By Grace Alone
October 29, 2000 / No. 3017
Dear radio friends,
In our program today we commemorate the glorious Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century under God’s servants Martin Luther and John Calvin. October 31 does not live in our minds as “Halloween,” a pagan holiday. But it lives in our minds as the day in which Christ began the purifying of His church from the corruptions of men. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses or statements of belief on the church door of Wittenberg in which he protested against the false teachings of the church and sought to reestablish the biblical truths of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, to the glory of God alone.
This great event of the reformation of the church is what we will celebrate on October 31. The Old Testament believers were called to remember what God had done. Psalm 126:3, “The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.” There they were confessing that after seventy years God had brought His people back from Babylon to the promised land. God did a great work for them. And God does a great work for us. Through Jesus Christ, He keeps the church faithful to the gospel. And through Jesus Christ, in the Reformation, He restored to the church the gospel of salvation by grace and the truth that the Scriptures alone are the authority for faith and life. We are obligated to remember this great event because we are the heirs of this reformation of the church.
The Scriptures warn us of the horrible and fatal danger of drifting from our spiritual roots, our spiritual heritage. In the days after the death of Joshua we read (in Judges 2:10) that “there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim.” There are many today who do not know the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, and do not care to know, and believe that it does not matter anyway. A great movement underway to bring Protestantism and Catholicism together is called “ECT”: Evangelicals and Catholics Together. They insist that the differences between these are not insurmountable and that there can be agreement found in the areas of justification, that is, in the area of how a man is to be made right with God. They say that Martin Luther, in 1517, just misunderstood Rome. Luther understood Catholicism to teach that a man is righteous before God on the basis of his works. Well, they never taught that at all. Luther just misunderstood.
We are set today for the defense of the gospel of God. We are set today for a clear sound of the gospel. We are set for the truth that salvation is in Christ’s work alone, not in the saints, not in the virgin Mary, not in any human works, not through a mass, not through anything except Christ’s work on the cross as the only and full redemption of His people, and that this is done by God’s grace alone.
We are Protestants. That name means that we lay claim to the Reformation of the church begun by Martin Luther and continued throughout the ages – the truth that the Scriptures alone are the Word of God, the truth that salvation is by grace alone.
I want to call your attention to a very beautiful passage in Scripture, Romans 11:6. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” The apostle Paul was expressing the truth that there exists an absolute contrast between grace and work. He says, “If it is by grace,” and the idea is salvation, if salvation be by grace, “then it is no more of works. And if it be of works,” salvation is owed to human works, “then it is no more of grace.” Grace is a word which means “unmerited favor.” When something is said to be by grace, then one did not deserve or earn it. It was freely given to you without regard to your merit. The word “work” refers to that which has merit, or earnings. When something is by your work, you earned it, you merited it. You have it coming to you.
Scripture tells us that in salvation these two cannot be mixed. There is an irreconcilable difference between them, no matter now what aspect of salvation you are talking about – whether you want to talk about salvation from the eternal perspective of God’s choosing, whether you want to talk about salvation as to its actual accomplishment on the cross, or salvation as to its actual coming into the heart of a sinner, or salvation with respect to its final glory – you cannot combine these two. You cannot mix them. You cannot form a third. It must be one or the other because these two exclude each other. The moment you say, “Salvation is of grace, unmerited and unearned,” then it cannot be by work. It is not earned. If you say it is also by work, then grace is no more grace, and if you say that salvation is of work, that is, you merited it, then you cannot say that it is by grace, because then work is no more work. When something comes to you because of your work, it is not gracious. You earned it! You have it coming. It is one or the other.
Paul emphasizes that. He looks at it from both points of view. If salvation is by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace. There Paul warns the person who would say that he is saved by grace. He warns that person not to introduce the smallest element of works. The moment one does so, he says, one will deny the whole truth of his confession that he is saved by grace. If you say you are saved by grace, unmerited, entirely gracious, then you are not saved by works. Keep works out, then, as the cause of your salvation. Your salvation as to its cause has nothing to do with works if it is by grace.
Then he repeats it, only from a different point of view. “But if salvation be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.” There he is talking to the person who would say that salvation is caused by their works. He speaks to that person and says, “Alright, if you say that your salvation is in even the slightest sense owed to your works or to another person’s works, then you must never speak of being saved by grace again. It is grace or it is works. If you say grace, don’t say works. If you say works, then do not deceive people by saying, ‘Oh, we surely believe salvation is by grace.’ It is one or the other. Any combination is to speak with a forked tongue.”
What exactly is it that is either by grace or works? What does “it” refer to? I said that it refers to salvation. But in the context, if you look at Romans 11, it is very plain that first of all the apostle is referring to election onto salvation, that this is of grace alone. In verse 5 we read, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works….” The apostle is saying that eternal election is by grace. Election is the truth of Scripture that before the world began, God decreed and determined who would be saved. The Scriptures here are teaching that this election is entirely of grace and not of works.
The apostle Paul has declared in this chapter that even in his day when the mass of Jews were rejecting the gospel of Christ there was, nevertheless, a remnant, a part of them which believed. In the verses before this he uses the example of the days of Elijah, when Elijah complained before God that he was the only one left. God said to him, “Oh, no, I have reserved to Myself 7,000 men who have not bowed their knee to the image of Baal or kissed him.” So, says Paul, in our day as well, there is a remnant who still believe, a remnant who are according to the election of grace.
The apostle is teaching that we are chosen from eternity by grace alone. God’s eternal choice of His people unto salvation is by grace alone.
