The Truth About Salvation!
Reading: Ephesians 2v8-10.
If God had a website on salvation, and you were to pull up that page to find what the God, who will decide who gets into heaven and who does not, says about salvation, what do you think you would find? I have a feeling you would probably find this very text.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of your-selves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians Ch.2vv.8-10)
There are three words in the (New King James) which, taken together, explain salvation completely and totally. They are the words "by," "through," "for."
Those three simple prepositions will keep you straight on this whole matter of exactly how a person is saved, and how a person can go to heaven. There is a debate as old as the New Testament as to whether salvation comes through faith alone, or good works. Even today many people are split on the idea.
I was interested to read this some time ago, “Fifty-five percent of all Americans in a nationwide survey said, that a good person can earn his way to heaven. But that's not all. 58% of Episcopalians, 59% of Methodists, 76% of Mormons, and 82% of Catholics agreed. Incidentally, 38% of Baptists also said that a good person can earn his way to heaven.”
When it comes to salvation, the vast majority of this world, and a lot of people in church, have it totally backwards. If you want to keep it straight, keep those three little prepositions in mind, and you will learn what God says about salvation.
I. Salvation Is A Present Of Grace
"For by grace you have been saved" (Eph. 2v8) if you don't count the name Jesus, I think grace is the most beautiful word in the entire Bible. It is the Greek word “charis” which gives us the name "Karen or indeed “Grace”." There are some special qualities about grace that makes grace, grace, and unlike anything else in the world.
First of all, grace is something no one deserves. There are three ways that God can deal with you and me. God can deal with us according to justice. That is, He could give us exactly what we deserve. Or, God could deal with us according to mercy. That is, God does not give us what we deserve. God has done something totally different. He has chosen to deal with us by grace. Grace is when God gives us what we do not deserve.
As hard as it is to believe, God did not provide a way for us to be saved because we deserved it. He did it in spite of the fact that we did not deserve it. Please understand that the Lord Jesus did not die on the cross for you because of your goodness, but in spite of your badness. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans Ch.5v8).
I read somewhere this definition of grace: "Grace is that which everyone needs, that no one deserves, and what God alone can give." No one will ever go to heaven because of his performance, that is, what he has done; or his position, who he is; or his pedigree, who his parents were. Those things are irrelevant. It has nothing to do with either conduct or character. The only reason anyone goes to heaven is because of the compassion of God, and the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both of these have been provided by God's grace.
But another thing about grace is this: Not only is grace something given to people who do not deserve it, but it cannot be earned. For this salvation is "not by works." You know the average person has the idea that when Jesus died on the cross He made a down payment for our salvation, but we have to make the installments. Well, I've got some great news. In fact, the greatest news you will ever hear. Salvation is totally and completely free because Jesus paid it all. You cannot win it as a prize, you cannot earn it as a wage, you do not deserve it as a reward, but you can receive it as a gift.
I read a story about a poor woman over in England whose daughter was deathly ill. The doctor said that she needed the minerals and vitamins that only fresh fruit could give, but there was very little fruit to be found in the city. When this woman went out searching, she had to walk by the king's vineyards, and there she saw cluster after cluster of luscious beautiful grapes. The gate happened to be opened and she walked through and began to pick some. About that time the king's gardener saw her and came over to her and said, "You cannot touch these grapes. These grapes belong to the king." She said, "Well, I'll pay what little I have." He said, "Lady, you cannot have them for any price. You must leave and leave now." Well she began to cry, weep, and beg, but the gardener would not listen to her. About that time, the king himself came walking up and asked what the problem was. When he was told, he said to the lady, "You may have all the grapes you want." She said, "Thank you so much. Here's what little money I have saved up and I'll be glad to pay you." The king looked at her and said, "Lady, these are not ordinary grapes. These are the king's grapes, and they are not for sale. You may have them as a gift or you may not have them at all."
That is exactly what God says to us about His salvation. It is not a bargain, it is an offer; it is not a reward for those who are righteous, it is a gift for those who will admit they are guilty.
