, keep in mind the possibilities presented by man – Salvation is an act of grace; it is obtained through works; it is the result of both working together. First we must consider:
I. The Inability of Works – Paul is not vague or careless in handling this issue. When one takes the time to consider the passage, it becomes immediately evident that works are unable to save. Consider:
A. Their Inadequacy – Paul declared that salvation is not of works, V.9. He removed the possibility of human effort to obtain salvation, declaring that it is not of ourselves, simply not obtained through personal works or achievements. Paul emphatically declared that works of the flesh are inadequate to secure salvation.
Although this is clearly revealed, many continue to pursue salvation through their own works or merit. “I hope when I stand before God, the good deeds I’ve done in life will outweigh the bad. I attend church; I read my Bible; I have been baptized; I am a morally good person.” Did you sense the problem with such theology? These are depending on works they have done. I have done this; I continue to do that. Their hope is based on their works alone. Salvation is not of works! It is not obtained through our efforts!
B. Their Tendency (9) – Not of works, lest any man should boast. Paul well understood the tendencies of the flesh and the pride within our hearts. If salvation were of works, then we would all have reason to boast. We would have no need of the Lord, in essence viewing ourselves as our own savior.
Few, if any, would admit to such pride, but their words condemn them. Those who seek salvation through their own efforts continually convey the various works and deeds they perform. Again, I have done this; I continue to do that. They speak of their works, but never refer to the sacrifice and provision of Christ. Such an approach reveals great pride and arrogance. It literally seeks to elevate the individual to a place reserved for Christ alone! Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
C. Their Insecurity – Allow me to ask a few hypothetical questions regarding a works-based salvation. If this were possible, how much work is necessary to obtain salvation? How much does one have to accomplish to please God and satisfy His righteous demands? None are perfect in life. If you are depending on works, and you have somehow worked hard enough to merit salvation, what happens when you sin? How much additional work is necessary to pay restitution for the sin you committed? If it is possible to obtain salvation by works, how much work is necessary to maintain it?
When one considers Scripture in its entirety, it quickly becomes evident that such an approach is futile and will never result in salvation. James declared if we could keep all the Commandments, but ever broke one, we were guilty of them all. Who among us has never lied or desired something that someone else had? We have all been guilty of this, so we are all condemned by the Law of God. Such guilt renders us condemned before God. The only way to be acceptable to God is to have the righteousness of Christ imputed to your account. This will never be obtained through works or personal effort.
II. The Ability of Grace – I hope you realize that works are unable to save; but don’t despair, God provided a means of salvation by grace. Notice: