Saved: Is it through faith, a free gift, or through good works?
If I give you a one-euro coin as a gift, you won’t be overflowing with enthusiasm; you’ll wonder why I gave you that coin, and perhaps you’ll start laughing!
If I give you another one-euro coin, saying, “Here’s another gift,” you’ll be even more surprised. And if I keep giving them to you until you have twenty, your interest will gradually grow, but you still won’t understand what I’m trying to show you.
If, instead of a one-euro coin, I offer you a thousand-euro check, I can be sure that you’ll be happy. And if I increase the amount to a hundred thousand euros, you’ll look at me with amazement, thinking, “I’m lucky!” You’ll jump for joy and immediately want to go and tell everyone about what just happened to you. What fantastic news to share with those around you! As long as you live, you’ll want to tell this story!
“Hey, have I ever told you about the famous hundred thousand euros I was given one day?”
And God has given us so many gifts! Everyone is free to claim them or not. You can be content with receiving only the one-euro gifts. One isn’t very enthusiastic about one euro; it doesn’t make the heart beat faster. You don’t start shedding tears of joy and gratitude thinking about God’s generosity. So, whose fault is it? God’s? Certainly not. We simply live in a one-euro world!
Many well-meaning Christians consider the gift of eternal life as a one-euro gift. They believe they must strive to live a moral life worthy of their “free gift.” And all their efforts to live up to it put them under such tension that they wonder if it’s really worth being a Christian.
No wonder they’re not so eager to share the Good News with others! For them, the Christian life is: going to church on Sundays, abstaining from all worldly pleasures, and on top of that, giving as an offering the money they hard-earned during the week.
If that’s your “salvation,” I understand why you spend your evenings watching television and never think of talking to your neighbor or the passerby on the street about God’s wonderful love for us. In your experience, God’s gift is a one-euro gift. So why would you seek to receive more? One-euro trinkets are something we can easily do without!
But if you received a gift of a thousand euros, you would be more than willing to receive more of the same kind! And you would go and tell others how they can claim theirs.
Everyone loves thousand-euro gifts. People spend millions every year, hoping to win big by investing very little. Everyone has an innate desire to receive valuable gifts.
I can assure you that God’s gifts are worth much more than millions! He doesn’t give them only to those of us who show a minimum of good behavior: Christ has already paid the price for every gift that God desires to give us. God says:
“I will destroy all human plans regarding salvation, no matter how wise they may seem, and I will not consider human conceptions, however brilliant they may be” (1 Corinthians 1:19).
Receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life for free certainly does not align with our ordinary way of thinking. We generally believe that we receive only what we deserve or what we can buy. That God would offer a completely free gift seems so unthinkable that we try to add conditions by saying, “I can receive this gift only if I do this or that.”
“It is from God and God alone that you receive life in Jesus Christ,” writes Paul. He was the only one to make us acceptable in God’s eyes; he made us pure and holy and gave himself as the price of our salvation” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
When you hear such news, the big question for you is to decide whether or not Christ has the authority and power to give you eternal life without you having to do anything to deserve it. If you think he does not have this power or authority, then you must do something yourself to be right with God. Your whole life, you must strive to live up to his requirements. But the Word of God asserts that no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to live as he wants. And your effort to prove your own righteousness amounts to accusing God of lying. Paul writes:
“Through Christ, all of God’s goodness has been poured out on us, sinners who deserved nothing, and now he sends us out into the whole world to proclaim to all peoples the wonders he has accomplished for us” (Romans 1:5).
Paul had cashed some of those thousand-euro checks, and he was so happy about it! He wanted the whole world to know.
“This Good News tells us that God makes us ready for heaven, that he makes us righteous in his own eyes when we place our faith and trust in Christ to be saved” (Romans 1:17).
Paul affirms that God makes us capable and prepares us. If God does it, can we be sure it’s well done? Can we improve on what he has accomplished? Will you be fit to meet him at the end of this life as he will have made you? Even at the cost of all possible and imaginable efforts, you cannot make yourself “good.”
“No one can win God’s favor by their good conduct. The more we know God’s laws, the more we realize that we do not obey them” (Romans 3:20).
The more you know what is good, the more you realize that you are bad. Only a proud heart believes it has some goodness in itself. Christ is the only force in the world that is selfless and sinless. It is his presence in you that makes you better than the greatest sinner of all time, and nothing else!
“Can we boast of making or earning our salvation? No. Why?
Because our acquittal does not depend on our good works. It is based on what Christ has accomplished and on our faith in him. So, we are saved by faith and not by the good works we can do” (Romans 3:27-28).
This doctrine of faith is not new in itself, Paul notes. Abraham, he explains, was never accepted by God because of his good works but because of his faith. Abraham was not a “good” man, even if he is considered according to the morality of his time. While traveling in a foreign land, he knew that his belongings, livestock, or even his beautiful wife could be stolen. To make his journey safer, he decided to pass his wife Sarah off as his sister.
“In this way,” he thought, “any potential suitor who might become dangerous will offer me his favor instead of trying to kill me.” And indeed, the king saw Sarah and wanted to marry her. She was taken to the palace, and Abraham was showered with gifts.
What did Abraham do then? Did he try to save his wife? Not at all. He simply enjoyed his good fortune. God himself had to intervene and show the king that Abraham had deceived him. Would you accept Abraham as a member of your church? Think about it carefully.
God obviously accepted Abraham, not because of his good morals, but because he believed in Him. His faith was accepted in place of his good works. In our eyes, Abraham was not a good man, but in God’s eyes, he was good because he believed.
You might think that your goodness of heart is superior to that of Abraham or others you know, but in God’s eyes, man is entirely a sinner. It is not the percentage of “good” or “bad” in us that determines our salvation or our usefulness in the kingdom of God. Abraham did not earn his entry into heaven as a reward for his good works. Paul writes:
“Being saved is a gift; if it could be earned by the good we do, it would no longer be a gift. But yet, it is one! It is given to those who have done nothing to earn it. For God acquits sinners if they believe that Christ saves them from God’s wrath” (Romans 4:5).
We have made ourselves good in the eyes of God! If you truly believed that, wouldn’t you want to jump for joy? Wouldn’t you go and tell others how easy it is to become a Christian? Just think about this: there are millions of people around you genuinely believing that one becomes a Christian through good behavior. And they know very well that they never succeed in becoming good enough. How dull and dark their future must be! How much they need to hear the Good News!
God’s gift is free! Paul writes:
“If it is by God’s kindness that we are saved, it is not by our merits. If, on the contrary, our actions have some value, it is no longer a gift” (Romans 11:6).
This text is an excerpt from the book “Power of Praise ” written by Merlin R. Carothers.