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8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
When somebody is in a difficult situation – maybe financial, or emotional, or of some other kind – family and friends will offer a helping hand if they can. Their efforts added to what the person himself can do may be enough to see him through the crisis. Those offering help would expect the person to do as much as he can to help himself. Then the combined effort will be sufficient.
Often people think that that is how salvation works. They believe that as sinners we can’t do enough to save ourselves – we need help from God. They think that we do the best we can and God makes up the shortfall. The Bible presents a very different view of salvation, as we see in today’s passage Ephesians 2:8-9 Four great facts about salvation.
1. It is by grace
Verse 8 begins ‘For it is by grace you have been saved’. The word ‘for’ shows that this statement is the conclusion to be drawn from what Paul says in verses 1-7 about the transformation that God has wrought in his people. He has brought them from being ‘dead in…transgressions’ (v1) to being ‘alive with Christ’ (v5) and he has ‘seated [them] in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (v6). They have been saved from the guilt and power of sin.
Paul now stresses that this salvation is entirely the work of God from start to finish. He is sovereign in saving sinners – they do not save themselves. The same basic principle is stated in Jonah 2:9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’. We find it throughout the Bible.
The key term is ‘grace’. This is a vital word to understand. Grace is the love and favor of God shown to the wretched, to the sinful, to those who deserve his righteous condemnation. It is a love that is determined by nothing in its objects. It is purely the fruit of God’s own nature. Psalm 86:15 says, ‘you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God’. In view of our plight as sinners, this is our only hope. The gospel is good news because it is a message of God’s grace to helpless sinners like you and me, a grace that saves the undeserving.
2. It is through faith
We need to understand clearly that salvation is not automatic. It is received only by those who have faith. This ‘faith’ is not some vague religious feeling or attitude. The Bible means something very specific by ‘faith’. Note Acts 16:31 ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. Paul is telling us that there is one proper object of saving faith- Christ crucified and risen. It is the object of faith that gives it its saving power.
Biblical faith requires knowledge of the person and work of Christ. It also entails assent to the Bible’s explanation of what he accomplished, but it also demands personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord. That’s why in the Bible we have the language of believing ‘on’ or ‘in’ Christ. It is like leaning our entire weight on him. Personal trust in him is essential.
What is the result of believing in Christ? In Romans 5:1 Paul says that we are ‘justified through faith’. That means we are declared righteous in God’s sight. Christ is ‘our righteousness’ according to 1 Corinthians 1:30. His righteousness, in his life of perfect obedience to God’s law and his death on the cross, is counted as ours.
Notice that salvation is ‘through’ faith, not ‘on account of’ it. Faith is not a contribution we make to salvation. It is ‘instrumental’, merely the channel God uses to convey salvation to us. It is like holding out our empty hands for God to fill them. We must never lose sight of the role faith plays and so become proud of our believing or think that it earns blessing.
3. It is God’s gift
Paul drives home the crucial lesson in verse 8: ‘this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’. He could be referring to faith or to the whole of salvation as a gift – it comes to the same thing in the end. God does not grant salvation as if it were a wage we earn or a debt he owes us. Calling it a ‘gift’ stresses he is under no obligation to us.
The gift is entirely free to us, but in fact, it had to be paid for. The gospel tells us that our salvation has been fully paid for. The only one who could pay the price as our Substitute was the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is both God and man. By his perfect obedience to the Father in both his life and his death, Christ paid the price fully. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us’. The whole burden of our sin and guilt was carried by the Saviour in our place. Jesus ‘gave his life a ransom for many’, as he himself puts it in Mark 10:45.
Notice that Paul says, ‘you have been saved’. It’s a perfect tense in the original language, used of something that has already happened and whose effects continue. Although our full enjoyment of salvation lies ahead in glory, we now have full, permanent possession of salvation and it cannot be lost. That’s a truth that’s full of assurance and comfort for us.
