Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By Grace

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

This is one of my favorite verses in the bible. It seems like one could never run out of messages to write (or preach) on this verse alone. OK, that is an exaggeration. But the limiting factor would be the preacher, and not the depth of the scripture itself.

In years past I would use this verse to try to show people that grace was a gift of God and couldn't be earned by what we do. Of course that is true, but now I will more often use the verse to show that faith is a gift of God. That faith is the gift of God is what the verse actually states, though for years I had read it without realizing that. I came to the conclusion that this verse taught that faith is a gift of God using the logic that if grace was something that you received as a result of faith, then grace was no longer a gift, but the payment for your faith. Grace and faith must both be the gift of God, or else neither of them were, I thought. I still see that reasoning to be correct. However that truth is much simpler than my reasoning made it out to be. I had come to the right conclusion, but when I heard a preacher with a little better grasp of English explain it, I felt silly. The word "that" in the phrase "and that not of yourselves", refers to faith. One could paraphrase the verse like this: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that faith is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Thus it takes no reasoning to get "faith is a gift" from this verse, it only takes an understanding of basic English. In my defense though, it has been about 35 years since high school English classes for me.

What does it matter, you ask? Grace is, I believe, THE defining difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. As near as I can tell, all other religions teach that it is your good works that earn you a place in heaven. If you believe that the Bible is God's inspired word, then you have plenty of proof of exactly the opposite. In fact the Bible tells us that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64: 6) Our "righteousnesses" (right acts) are in fact our good works. How many people in the world today are trusting in their "filthy rags", when the only thing that can help them on judgement day is Christ's righteousness?

The understanding of grace is, I believe, also one of the defining differences between all those who call themselves Christian, yet hold to such different doctrines. These differences in understanding of grace run the gamut from the belief that one is saved by faith plus works, to the belief that one is saved by baptism, to the belief that God saves anyone who will cooperate with him by accepting Jesus, to the belief that God does it all. I subscribe to the last view. I believe that the Bible teaches that God chose those who it pleased him to save, (despite their unworthiness and not due to anything they do), gives them faith and changes their hearts so that they desire to repent and live a changed life with Jesus Christ as their Lord.

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