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The Heart of the Reformation: Sola Gratia!

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 2:8-9

  • 2021-10-31 PM
  • Sermons

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Well, tonight, as you may have noted in the bulletin this morning, we're going to step away from our study of Revelation because of the nature of today. This is the celebration of the beginning of the Reformation, and I want to acknowledge that and walk us through one of the most famous passages in the New Testament that factors heavily into the Reformation. And that is Ephesians chapter 2. I invite you to turn there in your Bibles. You can also be praying for me as I teach you. I like to think I'm going to make sense but I was thinking, this is like the eighth time I've taught in the last couple of days. So, you know, if I, like, break into another message in the middle, you'll know what's going on.

It was in the year 1517 that Johann Tetzel began to sell indulgences near the German town of Wittenberg. An Indulgence is how the Roman Catholic Church claims to provide remission for the temporal punishment of sins including, in their theology, Purgatory. The church claims that there is this treasury of merit, the merits of Christ, Mary, the saints who accumulated far more merit than they needed. And so, they teach that the Pope can use that treasury of merit to remit the temporal punishment of sins. If you lived in the 16th century, the only way you received an indulgence was by buying it. In the case of Tetzel, and the indulgences being sold in Germany, half the proceeds went to Archbishop Albert to help him repay the money that he had borrowed to purchase his position from the Pope and the other half went to build and outfit St. Peter's cathedral in Rome.

Now, there was a lot of manipulation that went on in this process and there's a lot to say but this will give you one glimpse. Here's a quote from one of the messages, Tetzel delivered urging people to buy these indulgences. "Do not you hear the voices of your wailing dead parents and others who say, 'Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain" - This is purgatory in Catholic theology - "from this you could redeem us with a small alms and yet you do not want to do so.' Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter, 'We have created you, fed you, cared for you, and left you our temporal goods. Why then are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes a little? You let us lie in flames so that we only slowly come to the promised glory.' As he sought to convince people to buy indulgences, of course, Tetzel's, most famous line was, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

In response to this gross abuse, on October 31 – yes, today's the anniversary – in the year 1517 a Roman Catholic monk and an academic named Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the practice of indulgences to the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg. This is a little feel. The town itself. And this picture, we had a chance to go there with some folks from our church on the anniversary year, then you have here is The Castle Church. There are two churches there in which he preached in both of them. One was for the commoners. This was more for the nobles: The Castle Church in Wittenberg. And this is an interior shot of what that church looks like even today. But of course, the most famous This place in this church is the door, the door to which these 95 Theses were nailed.

Now, understand that Luther did not intend to make a dramatic statement. Invitations to various debates were regularly posted there and this was all that was. It was an invitation to a debate about the practice of an indulgence. He didn't even intend for these Theses to be for the general public but, rather, for academics. We know that because they were written in the Latin which most of the German people didn't speak. But they were soon translated, and they were circulated by means of a very new technology, the printing press, and pretty soon the rest, as they say, is history. According to Luther, when he posted the 95 Theses he had not yet come to an understanding of justification by faith. You can read it in one of the introductions to his commentaries where he puts it in the year 1519 and not in the year 1517 when he nailed the Theses to the door. He was still a faithful Catholic, which frankly, if you read the Theses, it's pretty clear. He was simply criticizing the abuse of the system of indulgences, and he actually thought the pope would agree. But that simple act set off a series of events, including eventually his own conversion, his own serious study of the scripture and the Protestant Reformation is reckoned back to that day, October 31st, 1517.

The Reformation, of course, was the quest to recover the faith that had, "once for all been delivered to the saints," as Jude says in the scripture. Sadly, those truths were recovered, and they were lifted to a high point and we all are so grateful to God for that but sadly, the church today has drifted from those very same bedrock truths back into the darkness of error and ignorance.

Several years ago, I read the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center of those who claim to be protestant. Okay, so, US protestants. Fifty-two percent said Christians should look both to the Bible and to the church's official teachings and tradition for guidance. There goes Sola Scriptura. Fifty-two percent said good deeds and faith are needed to get into heaven - good deeds as well as faith. Just thirty percent of U.S. protestants in the survey said they believe in both Sola Fide - that we are saved by faith alone - and Sola Scriptura - that the scripture is the ultimate authority. That means, folks, that seventy percent of U.S protestants now believe what Roman Catholic theology teaches. That is truly tragic.