There is nothing in the history past or in the future to come like the grace of God. No artist could paint its beauty, no scientist could discover its ingredient, no language could describe its wonder, no imagination could conceive its greatness, no eloquence can explain it, and no intelligence can totally understand it.
2. Salvation Is The Possession Of Faith!
This salvation that comes by grace is "through faith" (Ephesians Ch2v.8).
Now faith is the flip side of the coin of salvation. Salvation is like a gulf. The two rivers that flow into the gulf are salvation, are the river of grace, and the river of faith. Grace is God's hand giving salvation; faith is our hand receiving salvation. Faith possesses what God provides. But even this faith Paul says, "Is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Not only is salvation and grace a gift of God, even our faith is a gift of God.
John Ch.6v28-29 records a brief instant in the life of Jesus in which He revealed a great truth. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" Listen to Jesus' answer: "This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He sent."
Faith is not a good work you do for God; faith is God's good work in you. Listen, grace is not a reward for faith; faith is the result of grace. When we get to heaven we can't even brag on the fact that we put our faith in God, because that too was His gift.
Paul said in Phil Ch.1v29, "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ...to believe in Him." Faith is God's gift to us.
Now the reason why a lot of people reject this idea of salvation by grace through faith is because it is so simple. It's incredible how we try everything in our power to complicate the matter of salvation, when God has done everything in His power to simplify it. If the Bible had said that you are saved by grace through intelligence, some of us would have been too dumb. If we were saved by grace through looks, some of us would be too ugly. If we were saved through education, some of us would be too ignorant. If we were saved by grace through money, some of us would be too poor. But all that is necessary for you to be saved is simply faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But when I talk about faith, please understand I'm not talking about an intellectual acknowledgement of something in your head. Faith is more than that. It is trusting with your heart. A true-to-life story illustrates what I'm talking about.
A motorcycle officer was moving smoothly through a Los Angeles suburb on his way to work. As he neared an intersection a red pickup truck sped past without even slowing down for the stop sign. The officer turned on his flashing lights, radioed the station he was in pursuit of the red vehicle.
As his unit pulled up behind the truck, the officer was thinking, "That fellow is just probably late for work." Unknown to the officer, the driver of the pickup had just robbed an all-night grocery store. On the seat beside the driver was the paper bag with the money and the gun he had used. As the officer pulled up beside him, this man put his hand on the gun. The truck pulled to the side of the roadway and stopped. The officer parked his motorcycle and approached the driver's side of the pickup. He was relaxed. He said, "Good morning sir, may I see your license." Those were the last words he said. The driver stuck his arm out of the truck and fired his weapon. The barrel of the gun was only two inches away from that officer. The bullet hit the officer in the centre of his chest. He was knocked to the ground seven feet away. For a few moments all was quiet. Then to the horror of the gunman, the officer slowly stood to his feet. The driver couldn't believe it. He said, "This guy must be Clark Kent." In shock, the policeman slowly began to brush the dirt from his uniform. After two or three seconds the officer regained his wits, pulled his service revolver and fired two rounds into the side of the truck. The first round went through the open window, destroyed the windshield, the second round went through the side of the door and ripped into the driver's left leg. The terrified robber screamed, "Don't shoot, and threw the gun out along with the bag of money. That officer's life had been spared because he was wearing a bullet-proof vest. Vests are incredibly strong even though they are only about three-eighths of an inch thick. They are made of dozens of layers of an extremely tough fabric called Kevlar.
Well, a few months later another officer, Ray Hicks and his partner, went to serve a search warrant on a well-known drug dealer in the city of Inglewood. As his partner knocked, Hicks yelled out, "Police!" and started to knock down the door. From inside the shabby apartment four slugs were fired through the door; one found its mark. The impact was almost exactly where the motorcycle officer had been hit only a few weeks before--squarely in the centre of the chest. Later his partner recalled that Hicks simply said, "I'm hit, and slowly sank to the floor." The coroner reported that the policeman probably lived less than a minute. The bullet had ruptured an artery; blood to the brain had been stopped instantly. Police officer Ray Hicks was 27 years old. He left a wife, three children and a bullet-proof vest in the trunk of his car parked thirty feet from where he fell. What is the moral of the story? An officer can believe in vests all he wants to, but he must take his belief to the point of personal commitment where he puts that vest on and wears it at all times.
