Grace and Cross
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
Let’s go back a little bit in time to the Church's history. It was the year 1506, Pope Julius found out about the place where the Apostle Peter was buried and he wanted to build a church in a cross-like shape on 6 acres of land. It was named St. Basilica and it still stands as the symbol of the Roman Catholic Church in the Papal Square, Vatican City. But to build a church that big one needed a lot of money. So they started selling salvation by giving them “an indulgence.” Basically, by purchasing an indulgence, an individual could reduce the length and severity of a punishment that heaven would require as payment for their sins, or so the church claimed. When one dies one goes to an imaginary place made by them called “purgatory” and there you don’t have to spend much time because you had paid for your sins by purchasing an indulgence. The Roman Catholic Church was going all over Europe, sending monks.
In 1516, Johann Tetzel went to Germany. And in Germany, there was a monk by the name, of Martin Luther who was struggling with his faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Long story short, he challenged the pope and their teachings. On 31st October 1517, the moment when the Reformation started when Luther posted 95 theses questioning the pope and their present teachings. And out of the reformation period came five important things or five Solas, which were sola gratia(grace alone), sola fide(faith alone), sola Christus(Christ alone), and sola scriptura(scripture alone), and soli Deo Gloria(Glory of God alone).
For this blog, we are going to focus particularly on the first sola, which is grace alone.
Now, why I’m focusing on this particular topic Grace is because it is that thing that is being attacked and people tried to change it for centuries and still doing it.
Grace in the Old Testament
Grace is a constant theme in the Bible, and it culminates in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus.
But there is this misconception in the Christendom that Grace is a New Testament concept. Why do we believe that?
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17 NIV), a logical conclusion is that Old Testament is the Law and New Testament is Grace.
We have to remember one thing, God is immutable which means he never changes.
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV)
God’s Grace is the foundation upon which the gospel message is built. If you misunderstand Grace, the whole message starts to crumble.
There are many examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament.
1. Grace began in the garden of Eden when God killed an animal to cover their sin. (ref. Genesis 3:21). That's Grace
2. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:8 NIV)
The wickedness in humanity had come to its peak point and God regretted creating humans and was ready to wipe all out. But there was one man who was walking with God. He wasn’t perfect yet God saved him and his family. That’s Grace!
3. …all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 NIV)
Abraham leads him to lie by saying, Sarah was his sister. Sarah laughed at God when He said she would give birth to a son in her old age. Despite their unbelief, God remained faithful to His promise. That's Grace!
4. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer. (Judges 10:16 NIV)
I tried counting how often the Israelites grumbled against God, broke His commands, worshipped false idols, etc—but I quickly lost the count. Israelites repeatedly rebelled against God and they bore consequences but yet God graciously rescued them. That’s Grace!
5. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalms 51:1 NIV)
The Prime example is from David’s life. He was a man after God’s own heart and a writer of many Psalms. Yet he lusted, fornicated, lied & killed (ref. 2 Samuel 11). According to the law, he was supposed to die. But he repented of his sins and God forgave him. That’s Grace!
In the New Testament, there are a lot of examples, for instance, Paul in many of his letters started with grace and peace to you.
So we are clear with one thing grace is a constant theme in the Bible. It’s not just that one day God thought let’s have some grace on people.
God gives His common grace to the righteous and unrighteous both (ref. Matthew 5:45). But for this particular article, we are talking about saving grace.
Saved by Grace
There are many misunderstandings about being saved by grace. Many assume that by their good works they can have forgiveness of sins or get to heaven.
In Christianity, many think that by doing sacraments like baptism, church attendance, giving offerings or tithes, and doing good deeds they can be saved.
There’s also this belief that our good works trigger a gracious response from Father.
Recently I read this illustration on GotQuestions Ministries website, which helps us to understand grace better.
Once a teenager in his summer holidays started working for the whole summer because he wanted to buy a new car. He worked many small jobs, worked hard, and saved some money but won’t be able to save enough to buy a new car. His father sees his diligence, and hard work and helped him in buying a new car. But what if in place of work, the son just partying, gets fired up from his job for not coming on time, and spending money on all the wrong things. In this case, the father would not help him. Now, the son did not earn his car but his hard work triggered a response.
In the worldly sense, this can be correct but biblically it is wrong. The biblical definition of grace is quite different.
In the Bible, grace is blessing the unworthy. Like in the story of the prodigal son, that son got astray and exhausted his inheritance but when he returns his father accepted him.
Our best efforts cannot save us. We are saved by grace alone; the work is God’s, not ours.
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5 NIV), here we see two things.
First, God justifies the ungodly, not people who have done their best and somehow get a gracious response from God. He justifies those who do not deserve it.
Second, God justifies people who receive salvation by faith—not people who give it their best effort.
And don’t think that faith itself is a “good work” that causes God to take notice of us.
Faith is a gift from God. It is admitting that we are hopeless and helpless, lost and unable to do anything to gain God’s favor, than simply accepting the salvation that he offers freely.
We are saved by grace alone from beginning to end.
God offers three things justice, mercy, and grace.
Justice: Getting what we deserve i.e. punishment for the sins we have committed against God.
Mercy: Not getting what we deserve i.e. not getting the punishment that we deserve instead he spared us by putting the punishment of our sins on His Son(Jesus Christ).
Grace: Getting what we do not deserve i.e. forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the holy God rather than eternal punishment by committing sins against an infinite being.
The choice is yours to make. What do you choose?
Understanding God’s grace is important because it is the only thing that distinguishes Christianity from other world religions. Every other religion tells us that we can save ourselves by doing good works but only Christianity tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Our best works cannot save us as they are like filthy rags in the words of Isaiah.
Now, what should we do so that we do not forget that we are saved by grace alone?
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV)
No one needs grace unless one knows why we need it, we need it because we are sinners and in need of forgiveness.
That is why we need to come to the cross again and again. By coming to the cross we see our sins and need for a savior and see the Father’s love and grace towards us.
The cross reminds us that we are saved by the works of Christ, not ours.
Good thing is, that our salvation lies outside of us.
Satan doesn’t care about how much Bible you read, or you go to the Church but the problem starts when one starts to obey it.
Our Bible reading, church attendance, praying and offerings, and tithes are responses to God for the love He showed to us first. We do it all out of love for God. Not the other way around by doing it and being saved.
I will borrow the words from Pastor Alistair Begg about the thief on the cross. He said, “Imagine for a minute when that thief will come to the heavens gate and an angel comes and ask him, how do you come here, like on which basis? Did you been to any Bible study, or know anything about the Doctrine of Justification by faith alone or any other doctrines? Or were you a member of a church? But I believe his answer will be, I’m here because the man on the middle cross said ‘I Can Come’ and that’s supposed to be our answer too, which is not in the first person but in the third person that ‘HE’ we are here because of what He did not of anything we have done.”
We come to the cross by preaching to us the gospel. It’s not just for unbelievers but also for us who are saved to remind us that we are saved by Christ’s work, our salvation lies in Him.
And we preach to us the gospel by reading the living word of God, The Bible. This word will show us that we are saved by grace alone when we read it with Christ at the center of it and with expectancy to know more about Him.
Grace is not 95% or 99.99% but 100% done by God. We have to accept it with humble heart, recognizing that we are unworthy and cannot contribute anything to it.