It was that horribly flawed view of not only scripture but of salvation that the Reformation sought to correct. When I was at the conference this weekend, one of the questions was: you know, summarize the key issues with the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant Reformation. And, let me just say, it comes down to three things. It comes down to: what is the ultimate authority? The scripture says that scripture is the ultimate authority. The Roman Catholic Church says, the Magisterium sits over the scripture and decides how it ought to be interpreted. They're the ultimate authority. The second question is: who's the head of the church? Roman Catholic theology says the pope's the head of the church. The Bible says Christ is the head of the church and no man is His vicar on Earth. And then the third issue is: how is a man made right with God? And the scripture says it is through the work of Christ alone, received by faith alone, by the grace of God alone. And the Roman Catholic Church, as we'll see tonight, said something different. They combined faith and grace, yes, but not faith alone, not grace alone. They combined it with works.

So, we want to look tonight at one of the great Solas of the Reformation. There were five of them. I have the other four here on the screen. I'm not going to concentrate on them. I want you to concentrate on this one, the fourth: Sola Gratia. Sola Gratia says, we are saved from God's wrath not because of our personal merit, or our personal initiative, or our personal effort or anything about us, but because of sovereign grace alone. This is really the heart of the Reformation. It's how a person becomes right with God and it's clearly taught throughout the scripture, but it is the theme of one of the most familiar passages in the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9, and I want us to look at it together tonight. Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 2 and let me just read verses 1-10. We're only going to look at verses 8 and 9, but let's put them in their context. You follow along. Paul says,

And you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you previously walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all previously lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not 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.

This amazing section of scripture can be reduced to one simple sentence, this is what it's teaching: salvation is entirely the result of God's sovereign grace from beginning to end.

Now Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, believed it was crucial for the believers in Ephesus where he had served as essentially as pastor for almost three years. He'd been gone for about six years. He left some of his best men there to serve that church and now he writes back to them and even in writing back to them, he felt it was important to rehearse these same truths again.

Verses 1-10 is one sentence in the Greek text, one very long sentence. And in that sentence, there are three basic movements. You saw them as we read, I think. First of all, in verses 1-3, what we were. Verse 1 begins, "you were." Secondly, we see what God did in Verses 4-6. Verse 4 begins, "but God." And then, why God did it is the third movement, verses 7-10 and that section begins with those two little words, "so that." So that's a very simple understanding of this passage and, obviously, our text falls into this last point. Why God did it, "so that." And in verses 7-10, we learn that God had three goals why did to save us by an act of sovereign grace alone. God had a purpose in mind when He saved us like this, in this way.

Let me just point out the first and the third. The first, in verse 7, is to display the glory of His grace and to do so eternally on us. I love verse 7. I wish I could take a message and just preach that to you tonight, because there is so much richness there. Think about this: as age, after age, after age rolls into eternity. God will constantly be lavishing the surpassing wealth of His grace on us by treating us with kindness we don't deserve so that we become portraits of His grace. Think of it this way, your portrait will hang in the halls of heaven and God will point you out to the angels and say, "there. There is a portrait of just how rich My grace is." The third that we find is in verse 10 and it is to guarantee our good works or, we could say, to guarantee our change. We'll look at that briefly at the end.

But we're I want us to focus tonight is on the second goal that God had in this unique rescue plan that He does by grace alone and it's this: to destroy all human boasting. That's the context of these two verses that we quote so often. God says, "you were dead. I brought you to life. And here's why I did it the way: I did it by grace alone. It was to make sure that no one boasts before Me." Let's look at it together, verses 8 and 9. Look at them again

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.

So, in these two verses, then, Paul makes one basic point: God rescued us from sin in your way so that no one would ever stand before God and say, "God, I am here because of something I did."

When God designed the plan of salvation, He did it with the goal of destroying human boasting. Paul makes this point positively in the first half of verse 8 and then he makes it negatively in the second half of verse 8 and verse 9. To say it differently, the first half of verse 8 explains what we must affirm about our salvation and the rest of verses 8 and 9 explain what we must deny about our salvation. Now, that is a very informed way to do this. And of course, you would expect that from the mind of Paul. And you do, of course, expect it from the mind of the Spirit. But whenever you want to lock something in, whenever you want to make sure there's no wiggle room, this is how you do it. And many doctrinal statements will do this. We affirm this. We deny this. We affirm this. We deny this. Why? In order to make it very clear so that there's no misunderstanding. And that's exactly what Paul does in this verse. This is the litmus of true Christian faith and of the true Christian gospel. So, let's see how you do. Let's examine what Paul says.

First, we need to consider what we must affirm about salvation. This is the beginning of verse 8, "for by grace you have been saved through faith." Now, in that brief statement, there are several affirmations about salvation that we must affirm. Let's look at them together. Here's what we must affirm.

First of all, we must affirm that salvation is a spiritual rescue accomplished by God. Notice, "for by grace, you have been saved through faith." The Greek word translated "saved" is just a word that means, "to deliver, to rescue." Rescue is a great synonym. You have been rescued. The question is: rescued from what? Well, if we had been working our way through this text, you would see it in the first three verses. Look back at them for a moment. You've been rescued, in verse one, from spiritual death. You've been rescued from a life filled with repeated acts of rebellion and sin, trespasses, and sins. Verse 2, you have been rescued from slavery to sin, from slavery to the mindset of the age in which you live, slavery to the devil's false religious systems. And in verse 3, slavery to the lust of your body and your mind. And most importantly of all, the end of verse 3, you have been saved from the eternal wrath of God. So, in the context, Paul is clearly talking not about some sort of physical deliverance, but about a spiritual rescue.

Now, notice the passive voice, "you have been saved." That's what theologians call a Divine passive. The subject is God. God saved you. By the way, that's clear if you look at the subject of this long sentence. I told you it's one sentence in the Greek text. You don't get to the subject until verse 4, "but God." That's the subject of this long sentence. God does everything. He initiates, and fulfills, and completes everything about salvation. So, salvation, then, is a spiritual rescue affected by God from His own just wrath.

Secondly, we must affirm with Paul, that salvation is a past event with continuing results. It's a past event with continuing results. Notice how he says it, "you have been saved." Now, that's a good translation but in both verse 5 where it's stated this way and in verse 8. Literally, the Greek text says this: "you are having been saved." Now clearly that's awkward in English, but it's really emphasizing two truths. It's emphasizing that salvation was a past event. And secondly, that it's a continuing reality with continuing results in this life. It happened in the past, but the results continue and will continue forever. "You are having been saved."

Now, the New Testament speaks of salvation in three tenses, right? First of all, salvation is a past event. Titus 3:5, "He saved us." Past tense. If you're a Christian, salvation is a past event in your life. It happened. There was a day when you heard the gospel and God called you to Himself through that gospel, then Spirit gave you life you repented and believed, and you were justified. There was a day when that happened. It's a past event that speaks of salvation as deliverance from the guilt and penalty of sin - your justification. But scripture also speaks not only of salvation as a past event but salvation as a present reality. 1 Corinthians 1:18 speaks of us who are being saved. "To us who are being saved." This refers to our salvation as the ongoing deliverance from the power and practice of sin. In other words, our sanctification. Scripture speaks, thirdly, of salvation as a future certainty. Romans 5:9, "we will be saved." Future tense. "We will be saved from the wrath of God through Him." This means we will be delivered from the future display of God's wrath against sin and ultimately from the very presence and possibility of sin. This is our glorification. Ephesians 2:8 is affirming the past reality and the continuing results - both now, and then to eternity future. So, in a sense, Paul sort of collects all of that meaning of the tenses of those verbs and says, "that's what I'm talking about." It's a summary of what God has done and will do.

Thirdly, we must affirm that salvation is entirely by grace alone. Notice he says, "for by grace you have been saved." There are no other caveats. There are no other reasons. No other explanations. It's grace and grace alone. God saved us from His just wrath against our sins. Why? Because of His grace. Because God is by nature gracious. We've talked about this so many times, but I can never talk about it enough. This is why we have a hope. This is why we have a future. It's because our God tells us that there is, in Him, permeating His character, a reality that He is gracious. That is, God delights to do good to those who deserve exactly the opposite. If I were to ask you tonight, what is the sort of standard christian definition of grace, what would you say? "Grace is God's unmerited favor." And that's okay, as far as it goes. You know, you don't merit God's goodness. That's true. But that doesn't go far enough because the reality is God finds great joy, eternal delight in doing good to those who deserve exactly the opposite. That's something different. Something entirely different. It's not just something you don't merit, it's something in which you have demerits. It was that quality and that quality alone in God that prompted Him to rescue you. In other words, there was nothing in you at all. This is really humbling. I remember the first time this really came crashing in on my soul from this very passage. I had been a Christian for a few years and I understood essentially this idea. I mean you, come to Christ understanding that but it really didn't fill out until one night, my senior year of college. I was reading this very passage and the Holy Spirit just worked, as He often does in illumination, and you just see it. You haven't seen it before, and you see it. And it just came crashing in on me. And it is so incredibly humbling. God saved me and it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with Him. "By grace alone."

This is what the Reformers meant when they said salvation is Sola Gratia. Sola is Latin for "alone" and Gratia is Latin for "grace." It means that what moved God to act to rescue us from His wrath was solely this quality in Him of grace. That He finds joy and delight in doing good to those who deserve exactly the opposite. It had absolutely nothing to do with what was in us. Salvation springs solely from what is in God, from the quality and God called grace.

The fourth truth about salvation we must affirm is that salvation is through faith alone. Verse 8 says, "for by grace you have been saved through faith." Now, when the scripture talks about the relationship between faith and salvation, it always says one of two things. It either says that salvation is "by faith" or it says that it is "through faith" using two different Greek words – "by faith" or "through faith." By faith emphasizes that faith is the means, or the instrument, by which we take hold of Christ. Through faith sort of pictures faith as the channel through which salvation flows to us. Faith is something like the hypodermic needle that God uses to deliver the medicine of salvation. It's by or through faith. By the way, they essentially mean the same thing because Paul uses them synonymously in Galatians 2:16. The reason God chose to save us by or through faith is because that's the only way that salvation could also be by grace alone. Let me say that again. The reason God chose to save us by or through faith is that was the only way for it to be by grace alone. Turn to Romans chapter 4. Paul says this explicitly. In Romans 4, he's talking about justification by faith. He's talking about the example of Abraham and David. He's unpacking what it means to be justified by faith alone. And in the middle of that, he explains why faith, Romans 4:16. "For this reason, it is by faith" - here's why God did it this way – "in order that it may be in accordance with grace." You see what he's saying? He's saying the only way that you could be saved by grace is for you to be saved by or through faith. Why is that? Because if you add any human work to faith, then salvation isn't by grace, right, if you add any human work? Because grace means that which isn't earned or merited and faith, here's the good news, faith is not a work. Look at chapter 4:4. "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due." You work your job, and your boss gives you a paycheck, and guess what? That's not grace. You earned that. You earned it. "But" verse 5, "to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." Faith is not work. In fact, according to verse 5, faith is the opposite of working. Since we receive salvation by faith, which is not a work, it's just believing in what Christ has done, salvation can be by grace alone. You see the connection? It's the only way. Had to be through faith because that's the only way it could still be by grace alone. No work, only faith, in opposition to work.

So, what is faith? If faith is the means God uses, what exactly is faith? Well, there are three elements of saving faith.

First of all, there is knowledge or, in Latin, "noticia." This is the intellectual part of faith. It involves knowing factual content. You'll see again and again in the New Testament it'll say, "you must believe that" and then there's content. There's something you have to believe. True saving faith is based on an understanding of divine revelation. Now, this stands in contradiction to what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. They teach the idea of implicit faith, faith in the doctrines you don't even know. If you believe whatever the church teaches so, you know, you don't have to know what the church teaches as long as you say, "yeah, whatever the church teaches, I believe that." That's faith, they say. That's not little faith. Faith Biblically requires you to know what it is you're believing. Reminds me of the story of the man who was being interviewed by the elders for membership and they asked him what he believed about salvation and he said, "well, I believe what the church believes." And they said, "well, okay, but what does the church believe?" And he said, "well the church believes what I believe." And, at this point they're exasperated, and they say, "okay, so what is it that you and the church believe?" And he said, "well, we believe the same thing." That's not Faith. The intelligent comprehension of truth is essential to faith. We can believe only what we know. So, that's the first element of faith: knowledge, "noticia." But that's not faith yet.

The second element of faith is ascent or, in Latin, "ascensus." This is the emotional response to the facts about Christ and salvation. So, you know, the facts and now you're responding to that, and you are convinced that the knowledge that you've gained from scripture about Christ is factually true, and that He is, in fact, for your benefit. That He is for your good. That there is value in pursuing Christ. That, in fact, a person can be saved by believing in this knowledge. That's ascent. That's still not faith because if you really know the facts about Christ and the gospel and you ascent that they are true, okay, you now have faith equal to that of a demon according to James chapter 1.

So, what is it that you have to add? The third element of faith, it's trust. So, there's knowledge, there's ascent. The third is trust or, in the Latin words, "fiducia." This is the volitional response to Christ, and this is the heart of faith. This is the difference between saving faith and non-saving faith. What's sometimes called historical faith where a person believes the truth of the Christian faith and agrees that it's true, but they never take this step. This step of trust means transferring all of your reliance for pardon and righteousness away from yourself, your own resources, in complete and total abandonment to Christ and resting on Him alone for salvation. This is the heart of faith. And, of course, faith becomes part and parcel with repentance. They're sort of like two sides of the same coin because, you know, like Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, you turned from idols to the living and true God. Faith and repentance have to go together in true faith. Spurgeon, in his excellent book All of Grace, defines faith this way: "believing that Christ is what He is said to be and that He will do that He has promised to do and then to expect this of Him." Let me read that again. "Believing that Christ is what He is said to be and that He will do that He has promised to do and then to expect this of Him." In other words, to commit everything to that, to Him. But when scripture identifies the object of saving faith, this is really important, it is never the truth in general. It is always the person of Christ Himself. Look back in Ephesians 1:15, Paul says, "I have heard of" – what? – "the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you." That's it. "Faith in the Lord Jesus." John 1:12, "as many as received Him, to those who believed in His name." Galatians 2:16, "we have believed in Jesus Christ." John 3:16, "whoever believes in Him." You see, the key issue about your faith is its object. You know, sometimes real Christians worry, "am I saved?" and I talk to them, and I find out. It's not really anything that's in the scripture that they're worried about. It's about the volume of their faith. You know that I believe in that. One of my favorite Puritan quotes is this: "it is not the quantity of your faith that will save you. A drop of water is as true water as the whole ocean. It's not the measure of your faith that saves you. It is the blood that it grips to. That saves you." Spurgeon put it this way: "the weakness of your faith will not destroy you. A trembling hand may receive a golden gift."

I can tell you for me, the time when I really began to realize this as a new Christian, as many Christians do, I struggled with doubts in those early days especially and, you know, I had made two previous professions of Faith before I came and became a genuine Christian. I'd been baptized twice before I became a genuine Christian and so I'm worried, is this just another one of those? Am I really a believer? And I'm struggling with these doubts, and I read a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on the book of Exodus and particularly on the Passover, and it's called, When I See the Blood. And he made a point that has stood with me, and he said this: he said, you know, if you had visited Egypt that night and you'd gone to the homes of the Israelites, even if you'd gone into the homes of those who had the blood sprinkled on the doorpost you would have found a lot of different scenes in those homes. You might have walked into one home where the blood was on the doorpost and they're having a party. "We're spared. Our children are spared. We're leaving Egypt." And they're having a great time. You walk into the next home. There's blood on the doorpost, but you walk in and everything's dark and they're cowering in the back corner afraid that their eldest is going to be struck dead. But in both cases, because they had enough faith to apply the blood, they were spared. I love that illustration. It's not the volume of your faith that matters. It's the object. If the blood was applied as God directed, then they were all safe.

We must affirm, then, that salvation is a spiritual rescue by God. It's a past event with continuing results. It's entirely by grace, and it is through faith. But, wanting to be crystal clear, Paul also explains for us, what we must deny about salvation in the rest of verse 8 and verse 9. If we're going to really embrace what the Bible teaches, then there are some things we have to deny, as well as affirm. Let's look at them.

First of all, we must deny that anything in us is the source or cause of our salvation. Verse 8 goes on to say, "and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Now, the question since the early days of the church is: what does that demonstrative pronoun "that" refer to? Well, there are three possibilities. There have been a few who said "that" refers to grace. So, "'grace' is not of yourselves." But that seems very unlikely because grace by definition is not of yourselves. The other two views are far more common. Some say "that" refers to salvation, as a whole, "that is not of yourselves." A third groups says, no, "that" refers to faith. "'Faith' is not of yourselves." Now, in terms of those last two views, we need to acknowledge that there are good men on both sides of that issue and it's medical context. However, the demonstrative pronoun "that" seems - and there's a growing consensus of this - to refer to the entire package of salvation. "Salvation' is not of ourselves," Paul is saying. We could literally - by the way, that expression "is not out of yourselves" "that not out of yourselves" we could paraphrase it like this "by grace you have been saved through faith and this salvation is not out of yourselves, it is the gift of God." In other words, there's nothing in you or in me that is the source or the cause of God's rescuing us. We're going to come to God His way. We have to deny that there is anything in you - in who you are or anything you've done. It's not your family. It's not your baptism. It's not a prayer you prayed. It's not walking an aisle. There is there's nothing in you that is the source of your salvation. That's what he's saying. Nothing in you contributes even to the smallest degree to a right standing before God. You must deny that there is anything in you that is the source or cause of your salvation. It's God's gift. Sola Gratia.

There's a second denial we must make about our salvation and that is that saving faith originates in us or is the cause of our salvation. Now we're talking about faith itself. We must deny that saving faith originates in us or is the cause of our salvation. Since Paul is saying that salvation in its entirety is not out of us then he must also be saying that faith is not out of us since faith is part of that salvation. I really think Paul intends to say both. I think he's making both of these points: that salvation as a whole doesn't find its source in us and even faith doesn't find its source in us. It's a gift of God. So, let me paraphrase it again for you. Look at your Bibles. Look at the verse and let me read it this way: for by grace, you are saved through faith and that entire package of salvation - including saving faith - is not out of you, it is the gift of God.

So, let's break that apart for a moment. Faith itself does not originate in us. Scripture teaches that all true Christians believe in Christ - we just saw that - but we do not, we cannot, believe on our own initiative. Acts 13:48, "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Acts 16:14, "a woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira, seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken of by Paul." Why did Lydia believe the gospel? Because the Lord opened her heart to believe. Acts 18:27 speaks of those who had believed through grace. Even Faith was an expression of God's grace. And Philippians 1:29 is crystal clear. "to you it has been granted for Christ's sake to believe in Him to you." To you it has been granted by God for Christ's sake to believe in Him. So, faith does not originate or begin in us. It too is a gift of God's grace. Why did you believe the gospel? It's because God gave you the gift of faith.

Faith is also not the cause of our salvation. This is a misunderstanding a lot of Christians have. They think that, "okay, I'm not righteous so God's not going to accept me based on my righteousness, but God decides to do a sort of swap. 'Okay, you're not righteous so I can't accept you based on your righteousness but if you have faith, okay, I'll accept you on the basis of your faith. That's why I accept you.'" No. That's absolutely wrong. God did not decide to accept your faith as a substitute for real righteousness. Scripture always speaks of salvation as being by or through faith. We are not saved because of or on account of our faith. The work of Christ is the ground of our salvation - His perfect life, His vicarious death, and His resurrection. Grace is the cause that moved God to save you and faith is simply the means by which we receive that gift. Listen to BB Warfield. He writes, "it is not faith that saves but faith in Christ. It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith, but in the object of faith. We could not more radically misconceive the Biblical representation of faith, then, by transferring to faith even the smallest fraction of that saving energy which is attributed in the scriptures solely to Christ Himself. Christ saves, not your faith." Lloyd Jones puts it this way: "we must always be careful never to say that it is our believing that saves us. Belief does not save. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Christ in His finished work. Not my belief. Not my faith. Not my understanding. Nothing that I do." So, get over this idea that, you know, "do I have enough faith?" It's not your faith that saves you. It is Christ who saves you. And if you have a drop of faith, that's all that's required to the object can matters.

