We are not saved by faith, as some would emphasize. We are saved only by God’s grace from beginning to end. It’s like that passage in Philippians 1:6,which states: “God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day Christ returns.”
In a passage bursting with the understanding of grace we find these words, ‘we have received grace on top of grace’ or ‘grace upon grace’(John 1:16). God has lavished us with his blessing, his gifts of grace and truth that have come through Christ.
The Gospel cannot be supplemented by any human effort (even that of believing). All rescue from sin and idolatry is first and last by the grace of God revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Salvation, living with God, is all God’s idea. IF left up to us we would turn our backs on God, remain enemies as it were. But that’s when God showed his love for us. We showed nothing but vain attempts to appease the idols of religion and self-sufficiency. We, like the prodigal son, wished God dead, took what blessings we thought were owed to us and left town.
So you see, it’s all grace- a gift from God. Every breath we take is grace and on our worst day we are never outside of the reach of God’s grace and on our best day, never outside of the need of grace. (I think I stole that from someone but can’t remember whom). God’s grace saves us and transforms us.
“The closer you get to God the more miserable things you will find in your heart. That is not a negative thinking. God allows you to lose confidence in yourself. You will have accomplished something when you can look at your inner corruptness or bankruptcy without anxiety or discouragement. Simply let it go and trust God’s work in Christ.” Taken from Francois Fenelon (a theologian ca. 1700)
Grace is more important than any of the Five Solas of the Reformation Doctrines. *
Grace is the heart of the trinity expressed by the self-giving love we call Agape. It’s God’s initiative from beginning to end. Sola Gratia. Without it we have nothing. Paul writes ‘for by grace you have been saved through faith.’ Ephesians 2. Paul will even add in that verse that the good works we do are done by he grace of God. Look at the way the MESSAGE puts it:
7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
In light of this we see faith as our ‘yes’ to Christ, nothing more, no greater work. And we must be careful that we don’t make ‘faith’ a work that adds something to God’s grace.
It’s like we are walking a journey and see two roads to choose between. Jesus is travelling one of those roads. ON the other road we see a heavy cart carrying the LAW, and with it the heaviness of the flesh. On Jesus’ way I saw light and though the way looked rough I saw Jesus on that road. And that was enough for me.
In John 1:16 we read the phrase ‘grace on top of grace’, meaning that it’s all grace from beginning to end. Faith takes no credit for what God has done in Christ. Faith may give assent, get on board, but all the initiative and credit comes from God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Even faith is a gift. It’s the opening of our eyes to see the way to travel.
A classic line of Scripture is found in Ephesians 2:4,5: “Because of his great love for us God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sin. It’s by graces you have been saved.’
Grace built the road. Grace sent Christ to walk it to Calvary. Faith is the yes we offer to walk that road, even reluctantly.
Have you ever walked on a frozen lake? My son did when he was little. We lived across the lake from some friends and one day he showed up at the friends’ door and was asked how he got there. “I walked on the Lake”, was his reply. As his parents we were grateful he was safer but a bit angered that he made such a dangerous venture. He was fearless at 9 years old, and maybe a bit faithful too.
You probably all know the legend of the rider who crossed the frozen Lake of Constance by night without knowing it. When he reached the opposite shore and was told whence he came, he broke down, horrified. This is the human situation when the sky opens and the earth is bright, when we may hear: By grace you have been saved! In such a moment we are like that terrified rider. When we hear this word we involuntarily look back, do we not, asking ourselves: Where have I been? Over an abyss, in mortal danger! What did I do? The most foolish thing I ever attempted! What happened? I was doomed and miraculously escaped and now I am safe! You ask: ‘Do we really live in such danger?’ Yes, we live on the brink of death. But we have been saved. Look at our Saviour and at our salvation! Look at Jesus Christ on the cross, accused, sentenced and punished instead of us! Do you know for whose sake he is hanging there? For our sake–because of our sin–sharing our captivity–burdened with our suffering! He nails our life to the cross. This is how God had to deal with us. From this darkness he has saved us. He who is not shattered after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: By grace you have been saved! (Story recounted by Karl Barth)
I am not sure that there are really degrees of faith such that one person has MORE faith than another. Jesus sometimes comments to the disciples that they have little faith but I think in those cases he is frustrated about certain situations in which they are not able to accomplish a task he gives them like a healing or being scared to death in the boat with him on a stormy sea. But let’s look at this another way.
If there is a frozen lake and I decide to cross it, I may do so with fear and trembling, with a degree of anxiety or uncertainty but I will get across because the lake is solid. That’s what grace is- like a solid frozen lake that is never going to crack. God’s grace will carry us across. God’s grace is the assurance that God is at work in us to place us in his Kingdom now and forever. It’s God’s grace that assures us that through Christ’s faithfulness we are forgiven.
Grace is like electricity. God is supplying all the power needed. There is a switch on the wall and we either turn it on whether we understand it or not. Or we leave it untouched because we simply don’t believe that it works. But grace works whether we believe it or not. The power is there. Grace is strong. And if we don’t believe it then Jesus will by his own faithfulness turn it on for us and we sometimes don’t even know it’s been in use. Once we repent, (change our way of thinking) then we will understand that it is better to live in the light than in the darkness.
Grace is the most important of all the Reformation Solas for it includes and even initiates the rest- scripture, faith, Christ, and Glory to God. Grace is the essence of the universe.
Even when the Apostle Paul worked so hard for the Gospel, he declared it was all grace. 10 “But God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other apostles. (But it was not I really; it was God’s grace that was with me.)” 1Corinthians 15:10
Grace through Christ is the end of the law for getting or even being right with God. It’s all grace now. How great when we finally ‘get it,’ ‘trust’ and believe.
*These five themes were developed by the reformers in response to Catholic doctrines concerning the importance of works and merit.