What is the Good News and Why is It So GOOD?! #280 + Does God Save Us, or Does Our Faith Save Us?
Hello friends and happy Thursday to you! Today was a strong reminder that we all live in a fallen world, wasn’t it?! If you live in California, you know we are dealing with terrible fires and terrible air pollution again, and if you live anywhere within 100 miles of civilization, you will know that the President and First Lady have tested positive for Covid. These are difficult and humbling times, and nobody is immune. Let us pray and seek the Lord for His favor and blessing on our land. The words of today’s Psalm seem unusually apropos:
Return to us, God of our salvation,
and abandon your displeasure with us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger for all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again
so that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your faithful love, Lord,
and give us your salvation.
Our focus passage isn’t in the Psalms today, but in Ephesians 2, and we will also be reading 1 Kings 4-5, Psalms 85 and Ezekiel 35. I was listening to a sermon on the book of Jonah yesterday while out exercising, and the pastor suggested that Jonah 2:9 might just be the single most important verse in the Bible. Here it is in context:
As my life was fading away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
to your holy temple.
8 Those who cherish worthless idols
abandon their faithful love,
9 but as for me, I will sacrifice to you
with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
That last little bit, ‘salvation belongs to the Lord,’ or ‘Salvation is of the Lord’ is Yeshua Yehovah in the Hebrew, and if that name sounds familiar, Yeshua is the Hebrew name of Jesus – what His disciples and others would have called Him. I am inclined to agree that this Jonah passage is one of the most important in the Bible, and I would Ephesians 2:8-9 in today’s focus passage right up there with it. Let’s read Ephesians 2:8-9, and then discuss the good news that Salvation is of the Lord!
Here are some of the most wondrous truths of God’s Word:
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
- God is RICH in mercy
- He has GREAT love for His people
- Because of the love He has made us ALIVE in Christ
- Prior to that we were DEAD in our sins
- We are saved by grace – unearned favor from God.
- We are raised to eternal life in Jesus and sat in the Heavens
- In the future God will display His immeasurable riches and kindness to us in and through Jesus
- We are saved by unearned grace through FAITH – belief –
- That salvation is a gift from God
- That gift was not given out of obligation, and it wasn’t based on our good deeds.
- We were saved by Jesus and made by God to do good works to glorify Him.
Any one of those truths could make a 3 part sermon, or even an entire book, so deep is each statement, but the wonderful truths of Ephesians 2 are almost overwhelming when heard one after another.
A very dear friend of mine values prayer greatly, but is quite annoyed by the statement, “prayer changes things,” and for good reason. Yes, praying is important, but it is not PRAYER that changes things, it is the ONE whom you pray to that does the changing. If I pray to a false God or to an impotent human (even a dead and saintly impotent human), or a chair, then those prayers change nothing. Prayer only changes things when God hears the prayer and moves and does the changing. In a similar way, we will learn today that our faith doesn’t save us, but God saves us by grace through faith. Perhaps a fine distinction in language, but a massive distinction in theology. Martyn Lloyd Jones, who also considers Ephesians 2:8-9 one of the keynote and most important statements of Scripture, will help walk us through salvation by grace through faith today, writing:
This is a description of what it really means to be a Christian. More and more am I convinced that most of our troubles in the Christian life really arise at that point. For if we are not right at the beginning we shall be wrong everywhere. And it is because so many are still confused at that very first step that they are always full of problems and difficulties and questions, and do not understand this and cannot see that. It is because they have never been clear about the foundation.
What does the apostle say? He says that we are Christians entirely and solely as the result of God’s grace. Now surely no one can dispute that. ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ Notice the apostle’s method here. The whole statement is in three verses, and in a sense we can take the three verses as our divisions, our headings. He first of all makes a positive statement, in verse 8. He follows it with a negative, in verse 9; and the purpose of the negative is to reinforce the positive. It is just saying the same thing negatively. And then in the tenth verse he seems to combine the two, the positive and the negative.
