Faith Works - Part One
November 13, 2016 | Randy Smith
Faith Works-Part OneEphesians 2:8-10
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
Though we are still four months from "pi day," let's bring a little math into this sermon. Take a look at the four equations that I listed on the top of your sermon notes. I believe this is the easiest way I can summarize the four concepts of salvation that are taught by every world religion and even all branches within Christianity. Obviously only one can be true. Which one do you think is biblical?
Works = Salvation + Faith
Faith = Salvation + Works
Works + Faith = Salvation
Faith - Works = Salvation
Which one is true? Which one represents the teaching of the Bible? This morning we will find out as our goal is to examine Ephesians 2:8-10 and determine for ourselves what the Bible has to say about the true salvation message. And since your eternal home hangs in the balance, I don't believe we can depart without being convinced of the correct answer.
Before we dig into some of the most beloved and well-known Bible verses, let's take a minute to review what we learned last week as that information in verses 1-7 will better help us to understand verses 8-10. Permit me to just list the facts.
- All people are born, verse 1, dead in their sins. That means they cannot and do not seek, desire or love God. They are spiritually blind and despite their best religious attempts remain spiritually dead, unable to spiritually resuscitate themselves.
- People are entrapped in their spiritual deadness by three controlling factors (verses 2-3) that they on their own are unable to overcome. From without they have the devil feeding them lies and the world's ideologies pressing them into its mold. From within they have the flesh - their fallen nature that lives for self and naturally resists God.
- As a result of their rejection of God, verse 3 declares they are "children of wrath." God's judgment is abiding on them for their rejection of Him.
- Yet God (verse 4) in His "rich…mercy" and "great love" has chosen to make some spiritually dead people (verse 5) spiritually "alive." Their heart was changed and thus they are able and desirous to receive Him not by their works, but by faith.
- Our salvation is all of God's grace, verse 5, "By grace you have been saved." It is a gift we have received not based on our works, but rather the work of Jesus at the cross.
- Christians therefore have no room for boasting, self-righteousness or pride because, verses 2 and 3, we too also formally lived in darkness before God performed His miracle in our hearts.
- Through God's mercy, all of our sins have been removed in Christ. We are forgiven. We are perfectly reconciled to God. And (verse 6) God in His grace has chosen to "seat us with Him in the heavenly places."
- And God's goal in all this? Verse 7, so that in the ages to come He might show every created being the surpassing riches of His grace and kindness to us for His glory.
Or we can look at it this way. Christians have gone from Hell to Heaven, Bondage to Freedom, Darkness to Light, Despair to Hope, Wrath to Glory and Death to Life (Adapted from Kent Hughes, Ephesians, p. 73).
1. Not of Works
Now let's start with the new material in verses 8-10. I'm calling the first point, "Not of Works." Jump to verse 9. In that verse we read, "Not as a result of works." Or we can say, you are not saved by what you do.
So are all religions basically the same as it pertains to the concept of salvation? If it's viewed that salvation results from what we need to do, the answer is "yes."
What happens to each person when God judges him or her after death is the consequence of how that person lived during his or her life on earth. If the person was generally obedient to the Ten Commandments, that person will be in God's favor. If the person was disobedient, there may be suffering due to just retribution by God. The three main ways to remove sin are repenting of sins, praying, and doing good works. The corporate sufferings of the Jewish people atone for the sins of every individual Jew. The Jewish people are assured of happiness and peace in the next life just because they are Jews
People who realize their identity with the Brahman obtain release from their ignorance and are no longer subject to the karmic laws that cause one's soul to be reincarnated. Instead, they have attained enlightenment and provisional union with Brahman that will become final at death. Spiritual paths that can assist a person in this quest include "the path of devotion" and "the path of knowledge." In all cases, a person must act consistently with the dharma (the ways of Hindu spirituality).
One must believe the teachings of the Koran and obey Allah's commands and do his will. Islam does not recognize any work by Allah for the benefit of delivering Muslims from their sins. Persons must atone for their own sins by sincere confession and good works, following the five pillars of their faith. Allah will judge each person by the balance of good or evil that he or she has done. Allah is under no compulsion to be merciful.
