Book: By Grace You Have Been Saved— Now What?

As we saw in Ephesians 2:8-9, salvation is by God’s grace. But what is the “grace of God”? Simply put, it is God’s favor, mercy or goodwill toward us. Grace implies that something has been done freely by someone who was under no obligation to do so—and that the recipient will never be required to “pay” for such graciousness. It is by God’s freely given grace—His love, favor and mercy—that you and I are saved. God is in no way “obligated” to save us—and you could never “earn” such salvation. Salvation, then, is the result of God’s gracious favor toward us—completely free on His part, and undeserved on our part.

God’s grace, or favor, is an expression of His unfathomable love toward us—while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). As an expression of God’s love, He “gave His only begotten Son” as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, “so that everyone who believes in Him”—which, as we will see, implies obedience to His teachings—“may not perish, but may have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Belief in Christ and acceptance of His sacrifice—coupled with genuine repentance of sin, which is the transgression of God’s law (I John 3:4)—leads to God’s forgiveness of sin and the removal of the ultimate penalty, the second death. This is all accomplished as part of the “operation of grace”—God’s free, unmerited favor.

But God’s grace or favor involves more than just the forgiveness of sin. To be “under grace” denotes a continual relationship between God and the believer—in which the believer is continually receiving God’s divine love, favor, blessing, help, gifts and goodness. Grace establishes a new spiritual relationship between the believer and God the Father and Jesus Christ. Through the unearned gift of God’s favor, the believer is called, chosen, forgiven and accepted by God the Father, and begotten with the Holy Spirit, making him or her a child of God and an heir of eternal life—which is granted in the first resurrection at Jesus’ return.

As the Scriptures reveal, living “under grace” requires the believer to live by every word of God with complete love and devotion to God the Father and Jesus Christ. When God forgives you for breaking His law, He expects you to no longer live in sin. Grace in no way grants one license to practice sin by ignoring or rejecting the commandments of God. Only those who keep His commandments can abide in His love and remain under His grace. Every believer who receives the grace of God has a personal obligation to God the Father and Jesus Christ to forsake his or her old, sinful thoughts and practices and to live a new life, daily growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Again, Jesus says to all of His followers, “If you love Me, keep the commandments...” (John 14:15).

As a new believer, you must be determined to live by God’s laws and commandments, following Christ’s example with the help of God’s Spirit. Sin will still occur, but sin will cease to be your way of life. For every believer who lives under grace, Jesus Christ acts as Redeemer, High Priest and Advocate. If and when a Christian sins, Jesus—upon the believer’s repentance—intercedes before the Father to obtain His mercy and grace, thus becoming the propitiation for such sins. “However, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His own Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we do not have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our own sins, He is faithful and righteous, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (I John 1:7-10). Notice also: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And yet, if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father; Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the propitiation [continuous atonement] for our sins; and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this standard we know that we know Him: if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. On the other hand, if anyone is keeping His Word, truly in this one the love of God is being perfected. By this means we know that we are in Him. Anyone who claims to dwell in Him is obligating himself also to walk even as He Himself walked” (I John 2:1-6). John also shows that the Christian under grace does not practice sin: “Everyone who has been begotten by God does not practice sin because His seed of begettal is dwelling within him, and he is not able to practice sin because he has been begotten by God” (I John 3:9).

Far from abolishing the laws and commandments of God, the personal relationship between God the Father, Jesus Christ and the true believer—which is based on grace—establishes the law through love and obedience.

Law, Grace—or Both?

In His love, God gave man at creation a fundamental law to show him how to live. Indeed, living God’s way is the key to true, lasting happiness. This basic law of God has existed since creation, and was later codified for the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. It is, in fact, an eternal law (Psa. 119:144).

When Christ was asked to name the greatest of all laws, He replied, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second one is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). Summed up, this is the law of love.

Notice Christ did not say that the two great laws of loving God and loving fellow man replaced the Law and the Prophets. Rather, He said the Law and the Prophets are based on the law of love—as instruction in how to love both God and fellow man. The laws of God reflect His very nature, and include the Ten Commandments, plus principles such as peace, mercy and giving. The breaking of God’s spiritual law— not the failure to perform rituals or sacrifices—is sin (I John 3:4).

After stating in no uncertain terms that He had not come to annul God’s laws (Matt. 5:17-18), Jesus expounded on the spiritual application of God’s law in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7). He explained that Christians must live by the spirit of each of the commandments of God, not merely the letter. The “beatitudes” of Matthew five are a wonderful profile of God’s very nature—the perfect way He lives. This is the way Christ tells His followers to become: “Therefore, you shall be [become] perfect, even as your Father Who is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This is your ultimate goal, and is a life-long process.

