For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 CSB).
Grace is one of the most joyful words of true Christianity. The truth of grace can set troubled hearts and weary minds free to sing and praise and laugh. When we understand the grace of the Holy God to sinners deserving of eternal wrath, we may indeed rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8). God used his grace to restore joy to the church that was trapped in joyless performance of working for salvation.
I immediately here objectors saying, “Ah, you are wrong; the medieval church believed in grace. So, how can this emphasis on grace be a hallmark of Reformation Theology?” This is a good question, that I’ll answer in two ways.
First, the medieval church had become a religion. One of the characteristics of the religions of the nations is a system of works that provides certain rights and blessings from the god that is worshiped. The medieval church might have mentioned grace in its ritualistic services, but if the meaning of grace is not taught and understood, everything quickly degenerates to the performance of works required by the church. Though grace (unmerited favor for those who deserve wrath) is talked about, what people hear is “do good works, do good works, do good works, and then… maybe… God will be merciful to you.” It is no secret that the Reformation started among people that were long accustomed to performing works of penance for their sins and to pursuing indulgences by taking pilgrimages to shrines or by simply paying cold coins. People did not know the joyful truth that God freely forgives sins, because of the finished, saving work of Jesus Christ.
Second, grace had become a spiritual quantity that was dispensed by the church through her sacramental system. Their concept was that Jesus, Mary, and the saints had earned grace from God, and the church was able to give her faithful followers this grace when the faithful partook of the sacraments. Only after the Reformation were the sacraments officially codified as seven. But the way to receive grace was to go to church’s bishops and priests and participate in the required rituals. This is clearly the performance of good works.
The good news of our text from Ephesians is that we are saved by grace (we’ll talk about through faith in another post) and that all is God’s gift—not from works. God does not save (rescue from sin and its consequences) anyone by good works. Salvation is a gift from the overflowing love of God through Jesus Christ. We’ve earned death by our sins, but God delights to forgive sins and to give eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
This good news that people rediscovered from reading the Bible remains good news today. Through grace alone still tells us that God himself acts to save people who have rejected him, have refused to love him, and have rebelled against him, his truth, and his ways. It proclaims that God saves sinners. Has God saved you by his grace?
Grace and peace, David