4. It is not by works
Paul stresses salvation is by grace alone: ‘not from yourselves…not by works’ he writes in verses 8 and 9. We need to stress this. We are not saved by a mixture of grace and works – that would destroy the element of grace. That is the error the Reformers had to combat. They were correct to affirm that we are saved by grace alone. We cannot and we need not add anything of our own to salvation. Nothing we could do is able to supplement God’s grace
Our efforts have nothing to contribute, and grace and works are mutually exclusive principles. All our efforts are covered by ‘works’, including even religious activities. Salvation does not begin with God’s grace and then continue by our works. It is tragic when some Christians live as if God’s grace forgave their past sins, but now they have to maintain salvation by obeying God well enough. That really denies the power of God’s grace.
The truth about salvation by grace through faith in Christ is humbling. But it is also so liberating. We are free from the burden of trying to earn our salvation. If you have not received that salvation from the Lord, let me urge you to trust in Christ as your Saviour today.
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1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,1 Corinthians 1:1-3
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s gifts of grace and peace
We are living in a very challenging time, with a disease which has brought a large part of the world to a standstill, world leaders very perplexed about the best policies to pursue to deal with this crisis and many people facing an extremely uncertain future. Who could have imagined even a short time ago that we would be living through such days?
As Christians, however, we have resources from the Lord that enable us to face such challenges. Today we are thinking about God’s provision for us as we consider the words Paul uses to greet believers in 1 Corinthians 1:3 ‘God’s gifts of grace and peace’.
The first element in Paul’s greeting is ‘Grace…to you’. He carefully specifies the source of that grace: ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. The greeting is set in a clearly and powerfully theological context. This is not something that the world experiences. God is immediately at the heart of how Paul addresses believers. The apostle is not simply expressing conventional good wishes as any letter writer would do – he is speaking about spiritual realities that relate to the people of God and go to the heart of who we are.
Paul begins with the fundamental fact of our Christian identity – we are those who have received grace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. Notice here:
What do we mean by the word ‘grace’? Fundamentally grace is the love and favour of God shown to sinners contrary to what they deserve. It is undeserved, unmerited favour is shown to those who deserved judgment and condemnation because of their sins.
Without compromising his perfect holiness, God shows throughout Scripture that he is a God of grace. In Exodus 34:6 he says that he is ‘the compassionate and gracious God’. We find the same truth in the New Testament, where Christ is described as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). God is characterised by grace to the unworthy.
Whilst there is a grace shown to all men, providing this-worldly blessings, (what we call ‘common grace’), grace chiefly relates to sin and salvation. It is bound up with the love of God, since ‘God is love’ according to 1 John 4:8. Grace is the attitude of God to his people in the face of their sin, and so if we do not understand the nature of sin as an offence against a holy God, we will not understand the nature of grace and we will not appreciate how wonderful it is. It was in grace that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) and provided all we need for salvation.
All of Paul’s discussion of grace is centred on Christ. Already we have touched on this. Grace leads to divine action – saving action since sinners need salvation. Note Paul’s words in Titus 2:11 ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’. It is in Christ that this grace has appeared, it has taken visible form in the Son of God coming into this world for our salvation.
The supreme expression of grace is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is his work that provides full salvation for the objects of God’s grace. Hence ‘it is by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:8). Apart from God’s grace we would be lost eternally. The very centre of the gospel is God’s grace to sinners in Christ.
It is vital to remember that not only does salvation begin in grace – it also must continue by the same grace. God’s grace enables spiritual growth in Christ’s likeness and also enables spiritual service. Grace cleanses us from sin when we fail and come to God in repentance. It is God’s grace that keeps us connected to Christ. That is why Paul wishes believers ‘grace’ – we need it daily and we always will.
God’s grace provides a multitude of blessings for the Lord’s people. One of the greatest is ‘peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. This is a profoundly spiritual peace. Peace in biblical language is far more than the absence of strife – it is the fulness of blessing that we enjoy in the family of God. Note 2 things here:
A permanent possession.
We have a wonderful statement in Romans 5:1 ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Through the gracious action of God in Jesus Christ, our relationship to God has changed fundamentally and forever. As sinners ‘we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), but the sacrifice of Christ has satisfied the righteous requirements of a holy God and turned aside his wrath. Thus Christ is, as John puts it in 1 John 2:2, ‘the propitiation for our sins’. God’s enmity towards us is ended and we are at peace with him.
