The justification of sinners solely by the grace of God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.This replaces
The justification of the sinner solely by faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.So, are we saved by faith or by grace?
Let’s define these terms. They’re both Christian buzz-words that get spoken a lot, especially in the free churches. We have to understand what they mean.
Hebrews 11: 1When Jesus commends people for their faith, or sometimes points out their lack of faith, this is what He is talking about.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (NKJV).
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see (NLT).
In Matthew 8: 5-10, Jesus heals a centurion’s servant. The man, who presumably wasn’t a Jew, and so had little knowledge of the Scriptures, amazed Jesus with his faith. Jesus was going to ‘come and heal’ the servant (v.7) but the man stopped him and said: only speak a word, and my servant will be healed (v.8). Such was his complete confidence that Jesus could do it.
He believed. He must have watched from a distance as Jesus taught and healed the people and been touched; he was intellectually convinced that Jesus could do it, and he took the further step of acting on that conviction. Actually, he took two steps: he came to Jesus, pleading with Him (v.5), and when Jesus assented, he received that as a ‘Yes’. He hoped that his servant would be healed, and his conviction that Jesus would heal became the substance, the reality, of that healing.
This kind of thing is offensive to our Western intellect. The idea that faith is its own evidence is outrageous to us. But we all exercise faith all the time. I am typing these notes on a laptop computer. I’m confident (fairly confident) that when I switch it on and open Word, it will work. In doing this, I’m making some big assumptions. I really have very little understanding of how what I am typing gets onto the screen in front of me, and how it will subsequently get uploaded to this blog. It worked last time; I hope it will work this time. I believe it will. The Centurion made the same connection with Jesus.
The process of faith activates something powerful at work in the world. In my case, the technological genius of the folks at Hewlett Packard and Microsoft (other computing products are available) have harnessed a very advanced understanding of physics and electronics to make this blog post happen. I have a relationship with them; I’m their customer and I trust their products. Extended use over time has given me a degree of confidence that my actions will achieve the desired result. But I can’t tell you how.
The Centurion is calling on the power of almighty God through Jesus to bring about his servant’s healing. (Perhaps, in the twenty first century, a course of antibiotics would do the trick. But that would require faith, too.)
That’s how faith works, but it isn’t the whole picture.
We place our faith in something reliable that is more powerful than we are; the measure of faith we exercise will depend on how adequate we think that thing is and how much we trust it.
Sometimes I have to drive to a destination in South London; it’s a long way and the route is complex. I will use one of the sat-nav apps in my phone. I expect this to guide me through the route, monitor the condition of the traffic and constantly update my ETA. It’s another sophisticated application of technology that I really don’t understand. However, my faith in it is less than complete. Mostly, it works well. It will even tell me about roadworks and speed cameras, abandoned vehicles and even roadkill. But a few times it has neglected to tell me about major road closures. That’s an important failure. I’ll use my sat-nav, but, if I’m wise, I’ll also take an A-Z.
It matters where I put my faith.
I believe that, left to my own devices, I will fail to engage with God and be ‘lost’ (that will be another blog post). I need to be saved. For this, like the Centurion, I put my trust in Jesus Christ.
He is the only means of salvation.
John 3: 16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 14: 6Only Jesus is able to deal with the problem of my sin – my innate rebellion against God.
Jesus said … “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Acts 3: 12
…there is no other name [than Jesus of Nazareth] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
So, my faith is important. It is important that I believe in Jesus; that is, that like the Centurion, I intellectually acknowledge my need of salvation and His ability to save me, but then I must act upon that knowledge. There are two crucial parts to this faith: My trust in Him and His capability to act.
GraceThere is still something missing in this discussion.
This is all about me and my need for salvation. Where does God fit in?
Also, it sounds as if having faith is an achievement of some kind. Faith has quantity as well as quality. Some people have a lot of faith (like the Centurion); others only have a little bit, like the disciples in the boat (Matthew 8: 26) or me with the sat-nav.
Does that mean that only those with big faith can be saved?
Let’s have a look at some more Bible:
Ephesians 2: 4, 5 8Here’s the thing. I can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ because God is inclined to save me. If He were not so inclined, no amount of faith would do it.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
Let’s unpack those verses:
vv. 4 and 5: God has made us alive with Christ, in spite of my sin (my ‘trespasses’), because He is rich in mercy and has ‘great love’. It might seem a tall order to believe that God loves me – why would He? But this is the message of the Bible.
This is the engine of salvation. The reason I can have hope and exercise faith is because God gets there first. Even when we were dead … He made us alive together with Christ. Or Romans 5: 8: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This is Grace. It is the unmerited favour of God, His pure generosity. There is nothing that I did or could possibly have done to save myself or to win His favour.
v.8a: by grace you have been saved through faithGod is the originator of salvation, not me. He pours His grace into me, even in my sin (it’s hard to understand that); my faith is a response to this. The Centurion’s faith too is a response. He seeks Jesus out and pleads with him, so he’s definitely showing initiative and not merely being passive, but unless Jesus has already been there healing people, he would never have done this.
v.8b: …and that [grace] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.God is the originator of salvation; in fact, He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 11: 2). This is a principle that is written all the way through the scriptures, for example:
Isaiah 65: 1This is God’s cosmic generosity, His amazing grace.
I was sought by those who did not ask for Me;
I was found by those who did not seek Me.
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.’
Jeremiah 31: 3
The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”
1 John 4: 19
We love Him because He first loved us.
SummaryThis is not a definitive theological argument, but it goes something like this.
God created us in his own image, to be a reflection of Him. In a sense, this means that we bear some attributes of God such as, for example, the ability to love, or our creativity. God’s creation is great and varied, but we are of a different order. More than that, though, I think God’s image in us is evident to Him in our relationships. When He looks at us, He sees glimpses of himself, as it were through a glass, darkly (see 1 Corinthians 13: 12). He longs to see that image restored; he loves us because we bring glory to Him. I think we see a reflection of this in Luke 22: 15
With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.This is Jesus loving his friends (including Judas), and this is what Yahweh is saying in Jeremiah 31: I have loved you with an everlasting love.
It is God’s desire to reconcile His creation, but it is corrupted by sin. It is fundamentally broken and at odds with Him, so he moves to redeem it.
Jesus came into the world and lived the way man was always supposed to live; He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4: 15). He didn’t just resist sin, he confronted it, and he allowed it to destroy Him. Casting Himself as the spotless Passover Lamb, he offered Himself ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 7: 27; 9: 12 and 10: 10), the righteous for the unrighteous. He took upon Himself the just condemnation of the entire human race. Once, for all.
This is God’s grace, coming to the very depths of where we are, in the midst of the very worst the world can do. No other sacrifice or righteous endeavour is feasible to bring salvation.
So, seeing this, we respond in faith. We choose to believe it, first as an intellectual assent and then as an act of trust.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
(John Newton 1725-1807)My faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is no credit to me, it is purely a response to God’s grace.