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Faith Bible Church, NY
July 28, 1996
Saved by God’s Grace
This morning we once again have a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short period of time, so I am going to ask you once again to turn to the second chapter of Ephesians as we study the wonderful truths that Paul states here. Paul’s desire is that we should know the “hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (1:18,19). Paul brings us into a better understanding of all these things as he explains what God has done in bringing about our salvation.
Paul starts out by stating in unequivocal terms our natural condition. This is the state we where in before Jesus Christ saved us and the state that everyone who is not saved is still in. As Paul states it in verse 1: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. Not seriously ill, but dead. Spiritually separated from God and utterly incapable of doing anything about it. Like a corpse, we could do nothing for ourselves, not even wish. Other men could only bury us. Only God could do something to change our state.
The proof of our dead condition was demonstrated both inwardly and outwardly in our trespasses and sin. Our hearts were far from God and we did what we wanted or others influenced us to do. We were led by two outward influences, the world systems and the demonic. Verse two states that we “formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” We followed our selfish hearts and let society set the standards of right and wrong, of what is good and what is not. We followed human philosophies and if God was on our minds at all, we participated in religions of human achievement, that is, we tried to appease God or gain His favor by what we did. Essentially we were trying to buy God off or put Him in a position where He would have to give us what we wanted.
Man certainly does not need the devil and demonic influences to be evil, he does that well all by himself, but man’s dead state is further confirmed by demonic influences that prevail upon him. As I said last week, this that does not mean that all non-Christians are demon possessed, but it does mean that they are all demonically influenced. It may be blatant as it is with those involved with occultic practices, or it may be very subtle like those caught up in religion. Remember that Satan seeks to usurp God and will display himself as an angel of light if it suits his purposes. I pointed out last week that 1 Tim. 4:1-3 warns against those who would come “paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” and would teach things including “forbidding marriage and abstaining from foods, which God created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” Are not one or more of these very things, which Paul says specifically are doctrines of demons, taught by groups that claim to be “Christian” including Roman Catholicism, Mormons, and Seventh-Day Adventist?
Man’s dead state is also demonstrated by his seeking to fulfill his own lusts and desires of the flesh and mind. He wants something and then seeks it out to satisfy his craving. The evil in man is driven from within, not without (Mt. 15:18,19). Man falls under the influence of society and the demonic because they offer him just what he wants. We see the same truth expressed in James 1:14,15, “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust, then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin…”.
Unregenerate man is controlled by the desires of the flesh and mind, the cravings for something to satisfy the physical and the nonphysical, something to satisfy the senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch), and the ego (praise, position, power). The sinful nature inherited to Adam brings man into God’s wrath and condemnation of that which is not holy. God’s just indignation against all who reject Him and His love.
The message of salvation is, “BUT GOD.” We were all these things: dead, influenced by evil, inherently evil in our own hearts, “BUT GOD.” “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
God reached down to us in our worthless, degraded and rebellious state and worked a miracle. He made us alive with Christ. This is the ultimate demonstration of love, in that “while yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).” Jesus paid the price of our sin so that we might be made righteous before God through Him (2 Cor. 5:21). The power of God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead also made us alive in Christ. We who were separated from God and without hope were brought into a personal relationship with God. Our souls are no longer separated from their creator. This is all His work of grace. There was nothing we or any other human could do to change our situation. It is God’s work and it is all of His grace.
Along with being made alive with Christ we were also given His precious promises. Among them Paul mentions two here: raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places. We are not made alive to be left in Satan’s domain. Our citizenship is transferred to Christ’s kingdom (Col. 1:13; Phil. 3:20). Sin is no longer our master and we do not have to be its slaves, rather we are to be slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:10-22). We are now part of Christ’s kingdom and will reign with Him during the millennium (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6) after which we will spend eternity with Jesus Christ in heaven. This is all so certain that Paul speaks of it as a past event. It will happen.
Why did God do all this? Again we find that it is not because there was anything worthwhile in us, nothing even attractive, but simply because God chose to love us and that by doing so He would demonstrate His own nature. Our ego’s do not like that, but it is the truth. We want there to be something special about us, some reason God was attracted to us, some good thing in us that would make Him want to save us, but there is not. It is simply the “great love with which He loved us.” Our salvation is the demonstration of His grace.
Look at verse 7 again: God made us alive, raised us up and seated us with Christ “in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” It is all done for God’s glory and purposes, not ours.
Paul wraps up his case for the “surpassing greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe” in verses 8-10. Paul reiterates once again that this marvelous work of salvation is the work of God, not man. All glory, honor and praise goes to Him and none to us.
Verses 8 and 9 are two of the most well known verses in the Bible among evangelicals: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Verse 10 is not as well known, but it is important, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Paul states his proposition here first positively, then negatively and then in a combination. Salvation is God’s work, not ours.
