For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (verses 8-9)
Every one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament begins with a greeting that includes this word.It’s a central concept for Paul, taking him back to his own dramatic encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Proudly, he’d been building his own resume, polishing his own self-righteous posture, struggling to earn a place in God’s favour, battling against anything that fell outside his own narrowly defined rules for living. Battling against Jesus. But then, beyond his own working, beyond his own righteousness, he found himself arrested into the kingdom of light, justified as he placed faith in Jesus himself, the one he’d previously despised and counted a blasphemer. His world was turned upside down. Beyond his expectations. It was all of grace, pure and simple.
Reflecting back, Paul realized that the very father of his nation, Abraham himself, had been accepted by God not on the basis of circumcision or rule-keeping or any other accomplishment of his own, but purely and simply by faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Of course. If salvation is by “grace,” then there is nothing else we can do but simply receive it by faith. Any other requirement would mean it was no longer “by grace.” Grace alone requires faith alone.
The word encompasses the whole of the Christian life – peace with God, right-standing in his presence, forgiveness of all our sin, cleansing through and through, the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, eternal life. But it is the tense here that catches my eye. “You have been saved,” Paul writes, using a tense that looks back to a point of time in the past and reverberates into the present, like a rock thrown into a crystal-clear pond, sending endless ripples outward. Grace, poured out by God, then received in a person’s own experience by faith, results in salvation from that very moment forward, undergirding all of life. “You have been saved” means we are held in the everlasting arms.
Pure and simple. Salvation is a gift from God. Not earned. Not deserved. Simply given. And, as would be expected, a gift from the Sovereign Lord of all creation is absolutely priceless, not available from any other source, fully meeting the need, never needing a replacement, good for all eternity. What gift.
What we would have struggled to accomplish in our own energies and strength could never, ever be enough to secure our rescue. Salvation would be unattainable. So, this decisive statement that salvation is “not by works,” can only be heard with joy inexpressible. And great relief. It’s not up to us. The work has been done.
By grace. Through faith. We have been saved. It is a gift. Not by works.
Or, as the Reformers loved to say: Sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria.
(By grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory!)
My Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you. Your grace alone has made it possible. It has awakened my faith, and it is enough. I have been saved, and in that certainty I rejoice. There is nothing of my own working that is needed. But now, in deep gratitude, I step into the good works you have prepared in advance for me to do. Praise your name.
Reflect: Stew on the wonder of these words: grace, faith, saved, gift, works. Embrace the truth of each. Give thanks. Recommit yourself to the Lord who has so loved you.