“By grace you are saved through faith.” Eph 2:8
For anyone exploring the Christian Faith, perhaps the best place to start is with the concept of grace. Grace is at the heart of Christian faith, a heart pumping life into all areas – moral, emotional, relational, theological, personal, and organizational. Grace binds it all together.
So what is this grace? The Greek word (charis) simply means gift. We get the word charity from the Greek root. Biblically, however, this common word is used to describe a very special gift. Grace is the free, undeserved, unearned, amazing favor of God. Grace is God looking at you and saying “Oh how much I love you and want so much for you.”
In its most complete way, this grace is revealed to the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is God’s grace. In Christ, we receive “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16). Our response can be summed up with these words, “Thanks be to God for this unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor 9:15).
How does grace affect us? What changes occur in the light of grace? By grace, God embraces our darkness and dread with a light that leads us into forgiveness and love. By grace, God embraces our pain with a compassion that leads us into true joy. By grace, God embraces our doubt with such patience and gentleness that we are able to move from fear to faith. And – this is so big – by grace we are able to reclaim ourselves as created in the image of God.
So now we turn to the word “faith.” What is faith? Faith is more than “believing that.” Even the devil believes “that” God exists and “that” Jesus is the Son of God. (Luke 9:34; James 2:19). Faith is so much more than believing, so much more than a cold lifeless assent to a creed or doctrine. Faith is trust, springing up from the heart. It is trusting, not in our own merits or opinions, but in the merits of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one whose death opened up the way to eternal life for all.
So, now we turn to the word “salvation.” What is salvation? The word salvation means to be made whole – one with God, one with each other, one in ministry to all the world. By grace, we have been “made whole” in our relationship with God. By grace, we are being saved, even now. Whatever else salvation implies, the first thing to be said is that it is a present gift. Right now, we are delivered from sin. In this world, we are set free from the fear that accompanies sin. We are set free from the chains of our guilt, our anger, our greed, our lust, or envy, our pride – all that might hold us back from entering into God’s life-giving love. (See I Cor 1:18, 15:2; Phil 2:12-13; I Pet 2:2).
The first usual objection when preaching salvation by grace through faith is that we are preaching against holiness and good works. This might be true if the proclaimer believes that faith is somehow separate from holiness. We do not proclaim that. Faith is not separate from holiness or good works; rather “our salvation produces good works.” (Eph 2:10). Faith “responds” by striving to live by the virtues of Christ and to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Faith produces this desire within us.
Another objection is that preaching faith leads people into pride, as if they are able to “know” something or “receiving” something that others can’t or haven’t. Out of our own ignorance this might happen, but it is not intended. Anytime we boast, or lift up our own righteous opinions, in order to set ourselves apart from others, we are not giving witness to God’s gracious salvation. If we are to boast in anything, our boasting is to be in the richness of God’s mercy, who saves us by grace, even when we are dead in sin. Our boasting before others is only that God loves them.
By focusing on grace rather than works are we encouraging people to sin? “God is gracious so what does it matter,” some might claim. Indeed this is possible. But this is not the purpose. True grace leads to repentance, or the turning to God. As we turn away from our selfish focus, and turn into God’s expansive love, our hearts open up to God’s will and our lives grow in the virtues of true holiness, exemplified in fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, temperance. We grow in such practices of grace, not to earn God’s favor, but in response to it. In fact, we cannot trust in the merits of Christ until we renounce our own, in humility and desire for mercy. Those who go about trying to establish their own righteousness cannot receive the righteousness of God.
This is the reason for grace. We are sinners. We fall short of the glory of God. We can never measure up to the standards of holiness. Apart from grace our righteousness always becomes self-righteousness. In trying to justify ourselves before God we only bring God down to our level and thus sin even more. If salvation depended on our efforts to measure up, then we are all doomed. And so, God comes in grace. That is the very heart of the Christian message.
We proclaim that God’s mercy is for all. It is for the likes of Zacchaeus, a public thief, of Mary Magdalene, a common harlot! It is for the person that you resent, or abhor, or hate! Grace calls us to look at the board in our own eye, before we worry about the speck in the eye of another. Grace leads us to say, “even I may hope for this mercy.” “It is there for even me.” (We are indebted to Martin Luther for reminding us of this).
Don’t let any adversary, worldly or spiritual, stand in the way of life for you. You are invited to turn to this God and believe in your heart that God’s grace is able to lead you out of sin and lead you into a life of virtue, all by way of the cross, where all debts were paid and the way to life was opened. You are invited into a grace able to swallow up death itself, all for you.
Is God calling you to this grace? If so then you are invited, wherever you are, to profess Christ as your Savior, and be among those who say: “Thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be blessings, and glory, and wisdom, and honor, and power, and might, forever and ever. Amen.”