Think of it this way, if you're still not clear on the relationship between faith and salvation. Imagine for a moment that you decide to take a trip unannounced. You don't tell your friends, really unprepared, and travel through the southwest and some of the deserts that are there. Now, why you'd want to do that, I don't know. I'm a tree guy myself. But, you know, to each his own. So, you decide to take a trip through the desert, and you take off and you're unwisely not prepared for what could happen. And so, you're tooling through the desert and you're on this little back road - hardly a trail, looks like nobody's traveled it for, you know, weeks - and your car breaks down and you begin to realize, you know, this is not good. I'm in a tough situation. I didn't bring food. I didn't bring water. Where am I going to get just water to drink? A few days go by, and you really are beginning to get desperate. You realize this could get very serious if somebody doesn't come and nobody drives that road. So, nobody's come and if you don't get help soon, you could die in that situation. But, for reasons I still can't explain, I happened to be coming down that same road and I come along and find you and, being the nice guy I am, I stop to check on you and there you are and you explain your situation. You said, "look, like, I'm about to die of thirst. You have anything to drink?" And, in God's good providence, I have an entire thermos of water in my car. And I said, "I'm happy to share it with you. Just get your cup and I'll give you some water." You say, "well, I don't have a cup. There's no cup in my car." Okay, let me check. So, I go to my car - and I'm a really clean guy - not a lot of stuff in my car - but in God's goodness and providence to you, maybe one of my daughters left a cup in the back. And I grab that cup and I give you the cup and I fill it with this life-giving water, and you take it, and you drink all of that water that you so desperately need. The fact that you now have a cup doesn't mean you earned or merited the water. It was merely the means by which you received the water and I gave you the cup. That's exactly how it is with faith. It doesn't merit anything. It's just the means by which we receive the gift of a right standing before God. And God even gives us the cup. He gives us the faith. So, you didn't earn the water of eternal life and God in His kindness even gave you the cup with which it was filled. That's faith and the relationship between faith and salvation. So, don't make too much of the cup.

Thirdly, we must deny that any human work contributes to our salvation. Verse 9, "not as a result of works."

Now, Paul uses two different expressions throughout his writings to make this point. The first one is "by the works of the law" or, literally, "out of the works of the law." And there he's talking specifically about seeking to obtain salvation by keeping God's law. Of course, the Jews of the first century did that. The second expression that Paul uses to make a similar point is this one here in Ephesians 2:9 and other places, "not 'by' or 'out of' works." This is more general. It includes obedience to God's law, but it's much more inclusive. It refers to any human effort, any human work, any human achievement. Paul here says in Ephesians 2 that our salvation does not result from our own efforts of any kind. It is not out of works.

This is exactly the opposite of what Roman Catholic theology teaches. You're aware that in response to the Reformation the Catholic Church convened a council, the Council of Trent, to respond to the teaching of the Protestant Reformers. And this is what they wrote. This is the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, let him be anathema." Let him be damned. If that wasn't enough, Cannon 24 goes on to say this: "If anyone says that justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema." Let him be damned. Cannon 32, "if anyone says, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life; let him be anathema." Let him be damned.

Now, I know this is a postmodern world, but I hope you can see that that is entirely opposite to what we're seeing in Ephesians 2:8-9. Romans 3:20 says, "by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight." And look at 2 Timothy 1:9. I love this verse. It says God has, "saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was granted us in Christ Jesus, from all eternity." Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness but according to His mercy." Listen, nothing that you have done or can do will earn you one step toward a right relationship with God.

Can I just say tonight, if you profess Christ but you are thinking that you will stand before God someday. and when He says, "why should I let you into My heaven?" You're going to point to anything in you or anything you've done. "Well, you know, I tried to be a good person after I professed Christ. I, you know, I was baptized. I attended church regularly, tried to read my Bible." You have misunderstood the entire nature of salvation. Nothing you've done will put you one step closer to a right relationship with God. Not humanitarian efforts. Not generosity. Not baptism. Not church attendance. Not prayer. Etc. Etc. Etc. God's perspective on even our best efforts is defined by Isaiah: all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. As I said this morning, think to your very best moment, your "blaze of glory" in terms of spirituality and God says, before Christ, that is like a filthy garment. "It's disgusting to Me," He says. So, our obedience, our efforts can never achieve salvation.

