Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
Pastor Jefferson M. Williams
Chenoa Baptist Church
Present but not Voting
The philosopher Jeremy Bentham left a vast sum of money to a hospital in London. He had but one stipulation - he had to be present for the hospital board meetings.
For nearly 100 years, his embalmed body would be wheeled out for the annual meeting. He would be listed as “present by not voting.”
We no longer is brought out for the meetings but he was put on display some time ago, with his head, that had fallen off, sitting at his feet.
This morning we are going to continue our series Foundations of the Faith by studying sola gratia - grace alone. When it comes to our salvation - we were present but not voting!
Last week, we studied 2 Tim 3:15-17 and affirmed that we believe that the Bible is the inspired, sufficient, inerrant, infallible, immutable, invincible Word of Almighty God.
Jason K. Allen writes:
“The Bible holds authority over all other religious books, church traditions, councils, or popes. The scriptures are the standard, the benchmark, the plumb line for the church.”
It is Scripture alone that is our norm for Christian faith and practice.
By the way, this week marks the the anniversary of the death of William Tyndale. William Tyndale was tied to a stake, strangled & burned. His crime? Translating the Bible into the English language.
His last words words were, “God, open the King’s eyes.” He had said that a plow boy with the Scriptures in his own language would be more powerful than any council or pope with their traditions.
The three major branches of Christianity - Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox all agree - Christ, faith, and grace are necessary for salvation.
Remember, it is that little Latin word “Sola” that separates us from other faith traditions.
From Scripture alone, we learn that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
This morning, we will see that it is grace alone that saved us. It is is not grace plus something else.
When talking about grace, we need to avoid two extremes - legalism and antinomianism. Basically, legalism is what Paul was combating when he wrote the book of Galatians.
After Paul had moved on from Galatia, a group known as a the Judaizers came in and started teaching that Paul was only half right. Yes, yes, salvation is through grace and faith and Jesus but they also had to become Jewish. They needed to be circumcised, follow the Jewish dietary laws, and observe Jewish traditions.
Paul writes in no uncertain terms that this was not an addition to the Gospel he preached by was another gospel altogether! Paul’s equation is Jesus plus nothing equals everything. The Judaizers were trying to add something to the pure grace of the Gospel and Paul was astounded that they would even consider this:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 6:9)
On the other side of the coin, is the idea of antinomianism - against the law. These false teachers taught that since we are saved by grace we are free. Really free! Free to do anything and everything we want to do. We can sin all we want. “God will forgive us…it’s his job.” We still hear that idea today.
Paul answers these critics forcefully in his letter to the Romans:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)
If you add anything to grace, it no longer is grace. If you presume upon grace, you make a mockery of God love and Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross.
Martin Luther wrote that understanding grace alone is the hinge on which all the other solas turn.
We are going to spend our time this morning in Ephesians 2:1-10.
To Ephesus with Love
The letter to the church at Ephesus has been called the crown jewel of Paul’s theology. It is the most contemporary of his writings and sounds like it could written about today’s events. It is relentlessly relational and profoundly theological.
Chapter one is a description of salvation from God’s point of view. Chapter two, where will be camping today, is a description of salvation from our point of view.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. 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.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Before we begin, let me remind you of three definitions:
Justice - getting what you deserve
Mercy - Not getting what you deserve
Grace - Getting what you don’t deserve
I’ve told this story many times, but Joshua opus a pencil in the fan. I had told him not to do it and he ran out to the car and said, “Daddy, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to do it.”
Justice? He deserved it. He had been warned and put the pen in the fan anyway.
Mercy? Instead of punishing him, I simply gave him a hug and said I loved him.
Grace? Instead of punishment, I took him to DQ for a Blizzard. Did he deserve a treat? Absolutely not! But I chose, out of my love for him, to show him what grace looks like.
Terry Johnson defines grace as the “determination of God to look upon us with favor and deliver us from our folly.”
Let’s look at verses 1-3. Paul, like a lawyer laying out a case, is methodical in his reasoning. He wants to show that it is by grace alone that we are saved.
