Salvation by Grace vs. Good Works Part 1

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

Text: "Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them"—Ephesians 2:9, 10.

Portion of text to be read before Sermon: Ephesians 2:4-10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

I want to call your attention to the ninth and tenth verses: "Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works..."
Take note of the two phrases, “Not of works,” and “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

Our text, at first look, appears to be unreasonable, because it says that good works will not lead to salvation, and yet, they are said to be the product of salvation.
Some might say that there is a conflict that exists in the doctrine of faith, because it says in one place, “Believe, and thou shalt be saved,” and in another place, it says, “Ye must be born again.”

But both of these things are equally true: the Holy Spirit must do a work inside to bring life, and the person who believes in the Lord Jesus has eternal life.
I know people who like to debate the doctrine of good works, but I won’t do that.

Instead, let’s keep to the Scriptures, and see what they say.
We must stand firm in believing that salvation is, “not of works, lest any man should boast.”
But, on the other hand, we must admit, our experience is that faith in Jesus leads us to do good works.
Where there are no good works, the Holy Spirit is not present.

The faith that does not produce good works is not saving faith.
Salvation is not of works; but, at the same time, the children of God are, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”
There was a time, during the Middle Ages, when the common notion among religious people, was that people were saved by works.

But during that time, what we call the Dark Ages, very few people had any good works at all, because they didn’t know the one who is the source of goodness and righteousness.
Religion declined so much during this time, that it was only an empty ceremony.
It was useless; in fact, superstition overlaid the whole truth of the gospel, and it was almost impossible to find it being preached.
Those who were religious were told by the priests, that they must make themselves acceptable to God by doing good deeds.

The church publicly sold indulgences and forgiveness of sins, on the street.
So much was charged for the pardon of one sin, and so much for another, and “his holiness” at Rome, or perhaps I should say “his unholiness” was made rich by payments that were made to prevent punishment to those who were in a purgatory that Rome invented.
Luther, the great reformer, learned from a sacred book, and by the Spirit of God, that we are saved by grace alone through faith.
And when he found it out, he was so possessed by that one truth that he preached it with a voice of thunder.
He used the truth to break down the gates of Papal superstition.

The theme of every sermon was “By grace are ye saved, through faith.”
For many years after Luther, preachers everywhere followed his example; and they never finished a sermon without declaring that salvation is not by works, but that it is by faith in Jesus Christ.
These preachers were known as Reformers, and for them, justification by faith was the nail that had to be driven home.
It became the foundation-stone, and they did lay it, and they laid it thoroughly and laid it well.
Today, I want to make just two points:
First, that the way of salvation is something other than works.

Second, I want to speak of the walk of salvation.
We, who are saved, walk in holiness; for we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
This is an order from our Lord to those who belong to Him.
First, then, THE WAY OF SALVATION is described in a negative way, as “Not of works.”

There are many people today, who take exception to this, but what can we do; the Bible makes it clear, and so does the hymn-
“Sinner, nothing do,
Either great or small,
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.”

People object to the words “Not of works,” and they hate to hear that Salvation is a free gift, and not something they can earn; but I hope you love it as much as I do.
I want to preach that “Salvation is not of works,” over and over again, until I die.
Salvation comes only from our Lord’s mercy, and not by the work of keeping the law.
If we were to preach that Salvation is of works, we would make a lot of people happy, but what good would it do them?

If we were to preach to sinners, that salvation could come through their own good works, we would have to throw out the way of salvation by grace.
There cannot be two ways of salvation for the same people.
If you believe in one, you must deny the other.
There is no question that a sinner if he is saved, is saved by the grace of God.

And it cannot be denied, that our Savior and His disciples taught that we are saved by faith.
If salvation did not come by the pure mercy of God, we would be in sad shape.
If we were to deny the grace of God, and His mercy, we wouldn’t have any hope.
If salvation was by works, would there be a Gospel; would there be any “good news.”
Salvation by works is nothing more than what the heathens taught.

Those who teach that we are justified by religious performances, and by good deeds, are just sticking a Christian name on what the Pharisees taught.
That teaching makes the Lord Jesus Christ practically a nobody; because if salvation can be earned, then the way of salvation that comes from faith in a Savior is unnecessary.
Next, if we were to preach, that the way to salvation is by works, we would be teaching a means to salvation that has already failed.
If anyone was to be saved by works, they would have to begin very early in life.
They would have to begin to live a perfect life before they ever commit that first sin since one sin would make them unfit.

But I believe that everyone here would have to admit to committing some sin, so if you are depending upon your good works, you have failed already.
Is there anyone here who can claim that they are saved by works up to this point in their life?
Is there anyone here that is without sin?
Look at your lives, examine your consciences; monitor your words, your thoughts, your imaginations, your motives; because all of these things must be considered.
Is there a man or woman here, who always does good and never sins?

Scripture proclaims that "there is none that doeth good, no, not one."
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way."
Salvation cannot be based upon a concept which has already failed.
And now, I think that all of you would have to admit that salvation by good works is unsuitable for many people.
Let me give an example, to illustrate what I mean.
My father was saved only a short time before he died of cancer.

Between when he was saved, and his death, he didn’t do any good deeds that I am aware of.
He didn’t leave the house and he only talked to family members.
I loved my father, and I was the one who led him to Christ, but I didn’t mention good works.
He didn’t have time for works.
What kind of good works could he do?

Should I have shown him where to find the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and tell him that he must keep these laws?
He would just have shaken his head, and said, “I have broken them all; I am condemned by them all.”
If salvation was by works, I would have been no use to my father.
I am thankful that my dad chose to go the way of faith in Jesus Christ; because that was the only way he could go.

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