The spirit and intent of God’s fundamental law is love—which reflects the very nature and character of God Himself, for God is love (I John 4:8, 16). Each commandment, precept or statute of God reflects a different aspect of His very nature—the nature He intends for you to develop as you go through life. Practicing God’s laws is practicing godliness—building in you the habits of thinking and acting according to God’s very nature. Through your loving obedience, God is progressively writing His laws of love in your heart and mind. Indeed, a new covenant between God and man has replaced the old one. Does this mean the law of God is obsolete? Let’s read the terms of the New Covenant: “ ‘This is the [new] covenant that I will establish with them after those days,’ says the Lord. ‘I will [write] My laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them in their minds’ ” (Heb. 10:16). Thus, the laws and commandments of God are just as valid today under the New Covenant as they were under the old. In fact, God’s laws are even more binding on the Christian because God requires obedience of His begotten sons and daughters from the heart, in the spirit of the law as amplified and magnified by Jesus (Matt. 5-7). This molding of God’s very nature in the converted Christian is at the heart of developing the “mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5).

Is Law-Keeping Opposed to Grace?

When it comes to law and grace, is it really a case of “eitheror”? Is God’s law somehow opposed to His grace?

Let’s understand. While God’s laws are typically held in disdain and looked upon as a burdensome set of legalistic “rules,” the Bible reveals that they are actually a reflection of His love—of His very nature. “For this is the love of God: that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3). God lovingly gave man His basic laws at creation—intended for all humanity, for all time—so we would know how to live. God’s laws protect us— keep us from the harm, unhappiness, pain and death that comes from living contrary to God’s way.

King David, a man after God’s own heart, considered God’s law a great blessing. Notice his positive approach to the Creator’s laws, commandments and precepts: “I will never forget Your commandments, for with them You have given me life.... O how love I Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients because I keep Your precepts. I have held back my feet from every evil way, so that I might keep Your word. I have not departed from Your ordinances, for You have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa. 119:93, 97-105). He adds, “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.... Great peace have those who love Your law, and there is no stumbling block for them” (verses 129-130, 165).

The law of God defines sin so we can avoid it—like a traffic sign warns a driver of impending danger. Notice what Paul also wrote: “What then shall we say? Is the law sin? MAY IT NEVER BE! But I had not known sin, except through the law. Furthermore, I would not have been conscious of lust, except that the law said, ‘You shall not covet’ ” (Rom. 7:7). In verse 12, he added: “Therefore, the law is indeed holy, and the commandment holy and righteous and good.”

On the other hand, grace has a completely different operation. Through God’s grace, or His divine favor, He forgives and removes your past sins—removing the death penalty caused by those sins. This of course is accomplished by faith through Christ’s sacrifice—His shed blood (Rom. 3:24-25).

Thus, you need God’s grace and forgiveness because you have broken His law! When you repent of such law-breaking (sin), you receive His grace, whereby you are forgiven. Clearly, you do not begin intentionally sinning again by breaking God’s law!

Regrettably, mainstream evangelists often quote Ephesians 2:8—“for by grace you have been saved through faith”—in order to assure their followers that there is nothing they must do to be saved except to “accept Jesus” or “give their heart to the Lord.” This supposedly puts one under “grace”—which these preachers interpret to mean “no law.” They falsely portray law and grace as being irreconcilable opposites. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Indeed, there is a prerequisite for God’s grace—a precondition. It is simply this: If one is to come under God’s saving grace, he or she must genuinely repent of sin and have faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice and His shed blood. However—and note this carefully—this prerequisite in no way earns one God’s favor or grace. God’s grace is a gift— given freely. And God will not carelessly grant such grace to anyone who is opposed to His way of life—which is defined by His holy, righteous laws. Only those willing to fully live God’s way of life—as evidenced by their genuine “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8)—can come under God’s saving grace.

Similarly, there are obligations placed on the believer once he or she has come under God’s grace. You are to continue in God’s way of life—which, again, is defined by His laws and precepts as spiritually amplified in the New Testament. Why would you go back to breaking God’s laws—which would put you back under the death penalty?

The book of James shows us that law and grace (faith) go handin-hand. “In the same way also, faith, if it does not have [good] works [of obedience], is dead, by itself. But someone is going to say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ My answer is: You prove your faith to me through your works, and I will prove my faith to you through my works” (James 2:17-18).

Does this mean that Christians are perfect and never sin? No, you will always struggle against sin to one degree or another (I John 1:8 -9). The key is that you do not practice sin as a way of life (I John 3:9). As long as you are striving to stay close to God and Christ and live by every word of God, you remain under God’s grace—even when you slip. God forgives you because you remain in a continually repentant attitude.