This is a truth we need to hold on to. Satan will try to shake our confidence in it, reminding us of our sins and asking how such a person could be a real Christian. We must remember that in Christ we have and always will have peace with God. That is Christ’s accomplishment and so cannot be lost even by our repeated sins. We remain ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1). God will not and cannot reverse his verdict on his people.
A present provision.
Peace with God is always a fact, but our experience of it varies. It can come and go. Sometimes we do not feel at peace with God:
perhaps because of our sins we lose our peace and it is replaced by fear
perhaps because of our circumstances – in hard and testing times we may lose our sense of peace with God. We may even wonder if he has turned against us.
That is when we need to recapture the experience of ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) – that is why Paul includes it as a wish for believers in his greeting here. It is a very precious blessing.
How may we recapture our sense of peace? One obvious requirement is avoidance of sin, which robs us of our peace. On the positive side, we must use the means of grace God provides so that we grow closer to the Lord. Notice how Philippians 4:6 puts peace in the context of ‘prayer and petition with thanksgiving’. Worship, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, fellowship with believers – we need all of these sources of strength.
Peace is a precious blessing that we seek for ourselves and for all God’s people. In the midst of difficult and trying times, may we know that peace which the world cannot give or take from us.
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Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:14-16
Hebrews 4:14-16, Christ Exalted and Compassionate
It is not easy to live the Christian life in our world. There are many pressures on those who seek to follow Christ consistently. In our present circumstances, where there is much suffering, uncertainty and fear, we can find our faith tested and we may be tempted to give up. We need not think we are unique in this respect. The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews faced many pressures on their Christian faith and some were tempted to give up and go back to Judaism. The writer has much to say by way of challenge and encouragement. Let’s consider Hebrews 4:14-16 which turns our thoughts to our great Saviour.
1. The exaltation of Christ
The focus of encouragement must always be Christ and what he has done for his people. Here the writer demonstrates the superiority of his work as Priest over that of any earthly priest. He writes in v14 ‘we have a great high priest’. There are several reasons for his greatness.
The writer begins with his present position of glory – Jesus has ‘gone through the heavens’. The Saviour has ascended to the Father, who has ‘seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (as Paul puts it in Ephesians 1:20). Jesus has been granted the place of supreme exaltation. His exaltation is based on his earthly work as Priest, and so he is referred to as ‘Jesus’, his earthly human name. As Priest, he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross for the sins of his people. The price has been paid – that is the good news of the gospel.
Notice also that he is called ‘the Son of God’ – he is a unique High Priest, indeed he is God himself come in human flesh. On that account, his sacrifice has infinite value. It is sufficient to save multitudes. It manifests perfect divine love. His work is fully accomplished and so he sits at the Father’s right hand. He is not paying a fleeting visit to heaven. He remains in the Father’s presence to intercede for us (as 7:25 tells us). That is a tremendous encouragement.
2. Let us hold firmly to our faith
The practical effect of having such a great High Priest ought to be steadfastness in our faith. To people tempted to give up their faith the writer says ‘let us hold firmly to the faith we profess’. The essentials of that faith have already been stated in the first part of v14 – a Saviour who is both God and man, who by his death and resurrection has made atonement for sins and who now reigns over all things. That is the core of the gospel, which is not negotiable.
To an unbelieving world, these truths seem ridiculous – the gospel is ‘foolishness to the Gentiles’ (I Corinthians 1:23), provoking ridicule or hostility. You may well have experienced something like that. Such a reaction may shake our faith, we may begin to waiver in our commitment. However, we must not give up the truths that determine our eternal destiny. We know our High Priest personally and we are committed to him and his cause.
The idea of ‘hold fast’ includes a holding forth of the truth of the gospel to a Christ-rejecting world, whatever the response. People need to hear these truths and in troubled times like ours, some will be more open to listening to the gospel. We do have new opportunities.
3. The compassion of Christ
Such an exalted Saviour might seem cold and distant. Does he understand the pressures we have to face? The writer reassures us that we do not need to worry on that account. Jesus has an unequaled capacity to understand. It is not the case that he is ‘unable to sympathize with our weaknesses’ (v15). His exaltation has not destroyed his humanity.