Let us look first at the positive statement. Here is his assertion positively, that we are Christians entirely and solely as the result of the grace of God. Let us remind ourselves once more that ‘grace’ means unmerited, undeserved favour. It is an action which arises entirely from the gracious character of God. So the fundamental proposition is that salvation is something that comes to us entirely from God’s side. What is still more important is this, that it not only comes from God’s side, it comes to us in spite of ourselves—‘unmerited’ favour. In other words, it is not God’s response to anything in us.
The second proposition, as I have indicated, is put by the apostle in a negative form. He says that the fact that we are Christians gives us no grounds whatsoever for boasting. That is the negative of the first proposition. The first is that we are Christians solely and entirely as the result of the grace of God. Therefore, secondly, we must say that the fact that we are Christians gives us no grounds whatsoever for boasting. The apostle puts that in two statements. The first is, ‘that not of yourselves’; but he is not content with that, he must put it still more explicitly in these words, ‘lest any man should boast’. There we have two vitally important statements. Surely nothing could be stronger than this, ‘Not of yourselves’: ‘lest any man should boast’. This must always be the crucial test of our view of salvation and of what makes us Christians. Let us then examine ourselves for a moment. What is your idea of yourself as a Christian? How have you become a Christian? What is it dependent upon? What is the background, what is the reason? That is the crucial question, and according to the apostle the vital test. Does your idea of how you have become a Christian give you any grounds whatsoever for being proud of yourself, for boasting? Does it in any way reflect credit upon you? If it does, according to this statement—and I do not hesitate to say it—you are not a Christian. ‘Not of yourselves: lest any man should boast.’ In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans the apostle puts it still more plainly. He asks his question. Here, he says, is God’s way of salvation, and then he ask in verse 27, ‘Where is boasting then?’ He answers by saying, ‘It is excluded’, it is put out through the door and the door locked on it; there is no room for it here at all.
There is quite a popular evangelistic teaching at the present time which says that the difference which the New Testament makes can be put in this way. In the Old Testament God looked at the people and said: Here is my law, here are the Ten Commandments, keep them, and I will forgive you and you will be saved. But, it goes on to say, it is not like that now. God has put all that on one side, there is no longer any law, God simply says to us, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’, and if you do you will be saved. In other words they say that by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ a man saves himself. But that is to turn faith into works because it says it is our action that saves us. But the apostle says ‘Not of yourselves’. Whether the ‘that’ refers to faith or to grace, it does not matter; ‘you are saved’, says Paul, ‘by grace, and that not of yourselves’. If it is my belief that saves me I have saved myself; but Paul says that it is not of yourself. So that I must never speak of my faith in a way that makes it ‘of myself’. And not only that. If I become a Christian in that way, again surely it gives me some grounds for boasting; but Paul says, ‘Not of works, lest any man should boast’. My boasting must be entirely excluded.
That brings us to the last principle, which I summarise in this way. Our being Christians is entirely the result of God’s work. The real trouble with many of us is that our conception of what it is that makes us Christian is so low, is so poor; it is our failure to realise the greatness of what it means to be a Christian. Paul says: ‘We are his workmanship’! It is God who has done something, it is God who is working; we are His workmanship. Not our works, His work. So, I say again, it is not our good life, and all our efforts, and hoping to be a Christian at the end, that makes us Christians. But let me go further. It is not our decision, our ‘deciding for Christ’, that makes us Christians either: that is our work. Decision does come into it, but it is not our decision that makes us Christians. Paul says we are His workmanship. … I remember a very good man—yes, a good Christian man—whose way of giving his testimony was always this: ‘I decided for Christ thirty years ago and I have never regretted it’. That was his way of putting it. That is not Paul’s way of describing becoming Christian. ‘We are his workmanship!’ That is the emphasis. Not something I have gone in for, not something I have decided, but something that God has done to me. He might better have put it like this: Thirty years ago I was dead in trespasses and sins, but God began to do something to me; I became aware of God dealing with me; I felt God smashing me; I felt the hands of God re-making me. That is Paul’s way of putting it; not, I decided, not, I went in for Christianity, not, I decided to follow Christ, not at all. That comes in, but that is later.
We are His workmanship. A Christian is a person in whom God has worked.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation: An Exposition of Ephesians 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), 137.