Humans are presumed to be within a recurring cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The body in which one is reincarnated is dictated by the karma from one's previous life. Karma is the sum of a person's actions in a previous life (or lives). Good karma assists one in receiving a body conducive to attaining enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of reincarnation, which bad karma can result in a person being reincarnated into a lower form of existence. Escape from the cycle of reincarnation can be achieved by taking the steps on the Eightfold Path including the right views, right efforts and right conduct (Adapted from H. Wayne House, Charts of World Religions).
What do all these world religions have in common? All of works! Yet what does the Bible say? "Not as a result of works!"
If that's what the Bible declares, why do so many people teach that salvation is based on what you do? Moreover, why do professing Christians believe and so-called Christian churches that faith in Jesus is good, but it must be supplemented with good works to be saved? Why do so-called Christians, when asked if they are saved, immediately start telling you about their baptism or their church attendance or their Christian family or how good they have been?
Can we just stick with this verse and the overall theme of Scripture? We are not saved by our works! Verse 9 again, "Not as a result of works."
If Paul did not give us verses 1-7, I suppose we could wonder why he said what he said in verse 9. But didn't the Apostle make it clear that before Christ we were dead in our trespasses and sins? How can spiritually sinful people do the works acceptable to please a perfectly holy God? The standard is not getting your nose ahead of other humans. The standard of righteousness if you choose to go that route is Jesus Christ Himself! No wonder Paul can say in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Think of it this way. Say we are standing on the Jersey Shore, right on the edge of the ocean. Our goal is to jump across the Atlantic. On the count of three we all jump. Sure some would make it further than others, but all of us would fall miserably short of our desired destination. The same can be said of salvation.
So why do so many people think that what they do will get them into heaven? Perhaps it's the religious teaching they have received that is clearly man-man and not Bible-centered. Yet I believe the main reason is that we as humans don't want to admit how bad we are and how desperate we need to depend entirely on God for His work to bring us salvation. We want to think we are pretty good people. We want to take credit for part or all of our salvation. We want to believe we are better than others. We want to brag about ourselves.
Look at the entirety of verse 9. "Not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."
You see, the moment we think there is something we must do to achieve our salvation is the moment we not only deny God's perfect holiness, but also the moment we diminish the greatness of Christ's sacrifice. By implying we can save ourselves, we make the work of Jesus unnecessary. And by implying that we need to add our works to Christ's work we lessen the sufficient and excellence of Calvary.
Do you think God wants a never-ending reverberation of chest-thumping, self-righteous Pharisees with Him in the holiness of heaven, thinking they in some sense saved themselves? Didn't we learn last week that our salvation, verse 7, was to display the surpassing riches of His grace and kindness throughout all of eternity? Our boast is only in Christ (as verse 9 says), nothing of ourselves.
So let's pretend salvation is of works. How much "works" is enough? Where is the line drawn? How do we account for our sin? Even our best works are tainted by sin. How can a holy God accept them as meritorious? Furthermore, is a love relationship best achieved based on what the other person does? Would any parent say to his or her child, "Well, if you wash my car and treat your sister nicely and sweep the garage I'll promise to love you more? And if you fail to complete my expectations, which by the way you will to some degree, you'll just have to wait and see if I continue to accept you." Whatever happened to, "I love you because you are my child, period. And though you may at times disappoint me, I will always love you. Your actions can't change that."
So is salvation a reward God owes us for our actions or grace that results from His action in Christ? Is salvation payment from on high or is it a gift that we did not deserve? Is salvation God praising you for your goodness or is it you praising God for His goodness? It's either one or the other!
So-called Christians who think wrongly on this one have obviously never read Paul's letter to the Galatians. He dealt with the same issue when the Judaizers came in and started perverting his free-grace Gospel with the need for his converts to add works.
So is there another acceptable Gospel? Galatians 1:6-8, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!"
Works would make the death of Christ unnecessary. Galatians 2:21, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."
It has always been of faith alone. Galatians 3:6-7, "Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham."