It is marvelous news that he was ‘tempted in every way just as we are’. Nothing in human experience, except sin, is foreign to Jesus. In fact, he was tested to an extent we will never face. He spent 40 days in the wilderness battling Satan (Matthew 4:1ff); he was challenged to come down from the cross (Mark 15:30). Jesus made a public profession before the Jews and Pilate and so he knows the pressures that entails.
Notice too the end of v15 ‘yet was without sin’ – he never capitulated to pressure or temptation. That does not distance him from us so that he does not understand our struggles and failures. Instead, it shows how he endured far beyond the point where we would give up and so knows the full force of temptation in a way that we do not. Our Saviour endured all the kinds of trials we face, including the temptation to give up when our faith is under pressure. Jesus, however, came through it all triumphant and he understands us and our struggles fully. That should be a great encouragement in our trials, especially when we feel we have reached our limit and cannot carry on any longer.
4. Let us approach the throne of grace
In v16 the writer makes a very practical application of what he has just said about the compassion of the Lord. We are exhorted to be praying people. He exhorts us, ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence’. What would once have been the throne of judgment for sinners like us is now a place of grace for Christians. On that throne is a crucified and risen High Priest. We can thus come ‘with confidence’, not rashly or self-confidently, but in humble faith, not fearing rejection or wrath.
What will we obtain? We will obtain ‘mercy’, dealing with our past failures, and ‘grace to help us’, for present and future needs, whatever they may be. The Lord’s supply will not fail. He promises, ‘my grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9). Help comes ‘in our time of need’ – at the right time, not before we need it. Grace is always provided for our present trials. So we dare not be prayerless. To neglect prayer is to say we can cope without the Lord’s help, and we know we cannot. With such wonderful assurances, let us trust in the Lord and approach the throne of grace daily.
It’s here! Covid-19, coronavirus, is here. We wondered what would fill the headlines and column inches after Brexit – now we know. Seemingly out of nowhere – in fact probably out of a market in China selling wild animals for meat – a new plague is sweeping the world. It has moved on from China to its neighbours, especially South Korea, and on to Europe, with Italy worst affected so far, and that hasn’t been the end of the spread. In many parts of the world, precautions are being taken, and multitudes are taking to wearing (largely ineffective) masks in an attempt to avoid infection. Who knows where it will appear next or what the consequences will be?
Already in parts of Europe radical steps are being taken. Badly affected areas such as Italy and neighbouring countries are in virtual ‘lockdown’. Many sporting and other events are postponed to unspecified future dates. Anyone who returns from a trip to any infected area who thinks he or she may have been affected is to ‘self-quarantine’ – whatever precisely that means. Airlines are already being hit by the vast reduction in numbers willing to fly. Predictions of greater restrictions to come are everywhere, as governments prepare for the ‘worst-case scenario’. Swathes of the UK population are being confined to their own homes except in very limited circumstances. Will the infection ‘peak’ in the UK in two or three months, or will coronavirus turn out to be a seasonally recurring infection? Who can tell? The production of an effective vaccine by the beginning of next year, it seems, would be a triumph of speed and ingenuity.
As various events are called off, limitations on large gatherings are imposed and other restrictions are put in place, it is clear that not only is the coronavirus a powerful factor – the fear of the coronavirus is equally powerful. Some international events are being cancelled less because the virus poses a threat and more because fear of the virus makes people unwilling to travel or assemble. We are living in a climate of fear, fed by daily updates on the number of coronavirus infections in our locality. Suppose we had similar daily updates on all kinds of other diseases – flu, heart attacks, various cancers? Could a panic epidemic be far away?
Not all fear is bad, of course. It can be a valuable motivator to take sensible precautions for ourselves and others. Those with no fear can be highly dangerous. We do have to ensure, however, that our fears are directed at appropriate objects. Notice the Lord’s words in Matthew 10:28 ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Crucial for every man and woman is the ‘fear of the Lord’ that is the fruit of his grace and is also ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111:10), the fear that recognises who the Lord is and submits to him in the repentance and faith that embrace salvation. In the context of that godly fear, all other fears are to be evaluated.
