Saved by Grace: An Introduction
“Saved by Grace” is a popular Christian statement. It sounds Biblical, and it is. But what is the meaning of this statement? What does it mean to be saved? To many, this claim just means that a person goes to heaven, because this person believes in Jesus. That is at least what I thought about it for many years. However, after studying and struggling with what the Bible says about this, I have come to new insights.
I want to say to you in advance that I will write things which may sound completely new to you. Still, I want to ask you to read this whole teaching and consider seriously if it is what the Bible teaches. Also, keep the following in mind. We are often so used to certain things, that when we hear something new, we think it is wrong because it feels odd. It is like how we cross our arms. We do not really think about it, but some do put the right arm over the left and others do the opposite. When we do it the other way around as we used to, then it feels weird. However, you understand that when this feels weird, does not mean that it is the wrong way of crossing arms. The same with this teaching. It may sound unfamiliar to you, but that does not mean it is wrong.
A little more about this. If something sounds the opposite as we are used to, it does not have to be wrong. It can be that the truth is somewhere in the middle and for some reason the balance is lost. It can be that part A of the truth is overstated and that this resulted in wrong teachings. When the other part B of the truth is revealed again later, it often happens that many will follow part B of the truth and reject all wrong teachings about part A. Even the good of part A. Doing so, this results in the same mistake as before by focusing too much at part B of the truth. Due to my writings, I try to get the balance back and give the complete truth about the topics I write about.
To come back to the topic of this post. Before the reformation of Martin Luther (1483-1546), there were indulgences. The idea of an indulgence was to reduce punishment for sinning by buying such an indulgence (and say a prayer, do some good works, and/or visit certain places). Due to the ideas of Martin Luther, a reformation started. This reformation resulted in the Protestant Church which rejected the teachings of indulgences. Instead, the Protestant Church confessed the teaching of being saved by grace through faith. There is more to the reformation than this extremely short description, but this is the most important for this writing. In most churches which have come forth from the ideas of the reformation, being saved by grace is a very important teaching. This teaching is based on the Bible, but also a response against the teaching of indulgences. Other teachings that may sound like that we can earn eternal life are therefore immediately rejected. But is this completely in line with the Bible?
The main question is: If we are saved by grace, does it matter what I do? To answer this question, I will write about what it means to be saved while answering two questions. The first is about what we are saved from and the second is about what we are saved to. First we will read an important passage relating this topic which will help us answer these questions. Answering these questions will make it clear what God wants for our lives today.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~ Ephesians 2,1-10 ~
Saved by Grace: Saved from?
Let’s start with the question ‘Saved from what?’ As we read Ephesians 2,1-10, it is remarkable how radical this passage starts. It claims that we were dead because of sin. This means that we are spiritually dead and cannot have a relationship with God. Furthermore, it means that we were not free from Satan, the ruler of the Kingdom of the air (note: the Kingdom of the air, not heaven). The Kingdom of the air can also be referred to as the Kingdom of Darkness. What else can we learn from this passage from Ephesians 2. It also states that we were following the selfish lusts of our flesh. Because of all this, we were deserving the wrath of God. To sum this up. We were all born spiritually dead and deserving of God’s wrath because we were enslaved to sin and to Satan.
Before continuing how we can be saved from such a horrible state, let’s first look at how it came to this. From Genesis 1-3 we can learn that God created the whole universe. He created everything perfect. God also created mankind and even more, he appointed mankind to rule over the earth in his place. However, due to the craftiness of Satan, mankind fell into sin and lost its position as ruler over creation. The result was that every human being was born enslaved to sin and to the influence of Satan ever since. Everyone. Except Jesus!
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” ~ Matthew 1,18-23 ~
Jesus: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10,45 ~
Jesus: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” ~ John 12,31-32
While Jesus was fully God, he came as a human being to earth (read more about this in Philippians 2). He came to save mankind from their sin, to triumph over the prince of this world (that is Satan) and to give his life as a ransom. What does this all mean? As we read in Ephesians 2, because of Jesus we can be made alive again. That would mean that we have to be delivered from the influence of sin and Satan, and also that our debt because of our sin is paid. This is exactly what we read in the above three passages and is also confirmed in the following passages:
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~ Colossians 1,13-14 ~
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. ~ Colossians 2,9-15 ~
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. ~ Hebrews 2,14-15 ~
It is clear from these passages that Jesus indeed gave his life as a ransom for our transgressions. And besides, he also broke the power of sin and defeated Satan. This is amazing and it is all by the grace of God. We can never deserve to be made alive in Christ. The only way is to have faith in God. What we can do, however, is that we are disobedient and keep under God’s wrath. So, what we should do to become alive is just what the Apostle Peter taught at Pentecost:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” ~ Acts 2,38 ~
To make a long story short.
- First, when we repent from our sins and trust God for Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for the debt of our sins, we will be forgiven (See for example: Romans 4,25; 1 John 1,9; 1 John 2,1-2).
- Then we are baptized. We lay our old sinful life on Jesus in His baptism when we go under water. Jesus overcomes the temptation of sin for us in the desert and finally breaks the power of our enslaving sins when he lets them die on the cross. When we rise out of the water, we are rising with Jesus from the grave. Then we are free from our old life and start a new life as a child of God (See for example: 1 Corinthians 6,11; 2 Corinthians 5,17 & 21; Romans 4,25).
- Because we are children of God, we will be empowered with the Holy Spirit when we are baptized in the Spirit by the laying on of hands. Then we will be anointed to fulfil Jesus’ mission for us on earth (See for example: Acts 1,8; Acts 8,14-17; Acts 19,1-7).