This is Us
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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.
Paul begins by affirming that we are spiritually dead. We were born into sin (original sin), we have no capacity to respond to God, obey God, or seek after God:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-11)
We have no righteousness at all, we have no spiritual eyes or ears, and we didn’t want to submit our will to God.
The Scriptures describe us before our salvation as slaves of sin (John 8:34), blind (I Cor 2:14), and completely unable to come to God unless the Holy Spirit draws us (John 6:44).
We were imprisoned by our sinful desire. “Transgressions” means “acts of sin.” The word sin means “to miss the mark.”
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:22-23a)
We are actually going to come to the the rest of this verse in a minute.
* We are held captive by the “ways of the world.” The Apostle John wrote:
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world…” (I John 2:15-16)
* We were held in chains by the “ruler of the kingdom of the air.” This is a description of satan and his evil forces.
Paul wrote this warning to the church at Ephesus:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
We aren’t “mostly dead,” like Wesley in The Princess Bride. The spiritual deadness was pervasive. As Ezekiel wrote, we were dry bones. We were hopeless and helpless to save ourselves.
We not only were dead in our sins but we were actively rebellion against God.
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” (Ephesians 2:3a)
Paul wrote the Galatian Christians that there is a battle going on and before Christ we lost the battle every time:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16-18)
The phrase “live among” means to “walk with.” This rebellion against God wasn’t just an attitude, it was very disposition of our souls.
Jesus described it this way:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
In describing the Gentiles in chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul makes it clear that before Christ, our hearts are hard toward His love, mercy, and grace.
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18)
Paul couldn’t be more clear:
“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3b)
We were spiritually dead and incapable of saving ourselves. But, more than that, we didn’t want saving, particularly by God.
We are doomed. Judgement is coming and because of our sin and rebellion, we deserve the full brunt of God’s wrath.
James Montgomery Boice lists four things that we should remember out judgement:
There will be a day of reckoning for all people. Matthew records three parables that Jesus tells to try to get the crowds to understand that judgement was coming.
Ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom. Five of them bring oil with them and five don’t. The bridegroom is a long time coming and they fall asleep. When they hear he is on the way, the five without oil ask the other five to share. They didn’t have enough to share and the five had to leave to buy more oil. The bridegroom returns while they are away and they go into the banquet and shut the door. When the other five return, they bang on the door but they aren’t allowed to enter.
A master went on a journey and called his servants together and gave them each bags of gold. Two of them invested the gold and made a profit but the other servant just buried his gold until the Master came back.
When Jesus returns, He and the angels will separate the sheep from the goats. To the sheep, He will welcome them into His presence because:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36)
The judgement will be based on our good works or lack of them.
Remember that we are not saved by our good work but true salvation should always lead to good works.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14-15)
None of our excuses will cary any moral weight with God.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19)
The five virgins ran out of oil. They weren’t prepared.
The servant that didn’t invest the gold said to the Master:
“I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hide your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ (Matthew 25:24-25)
The “goats” will ask
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Many who are condemned will be utterly surprised at this outcome.
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.” (2 Peter 1:10)
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (I Corinthians 13:5)
Let’s recap. We were dead, defiant, and doomed. We were hopeless and helpless to save ourselves.
Something had to happen. Something outside of us. We needed to be rescued.
To the Rescue
“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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)
In the context of death, rebellion, and doom, God didn’t something completely extravagant. He rescued us! He saved us.
Why? Because of His great love for us.
“For God so loved the world that He have his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6,8)
Why? because of His rich mercy:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse,nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8-12)
* Made us alive with Christ
What did He do? “Made us alive” while we were dead. This isn’t a behavior medication plan or trying to become a better person. This is what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus that he must be “born again.” (John 3:3)
Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make bad people good. He died on the cross to make dead people alive and completely new:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
Why? Simply because of his grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it.
Why did He do this? To show humans a part of His character - his kindness expressed through grace.
I promised we would come back to this verse in Romans:
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:22-23a)
The rest of the verse reads:
“and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23b)
Louis Berkhof defines grace as “the unmerited goodness or love of God to those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation.”
