Grace, Questions

Are We Saved by Grace Alone?

I have discovered over years of study, the problem with a Pharisaical mindset or system is multi-leveled. There’s no simple answer. There’s not one scripture to point to and say, “see that one proves the system is wrong”. When you try, basically the defender of the system will simply present a seemingly contradicting passage as proof that he is right. So learning the truth is sometimes a long and slow study. It requires an open heart and mind without the constant knee-jerk reactions that naturally occur when statements contradict your current theology.

The biggest problem is the foundation the theology is built upon. As long as we are requiring specific works to receive salvation or at the very least, to be accepted by other Christians, we will never know true love or understand the true power in salvation. If there is any one topic which comes close to summing up why the theology of a Pharisee is wrong, it’s the statement, “we are saved by grace alone”.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

[1]I did not forget to include verse 10. Verse 10 does not negate verse 8-9. The works spoke of there are the results of our salvation. More on that in another article. [2]Works in this passage is not only referring to Mosaic Law. If you can boast about it, it’s a work in the context of this passage. “We are the true church because we do ____ and don’t do ____.” That’s boasting and ____ is a work.

This verse (as well as others) is saying our salvation comes by grace alone.

Although the very message of the New Testament is justification by grace alone, it is also easy to misread many passages in the New Testament individually to lead us to the notion that salvation comes from not just grace, but our own righteousness as well. This is offensive according to the writings of Paul, but even more so, it robs Jesus of his work on the cross and puts God in our debt.

Every religion in the world works pretty much the same: Do this set of rules, and you will be accepted and rewarded by God (or gods). So what makes Christianity any different? Is it just a different set of rules? No. The difference is that Christianity is based on a one-way covenant God made to us through Jesus. It’s not based on what we do… it’s based on what Jesus did.

The Sum of Scriptures

Now more than likely, if you are where I’ve been in the past, this argument gets your dandruff up. You probably already have several New Testament passages in mind to combat this. I know I did. My biggest problem with this argument was the word… “alone”. I had no problem saying we were saved by grace, I just had a problem with saying that salvation was by grace… alone. After all, I can produce passages that say:

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22 ESV)
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mark 16:16 ESV)
For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:24 ESV)
and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:10 ESV)
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13 ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV)
God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)

Of course, those are just some of the verses that actually use the word “saved”. When we tie in other verses like Acts 2:38 which tie baptism and repentance to the “remission of sins” which we logically link to salvation, well now we have even more things that “save” us. So my old logic was to simply read all these types of passages and apply some logical mathematics to them. Many call this the “sum” of the scriptures. So based on just the verses we listed here:

Salvation = endurance + belief (faith) + baptism + hope + confession + calling on Him + grace + the love of truth + sanctification by the Spirit + repentance

This is an error in logic (not to mention bad hermeneutics). The scriptures were never meant to be pulled out, in bite-sized pieces and then simply added up. Why is this bad logic? Because it ignores the actual narrative of the scripture completely. It also ignores the very definition of the words themselves. Think about how many of these terms are actually included in each other or extensions of one another. So let’s talk a minute about what exactly the saving power of Jesus is all about.

How we are saved

Because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, we were separated from God. Sin is in our nature now as well as the very fabric of the Earth. God gave commandments to men to give them direction on how to please Him. However, no amount of obedience short of perfection can reconcile us back to God [3]For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. – James 2:10 ESV. So because we have failed and will fail again [4]for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23 ESV, the commandments simply show us where we fail and condemn us [5]Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary – Galatians 3:19 ESV. Therefore, God prepared His own son to come be obedient on our behalf, then he was punished and sacrificed on our behalf. At the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our sins and gifted us with his perfection [6]For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV. So when we are judged by God, He sees his son’s perfection and not our imperfection. If we trust this gift, we receive it. This is what grace means and why it alone saves us.

The very definition of grace is unmerited favor. Unmerited means nothing can be done to deserve it. To actually say that salvation is grace + something we do (works) is a contradiction in terms. It’s like saying, “It’s a gift and you have to earn it.” Well, if that’s true it’s not a gift. This is how we can say we are saved by grace… alone. This is the entire point of the book of Romans. It is also the entire point of the book of Galatians. It is part of the basic theology Paul teaches in those first few chapters of Ephesians. He also instructs Titus to bring this message to Crete:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(Titus 3:4-7 ESV)

But, still you are thinking, what about those other verses?! Once we see that the whole of the gospel is found in the grace of God through Jesus, we begin to see these things are incorporated with or by this concept of grace. Some of them are used euphemistically as well. This is not uncommon in the Bible nor in other parts of life. Beyonce might say, “If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it”. This is a euphemism for marriage. So does marriage = love + commitment + ring + vow + tuxedo + chapel + walk down an aisle? Of course not. We don’t legalistically make this type of equation in life, why would we with the Word of God? The point is we use icons of marriage sometimes euphemistically and the New Testament writers do the same with salvation.

When Paul says we are saved by confession, it is by extension, salvation by grace. So it’s not grace + confession that saves. It is grace through faith that saves… which leads us to confession. Is it possible to make a false confession without faith in Jesus? Of course. Therefore, the confession itself does not do any saving. It is the grace which does the saving and the confession is a product of our faith in that grace. Just like in the previous example, the wedding rings don’t make us married. We put them on because of the marriage.

In many ways, the current movement away from the legalisms and works based salvation in Christianity is much like the Reformation movement in the 16th century, which also dealt with many of these same concepts. During the Reformation movement there arose this concept of the five solas. This is a Latin set of phrases which translates to the five “alones”.

The Five Solas

  • Grace Alone
  • Faith Alone
  • Christ Alone
  • Scripture Alone
  • God’s Glory Alone

This can be a little confusing because how can salvation include 5 things that work alone? It makes more sense when we use a few joining words together to create a sentence from them.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the scriptures alone so that God alone will get the glory.

See how they all work together… not in addition to each other, but together they say we are saved by grace and not works. The only way to access that grace is by faith. Not just any faith, but one in Jesus Christ. We don’t base that faith on the teachings of a man nor traditions but on scripture alone. If we are saved in this manner, we don’t earn it and nobody but God gets the credit for our salvation. Which equates to the passage we started with in Ephesians 2.

I know this article alone will change no one’s mind. Just like no one article on this site will. The goal is to provide the information abundantly so that we might start to understand how all these passages work together and not against each other.

As long as we are depending on our own obedience to save us we will be miserable in our service to God. We will never feel saved or assured. We will never then know the real joy of freedom in Christ. Ultimately, a better understanding of salvation as a gift is necessary to more forward. I would suggest a thorough reading of the book of Romans. Read it in an easy-to-read translation and read through as much as you can in one sitting. Try to understand the over-arching message of the book instead of focusing on the individual verses. Paul is telling these Roman Christians what he teaches others about Jesus… and that message is one of grace and grace alone.

NOTE: One item to clear up before ending. Salvation by grace alone does not mean we have a license to sin. Which is where everyone wants to logically argue. We will talk a lot more about how grace affects us and how the Holy Spirit works through us and how we are changed by grace…

Notes   [ + ]

1. I did not forget to include verse 10. Verse 10 does not negate verse 8-9. The works spoke of there are the results of our salvation. More on that in another article.
2. Works in this passage is not only referring to Mosaic Law. If you can boast about it, it’s a work in the context of this passage. “We are the true church because we do ____ and don’t do ____.” That’s boasting and ____ is a work.
3. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. – James 2:10 ESV
4. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23 ESV
5. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary – Galatians 3:19 ESV
6. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV