Saved by grace or works?
“For 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.
Grace for forgiveness
We can see this in the case of the thief who died on the cross together with Jesus. He turned to Jesus and Jesus received him saying: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise”. Luke 23:43. His sins were forgiven and he was able to go with Jesus into Paradise. He received the forgiveness of sins by grace, even though he had absolutely no works to boast of.
But there is more to salvation than just receiving the forgiveness of sins. Paul writes in Romans 5:10 that after being reconciled to God through Jesus’ death, much more we will be saved through His life. What does it mean to be saved through His life?
Grace means power to do God's will
After we have received the forgiveness of sins and come to faith in Jesus we are able to receive His Spirit. That means we have received the power (grace) we need to do the will of God, just as Jesus did. But then we must deny our own will, according to the flesh. When we do this, we lose our life according to the flesh, but gain a new life according to the Spirit. This is what Jesus speaks about in Luke 9:23,24:
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.’”
In this way a transformation takes place. Our arrogance is being replaced by humility, our hardness by mercy, our impatience by patience etc. Our own works are replaced by God's works. This is much more than just receiving the forgiveness of sins. So we see it is by doing the will of God that we partake of this “much more” salvation.
The salvation of our soul
When we receive the forgiveness of sins our spirit is saved—that is the beginning of our faith. But Peter writes about the end of our faith, the salvation of our soul. This salvation the prophets inquired about when they prophesied about the grace that would come to us. Grace that would make it possible for us to enter the sufferings of Christ and come to the glory that follows—a new and heavenly life! (1 Peter 1:9-11) These are the sufferings that Jesus experienced when He denied himself and took up His cross daily. And now that we have received His Spirit, we have grace over us to follow Him in the same sufferings and come to the same glory.
Our human will lies in our soul, and it is the source of all unrest and conflict. Our soul is saved by following Jesus and losing our life (our self-will) so that we gain a new heavenly life that is in full harmony with the good, acceptable and perfect will of God, able to do His works.
Grace that requires active participation
So we see that this "much more salvation" also means we are saved by grace, but it is a grace that requires our active participation. Although believers who have received the Spirit can be very active when it concerns the outward ministry, it is not uncommon to hear them say: “we can do nothing” when it concerns overcoming sin and living a new life, falsely comforting themselves that they are saved by grace, not by works. But Jesus says, “without Me you can do nothing”. John 15:5.
When we have received Jesus’ Spirit we are able follow Him. If that is our desire, we can deny ourselves and take up our cross daily, and do the will of God. And in this way we can obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
Then we will not have received the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål
You might also be interested in our theme page about Overcoming sin.