These are all fundamental elements of the Christian faith as we can also read in Hebrews 6,1-2:
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. ~ Hebrews 6,1-2 ~
For more elaborate information about becoming alive in Christ, one can check for example John 3 & Romans 6-8. If you still have questions about this and the steps of repentance, faith, baptism with water, and baptism in the Spirit, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us here. For now, I want to continue with the last question: what are saved to?
Saved by Grace: Saved to?
About the saving plan from God (to save us from the wrath of God, from sin and the influence of Satan as we discussed in the previous section), we can also find a foreshadow of this in the Old Testament. When considering the story of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, one can see several important parallels. When the Israelites are trusting God and accept a substitutionary sacrificial lamb, they are saved from God’s punishment. When they leave Egypt and go through the Red sea, they are set free from the enslavement of the Egyptians. When they come to Mount Sinai, they receive the Law. Traditionally, the giving of the Law was celebrated at Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles. However, the LORD did not bring the Israelites out of Egypt to just live in the desert. The Israelites were delivered out of Egypt to go and live in the Promised Land.
Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 10. Although the Israelites saw the great and mighty signs the LORD performed and were baptized in the sea and in the cloud (representing the baptism with water and in the Spirit), most of them did not enter the promised land. What does this have to do with grace? Through Jesus’ work on earth we are saved from God’s wrath and set free from the bondage of sin and Satan. But Jesus was proclaiming most of the time the coming of the Kingdom of God. To be part of the Kingdom of God, one has to become like a child (Matthew 18,3 & 19,14) and needs to be born of water and the Spirit (John 3,5). This is what was discussed in the previous section, that one needs to become born again to be saved. However, in John 3 it states that it is required to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. This does not mean that everyone who is born again will automatically enter the Kingdom of God. Also, to be part of the Kingdom of God, does not automatically mean that one will enter the Kingdom of God itself. This is what Paul is warning for in 1 Corinthians 10. That not all the Israelites who were delivered from Egypt entered the Promised land, is a warning for us about entering the Kingdom of God. Next to Paul, also Jude, the brother of Jesus and James, writes about this:
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. ~ 1 Corinthians 10,6 ~
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. ~ Jude 1,5 ~
What we must understand is that we are called to do God’s will. In Ephesians 2 we could read that we are saved by grace. This is not something we have earned because of any good deed, but because God had mercy on us. But what most people forget is verse 10. This verse states that we are called to do good works. Let me clarify this by the following Words of Jesus:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5,14-16 ~
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” ~ Matthew 7,21-23 ~
In the first passage we find Jesus talking about good deeds. It states people will glorify the Father in heaven because of these deeds. Many Christians think about good deeds like any kind of charity when they read this passage. Of course such deeds are good, but anyone can do such a thing and most people will not give glory to the Father because of such works. Besides, the good deeds that Paul writes about in Ephesians 2, are deeds prepared by God. This makes it clear that these deeds are things we cannot do by ourselves, but only because we are born again. It is comparable to what is written in John 20,30-31. There John states that he recorded Jesus’ signs so we might believe. In the same way, we are called to be witnesses through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1,8). Also Paul did not testify with words primarily, but through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2,1-5). In the same way, we are called to do good works as a sign, so people experience the power of God and understand that Jesus is real and alive (See also 1 Corinthians 4,20 & 2 Corinthians 5,7).
In the second passage above, we find Jesus teaching about entering the Kingdom of Heaven (that is the Kingdom of God). Jesus talks about two conditions why people will not enter. The first is that people do not do the Father’s will and the second is that they are evildoers. The second condition is easy to understand. Because we are set free from sin, we ought not to live enslaved by sin again. In many occasions in the epistles of the apostles this is made clear (see for example Romans 6,1-2 & 1 John 2,1). About the first condition, what does it mean that those who do not do the will of the Father, will not enter the Kingdom of God? We already know that someone needs to be born again before they can even go into the Kingdom of God. But from these two passages and Ephesians 2, we learn that after someone is born again, that person needs to remain free from sin and do the Father’s will. The latter has to do with doing good deeds which are pointing to Jesus, so people will glorify the Father and believe. To sum this up and for clarity, both groups that are not allowed to enter into the Kingdom of God in Matthew 7,21-24, are representing born again believers. Only, the first group is not living for the glory of Jesus, and the second group is not living holy (although they perform signs in Jesus’ Name). That is the reason why both groups are not allowed to enter the Kingdom of God. So, after being born again, someone needs to live holy and for the glory of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, what shall we do now? Of course, when you are not born again, make sure you are (we are happy to help you with that, contact us here or send an email to email@example.com). If you are born again, make sure you grow in faith, then you become stronger and stronger and will be able to help others and will be warmly welcomed into the Eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ (see 1 John 2,12-14 & 2 Peter 1,10-11). If you desire to grow in faith and obey Jesus. The Jesus Course is a great opportunity to receive Biblical teaching and personal mentoring to help you live a life of really following Jesus.
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” ~ Revelation 22,12-13 ~
To conclude, “Saved by Grace” means that we are saved from the punishment because of our sins, but also that we are delivered from the power of sin and Satan. We do not deserve this, but we are saved because of God’s mercy. Besides, we are empowered by God with the Holy Spirit. This we also do not deserve, but it is because of God’s grace to enable us to live righteous. Living through the power of the Holy Spirit makes us live like Jesus on earth and so we receive a rich welcome into the Eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. I hope you are blessed by this teaching and will obey Jesus in your life. Honestly, if you have questions about this teaching, don’t hesitate to contact us (here or via firstname.lastname@example.org). We are open to answer your questions and want to help you the best we can.
God bless you,
Founder of Experience Jesus