Grace Alone: Read 1 Corinthians 9:24–10:5
Christians are saved by grace alone. What does this mean? We are saved by the work of Jesus Christ in our place as our substitute. Our salvation from sin, death and the devil is a gift from God. We are saved apart from our conduct, apart from our good works, apart from an act of our will, apart from our piety. And we dare never claim that faith is our doing. Faith, too, is a gift of the Lord.
As Christians, our run of faith has the aim of eternal life and faithfulness to the Lord in this life. We do not “box as one beating the air.” The discipline we practice in heart, body and mind is to keep ourselves under control, lest we “be disqualified” “after preaching to others,” even our own families and friends.
We run in this world with a worldview and perspective from eternity. Some “prizes” of this world are worthless from an eternal point-of-view. We don’t need to go much further than, “You can’t take it with you,” as one point in this discussion. The real danger of some things that people pursue in this life is that they often lead to something worse than death: falling away from faith, embracing an idol substitute for the one true God.
The First Commandment says: You shall have no other gods. Martin Luther wrote: Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.
That’s deep. What you spend your time worrying about, what you spend your time on, what you give your devotion, that is your idol, your false god. Trust doesn’t make a false god real. A person’s false trust in a false god is a real waste of time, a waste of a life and a waste of a soul for eternity.
Jesus is worthy of your trust, your true faith.
Jesus calls us to repent of any sense of entitlement. The Denarius given the workers in His Matthew 20 parable was given out of generosity. It was the promised payment for the service of those who began working early in the morning and continued working all day long. Did they deserve more? No. Did the others, those hired at the third hour and after deserve less? Yes. Did they receive less? No. All benefit from Jesus’ generosity.
It is also idolatry to believe in a false god that saves us because we supposedly deserve it. We don’t deserve anything but eternal condemnation and life-long suffering before that.
That’s why Christians speak about grace; why we say that we are saved by grace alone. We can’t earn salvation. We can never deserve salvation. We can only receive it as a gift from Christ. Good works save us only when they are done by Jesus Christ. Our own good works serve our neighbor and prove that our faith is living. We are saved by grace alone.
Consider two very familiar verses from Ephesians 2 followed by a less-familiar verse: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Our good works are not salvific. Our good works are the prepared-beforehand service to our neighbor, your “thank-you note” to the Lord for His gift of salvation by grace alone, your disciplined, faithful race in Christ for the prize of eternal life.
The Rev. Paul J Cain is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, headmaster of Immanuel Academy and Martin Luther Grammar School and a member of Pastors United in Christ.