I won’t labor the point, but the Bible tells us over and over and over again that because of sin and rebellion, people, left to themselves, are not in a right relationship with God. Left to ourselves, we aren’t where God wants us to be. Left to ourselves we aren’t who God wants us to be. There’s nothing in and of ourselves that we can show God to commend ourselves to him. That’s just Christianity 101.
As you’ve heard me say before, God didn’t look down from heaven and say:
“My goodness, Dale Tedder is a righteous guy. He’s outstanding. He’s moving in the right direction. I think since he’s already doing such a great job, I’ll go ahead and bless him.”
It was Moses who told the people Israel that God didn’t choose them because they were the richest, largest, or most powerful nation.
You see, God bestows favor because that’s who God is. That’s his nature or his character to act in such a gracious way. GRACE, by definition, is voluntary – it’s NOT because of anything that we bring to the table. God never owes anyone grace.
There was a joke that made the email rounds a few years ago that attempts to make this point.
There was a man who died and, you guessed it, appeared before St. Peter. St. Peter asked him, “What have you done to get into heaven? Think hard… because you have to get 100 points to make it.” So the guy said smugly, “Well, I went to church every Sunday. I tithed regularly. And I attended every Bible study offered.” “Great,” said St. Peter. “That’s one point.”
Sort of shocked, the man said, “Well… I also fed the hungry, participated in a prison ministry, provided clothes for poor, and took care of orphans.” “Awesome,” replied Peter, “that’s another point.”
Well, as you can imagine, by this time the guy is getting desperate. He starts mentioning things like being an Eagle Scout, coaching little league baseball, and breaking for penguins… just to get some points.
Well, after several hours of this, the exhausted guy had accumulated only five meager points. Feeling completely broken and full of despair, he finally uttered, “I don’t know what else I can add. I guess I’ll have to throw myself on
the mercy of the court.” To which St. Peter responded, “Ah, GRACE – 95 points… come on in.”
Now that’s a cute story and we all the get the point. But the biblical version of that story would be…
You see, if we could earn God’s favor, we wouldn’t need GRACE. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:21…
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, [that is, by doing good works] Christ died for nothing!
That’s why Paul says in our Ephesians text – It’s by GRACE. It’s a GIFT. Interestingly, the Greek word for GRACE is charis. The Greek word for GIFT is charisma. You see… GRACE is a GIFT. You can’t earn it. You don’t pay for it.
Charles Swindoll drives the point home with this illustration. He writes…
Imagine coming to a friend’s house who has invited you over to enjoy a meal. You finish the delicious meal and then listen to some fine music and visit for a while. Finally, you stand up and get your coat as you prepare to leave. But before you leave you reach into your pocket and say, “Now, how much do I owe you.” (Swindoll, p. 10)
Can you imagine how insulting that would be to your friend? Well, how much more insulting would it be to Christ to say, I know you died on the Cross for me, but how much do I owe you?” As Paul said, if you could earn salvation by doing good works, then Christ died for nothing.
But this is a hard idea for our culture to grasp, isn’t it? We live in the land of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” We live in the land of rugged individualism where we’re told we have “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” We have a hard time receiving something that we didn’t earn… that we didn’t pay for.
Now, looking at our text, we might also ask this question: “Why is our salvation by grace? Why is it a free gift from God?” Well, Paul gives us an answer in verse 9. He says…
…so that no one can boast.
Can you imagine heaven being filled with people taking credit for their salvation? “Here’s what I did to get here?” “Oh, that’s nothing, here’s what I did?” Instead of people saturated in humility, gratitude, and joy… heaven would be filled with proud people who believed that God simply gave them what he owed them – based on their earthly performance. Can you imagine a greater insult to God? That kind of thinking robs God of his glory and seeks to give it to us. That’s why Paul said in Galatians 2:21 that he would not set aside (or compromise) the grace of God.
The point of all that I’ve said thus far is this: there’s no salvation – that is, there’s no right relationship with God – without GRACE.
Stay tuned for part 3.
Grace and Truth,