There’s an interesting bit of wrong-thinking going on that I’ve noticed recently regarding “faith”. It’s most evident in some evangelical churches when the answer to the question, “How are we saved?” tends to be “By faith” rather than “By grace”.
Now before you start throwing bibles at me (in love) or approaching me with a thin smile masking a concerned look and your thumb in Hebrews 11 or page 15 of your John MacArthur study of Galatians, please know that I know that I’m engaging in some hair-splitting, nitpicking and mountain-out-of-molehill-making here. I would hope that all believers would be willing to proclaim “I’m saved by faith” because it’s true; that’s what the bible that you were going to lovingly throw at me says. What I want to challenge you — and me — us — with is exactly how we view this “faith” that saves us. Or if I can just come out and say it, that the faith we often call our “own” is only ours because it was given to us — it is given just as much as the eternal life we rightly proclaim to be a free gift in Christ Jesus. You — me — we haven’t “done our part” in contributing towards our salvation by “having faith”. Again, the faith we have is given to us by a gracious God, just like every other good and perfect gift we’ve gotten.
Proof? Well, just like every chef has a favorite piece of cookware and every golfer a favorite club, every poor man’s theologian has a collection of favorite go-to passages. Jeff and I try to be deliberate about not always banging the drum of these favorites lest we miss or promote missing the fullness of God’s Word, but they’re favorites for a reason: because they’re great summaries of that fullness. And for my current bit of grace-faith semantic nitpicking, I like Ephesians 2, especially the could-never-be-too-famous verses 8 and 9.
But before we get to those verses, it’s best to start from the beginning. Genesis would be the ideal place, but for sake of time and space and the fact that that pretty soon I’ll have to help my son get dressed, drink some coffee (I’m the one drinking the coffee, not him) and head out to church, robbed of 1 hour of sleep in the darkest watches of last night by the time burglar known as daylight savings, we’ll go with Ephesians 2, verses 1 –7.
When you read these verses alongside a passage like Romans 5, it’s practically impossible to not feel the spiritual connection, this fullness of God’s Word that we’re always ranting about. (That is, unless you’re such a great theologian that you’ve allowed your theological greatness to usurp your spiritual common sense.) It’s one thing if there’s some seemingly random verse that people use to their own maniacal benefit; it’s another when you see across all of scripture the consistent message of God’s truth. In this case, you might argue this connection and consistent message is due to the fact that the same guy (the apostle Paul) wrote both letters. You might also, more wisely, argue this connection and consistent message is due to the fact that the same Guy (if you’ll pardon my irreverence), the Holy Spirit, inspired both letters. Anyhow:
Romans: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Ephesians: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”
For some reason it’s easy to see that we’ve played no part in our salvation when we consider salvation in the context of God’s grace, perhaps because the idea of “not as a result of works” is inherent in our understanding of grace: “unmerited favor”, we often say. And yet we do not so easily accept that faith is the same. Because we know (or should know) that a faith that has not changed us to do good works has not saved us, perhaps we see faith as our responsibility and response rather than another part of the free gift of God?
Sinners that are dead in their trespasses are void of faith, which is why they are sinners dead in their trespasses. Before faith, we were sinners dead in our trespasses. We were made alive together with Christ by grace through faith, neither of which are our own doing. God is gracious enough to give us a faith in Him that we not only do not deserve, but are incapable of having apart from Him. Your faith, if you have it, is indeed truly your own, but only because God gave and gives it to you.
So, what’s this mean in your life? I don’t know. I’m not the Holy Spirit. I can offer up a few guesses, but you’re far better off fasting and praying about this kind of thing than asking a putz like me something I have very little ability to know, and about which you probably wouldn’t listen to me even if I did. The best I can do is to exhort you to do two things.
First, understand that apart from God, you suck. Some of you may cringe at my use of this word, but cringe or not, apart from God, you suck. This may also be hard to grasp for some of you that confessed Jesus before you were toilet-trained because you may have never been involved in a life of willful and brazen sin, so you don’t have the unfortunate, but powerful comparison of a longer time apart from Christ. Hopefully, as God has sanctified you, you’ve been painfully blessed to see your heart, your desires, your thoughts, for what they really are. But no matter how, when or where God changed your life, apart from Him you suck.
From there, give it all up, confess that only God is in control and that you’ve played absolutely no part and will continue to play absolutely no part in your salvation. God picked you and gave you faith. He does require a response to these gifts, but even that response is made possible by the gifts. It is in completely counting even our most beloved treasure — ourselves — as rubbish that we gain Christ and can be found in Him, not by our own acts of righteousness that we might call “faith”, but by a righteousness that comes from God on the basis of real faith. Only then do we really start to understand the depth of God’s love, how He has worked and is working in our lives, changing our hearts to worship Him more truly and more deeply.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”