daily biblical sermons


YOU HAVE BEEN INITIALLY SAVED BY GRACE, THROUGH FAITH, AS A GIFT, NOT BECAUSE OF YOUR GOOD WORKS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 29th Week of the Year, October 22, 2018
Ephesians 2:1-10, Psalm 99, Luke 12:13-21


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"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" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).


In these two key verses is a powerful expression of St. Paul's theology of salvation, namely that works have nothing whatsoever to do with our initial salvation from our sins.


The word salvation has more than one meaning. It means here the initial saving act of God in our regard, saving us from all guilt for our sins and reckoning to us Christ's own perfect righteousness so that we become resplendent in God's sight with the righteousness of Christ himself, which God reckons to us through our faith in Christ. This is what St. Paul means by the word "save" in these two important verses.


I call these two verses important, because they are key verses for our understanding of St. Paul's theology of salvation and justification. For salvation in this sense of God's initial saving act, no works of our own are involved, but only faith, which always must include genuine repentance (that is, we must stop sinning gravely).


But the word salvation is also used in other texts in a final or eschatological sense of our final entrance into heaven. In this final sense, our good works are necessary. They are the result and fruit of our justification or initial salvation, which is not by our works, but only by God's work. Our good works are also the visible evidence that we have really been justified or saved from our sins and made righteous in the initial sense.


If we have no good works, then we were not really justified, or we lost our justification and initial salvation by committing a grave sin or by living in a constant state of grave sin, such as living in adultery, fornication, or in a homosexual sexual relationship.


In this case, we need to genuinely repent, that is, break up this gravely sinful relationship, or at least live in continence and turn to Christ again in faith for our justification and salvation from our sins in order to be declared and made righteous once again with Christ's own perfect righteousness reckoned to us by God.


Our faith in Christ connects us to Christ's atoning death on the cross that makes perfect and complete reparation for all our sins. Then a life of good works will and must follow as the fruit of our initial salvation, and these good works and our good moral life in accord with God's biblically revealed moral law will enable us to grow in sanctification and ultimately be saved and enter into eternal life in heaven with God after death.


An example of the word salvation being used in this ultimate, final, eschatological sense is Matthew 10:22:


"You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."


But in Ephesians 2:8-9 (quoted at the opening of this sermon) the word salvation is not being used in this ultimate sense of entrance into heaven, but rather in its initial sense of having all our sins forgiven and having Christ's own perfect righteousness reckoned to us by our faith. So here in this text the word salvation is used in the same sense as the word justification, which does not mean final salvation and entrance into heaven, but rather present salvation from our sins and the free gift of a new life in God, in which God makes us righteous in his sight by our faith, which connects us to Christ's atoning, reparation-making death on the cross for our sins.


So St. Paul says:


"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" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).


St. Paul is talking here in this text about our initial salvation from the life of death that we were living because of our sins. This initial salvation is accomplished not by any good works of our own, nor by any combination of faith and good works, but solely by God's good work on our behalf, namely by the death of his Son on the cross for us.


"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV).


God's grace saves us. We do not save ourselves in this initial sense. We were sinners lacking in good works. Our works did not merit or earn this grace and gift. If they did, it would not be by grace and it would not be a gift, but justly earned wages. But no! We are initially saved solely by grace. It is not of ourselves. "It is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:9 NKJV).


No one earns a gift by doing good works. A gift is freely given to us by God. Our part is only faith, which is our act of receiving this gift. "You have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV). This has happened to us only by our faith, "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:9 NKJV).


In this matter of justification and initial salvation there is no room for us to boast of our achievement as though our wonderful good works earned our new life in God for us. They did not! So we have no grounds to boast about our good works earning our justification or initial salvation.


St. Paul says:


"I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith" (Romans 1:16).


Here St. Paul says that it is the gospel that contains the power for salvation for everyone who has faith. And the gospel is the message that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3) to pay our debt of suffering that we owed God in just punishment for our sins in order to release us from having to pay this debt, so that God might justly declare and make us ungodly sinners righteous. That is the basic gospel message. No works of our own are involved in this transaction, only Christ's good work for us on the cross, which we receive by means of our faith in him.


So St. Paul's conclusion is:


"We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:28).


So it is not by our good works, but rather by our faith that we are justified and saved in this initial sense:


"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5 NKJV).


It is our faith, not our works, that causes us to be counted as righteous by God. Why? Because our faith connects us to Christ's atoning death on the cross that makes full reparation for all the sins of the world. Once we are connected to Christ's atoning death, the merits of his death are personally applied to us by God, and God then considers us righteous, since our sins have been duly atoned for, that is, duly paid for. Our debt with God for our sins has been paid for us by Christ's death on the cross, and so God declares us righteous; and if it is God who declares us righteous, then we are truly righteous indeed.


"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).


So like St. Paul I should want to "be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:9).


We should not want a works-righteousness, but, along with St. Paul, only the righteousness that comes to us through our faith and is not earned in any way by us by our good works of any kind.


So why should we not think that we can make ourselves right with God by our own good works? The answer is because we "know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Galatians 2:16).


Once justified by faith, not by works, because of Christ's atoning work on the cross that makes perfect reparation for our sins, then we must begin a process of gradual progressive sanctification, which requires good works and will be rewarded by final salvation in heaven with God after death, and the degree of our sanctification will determine the degree of our reward (Luke 19:16-19; 1 Cor. 3:14-15).

 

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