Can Paul have made it clearer? Galatians 3:10-11, "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.' Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.'" Galatians 2:16, "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." And verses like this are all over the Bible!
2. All of Grace
We need to move on. So if salvation is not a result of our works, we need to ask how then a person is saved. And the answer clearly in the Bible is that salvation comes entirely from God's work
Back up to verse 8. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
So in verse 8 not only are we reminded of what we read in verse 9 that salvation is "not of ourselves," but we also read that salvation is by grace and through faith. What does that mean?
First, grace. Grace is the opposite of human effort. Grace affirms what verses 1-7 have taught us that we are undeserving hell-bound rebels, dead in our transgressions and sins, under God's perfectly just wrath for our rebellion against Him. But while we were dead, while we were in active revolt against Him, God chose to make us alive, forgive our sins and grant us unimaginable and undeserved riches in Christ. That's grace! Grace is God giving us what we did not deserve.
That's why the end of verse 8 declares that our salvation, "Is the gift of God."
And how do you receive a gift? Do you offer to work for it? Do you take any credit for receiving it? Do you throw it back in the gift-giver's face? No, you trust that the gift-giver has your best interest in mind. You hold out your arms and you simply receive it with gratitude. That's how we honor the gift-giver. And that's the faith spoken of in verse 8. "For by grace you have been saved through faith."
Listen, we are not saved by our faith, but "through" our faith. Faith is only as valid as the object in which I chose to invest it. I can have all the faith in the stars or a powerful man or in my personal beliefs, but if the given object is unable to achieve my salvation, the faith is useless.
Salvation comes from the work of Jesus Christ. The only One who took my sins away through His death and rose again from the dead to not only prove His victory over death, sin and the devil, but also promise that through Him I too will rise and be able to overcome death. Faith is the connecting chain, the human response that links me to the saving work of Christ.
There is always some confusion when we toss out that word, faith. People are often mistaken by the kind of faith (or we could say belief) that they need. Is it the kind of believe that Jesus was a good man who lived a long time ago? I have that kind of belief in Abraham Lincoln. The Bible even says and demonstrates that every demon believes in Jesus. Therefore there must be something unique about our faith.
The story has been told about a man that strung a wire across Niagara Falls. To the amazement of the crowd he crossed the raging waters many feet below pushing a wheelbarrow across the wire. When he successfully reached the other side, the crowd erupted in applause. Then the dare-devil singled out one man in the audience. Pointing at him he said, "Do you believe I can do that again?" The man responded in the affirmative. He repeated himself. "Do you really believe I can do that again?" The man getting frustrated said, "I am totally confident that you can do that again." To which the tightrope artist said, "Get in the wheelbarrow and let me push you across."
Verse 8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith." In this text "faith" is the translation of the Greek word, "pistis." What that word literally means is "to rely upon" or "cling to." This is the kind of faith that differs from the demons. This is the kind of faith Jesus is calling for. This is the true saving faith that links you to His gracious gift of salvation.
Paul said in Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Or John 3:16, that famous verse which says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
Shortly after 9-11 I was invited to speak at a rally to bring inspiration to a community that was devastated by the attack. But before it was my turn to speak, some Christian denomination sang a song. It was unfamiliar to me.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved and set me free.
I once was lost but now I'm found.
Was blind but now I see.
You ever heard that one? Were you listening carefully? "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved and set me free?" Really? A significant alteration on John Newton's classic lyrics!
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found.
Was blind but now I see.
It's a clear indication that we don't like the biblical truth of human depravity. A stunning declaration that I'm really not that bad and therefore grace really is not that amazing. But if God chose to have mercy on a spiritual wretch, now that is Amazing Grace indeed! What's the salvation message? By grace through faith in Christ. Or as the Reformers used to say, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone.
So salvation is all of Christ and I receive it simply through my faith? Sounds too good to be true. What about the need for right actions? Can I receive Jesus and then just live anyway I want? Where do good works fit in?
Today we have learned clearly that works do not lead to our salvation. But what we will learn in verse 10 is that they are an indispensable result of our salvation. And since we are out of time, we will look at verse 10 next week that will explain that clearly for us.