Tragically, like so many things that become familiar to us we soon take it for granted and no longer think about the significance of what is being said. Salvation comes totally by God’s grace! Grace is simply defined as undeserved merit or favor. It is getting something nice that you do not deserve. Mercy is the withholding of punishment which you do deserve. You cannot earn salvation in anyway, any manner, any means, or any method. It is impossible. It only comes as a result of God’s mercy in forgiving your sins through Christ and by His grace making you alive with Him.
I have said it before but it bears repeating. We say that we want to be treated fair, but what we really mean by that is we want what other people have. It is really envy and jealousy. That is why we get upset when someone gets something we don’t have, whether it is the child that got the smaller piece of candy or the employee that did not get paid as much as someone else, or the person that does not have the physical abilities of someone else (have you seen that in the Olympics by those who do not get the gold medal?). Sometimes we even blame God. Ladies and gentlemen, never, never, NEVER ask God to be fair! If God was fair we would all be in hell right now because that is all we deserve. You ask Him to be merciful and gracious. It is by God’s grace and mercy that any sinner lives another moment much less receives all the pleasures of physical life.
It is by God’s grace and His grace alone that we are saved. That fact should have a controlling influence upon us. For this describes what it really means to be a Christian, and it should move us to give God praise and thanksgiving every day of our lives. God’s grace strips us of any pride in ourselves, and Paul has made it clear from the beginning of the chapter that there is nothing within us apart from Christ that we should be proud, and here in verse 9 he states it emphatically: “not as a result of works lest any many should boast.”
Man is by nature proud. His desire is to boast if at all possible, and when it comes to attaining a right standing with God the desire is still there. He wants in the most desperate way to make a claim that at least in some way he was responsible for his own salvation. Man desires that salvation be on the basis of works to one degree or another.
This was the reason the pharisees hated Jesus with such a passion. They were proud of their piety, their religious accomplishments, such as fasting twice a week (Lk 18:12), giving a tithe of everything including spices (Mt. 23:23), keeping the Sabbath restrictions in extreme measure (Lk 13), etc. Jesus’ gospel put them in the same category as the tax-gatherers, publicans and prostitutes: sinners in need of salvation. Jesus offered hope, but only those that would recognize their sin and need for salvation could accept Jesus’ offer. Self righteous people cannot do that and they will hate anyone that tells them they are a sinner in need of salvation by God’s grace alone.
The gospel message has always been better received by “bad” people who are aware of their evil nature than by “good” people who deny they are sinful. Church history has always shown that the greatest enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ are not the heathen, but those who claim to be good, religious people. This is why the Roman Catholic church has consistently pronounced anathema’s (condemnations to hell) against those that believe and proclaim salvation by grace through faith alone. Salvation by God’s grace alone means that the Church cannot dispense grace and that it cannot save. It means all the rituals and sacraments are meaningless in terms of salvation itself.
But lest we get proud and start thinking we evangelical Christians are so much better, we had better take a serious look at what we have done to “faith.” Paul says here that we are “saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…”. There is some question about what the “that” in “that not of yourselves” is referring too. Some say it refers to “grace,” but that is the far antecedent and by definition grace is something that is not of yourself. Paul often reemphasises himself, but that would be quite a redundant statement even for Paul. Others have said the “that” refers to faith (which is what I believe), but since the gender of the two nouns are different there is some legitimate question as to that interpretation. Others have said the “that” refers to the whole thing, being salvation itself. I like what Martyn Lloyd-Jones says here. “Is it possible to settle the dispute? It is not. It is not a question of grammar, it is not a question of language.” There are excellent men on all sides of this issue. The view held is taken based on other issues. I hold to the “that” referring to “faith” because I find that best fits within the emphasis Paul is making throughout the section. Salvation is totally the work of God in the life of the individual. The dead can have no faith, but God made the dead alive!
Yet, I like what Lloyd-Jones goes on to say even more. “There is a sense in which it really does not matter at all, because it come to much the same thing in the end. In other words, what is important is that we should avoid turning faith into works.” Yet that is exactly what many “evangelicals” have done. They reject salvation by good works, except they have turned “faith” into their good work. All too often if I say, “We are saved by” , and let the people fill in the blank, they put in “faith,” not grace. Listen carefully to what people say when they give their testimony of salvation. They say that they are saved by faith in Christ, by “believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Be careful to define what you mean! IF it is your belief that save you then you have saved yourself and Paul says that our salvation is not of ourselves. It is not of any works of any kind. Not of works, lest any man should boast. All boasting is to be excluded!