Even the greatest saints experience a measure of fear on occasion. Recalling his initial ministry in Corinth Paul can write that ‘I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling’ (1 Corinthians 2:3) – an encouraging thought for any Christian seeking to share the gospel. Fear, however, is certainly not the dominant force in the life of a child of God.
Notice Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:6, where he says that believers are children of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, ‘if you do good and do not give way to fear’. He is not denying for a moment that there are frightening things in the world – there is no naïve ‘let’s pretend’ in Peter’s outlook – and Christians know that in addition to all the perils that every human being faces, they are in the midst of spiritual warfare with an enemy who longs to destroy them. Nevertheless, we may be delivered from fear if our attention is focussed on the Lord who is almighty, the Lord who loves us with infinite love, the Lord who has promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).
It is in the light of that promise that the writer to the Hebrews continues, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’ (v.6, an allusion to Psalm 118:6). We know that, in one sense, man (and disease, and many other things) can do a lot to us. Christians die as martyrs, Christians die of coronavirus. We do not live in some protective bubble that others do not have. Nevertheless, nothing comes to us, whether it is the attacks of Satan or the onslaught of coronavirus, that is outside the control of our sovereign God, whose providence governs all things. Thus we have a peace that passes human understanding (Philippians 4:7) and are set free from fear. We are, in truth, ready for anything.
As Christians, there is a need to speak with God. A defining feature of the Christian God is the fact that we can communicate with him and have a relationship with him. In Fact, we can speak with him on a whole range of subjects. We aren’t limited to a pattern or a script. I’m sure you are all aware that we reject the common book of prayer in favour of open prayer. This is because at the most fundamental level we can speak to God as someone would speak with a friend. Some other religions, God is a big scary being that must not be spoken to outside of the words of a holy book. Muslims have the Koran and pray far more diligently that we do with 5 daily prayers. however, we don’t have this diligence or a need to pray in the same way.
Prayer can commonly split into four ways: Adoration: Praising God, Confession: Asking for God’s forgiveness, Thanksgiving: Showing God gratitude, Supplication: Asking God for erthly needs.
Now I’m not going to say that the structure is to be stuck to or that you have to pray in these 4 parts. In a lot of cases we need to pray a prayer of thanksgiving, or in a case where we find ourselves in great trials, we may need to have a dual prayer of adoration and supplication. This week we are looking at the first one which is adoration.
Why do we need to adore him?
deep love and respect. Worship; veneration. This is the definition of adoration, however. As we were looking at what is a Christian we can see that the key purpose is to worship God. But how does that materialise in the form of adoration? Why do we need to do it? If God is all knowing and all understanding then why would God need us to tell him in prayer what we think of him? If you spoke to a friend the way we spoke to God then it would be flattery. Are we trying to make God feel good before we then start asking tough questions in confession and in Positioning? If this is why you are saying these words then they are as empty as the words of the Pharisees. It’s a waste of time then.
Well no it’s not because if we really mean the words then it’s not a reminder to God but a reminder to us and a reminder to the ones around us. We also would say that it would be wrong for someone not to start some of the truths about God. “Who art in heaven” is a great quote to the hight and the grandness of God the father.
Are we using empty words seeing as God doesn’t need to hear them?
When we praise God for being a creator it’s not that God has forgotten what he has done for us in creation. But it’s not that God needs to hear it either but we can sometimes see that by calling God the creator then makes problems of the worlds become a lot smaller when we address them to the one who created the universe around the problems.
If a friend is diagnosed with cancer is it that God lost control or he made a mistake. If God was not adored then we in a sense are only asking God to work a miracle. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to do it. Maybe it is out of control? Contrast this with a prayer that opens with “God the Creator, the one who formed the body and the soul and has our birth and life planned out from before the formation of the earth”. We can see that all things are in his control and we can be put to rest by this. Without adoration we are shrinking God to a wishing well where we ask for and give thanks.
Can we flatter God?
Flattery is where we say empty words to please a person. Generally, it’s not true and we are only wanting to make them feel better so that they can give us something in return.
If I was setting up a businessman setting up coffee shops I would say this adoration part so that God will then give me the customers and the business know how to run them all. But I would shower God in these empty words so that my request is more genuine.
