By Grace Alone

As we come to think about being saved by grace alone you’ll realise how closely tied it is to last week’s post on being saved by faith alone; the two are indivisibly tied together. That we are saved by grace alone has some significant implications for how sure we can be of our salvation and how we think of ourselves. Firstly, a quote from Martin Luther summarising a little bit of what the Reformers thought about grace alone, and then a second quote from Article X from the Book of Common Prayer.

If the Pope would concede that God alone by His grace through Christ justifies sinners, we would carry him in our arms, we would kiss his feet.
— Martin Luther, A Commentary of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will
— Article X, Book of Common Prayer

The quote from Martin Luther reveals how significant our justification (God’s declaration that we are righteous) was for the reformers. Here he implies that it is one of the most significant things the separated them from the Roman Catholic church. The Article expands things a little more, notice they key ideas, that we can’t turn to God in faith by our own strength, nor can we do good works in our own power, it is God in his grace who must act and continues to act in our lives. The slightly strange phrase “without the grace of God by Christ preventing us” simply means without the God grace acting first, so that our will would be turned to him. The idea is that God must act in grace towards us before we can turn to him. This is the centre of the idea of justification by grace alone, that we are justified because God acts in grace before we have done, or desired to do, anything good in ourselves.

Why does this matter so much? 

There are two key areas where I think this really matters, our assurance of salvation and, how we think of ourselves. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 brings out both ideas:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
— (Eph 2:8–10, ESV)

It’s God’s unconditional grace, rooted in his love for his world, that has saved us. Paul explicitly says that it’s not of our works. The things we do, or don’t do, don’t contribute to our salvation, it’s something we have been freely given. Therefore, we don’t need to be seeking to judge our own lives or works to see whether they are good enough for God – because that’s not what God saves us based on. If we’re struggling with assurance that we’re one of God’s children we need to look back to God’s love for the world, so much that he gave up his Son, and remind ourselves that or salvation comes freely as a gift of grace, not based on what we’ve done. 

Secondly, notice that salvation by grace alone means that no-one has any grounds for boasting. Boasting points to yourself, it says “Look how good I am,” if our actions had some part in our salvation then we might find grounds for boasting in who we are or what we’ve done. But, as our salvation is based on God’s grace alone the only person we can point to and boast in is him. Salvation by grace alone is a great leveller, it puts us all as those who had nothing to offer God, but were saved by his grace anyway.

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