Belief does not save you. Jesus Christ saves you! Faith is not the cause of your salvation, God’s love operating through His grace in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross saves you. Faith is simply the channel by which God’s gift comes to me. It is the medium by which salvation by God’s grace enters into my life. When we place our trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work for salvation from our sin we act by the faith supplied by God’s grace. We are simply acting upon what God has given. It is not “I have faith” but rather “God supplied and so I believed.” Certainly the paradox here is that we must exercise our faith and will bear the responsibility if we do not (John 5:40), but let’s be very careful not to make faith a work or we destroy grace. You are not saved because you “made a decision for Christ.” Decisional regeneration is just as much a heresy as baptismal regeneration, it is just as much contrary to the Bible as is gaining salvation through sacraments and good works. You were dead in your trespasses and sin. You were incapable of making a decision for Christ until the Holy Spirit began His work in you.
When we speak of our salvation, let’s be very careful to make sure there is never any boasting in our testimonies. Once you start in with what you did to get saved, (“I was baptized, I came to the altar, I walked the aisle, I raised my hand when the evangelist said too, I prayed a prayer”) then you are calling into question your salvation. Are you trusting Jesus Christ alone or what you did? When God saves you, He gives you faith in Jesus Christ. That is the evidence of His grace in your life. If you faith is in something other t han Him alone, then you’re in trouble.
Our testimonies are to be tributes to the grace of God in our lives. As verse 10 says, “we are His workmanship.” We need to say, “God saved me!” Certainly you may have done a lot of things like gone to church, read your Bible, read other books explaining the Bible, and talked with lots of people about salvation, but all of that is simply the evidence of God working in you. You are His workmanship. I am not saved because at six years old I went forward at an Altar call and said I believed in Jesus Christ. I am saved because God extended His grace to me in convicting me of my sin and my need for Him and then bringing me to faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross as the only means for forgiveness of my sin. My faith and trust in Jesus Christ comes through the Holy Spirit. I am not saved because of anything I did, but because, as Paul puts in Rom. 8, God foreknew men, He predestined me, He called me, He justified me through Christ, and He will glorify me. I am His workmanship. God raised me from the dead and gave me life.
There are very practical ramifications of this. Salvation by grace removes all boasting concerning my salvation. What could I possibly glory in save the cross of Christ? The fact that I am God’s workmanship removes all boasting from everything else in my life. As Paul says here, “I was created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Boasting is excluded from anything that results from my service to Christ. I am simply doing that which God created me to do in the first place. Good works, things done which glorify Him, are the reason He made me alive. I am simply carrying out the design of His workmanship in me.
When I tell others of Jesus Christ, whether personal witnessing or in preaching, it is not my work that is being done. I am simply a vessel, an instrument, to be used by God for Him to accomplish His work. When someone responds to something you or I say when we talk of Christ, they are not responding to you/me they are responding to the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no room for boasting, all praise goes to God. When I am told that a message affected them a certain way, all I can say is “I praise God that He was able to use that in your life.” All boasting must cease. All glory belongs to God alone!
Understand that salvation is the work of God. It demonstrates the surpassing greatness of His power. It is to His glory and for the purpose of His glory. You were saved so that you might bring glory to God both in the story of redemption and its personal application to you and in how you live your life once you were made alive in Christ.
I have never understood those that want to proclaim a message of salvation that does not demand change in the life of the individual. Certainly we want to be extremely careful never to even suggest someone earn their salvation by good works, but at the same time if there is no change then there is a huge question concerning that person’s supposed salvation. God makes what was dead alive. There cannot be a more radical change than that. Can a person really claim to be saved if they continue to act like a corpse! In addition Paul says here we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” God does not leave His work half done. Paul says in Phil. 1:6 that “he who began a good work in you will perfect until the day of Christ Jesus.” The issue is not living in perfection but in showing increasing signs of life! What good works? There are several. The good works of a changed character that reflects Jesus Christ in your life. The purpose of our salvation according to Rom. 8:29 is that we be “conformed into the image of His Son.” The good works of a character that evidences the Holy Spirit active in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:21). The good works of fulfilling our responsibilities as a husband, wife, mother, father (Eph. 5; 1 Pet. 3); a worker (Eph. 6), as a citizen (Rom 13; 1 Tim. 2:1-8). The good works of telling others about Christ. We are to let these things shine before men so that they may glorify God our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).
We are saved by God’s grace for a purpose: to glorify God. Those of you who are saved, be sure to carry that out. Do not let pride rise up. Tell others what Jesus Christ has done for you, both on the cross of Calvary and in bringing you to Himself. Glorify Him by your actions and attitudes. Fulfill the purpose for which you were created in Christ Jesus and made alive. Be a living demonstration of the master’s workmanship.
For those that are not saved, those that cannot say with confidence assurance that if you died this afternoon you know you would be in Jesus Christ’s loving presence forever, let me repeat what I said last Sunday. First, know that we are praying for you. Second, as the Holy Spirit moves on your heart, you start asking God to do a work in your life and you start seeking Him. If you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him Jer. 29:13. The very fact that you would do that is already evidence that God is working on you, for man will not seek God on his own (Ps. 14). We are here and stand ready to help you in that search. Come talk with me and I or someone else will do whatever we can. You do not have to remain dead. God grants life by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
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