People who don't go to church or read religious books or listen to evangelists on television have few opportunities to be exposed to theology. One of those opportunities comes when a friend or relative dies and they go to the funeral. There, the preacher usually recounts the good things the person has done in life and, based on that, promises the survivors that he or she is now in heaven. The thought that someone who is a good father and kind to dogs and neighbors wouldn't make it to heaven is unthinkable. The funeral eulogy becomes a belated plea for the defense delivered after the evidence is all in.
No wonder people get confused about salvation. If people are generally good, or do enough good things for others during their lives, will they will earn a place in heaven? What would you say? Yes or No? A survey by pollster George Barna found that 88% of Catholics and a majority of Methodists and Presbyterians agreed with that statement. Even 27% of the Baptists subscribed to the theory of salvation by good works.
Anyone can devise a plan whereby good people get to heaven. That takes no creative imagination. What God did, however, is to come up with a way in which bad people people who are his enemies can go to heaven. Paul described it this way: "By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Is salvation rooted in something you do, or in something God does. Take a look at the alternatives.
Salvation by something you do gives you something to brag about. If you are the religious type, you might try to be saved by doing something religious. The proud Pharisees tried this and failed because they assumed that what earned the approval of humans earned the approval of God. Jesus said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). Doing religious things may justify you in the eyes of neighbors and family, but God isn't impressed.
Martin Luther tried to be saved by doing religious things, but failed miserably. No religious rites could bring peace to his tormented soul until he learned, "The just shall live by faith" (Galatians 3:11). You can't be put right with God by any religious deeds: not baptism, not joining a church, not tithing, not witnessing, not preaching, not fasting, not praying, not anything.
If you are not the religious type, you might try to be saved by being good. This is the game played by those who say, "I'm going to wait until I'm a better person before I become a Christian." Or they will say, "I don't have to go to church to be good."
Salvation by works reflects our cultural attitudes. It is a "smack wrong candy right" philosophy. A parent smacks a kid when he's wrong and gives him candy when he's right. Then the kid grows up thinking heaven is the ultimate candy stick for those who are right. Self-righteousness is their imaginary ticket to heaven.
To achieve, to acquire, to produce, to accomplish may win you points in American society but no status before God. Just think about it a minute. Do you really look forward to standing before the awe-full presence of God and telling him what a good person you have been? I agree with Mark Twain who said, "If heaven went by merit, you'd stay out and your dog would go in." If you could work your way into heaven, you'd probably brag your way into hell.
Since God does it all, Paul says, "no one may boast." Indeed, there's nothing to brag about. There is nothing you can do to make God start loving you. There is nothing you can do to make God stop loving you. God never says, "I'll love you if " He says, "I love you period." God's saving love is a gift to which you may or may not respond.
Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Grace is unmerited favor. A good night's sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace and so is most laughter. The smell of rain on a fresh mowed lawn is grace. Somebody loving you is grace, and so is loving someone else.
you ever tried to love somebody? I laughed when I saw a round "smiley
face" and read the slogan under it saying: "Smile! God loves
you and I'm trying to." Whatever love you get after great effort
isn't worthy of being called love. "By grace you have been saved"
Grace is the root of salvation. Good works are the fruit of salvation. After Paul argued that we cannot be saved by our works he says in the next verse: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot be saved by doing good works, but we are saved for doing good works. God does not love us because we are good, but God makes us good because he loves us. Any good we do comes from his workmanship in us.
Trying to be saved by working at it is like trying to sand a board down until there is only one side. The harder you try, the sooner you'll wind up with nothing. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not good advice on how to try harder. It is good news that God's grace reaches losers who have tried and failed. Salvation rooted in what you do will wither like tomatoes rooted in asphalt. People who try to be saved by doing something will go to hell trying to be good enough or religious enough and hoping that God grades on the curve.
"By grace you have been saved." Amazing Grace! Why do we call it amazing? It is amazing because it contradicts common sense.
Common Sense says: Grace Says:
Grace is the punch line to God's bad news/good news joke. First, the bad news: You and I are dead in sin and condemned to hell. Next, the good news: Christ died for our sins and opened the way to heaven. The good news makes no sense without the bad news. In fact it is no news at all.
"By grace you have been saved through faith." Faith is not human effort to believe real hard: it is part of God's gracious gift. So is air, but you have to breathe it. So is water but you have to drink it. So is bread, but you have to eat it. Some people are looking for a special feeling that they call faith. Faith is not a feeling. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). Don't sit down and wait for faith to sneak up on you and zap you unawares. Take God at his word. God said it, you believe it, and that settles it. Begin now to live as though God is your Father, Jesus is your brother and heaven is your home.
Someone said to his Christian friend, "You must have
At Christmas I saw an advertisement for the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. The headline declared: "20th Century Fox brings you the most precious gift of all: something to believe in!" I already have the most precious gift of all. I have something to believe in: not Santa Claus from 20th Century Fox, but Jesus Christ from Bethlehem of Judea.
Salvation must be obtained because it cannot be attained. Nothing you can do will ever put you right with God. It comes to you not by your own works but by Christ's work. Jesus Christ died to put you right with God. You are "justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith" (Romans 3:24-25a).
Salvation by grace is very healing, but first it is very humbling. It means that you are so sinful and helplessly lost that God had to send his own Son to die in your place to rescue you for all eternity.
The price of your salvation has already been paid. All you can do is accept it as a gift (1 Peter 1:18-19). I've had a few fights in my life never in a boxing ring, but sometimes in restaurants. I remember fighting with my good friend, Bob Kidd, over who would pay for lunch. I always lost. But wouldn't my argument with brother Bob be absurd if, while insisting on paying for the meal, the only money I had in my pocket was some I saved from my monopoly set?
Friends, some of you are just as foolish. You are offering counterfeit nickels to the precious blood of Jesus Christ. You are saying, in effect, "Here I'll buy my own ticket to heaven" when all you've got is the "funny money" you have forged on your own.
The Pasadena Star News (June 10, 1983) reported a story headlined, "Bond-jumper misses verdict of 'Not guilty.'" Arturo Aguirre forfeited a $75,000 bond because he didn't show up to hear the verdict declaring his innocence on the assault and murder charges against him. It cost Arturo $75,000, but it may cost you much more. Like Arturo, some of you will fail to show up to hear the words of acquittal: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).