|Grace Through Faith
SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
In recent years our fellowship has been increasingly polarized over the doctrine of grace through faith. On one side are those who stress salvation as a divine work and appear (to some) to minimize the role of human responsibility. On the other side are those who stress human responsibility and appear (to some) to minimize the divine work of salvation. One side says, "We don't do anything to effect our salvation" or "We don't contribute to our salvation." The other side says, "We do contribute to our salvation" or "We are saved because we do something." This polarization is unfortunate because both groups believed that one is saved by grace through faith when that faith is expressed in immersion.
Ephesians 2:8-10 contains three simple points that mediate this polarization. First, grace alone is the ground of our salvation. Salvation is God's work, not ours. Salvation does not arise "from ourselves" or out of our works. It does not arise out of own goodness. Its source is the loving kindness of God. Salvation is a gift which comes from above; it is not churned up from below. It is God who saves--he is the one who raises us up, makes us alive, and seats us in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:4-6). God gives us salvation not in part, but the whole.
Second, salvation is by faith. Faith is the means by which we receive God's grace. Through faith we have access to God's grace, and by faith we continue to stand in his grace (Rom. 5:1-2). Faith is the human response to God's gracious offer of salvation. Faith receives what God is willing to give. While God's grace is offered to all, it is only applied to those who receive it by faith. The grace of God is the ground, but faith is the means of salvation. This initial faith includes baptism because it is within the baptismal context that God raises us up with Christ and makes us alive with him (Col. 2:11-13). Faith, as expressed in baptism, does not add to the gift--it does not contribute to the merit by which we are saved, but is the open hand which receives the gift. When I give $100 to someone, they must receive the gift, but they do not contribute to the $100. The $100 arises out of my grace alone (not their works), but it is theirs only when they open their hand to receive it as they trust that I will freely give it.
Third, good works are the result of salvation; they are not its basis or ground. We are not saved because we work, but we work because we are already saved. Our works demonstrate our faith; they are the evidence of our faith. Salvation is God's "doing"--we are his workmanship; his creation. But we are created with a purpose. We are created to do good works and to pursue a holiness which images God's son. Works follow salvation; they do not constitute its ground. They are signs of faith's vitality--they evidence the salvation that is given by faith.
Salvation, then, is by grace through faith unto good works. The order of salvation is: Grace as the ground, faith as the means, salvation as God's work, and good works as the response of a saved people. Salvation, then, arises only out of God's grace, but must be received through faith. God saves us through faith at baptism--we do not contribute to the act of God's saving. Rather, through a human response we receive what God is willing to give. As a result, we are God's "doing" (workmanship) who are dedicated to good works, holiness and discipleship.
Our present polarization is largely the result of semantics and misunderstandings. When one group speaks of the ground of salvation, they correctly say there is nothing that we can do to generate our salvation. Salvation is a free gift. When another group speaks of the means of salvation, they correctly say we must respond to the gospel and receive its gracious offer through baptismal faith. Grace is received by faith. Both groups believe in grace, and both groups believe in baptismal faith. This polarization needs to cease, and we need to recognize the fundamental truths that are in each other's claims. We need to recognize that both groups stand within the circle of God's truth on the question of how one becomes a Christian.