It is not enough just to believe that a man named Jesus Christ lived two thousand years ago, or even to believe He was born of a virgin, or even to believe He performed miracles, or even to believe He died on the cross, or even to believe He was raised from the dead. Saving faith is when you take your belief to a point of commitment and you put that belief and trust on that risen Christ as your Lord and as your Saviour.
Sometimes we think that it all depends on us. We are taught that the burden of the world falls squarely upon our shoulders. We are conditioned to think this way. It's the good old Northern Ireland work ethic. As the commercial slogan goes, “They make their money the old-fashioned way, they EARN it.”
This ideal is held up for all of us to follow.
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 pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We like the idea of being in charge of our lives. We want to cry aloud with W. E. Henley, in his Invictus, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. But we are actually more like the little sparrow described in an old story from the Middle East.
“A man 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 said, `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 in support. The man replied, `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, retorted, `one does the best one 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. In fact, 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.
3. Salvation Is The Power For Goodness! v10.
We are told in Ephesians Ch.2v9 that we cannot save ourselves by works. This runs counter to what we are taught in our society. While we might like to think we are in control of our fate, it is really an illusion. We are not the masters of our fate. We are not the captains of our souls. And if we live as if it all depends on us, we will be bitterly disappointed. But then we know that only too well and yet we do nothing about it! The fact remains that we cannot save ourselves; no matter how much we work. The reason we cannot save ourselves by our own efforts is that all our efforts are not good enough. Some of our efforts are better, than others but none measure up to the standard needed to earn our salvation. What we need is pure righteousness. And when we add up all of our good works they equal less than righteousness. We can simply never do enough to earn our salvation.
But the good news is that our salvation has already been earned. Through the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our salvation has been purchased for us. By faith in that finished work of Christ on Calvary, we can enter into salvation by grace. That is the whole message of Ephesians Ch.2v8-9. There we read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast.” Salvation is by grace through faith without works. There is nothing we can add to what Christ has done. What He has done is enough. We only need to place our trust in His work and stake our lives on it.
But what place do works have in the life of the Christian? This is a very important question. True Christianity is a faith filled with good works. And while we are not, saved by works, works accompany salvation. I believe it was Luther who said, “We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” He also said, "We are not saved by faith and works but by a faith that works". What he meant by that was, that true faith will always reveal itself; by accompanying works. To quote James Ch. 2v26: “Faith without works is dead.” So works have a tremendous place in the life of every believer. They; are evidence of the genuineness of our faith. As we look into our text today we would like to examine the place of works in our lives. This passage of the Word of God has a tremendous message for us. Here we see profound truths concerning both God's work and ours. Let's turn our attention first to God's work.
A. The Workmanship Of The Creator! v10a.
Here is a good searching question for a man to ask himself as he reviews his past life: Have I written in the snow? Will my life work endure the lapse of years and the fret of change? Has there been anything immortal in it, which will survive the speedy wreck of all sublunary things? The boys inscribe their names in capitals in the snow, even build snowmen for show, and in the morning's thaw the writing disappears and the snow man begins to fade in the morning light. Will it be so with my work, or will the characters that I have carved outlast the brazen tablets of history? Have I written in the snow? Or have I written for eternity? Charles Haddon Spurgeon: The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990).
We have always had a hard time defining God. We mere mortals strain our brains to the limit, seeking terminology, which, would describe and define God. Volumes of theological works have been written over the years in this noble effort. The best we can seem to do is to describe God in terms of His work and attributes. Consequently, we know God as our Creator. He is the Master Designer of this universe and of humankind. And just this characteristic of God is in itself mind-boggling. The creation itself is a work of art. Everywhere you look, if you are perceptive, you cannot help but be amazed at the intricate and detailed design of almost everything. The stars, the mountains, the oceans, the rolling hills, even a rose, all are fascinating exhibits of God's creative genius. From a grain of sand or a snowflake, to the Swiss Alps or Niagara Falls, we are forced to marvel at the kind of mind that could conceive of these things and the kind of power that could create them. They are all marvelous.
