Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 16, 2015
“By Grace, through Faith”
Text: Ephesians 2:8-10
There remains in our culture, despite many a pessimistic Christian denial, an interest—no matter how misguided—in how a person may be right with God. The usual societal answer to the question, “How can I be saved?” (and too often, sadly, the church answer) involves a cosmic set of scales. If the good works in a person’s life outweigh the evil deeds, then heaven portends—but if the reverse is true, then hell portends. This notion has no basis in Scripture, as we shall see presently—but it persists in our culture and to some extent pervades it. We’ll see a much more accurate, much better solution soon.
We continue to see in Ephesians 2 how God calls into being His new society—the Church. We saw in last week’s message (from Ephesians 2:1-7) that God, though Christ, in the Spirit’s power, makes the spiritually dead alive, raises them to newness of life, and seats them in heavenly places with Himself. Today we see the instrumental means of this work. The means will surprise many in society—and, alas, not a few in the Church. It should come as no surprise to us—and shan’t again after today. Let us attend to our utmost the hearing of God’s Word read and proclaimed—and He bless us as He receives glory in it. (HERE READ THE TEXT)
Being made alive in Christ, being raised with Him, and being seated with Him in heavenly places all point to one truth: In Christ, we have been saved. The senses of the Greek word here rendered save (sozo [swzw]) include all that we are positionally in Christ, such as brought into God’s favor and society from the outside, passed from death to life, and the like—things encapsulated in Paul’s cry to the Romans and to us, “For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). There are two other fascinating—and welcome—senses of this word to consider today.
First, the Greek word here rendered save may also be rendered rescue, as is the case when the disciples face a squall on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:25). They cry out to the Lord, “Save Thou us,” with the hope of being rescued from the storm, its present difficulties, and its threat of profound harm in the immediate future. The disciples, using the word usually used for save, cry out for rescue. In Jesus’ salvation of us, rescue is part and parcel of that salvation. Apart from Him, we stand in perilous present state and bleak future prospect. In Him, we stand on much better, much firmer ground.
Second, the Greek word here rendered save may also be rendered heal. This occurs in Matthew’s Spirit-led account of the woman with an issue of blood. She says within herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well” (Matthew ix.21). Interestingly, the Greek word under the English phrase be made well is the usual word for save. This too is an integral part of our salvation. Our sin harms ourselves—and the collateral effects of that sin harm others. When God brings His salvation to bear upon our lives, He begins that good work of healing in our lives as well.
Now we see the senses of our salvation. Now we see the tenses of our salvation. Michael Green, in his book Evangelism through the Local Church (Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, a div. of Thomas Nelson, 1992, pp. xvi, 590), tells an illustrative story from the life of B. F. Westcott, an important Anglican scholar of the New Testament:
“There was a day, so the story goes, when Bishop Westcott was seated in a train, wearing his frock coat, gaiters and all. In got a girl from the Salvation Army, and seeing that her traveling companion was a bishop, she very much doubted if her were saved. So she decided to pluck up courage and ask him. ‘Bishop,’ she said, ‘are you saved?’ ‘Sotheis (swqeiV), sozomenos (swzomenoV), e (h) sothesomenos (swqhsomenoV)?’ murmured the bishop, who was reading the Greek New Testament. He wondered whether she meant, ‘Have I been saved?’ ‘Am I being saved?’ or, ‘Shall I be saved?’” (p. 32)
Green notes further, in relation to this, that, “I have been saved from the penalty of sin by Christ’s death and resurrection. I am being saved from the power of sin by the indwelling Spirit. I shall one day be saved from the very presence of sin when I go to be with God” (ibid, p. 33). These are true in our lives as well, and these give us cause to rejoice in Him.
Now we look at the means of our salvation. We are save by grace. We have dealt with God’s grace in earlier sermons in this series, but a brief reminder will do us good here. God’s grace, fundamentally, is His unmerited favor extended to us. He expresses this unmerited favor chiefly along two lines—both His kind welcome into His infinitely kind presence, and kind things given kindly from His hand. All of this kindness, once again, is independent of our deserving—or of our failure to deserve. It flows from His kindness extended to us.
We are saved by grace through faith. Faith is the instrumental means of our salvation. John, as led by the Holy Spirit, declares what Martin Luther called the Gospel in miniature, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus further elaborated this to the attendees at Capernaum synagogue on day; when they asked Him, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (John 6:28), He answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent” (John 6:29). This faith, itself a gift of God and not from within ourselves, is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
As just alluded, none of this is our own doing; it is the gift of God. Let this truth sink in deeply: There is no earning God’s favor. Perfection is the standard for earning the favor of God, and we who live since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden cannot achieve it. Furthermore, we do not repay God for His favor—we do not (yea, cannot) repay either by lump sum or by timely installments with interest accruing. Our salvation, and everything appertaining thereunto, is wholly God’s gift.
Particularly, our salvation is not of works. No single work—or body of works is good enough. In fact, all our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)—and if this be true (and it is), how much more unrighteous our unrighteousness? We now see, then, that the ground of boasting erodes from under us. We can take no credit for our salvation, for all credit goes to God. Let us, then, conform to the Word of the Lord through Paul, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).
What, then, is the place of works? Rest assured, there is a place in the Christian life for works, but works cannot earn for us favor with God. Recall, as today’s text notes, that we ourselves are God’s workmanship. We are no accidental happenstance, no fortuitous concourse of atoms. The case is not, as Nobel laureate Jacques Monod famously stated, “Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game” (quoted in Green, p. 29). Rather, the Bible tells us that we are the handiwork of God, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). His work in creation is beyond description. Should it be any less for us, who are the acme of His creation (Genesis 1:26-28)?
We are created, fearfully and wonderfully so, in Christ Jesus for good works—works which God prepared beforehand. Both the works themselves and the gifts necessary to discharge the works are planned beforehand (It is amazing, at this point in Ephesians, to consider how often verbs indicating God’s prior planning and action occur.) Moreover, God prepared these works beforehand that we should walk in them. As we walk in them, we shall both bless Church and world—and, above all, we shall glorify God. Here, then, is the sum of the matter: Works are not the currency by which we purchase salvation; they are the evidence that salvation has come.
Now we are ready to conclude the whole. If you believe in and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then you have been saved from the penalty of sin. The penalty is laid to Jesus, Who gladly bore it, and the righteous garb of Christ now surrounds you. Moreover, if you believe in and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you are being saved from the power of sin. This is one important facet of sanctification, or our separation unto God. We struggle in the Spirit’s power to overcome sin, and in this struggle the Spirit increasingly mortifies our flesh and vivifies our spirits. Finally, if you believe in and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you will be saved from the very presence of sin: either at the end of your earthly days or at Christ’s return, whichever comes first. If you have not yet received Him, then receive Him now and receive all of this, and more, as well. If you have received Him, then rejoice and continue to fight the good fight of faith—rejoicing in what has done in your life and, as Oswald Chambers notes in the devotional My Utmost for His Highest, working out what God works in.