Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"
Can the Holy Spirit help us understand confusing teachings of the Bible? If the answer is No, we're in deep trouble! Jesus prayed that we might "be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You" (John 17:21). A wise writer once said that those who proclaim the message that will eventually "lighten the earth with His glory" (Rev. 18:1-4) will be in perfect theological harmony. Great Good News!
In the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Ephesians he clears up something that's been confusing for two millennia--the relation between faith and works. He knelt on his knees and asked the Father to help us (3:14-21); now may his prayer be answered! In chapter 2:8, 9 Paul says it as clearly as one could hope for: "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Can we understand him?
(1) Salvation is totally a gift; no earning it is possible.
(2) It is the gift of grace; that means it is given freely to everyone. Grace wouldn't be grace if it were limited in any way; it is given "freely" (cf. Rom. 3:23, 24). The same writer mentioned above said this grace is as real as the air we breathe, as universal as "the rain and sunshine." Apparently then, convicts on Death Row receive it as much as any of us!
(3) The grace is given to everyone, but is received and appreciated "through faith." No one can boast, "I have salvation because I have faith!" No, even the faith is "the gift of God"! All this is another way of repeating what Paul said in Ephesians 1:11--you are "predestined" to be saved; God has given you the gift; from beginning to end your salvation has been due to His initiative (2 Cor. 5:17, 18). It follows that we'd be foolish to resist and reject what He has given us! (But that's exactly what the lost will have done, and they'll be in number as "the sand of the sea," Rev. 20:8.)
(4) Paul nails down the truth in Ephesians 2:9: all this is specifically not of works, lest anyone think it's due to his own initiative.
(5) Lastly, that "faith" which receives and appreciates the "grace" given, "works by love" and gladly yields obedience to all of God's commandments (Gal. 5:6). So, in the end there's no egocentric motivation left; "the love of Christ constrains us" to "follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15; Rev. 14:4). Let's not receive the grace of God in vain! (2 Cor. 6:1).
--Robert J. Wieland
From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: March 21, 2001.
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