What would be God's masterwork? There are so many things, which are so beautiful. In Psalm Ch.19v1 we are told that the heavens declare the “work of His hands.” Have you ever sat out under a starlit canopy on a clear night? If you have, then you might understand what David, the writer of this psalm, felt about the handiwork of God. I have only viewed the stars with the naked eye. But from my meager understanding and study of astronomy, I am absolutely amazed at the detail, order, and design of this universe. To some, perhaps an astronomer, this heavenly realm would be God's masterwork. But, although it is magnificent, it is not His masterwork.
If you want to see something marvelous, take a look at a little baby. We all marvel at the creation of human life. Physically, the design is almost beyond belief. You can spend hours simply contemplating the eye. It is almost beyond comprehension how light passes through the cornea, then through the focusing lens where it strikes the retina, simultaneously stimulating 125 million nerve endings. Millions of micro switches process this information and funnel it down the optic nerve. The optic nerve itself contains one million separate insulated fibers. The image finally reaches the brain where an incredibly complex process translates these impulses into the picture of what we see. All this happens in less than a millisecond. And this is just part of the physical nature of human beings. When you add to that our emotional makeup, our intellectual capacity, and the fact that we have a soul, you could truly say that humankind is the pinnacle of God's creation.
But humankind by itself is not the masterwork of God. The masterwork of God is the human being who; has been made alive in Christ. Our text says, for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. The ultimate creation of God is the one created in Christ Jesus. The word, translated workmanship is the Greek word poema. Of course, you will readily recognize that from this word we get our word poem. But poema means much more than this. It means a “work of art” or a “masterpiece.” Those of us who are created in Christ Jesus are the masterwork of God. We human beings are certainly at the top of God's creative work of art. But it is the new creation that fully reflects His genius. Think of what has transpired in us. We have not only been created once we have been created twice. We are part of the new creation. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians Ch.5v17 NIV).
God has taken our old self and replaced it with a new self. We have experienced a radical metamorphosis of life --- more dynamic than the change from caterpillar to butterfly --- in which the very nature of our soul has been altered. We could not do it. We're not talking about turning over a new leaf here. We're talking about a new life in Christ. This is really what salvation is all about. Salvation is a work of God. As a Christian, you are a work of God. Indeed, you are His masterwork. It is from this perspective that we can understand the place of works in the life of every believer.
To me it seems as if when God conceived the world, that was poetry; he formed it, and that was sculpture; he coloured it, and that was painting; he peopled it with living beings, and that was the grand, divine, eternal drama.
B. The Wishes Of Christ! v10b."Created in Christ Jesus unto good works"
Our text indicates why we have been created. We are not only told that we are His workmanship, we are told that we were created . . . for good works. This new creation in Christ Jesus has a reason for its existence. It is for good works that we have experienced the creative power of our Lord. As a believer, you have been prepared for good works. That is the reason why you were created and left here on planet Earth.
God has done a work in our hearts to give us a nature, which is now compatible with good works. Before we met Christ, we could do good works, but by nature we were selfish. Whatever works we did were motivated by that selfish nature. A nature is hard if not impossible to overcome. I heard of a story, told in the Middle East to illustrate the conflict among certain groups there, of a turtle and a scorpion trying to cross a river. The scorpion said to the turtle, “Take me across on your back.” The turtle said, “If I do that, you will sting me and kill me before we reach the other side.” The scorpion replied, “No I won't. Why would I? If I did, we would both die, for I would drown.” So the turtle, yielding to the logic of the scorpion's argument, agreed. The scorpion mounted the turtle's back and off they went. About halfway across, the scorpion couldn't stand it any longer, so he stung the turtle. As they were sinking to their death, the turtle cried, “Why did you do it?” The scorpion replied, “I couldn't help it. It's my nature!”
A nature is indeed a hard thing to overcome.
But, as believers, we have a new nature --- one wholly compatible with good works. Indeed, a central characteristic of the Christian ought to be good works. Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew Ch.5v16).
It is by our good works that we will glorify God. Paul prays for us that we might “Be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians Ch.1v9-10). God has prepared us for good works.
God has performed a work in our hearts to adjust our nature so we naturally bear the good fruit of good works. And now we can do it, not from a selfish perspective, but from the motivation of love --- the love of God, which is implanted in our hearts by His Holy Spirit.
I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help him. I ended up asking him to do his work through me.
Hudson Taylor, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 2.
Faith is something that has to be applied. Corrie ten Boom, Christian Reader, Vol. 31.
C. The Walk Of The Christian! v10c.
"Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them"
But God has not only prepared us for good works, He has prepared good works for us. Our text says that we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. God has prepared two things. He has prepared us. And He has prepared the works for us. In Philippians Ch.2v13 we read, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will, and to work for His good pleasure.” God is at work in us to prepare us for the good works we are to perform. But the works we are to perform are the works He has prepared and ordained for us to do. There is a match here.
God matches us to the work and the work to us. We are not simply told to go out and do good works. Instead, we are told that God has ordained the very works we are to perform. He has prepared them and placed them in our path.
This ought to be a very encouraging aspect of God's provision for us. To know that the very works we are to do have already been prepared for us means that we can relax. It is not up to us to go out and figure out what we should do for God. God has already taken care of that. It is up to us to find out what God has for us to do.
Ray Stedman told of flying to Albuquerque with an intern from their pastoral program. They decided to pray for the work there, and as the intern prayed, he said, “Father, thank you for the good works already prepared for us in Albuquerque, for the fact that they are waiting for us to step into them and experience them.” The works, which, God has prepared for us, are waiting for us to step into.
A minister was taking a walk by some old Victorian homes on a beautiful street when he noticed a small boy attempting to ring the doorbell on the porch of one of them. He was short, and the old-fashioned doorbell was set high in the door. Despite his leaping attempts, the boy could not quite reach it. The minister, seeing a good work at hand, seized the opportunity. He stepped up on the porch and vigorously rang the bell for him. Now what young man?” inquired the minister! “Now,” exclaimed the boy, “we run like crazy!”
We may occasionally step into good works like these. But if we never open our eyes to the opportunities, we will never find what God has for us. What has God called you to do? I believe we see this manifested in two ways.
The first is on the level of our ministry. God has called all of us to be active in ministry. But our ministry is not merely of our own choosing. It has been prepared for us. It is one of these good works we are to perform. So our first task is to be open and sensitive to the leading of the Lord in terms of our ministry. And all ministry; is important. There is nothing God could call us to do that would not be a high privilege. If two angels were sent to this earth, one to rule an empire and the other to sweep a street, they would never think to argue on the way which was the greatest task or which one of them was the greatest for being chosen. Both would be great because God had asked them to do the task for Him. We must find the general ministry God has called us into, but secondly, we must also be sensitive to the daily tasks God places in our path. As we encounter these opportunities for ministry, we need to ask ourselves a very important question. Do not ask, “What would Jesus do?” as if He were not present. He is present. He lives in you! Rather, ask, “What will Jesus do through me?” You can be sure that if God has placed this good work opportunity in your path, then He has prepared you for the work and the work for you.
As believers, we must come to understand that we are God's masterwork, and that as such we have been prepared by a change of nature to do good works. But not only have we been prepared the good works themselves have been prepared for us to do. We do not earn salvation by these works. We do not keep our salvation through these works. But we reveal our salvation by doing what saved people do --- good works.
A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base one December and there, meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim. As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus, again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a smile on his face. "Where did you learn that?" the professor asked. "What?" Ralph said. "Where did you learn to live like that?" "Oh," Ralph said, "during the war, I guess." He then told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, how it was his job to clear minefields, how he watched his friends, blow up before his eyes, one after another. "I learned to live between steps," he said. "I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I've been that way ever since." The abundance of our lives is not determined by how long we live but by how well we live.
Barbara Brown Taylor in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.