There's a fourth and final flawed view of salvation that we must deny and it's that the true gospel leaves any room or any reason for boasting before God. Verse 9, "so that no one may boast." And here we get to the main point behind these verses. Here's why God accomplished salvation the way He did. Not only did He do it - verse 7, "to display the glory of His grace" - but verses 8 and 9 tells us that He saved us by grace alone, through faith alone, in order to destroy all human boasting. You know, whenever you hear the gospel supposedly presented and it allows the person who receives it to boast, to point to something that he is, or something he's done, that's not the true gospel because God constructed the true message of the gospel, the true message of salvation so that no one may boast and if we contributed anything toward our salvation, we would have cause to boast. Romans 4:2, "if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about." And if you were justified - even in part - by your works, you would have something to boast about but that's not possible. God has constructed the entire plan of salvation, His saving purpose, to destroy every possible cause for boasting. By the way, this is a clear indication of whether you believe the right gospel. Ask yourself this question: seriously, when you stand before God and He says, "why should I let you into My heaven?" Do you plan to say anything about you? If you do, then you've believed a false gospel because what a true Christian is going to say is, "there is nothing in me at all. My only hope of being accepted into Your presence and into heaven, is the work of Your son, Jesus Christ."

In fact, it's interesting. If you read Matthew 25 - that picture of the judgment - true believers don't point to their works. Only false believers point to their works and say, "well, Lord, we did this, and we did this, and we did this." So, God designed salvation of you by grace alone to destroy all human pride. Just look at verse 10. Ephesians 2:10, "for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which, God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." The Greek word translated "workmanship" there is very unusual. It literally is "a work" or "a creation." It can refer to any work of art, painting, a sculpture, a song, architecture, a poem and literally the Greek text reads this way "of Him" - the emphasis is there – "of Him we are a creation." God is the master Craftsman. He's the Artist and we are His creation, His work of art. We are His masterpiece created for good works. He found us dead in our trespasses and sins and He made us alive. He saved us by grace alone and He did it to display the glory of His grace, to destroy all human boasting, and to guarantee our good works to His glory, that we would perfectly reflect the moral character of His Son. So, our salvation is entirely the result of God's sovereign grace from beginning to end. Sola Gratia. Can I just plead with you? Don't ever give up the gospel of Ephesians 2:8-9. This is the true gospel.

John Newton understood Sola Gratia. He was a sailor in the 1700s who, for a living bought and sold slaves. He'd been raised by Christian mother, but at an early age he abandoned his mother and all that she had taught him, and he went on to live a life of abject selfishness and absolute, unrestrained immorality. I mean, this was the worst of the worst. In fact, his filthy language even shocked his fellow sailors. He boasted that brutality and rape were a daily occurrence in his life. To appease his conscience, he took pleasure in trying to convince others to turn away from the Christian faith as he had. "But God," Ephesians 2:4. But God intended to save him and during a severe storm, John remembered a verse that he had memorized as a young boy. It's a warning from God recorded in Proverbs 1:

Since you rejected me when I called,

And no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand;

Since you ignored all my advice

And would not accept my rebuke;

I, in turn, will laugh at your disaster

When calamity overtakes you like a storm.

And it was through that verse that Newton began to feel the weight of his guilt and eventually humbled himself before God and called out to God for mercy. He eventually left slave-trading, even published a book called Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade that was based on his own experiences as a slave trader. And that book became a key in the British abolition of slavery. In 1764, Newton went into the ministry and for over 40 years, he told others of what God had done for him. And of course, the most amazing way that he expressed what God had done for him is in his famous hymn, "Amazing Grace." At the end of his life, John Newton wrote this, "my memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner — and that Christ is a great Savior!" May we never forget where we were when God found us, what He did to rescue us, and that He did it motivated solely by that quality in Him that is grace. Sola Gratia. Let's pray together.

Father, we are amazed, as Newton was, by Your grace. We're amazed by what You have done for us in Jesus Christ. Lord, He has become everything to us because He volunteered, in the councils of your eternal triune being, to come to this planet as one of us to live among us a perfect life -the life we were supposed to have lived, required by Your law - and then to die the death we deserved, to suffer Your wrath on the cross, paying the penalty, the debt, for everyone who would ever believe in Him. And then You raised Him from the dead. He's ascended into Your presence and some day He returns for us. Father, that is truly amazing grace. We thank You and praise You for this grace. And Lord, I pray for those here tonight who may not have come to know you through your grace. Lord, act in their lives, even tonight. Give them, by Your grace, the faith and repentance they need. Give them new life and into that new life, bring repentance and faith. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.