But note this critical point well: Commandment-keeping cannot “earn” you salvation. Salvation is made possible only through Christ’s sacrifice—and is God’s gift to you. Paul makes this very clear: “Therefore, by works of law [any kind of works or law-keeping] there shall no flesh be justified before Him; for through the law is the knowledge of sin [the purpose of the law is to identify sin]. But now, the righteousness of God [the justification which God grants] that is separate from law [separate from works or law-keeping] has been revealed [in Christ], being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets; even the righteousness of God that is through the faith of Jesus Christ, toward all and upon all those who believe; for there is no difference” (Rom. 3:20-22).

The penalty of past law-breaking—which is death—cannot be erased by any amount of future law-keeping. Future obedience to God does not nullify past disobedience. Only continuous repentance and confession of sins—and true faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—can keep you in a state of justification and salvation. But future obedience is absolutely required if you are to remain under God’s grace.

Faith Leads to Obedience

Faith is complete trust in God. It is the belief that God will deliver what He has promised. This belief enables and motivates you to comply with God’s commands. As a primary example for Christians today, it was faith or belief that motivated Abraham to obey God. “For the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, that he should be heir of the world, was not given through law; rather, it was through the righteousness of faith.... For this reason it is of faith, in order that it might be by grace, to the end that the promise might be certain to all the seed—not to the one who is of the law only, but also to the one who is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (exactly as it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’) before God in Whom he believed, Who gives life to the dead, and calls the things that are not as though they are; and who against hope believed in hope, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, ‘So shall your seed be.’ And he, not being weak in the faith, considered not his own body, already having become dead, being about one hundred years old, nor did he consider the deadness of Sarah’s womb; and he did not doubt the promise of God through unbelief; rather, he was strengthened in the faith, giving glory to God; for he was fully persuaded that what He has promised, He is also able to do. As a result, it was also imputed to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:13, 16-22).

Faith and obedience are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they are inextricably linked together. James cites two examples of faith when he writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works [with faith] when he offered up Isaac, his own son, upon the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works his faith was perfected? And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Now Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness;’ and he was called a friend of God. You see, then, that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Now, in the same manner also, was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when, after receiving the messengers, she sent them out a different way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, in the same way also, faith without works is dead” (James 2:21-26). This living and acting “by faith” is actually obedience. In Hebrews 11, we see numerous examples of those who lived and acted “by faith” (Heb. 11:4-5, 7-8, 11, 17, 20-23, 27-31).

Although you cannot be justified by “works” of obedience, you cannot live a life of walking with Christ without them. It is faith— which God gives—that makes you both willing and able to obey God and do the good works He desires (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 2:13).

Faith, then, is trust and belief in God, and a readiness to obey Him, knowing that if we do as He commands in a loving attitude from the heart, the things He has promised are sure (Heb. 11:11-19). We trust and believe God when He says He has forgiven us of our sins—and that we are to inherit salvation and eternal life with Him (Eph. 4:32; Col. 2:13; I John 1:9).

“Salvation by Works”?

To say that there are requirements of any kind for salvation is to risk being accused of teaching “salvation by works.” After all, did not Paul say, “not of works, lest any man should boast”? Absolutely. Your salvation does not come as a result of any works you might do. Of and by itself, even a lifetime of commandment-keeping could never “earn” salvation and eternal life. But does this negate the need to do good works?

Those who love to quote Ephesians 2:8-9 seldom add the next verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto the good works that God ordained beforehand in order that we might walk in them” (verse 10). (Be wary of those who only quote biblical passages which seem to support a no-works doctrine. Get the whole story. Christ tells us to live by every word of God, not just a few select passages.) Writing to Titus, Paul says virtually the same thing we just read in Ephesians 2:8-10—that having received God’s forgiveness, we must be diligent to do good works: “This is a faithful saying, and I desire you to strongly affirm all these things, so that those who have believed God may apply themselves to doing good works. These things are good and profitable for men” (Titus 3:8).

It is by developing the habit of good works that Christ is creating godly character in you. But it is a joint effort: God will supply the help you need—your part is to prepare yourself and be ready to “do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). You are to set an “example of good works” in all things (Titus 2:7)—yet, it is God Who will “encourage your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (II Thess. 2:17). As Paul wrote, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you so that in every way you may always have sufficiency in all things, and may abound unto every good work” (II Cor. 9:8). Notice that it is God Who will perfect you in good works. “And may the God of peace, Who raised our Lord Jesus from among the dead—that great Shepherd of the sheep—through the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work in order that you may do His will; accomplishing in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be the glory into the ages of eternity. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).

There is no conflict between faith and works. You must have faith in God’s forgiveness and faith in His power to save you. Neither can be earned—they are by grace. But you must also have the works— loving obedience to God’s laws—by which you develop the mind of Christ. The development of godly nature in us is God’s whole purpose in creating man. But we need God’s grace and forgiveness for those alltoo-frequent times when we fall short of His standards.