We read in Ephesians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children….” Scripture tells us that God personally chose those who shall be saved by Christ and who will be brought to glory. The Bible tells us in Revelation 17:8 that their names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world. Scripture tells us in I Peter 1:2 that they are the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the Spirit and the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. God wrote in His book the names of those to whom He would be merciful. And God willed that they would be the ones who would be brought to believe in Christ (sprinkled in the blood of Christ) and would be renewed in heart to live a holy life. This election, you understand, was a personal election. It was election not merely of a group of people or characteristics or virtues that should merit salvation. No, there were no virtues that would merit salvation. Every one before God was ruined in sin. It was a personal election. It was an election that was eternal before the world began, as Paul says in Romans 9, “… the children being not yet born … that the purpose of God according to election might stand.” It was an election of His church – of all the elect to be gathered together in Christ.
Now, what was the cause of God’s election? Have you ever asked that question? Why me? Why would the Lord show His love to me? What was the reason? Was it my parents? Was it, perhaps, my decency? Was it simply that I happened to be born in the right time and place? To what must I look as the reason for my being chosen of God? The Bible answers: grace alone. If it be by grace, it is no more of works.
Are there people who would indeed deny this and maintain that their election is by works? Is there such a teaching that election is owed to the works of men? Yes, there is that false teaching that circulates in the Christian church. That is the proud teaching that finds its place in our own hearts, too. If you know the history of the church, you know that the gospel of grace has always been attacked. At bottom, this has been the great struggle of the church: to maintain the confession that grace alone is the cause of salvation. Of course, it is a very foolish and proud idea that a person’s eternal election is found in his own works. But that idea, nevertheless, exists. The Jews, in Jesus’ day, cherished that idea. They would say, “We are the chosen people of God. We are preferred by God to every other nation. And it is because of our works. We are holier than others. We keep the law. We may boast of being a Jew.”
There is also that false teaching that says that election is based upon one’s works, that is, upon one’s will. It is the false teaching of free will. This false doctrine teaches, supposedly, that there is election. But, they say, this election of God was a conditional election. God chose from eternity those who He saw would choose Him. God loved those who He saw would accept Christ. God elects those who first loved Him. God foresaw who would be willing to believe and accept Christ and He chose them. So the teaching is that God chose the best. So the teaching of free will is that the merit goes to man. If that is the case, then it is not of grace, it is not of God who shows mercy, but it is in man who distinguishes himself, so that man’s election is owed to himself, to his own works, and not of grace.
The Word of God says to that false teaching: NO! It is of grace. Therefore, any idea that a man can attribute his election to something of himself is contrary to God’s Word. Hear the Word of God: “It is all of grace.” That God chose you to salvation had nothing to do with anything of yourself. You deserve only condemnation. Why are you not as another? Why are you brought to Jesus Christ? Why did God set His eye of love upon you? There is but one answer to that. Let that answer ring in your soul to the glory of God! Let it drive away pride, so that you bow with trembling love and praise before God. There was one reason: It was God’s grace. The cause of eternal election is found in God because He ordained some to be vessels of mercy ( Rom. 9), vessels adorned to His eternal glory. He would choose you to know Him. He would, by grace, bestow His love upon you. It could not be stated plainer than what we read in the Scriptures in I John 4:19, “We love him, because he first loved us.” It is of grace alone.
But all of salvation, not only election but all of salvation, is of grace alone. The apostle means to say that not only the choice of those who will be saved is of grace, but the actual saving of them is entirely of God. The actual bestowing of that salvation is of grace alone.
Are there those who would be so foolish as to deny this? Is there also a false doctrine to say that the bestowal, the coming of salvation into a person’s life, is due to his works? Yes, there is that proud, false teaching. There is the teaching that Christ died upon the cross, that He did everything that He possibly could, but now it remains for you actually to take this. God can only go so far. It depends now on an act of man’s choice as to whether or not God will be your Savior, whether or not you will be made alive, whether or not you will believe in God’s Son or not. It is up to you. So that salvation is of works, the work of a man’s will. Man’s will decides whether he is going to be saved and receive the Savior or not. The credit then goes to where it must be. If that is true (and I refer to the horrible teaching of free will), then let the credit go where it should go: man. Let man then boast before God. But do not talk anymore of grace, because it is either of grace or of works. If man is given his salvation because of what he did, then it is not of grace. It is of works.
But, once again, to such false teaching the Word of God speaks very plainly. It is of grace, of grace alone. God will not share the honor. Standing before the face of God the child of God must confess: “Nothing in my hands I bring; only to the cross I cling. And my clinging to that cross is of Thy grace. It was worked in me. It was not of myself.” It is entirely of grace that you are forgiven, that you are born again, that you are given faith. All of that does not find its source in you in any sense. But it is entirely of God’s undeserving favor upon you. That you repent, that you pray, that you do good works, is entirely of His grace. It is God’s work in you. Give God the glory! That you receive Christ as your Lord and Savior is the work of God’s grace in your soul. You were dead in sins. You would not come to Him. You could not come to Him. It is of grace.
Let that be the last word. Do not add anything to it. Hear the Word of God. It is of grace.
And, oh, what a glorious gospel that is. That means that there is no power in earth or in heaven or in hell that can snatch our salvation away from us. Let hell rage, let the devil tempt, let sickness devastate, salvation is of grace. Salvation depends upon the almighty and eternal favor of God.
To God, then, be the glory. From the beginning to the end our salvation is of grace. That is the gospel. That was the Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century. And that is our hope. With the apostle Paul we say that that gospel is worthy to live for and to die for, for it is perfect comfort. Let this gospel never depart from our hearts and our lips. Let us be faithful to the gospel of God’s grace. May it lay captive our hearts.
Then the great themes of the Reformation may live in us. What were those great themes? Scripture alone. Faith alone. Christ alone. Grace alone.
Then there was one more. Do you remember? Glory to God alone. That is the gospel.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the holy gospel. Lord, preserve it in our souls. Amen.