But prayer doesn’t work that way because God can see straight through the heart and knows how we think. There is nothing wrong with opening a chain of coffee shops or asking God for wisdom and guidance in running them. You should not feel like you have to say them but you should keep in mind that prayer is a privilege and that God desires to hear. Your heart and mind should be constantly desiring to pray to God because it would be odd to do otherwise. To remembering how high above us God then allows us to confess, give thanks and request from God on a better foot than one who only requests and give thanks.
As we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in Europe, we are considering five of the great principles that lie at the heart of the Reformation. These are the five ‘solas’ – the five ‘alones’ – that sum up some of the central emphases of this great time of theological and spiritual revival. Last month we considered ‘Christ Alone’. This month we turn to ‘Grace Alone’ – ‘Sola Gratia’.
A vital emphasis of the Reformation was that salvation is by God’s grace alone, drawing on texts such as Ephesians 2:8-9 ‘by grace you have been saved through faith’. ‘Grace’ is to be thought of as the favour of God to those who deserved only condemnation and it is this grace that is the source as well as the guarantee of the sinner’s salvation.
We need to notice that the pre-Reformation church did speak about salvation ‘by grace’ – it is a caricature to say that the theologians of that period taught salvation by works. The problem was, however, that they tried to combine an element of grace and an element of works. They believed that God gave grace to assist those who made their best effort towards salvation. The ‘grace’ they believed in was thought of as a kind of substance that God infused into people to strengthen their efforts, like a kind of spiritual energy drink.
The Reformers, however, realised that a consistently biblical view of salvation meant that it is ‘by grace alone’. There is no contribution that the sinner makes, and indeed none he could make. With reference to salvation, grace excludes works entirely. One among many significant texts is Romans 11:6 ‘But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace’. Not only does salvation begin by grace, it also continues by grace. That is so despite the attitude of some Christians who seem to think that having had past sins forgiven by the grace of God, they must then stay in God’s good books by their own spiritual efforts. That is a deadly misunderstanding.
The grace of God provides everything required for salvation. God’s amazing love for a sinful world led to the provision of a Saviour, as the familiar words of John 3:16 remind us. That Saviour by his life of perfect obedience, his atoning death and triumphant resurrection, all as the Substitute for his people, provides full salvation for all who belong to him by the divine decree of predestination. Christ gives new life to sinners, so that Paul can say that God ‘made us alive together with Christ’ (Ephesians 2:5). In saving union with Christ we have justification, adoption, sanctification and eventually glorification. Romans 3:24, for example, tells us that we are ‘justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’. At every point the explanation for what we have as Christians is the grace of God.
Such an understanding of salvation is profoundly humbling. There is nothing left in relation to salvation for which we can take credit. It is, however, also wonderfully liberating. Salvation by grace alone lifts a crushing burden from our shoulders, a burden we in fact cannot bear. We realise now that we cannot contribute to a salvation that is all by grace alone – and we do not have to. We do not have to do the impossible, and so we are set free from the bondage of trying to establish our own righteousness before God by our own efforts.
This was one of Luther’s great (re)discoveries. When he read a text like Romans 1:17, with its reference to ‘the righteousness of God’, he at first thought of a righteousness by which God judges sinners and a righteousness which he demands of them. In his mind this was a righteousness which he had to produce and which he could not, despite having tried everything that the church recommended. Then the Lord graciously opened Luther’s eyes to the wonderful truth that texts like Romans 1:17 actually refer to a righteousness that God gives as a free gift of grace, the very righteousness of Christ. In the Preface to his Latin writings this is how he describes the discovery: ‘Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.’ He was free at last!
The truth of ‘grace alone’ flows from the sovereignty of God in salvation. He did not have to save any, yet he has fully provided for the salvation of a vast multitude of sinners (note Revelation 7:9). This Reformation assertion of ‘grace alone’ echoes the truth of Jonah 2:9 ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’. It is a truth that exalts God and humbles men and women.
A further consequence of the sovereignty of God in salvation which should delight the heart of every believer is the certainty we have that the work that God has begun will certainly be completed. As Paul expressed it, ‘I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). Such certainty strengthens our assurance of salvation and fills our hearts with joy – ‘by grace alone’.