This is what Paul was writing about in chapter 1:
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God initiated our salvation and it only by grace alone.
The great theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote:
“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
* Seated us with Christ
God not only made us alive in Christ but He raised us up with Christ, seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms, and will give us the incomparable riches of His grace forever to us in Christ.
Apart from Christ, we are spiritual dead. United with Christ, we are spiritually alive.
He made us alive in Christ. This word is where we get our word “sync” from. We were synched up with Christ. His life became our lives.
* Raised us up with Christ
Union with Christ, means that we are not only made alive but we are “together raised with Christ.”
This is incredible! Even though we spit in his face and committed cosmic treason, God not only performs spiritual CPR on us and revives us but He also give us the same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3-5, see also Colossians 2:11-13)
We now have resurrection power over guilt, shame, and condemnation. When Christ died on the cross, we died with Him. When He was raised from the grave, we were raised.
It’s like those infomercials on late night tv - but wait, there’s more!
He also has “seated us with Christ in the heaven realms.” This doesn’t mean “heaven” but the realm of “spiritual realities.”
Jesus has been exalted to the highest place above all powers and spiritual forces. We are joined with Him so we have power over those forces as well. All Christians clearly have the status of the Son. All that is due Christ is given to us as well. Forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal glory is mine because of my union with Christ.
No human effort, no good deeds, no performance, no right doctrine can unite us with Christ and make us right with God.
Bryan Chapel wrote:
“We are too dead to be the source of our our salvation. We are too weak to be the maintainer of our salvation. We are too finite to be the eternal stewards of our salvation.”
In the hymn we sang earlier, we proclaimed these words:
“Oh, to grace how great a debtor / Daily I'm constrained to be / Let that goodness like a fetter / Bind my wandering heart to Thee / Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love / Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it / Seal it for Thy courts above”
Grace through Faith in Christ…Alone
We end this morning with one of the most powerful summaries of Paul’s understanding of grace.
“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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Again, Paul proclaims that it is pure grace that saved us. Grace alone. But there is a human response - faith. In the chapter before this:
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Faith is the mens by which grace is received. But notice carefully - it is a gift. Grace, faith, the whole process is a gift of God. Even the faith to respond to Him is a gracious gift of God.
Paul makes it clear again that salvation is not by works. If it was by works, then we could brag about it:
“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” ( I Corinthians 1:29-31)
Paul describes us as God’s symphony, masterpiece, poem that are created to show the world His love through our good works.
Next week, we will look more in-depth at this idea - we are not saved by good works but for good works. Good works is not the root of our salvation but the fruit of our salvation.
Jesus said it best:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Application - What can we learn?
Chuck Swindoll summed it up with a nursery rhyme:
Jesus Christ came to our wall,
Jesus Christ died for our fall;
So regardless of death and in spite of sin,
Through grace, He might put us back together again.
Terry Johnson lists three applications that I think are very helpful for us today:
Several times in his writings, Paul becomes so overwhelmed by the goodness, grace, mercy, kindness of God that he breaks out into worship.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out. “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
Let’s make it a mark of our church that we respond to His grace with worship and praise.
B. Humble Thankfulness
Sometimes “thank you” is really the only thing we can say. He had every right to let us go to hell but He rescued us.
For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (I Corinthians 4:7)
Friday night, I went to a store that I don’t go in very often. I simply can’t afford anything in it. But I got to pick out a couple of shirts. When I went to pay, there was a credit on my account put there by someone else. It was a gift.
What if I got my wallet out and demand that I pay them back or said that I would work off the debt. This would be rude. The only appropriate thing to do and say is “Thank you!”
C. Humble service
If it is true that we are saved completely by grace, then we need to rely on His power to do anything for His kingdom:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” wrote this near the end of his life:
“I am not what I ought to be - ah, how imperfect and deficient. I am not what I wish to be - I abhor what is evil, and I would cling to what is good. I am not what I hope to be - soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was, a slave to sin and satan, and I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”