I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.
So go the words of W. E. Henley in his well-known Invictus. There is something intensely individualistic and ego-affirming in the idea that you make your own way. We would all like to think that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We like the idea of being in charge of our lives.
There is an old story that tells of a man who was traveling on his donkey when he came upon a small fuzzy object lying in the road. He dismounted to look more closely and found a sparrow lying on its back with its scrawny legs thrust upward. At first he thought the bird was dead, but closer investigation proved it to be very much alive. The man asked the sparrow if he was all right. The sparrow replied, "Yes." The man asked, "What are you doing lying on your back with your legs pointed towards the sky?" The sparrow responded that he had heard a rumor that the sky was falling, and so he was holding his legs up to catch it. The man retorted, "You surely don't think that you're going to hold it up with those two scrawny legs, do you?" The sparrow, with a very solemn look, replied, "One does the best he can."
Our problem is like the problem of the sparrow. We might try to do the best we can, but our best is not good enough. Indeed, our most noble efforts seem altogether puny compared with what is really needed. When the sky is falling, our reaction might be to lift our hands to stop it, but it will do us no good.
The issue here is not the falling of the sky, but the falling of God's judgment. And man's natural response is not to lift his arms or his legs, but his good deeds in an effort to save himself. This passage teaches that salvation is an act of God's free grace.
THE MEANS OF YOUR SALVATION.
This passage contrasts both how we have been saved and how we have not been saved. You have been saved by grace through faith - it is a gift of God You have not been saved of yourselves - it is not as a result of works.
There are only two possible ways to be saved. The first is through the effort of another. The second is through self effort. I saw Dr. James Kennedy demonstrate these two ways in a graphic portrayal. To illustrate the first way of salvation, he turned and pointed to the cross at the front of the sanctuary. To illustrate the second way of salvation, he turned away from the cross and pointed to himself.
Paul mentions the positive first. He then further explains it by contrasting it with the negative.
1. Grace: The Basis of your Salvation.
Verse 8 says, "For by GRACE you have been saved..." The word "grace" is translated from the Greek word "charis." It is related to the word "charisma" - "gift" (from which we get our modern word "charismatic"). Grace describes that which is freely given. It is not earned or deserved. It is a GIFT.
While this is related to mercy, I believe it to be more than mercy. Mercy is when you are pulled over by a policeman for doing 50 miles per hour in a zone where the speed limit is 30 - and he does not give you a ticket. Grace is when that same policeman not only refrains from giving you a ticket but also invites you over to his house for dinner.