“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; 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 that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
I am often asked this question. “What do you believe?” One way I could answer that would be by reciting either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. These are profound statements of what it is to be a Christian. But there is always more to the story (we do have 66 books in our Bible, after all). So, at this time of year, I can answer with what lies at the heart of what we believe.
As we saw last week, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” This answers the question of how we are declared righteous in God’s sight.
A sinner is justified by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) for the sake of Christ alone (solus Christus), a truth revealed to us in Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). All of this for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). As we make our way through each of these “solas,” we land here today: grace alone (sola gratia).
When we speak of grace we must first ask the question: What is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved favor toward sinners. Grace is God’s unmerited good intention, his loving disposition toward those who have gone astray and are “dead” in sin and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). Grace, then, is something in God, not in man. So we hear that “Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).
However, God does not declare us righteous and free from guilt in a vacuum, as if he just ignores our sin. No, we have a great debt we owe God due to our sin, a debt that must be paid. God’s justice demands it. Yet this is a debt none of us can pay.
So, God in his amazing grace planned for our salvation. God’s grace is more than a disposition in God. God’s grace is active – active in Christ. In his grace, God sent his Son to become flesh and pay the debt we owe him. God sent Christ Jesus to offer his righteous life in exchange for our sinful lives upon the cross, and to take upon himself the guilt of our sin, our debt. Jesus Christ paid for sin by being a perfect sacrifice. Through God’s grace alone we sinners are forgiven and justified because of Christ.
This means that there is nothing in us and nothing we do that moves God to forgive us. God is gracious to us because of Jesus, and him alone. Paul writes: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). This gives such comfort to sin-seared consciences, for God’s grace is not earned by what you do, but is given freely by a generous God. As Paul reminds us, God’s grace is the reason for our salvation in opposition to our works: “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). Again, Paul writes, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). To be saved by grace alone means you do not save yourselves. Christ does. It is finished!
By showing himself gracious to us through the Gospel, God merciful bestows faith in our hearts that clings solely to his grace in Christ. From the beginning, the middle, and to the end, you are justified by God’s grace alone. What a sweet comfort to the Christian conscience, comfort centered in God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Do you know this gracious God that is found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ? This is the good news: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Even a wretch like me!