There are two predominant themes in the New Testament which relate to our salvation—the one is grace, and the other is faith. Grace, as it relates to our salvation, can be defined as the unmerited love, favor, and enabling power which God has chosen to extend to unworthy sinners through Jesus Christ. Faith is spoken of in Scripture as man’s personal decision to obey the call of God to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. There are certainly other aspects of both grace and faith, but we will focus our thoughts in this study on these two concepts. We will first consider the divine side of salvation (which pertains to grace), and the human response to grace (which is faith)—and then we will notice how they correlate.
1. God Has Graciously Chosen Us to Salvation from Eternity Past.
God’s plan of salvation, as portrayed in the Scriptures, originates in the grace of God from eternity—before the creation of this world. The grace of God in salvation is from eternity, yet it was revealed to us in time by the manifestation of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:9-10). Paul says in Ephesians 1:4 that we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. We can know God only because He has graciously planned from eternity past to reveal Himself to us in time. He did it in a personal way, through Jesus Christ. God has desired this relationship with us before we were born, before Christ came, before man sinned, and before the world was created. It is with this concept in mind that we begin to get a glimpse of the magnitude of God’s grace to sinners. God loved us and chose to save us already in the eternal ages past. There is nothing that we can do in time which would merit God’s grace. In this respect, salvation is all of grace. Had God not chosen to extend grace to us, we would have been doomed for eternity by our sin. Salvation is ascribed to God’s grace in the following Scriptures:
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 2:5). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
If God had not chosen to extend His grace to us in salvation through the gift of His Son, we would not have a choice at all in the matter of salvation, for there would be nothing to choose. Therefore, God’s choice to save us precedes our choice to be saved. Without God’s grace there could be no faith, for we love Him because He first loved us.
2. Election and Predestination are Terms in Scripture Which Express God’s Gracious Choice to Save Us.
There are many who shy away from these terms which are given in Scripture because of the way some people have chosen to interpret them. Both terms are only used in the positive sense in the Bible. The purpose is to declare the security of the believer in Christ and to show God’s eternal plan for their lives. The following Scriptures reveal this:
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2). “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4). “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1:5).
If God had not chosen to save us, there is nothing we could have done to save ourselves. Election refers to God’s choice to save us, and predestination implies God’s plan and destiny for the believer’s life. Ultimately our salvation was not an invention of man, but the plan of God. It is God’s choice for us which empowers us to choose Him by faith.
Since our relationship to Christ in the Church is compared to a marriage, we will look at an illustration about marriage to help us understand the concept of the election of grace.
I chose my wife potentially for marriage before she ever knew that I had any interest in her. Before I expressed my interest to her, she had no knowledge of my choice of her as a potential partner. When I expressed my desire to her, she had a choice to make, based upon the choice which I had already made. My choice of her did not take away her ability to choose, but rather enabled her to make a life-changing choice. If I had not chosen her first, her choice of me would not have been effectual. By my choosing her first, she was empowered to make an effectual choice to be married. My choice of her is a picture of grace (though mine was not unmerited as God’s is), but her choice of me was a response of faith—that I would be the type of husband she desired. When she accepted my choice, by choosing me, she became my chosen bride. She could not be my elect bride without choosing me (accepting my choice), though her election was initiated by my choice and not hers.
In like manner, God’s election of grace (to enter into a relationship with us from eternity), empowers us in time, by faith, to respond to His choice of us and become one of His elect. Though we become one of the elect by faith in time, yet our election to salvation was of grace before we were born. It is only through faith that we receive God’s saving grace, yet His grace flowed to us from His eternal election to save us through Jesus Christ.
3. It is the Will of God to Save All Men Through Jesus Christ.
Some people suppose that since God is all-powerful He can do anything, but in reality He can only act in harmony with His own nature. God cannot lie, for He is truth. He cannot sin, for He is holy. God also has bound Himself to honor His own Word, so that it cannot be broken (Psalm 138:2; John 10:35). Therefore, God’s will for man’s salvation is always consistent with the expression of His gracious nature. God has made His will plain concerning the salvation of all men in His infallible Word.
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
If the will of God is to save all men, then that would suggest that He has given His grace to all, so that they can believe in the gift of His Son. The concept of God’s saving grace being extended to all is expressed in the following passage: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
If it is the will of God to save all men, and the saving grace of God has appeared to all for this purpose, then it would also follow that Christ died for all. If Christ is the only way of salvation, then His death for all men is essential, if all can be saved. The Scriptures contain some key passages which irrefutably prove that the atonement of Christ has reached all men to the same extent as the curse of sin. Notice this thought identified in the following texts:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
In these texts the word “all” is used to show that the grace of God through Jesus Christ has reached to the full extent of Adam’s curse, so that none might question whether God’s grace has been extended to them. In fact the Apostle Paul goes one step further and says that grace has exceeded the extent of sin—“where sin abounded grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). Grace abounds to all that all men might be without excuse to believe the gospel. Nor should anyone be fearful that he is beyond the reach of God’s grace. It is God’s will to save all; He has extended grace to all, and has given His Son for all. Yet God has chosen to make personal faith a necessary response to His grace in order to be saved.
4. Faith is a Gift of God’s Grace Which Makes Us Accountable to Believe in Jesus Christ.
God has extended to fallen man the ability to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith does not come from our own nature, for our carnal nature is in rebellion against God (Romans 8:6-8). We are children of disobedience by birth (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6). Our human will is in bondage to our fallen nature so that it cannot overcome our sinful depravity (Romans 7:18). In our natural state we are unable to respond to God’s grace for we are dead (unresponsive) in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Because of our sinful depravity, God’s grace is needed to “teach” us of our sin and the way of salvation. This thought is expressed in Titus 2:11-12 where we read, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”
Furthermore, faith comes to us from God’s grace as a divine gift and not from within us. The Scripture is clear in portraying our faith as that which is “given” to us as a gift.
“John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65). “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
We have now identified that both grace and faith are unmerited gifts from God. However, God requires us to exercise the gift of faith—that is to believe in Jesus Christ. Unbelief alone is sufficient to damn our souls (Mark 16:16; John 8:24). God holds human beings accountable to believe the gospel. God does not, and will not, believe for us. He has given to all humanity the ability to respond to His grace by believing. God, by His sovereign will, has chosen to limit salvation by grace to those who exercise personal faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
5. Faith is the Means Through Which We Receive the Grace to Obey the Commands of God.
The Scriptures we have examined have declared that salvation is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. However, there are two errors concerning faith which must be avoided in our understanding of salvation.
The first error teaches that faith is nothing more than a mental persuasion to believe in Christ without any obligation to obey His commandments. James 2 unequivocally declares that a faith which has no works is dead, useless, and no greater than demonic faith.
The second error takes the same teachings from James and asserts that both faith and works are essential for salvation, if the right mixture of the two is obtained. This is a distortion of what James is actually teaching, for James is not saying that faith plus works equals salvation, but rather is illustrating the difference between a true and false faith, a dead and a living faith, an active and an inactive faith. James is telling us how we may discern what true faith really is. True faith is alive and working. To interpret James 2 in such a way as to make good works essential for salvation would be to contradict the other Scriptures which emphatically state that we are not saved by good works (Romans 4:1-5; 11:6; Ephesians 2:9; Titus 3:5). Those that are yet in the flesh before salvation cannot please God by any good works. Good works are not the cause of our salvation but the fruit of our salvation.
It is by faith that we pass from death to life and experience the grace of God working in us to obey the commandments out of a heart of love. Through faith our rebellious old man is crucified with Christ and we rise in newness of life to live in a completely different manner (Romans 6:1-7). The commands which we once could not keep are now fulfilled in us who walk in the power of the Spirit. By faith we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Good works are the inevitable fruit of living faith. It is the grace of God, working in us mightily, which constrains us to obey God’s Word. It is impossible to be saved by grace through faith, and still choose to willfully live in disobedience to the commandments of Christ (1 John 2:3-5). It is the grace of God, received by faith, which inwardly motivates us to obedience and good works.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29). “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
All that we can ever accomplish for the glory of God is based solely on His grace working in us. Let us choose to reach out to Him in faith, that His eternal purposes for us (in our predestination) may be manifested in our works. What greater motivation can we have for living by faith, than by knowing that God has from eternity past extended His grace to work in us both to will and to do His good pleasure!
6. Concluding Thoughts
Perhaps the reader is thinking that the concepts and relationships of faith and grace are beyond his ability to fully grasp. It certainly is beyond the comprehension of the writer. It is this mystery and wonder which makes it “marvelous grace.” Our finite minds will never fully understand the magnitude of God’s infinite grace—else it would no longer be grace. Nor can we fully describe why we feel compelled by God’s grace to put our faith in Jesus Christ. But He draws us to Himself. Grace by its very nature far exceeds reasonable understanding and explanation. God does not ask us to fully understand His grace, but rather by faith to receive it, by accepting Jesus Christ into our lives. Christ is the personal manifestation of the grace of God.
Without Christ coming in the flesh to die for our sins, we could never experience the grace of God. Only by believing in Christ do we enter into God’s grace.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Those who experience God’s grace through the gift of His Son will have a spiritual transformation. By faith we can know for sure that God’s grace has saved us and is working in us His eternal purposes for His glory. To receive God’s grace is to find meaning and purpose in living. It is a wonderful thought to know that God has planned from eternity to graciously give us eternal life by sending His Son. God has not required us to fully understand His grace, only to receive it by faith.