Why is salvation by grace so hard to accept?
This doctrine is one of the many points where the Bible is totally out of step with our society!
Romans 5 helps us:
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
We can do nothing to earn favour with God
The first reason salvation by grace is out of step with the world is because the Bible says that we can do nothing to earn favour with God. We are saved by faith not our works.
Being ‘justified through faith’ (verse 1) is a fancy way of saying that a person is mates with God again. How does that happen? Well the answer is there for all the read ‘through faith… through our Lord Jesus Christ’.
The ‘therefore’ at the being of the verse tells you that it is making the argument based on something already said. This passage is written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome, many of whom would have had Jewish origins, meaning they were descendants of Israel and would have grown up knowing the history in the Old Testament of how God had saved them.
A quick history lesson – the Father of Israel, a guy named Abraham – is the one who heard the original promises from God that he would save his people – in fact that is the topic of the chapter immediately before. Paul explains how God had credited Abraham as righteous – ‘What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3 c.f. Gen 15:6). Now what is significant about this, is that at the time Abraham was credited as righteous – Abraham had done no work, he had no law to follow (that came later with Moses), he had no birthmark, he had no distinct sign that marked him as special (like circumcision – to mark out a person of Israel, came later) – and yet, Abraham was declared righteous.
The point here, is that God declares Abraham on the basis of faith to be right with him – not on the basis of any effort on Abraham’s part.
For Christians in Rome, and so also today – God justifies them through faith through Jesus, not because of any human effort.
That is a very different picture to our society. We are taught, if you want something good, then you must earn it. At school, it is your homework or exams that determine your assessment mark. At university, it is your essays and assignments which determine your results. In the workforce, it is the promotion or the KPI’s that you need to meet in order to get the pay rise. And so it goes. But with God, it is not by our efforts it is through faith in Christ.
It is about hope
The second reason that salvation by grace is totally out of step with the world has to do with hope.
There is a connection drawn between grace and hope in verse 2 – it reads: ‘We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.’
Christians have access by faith into this grace – in which we now stand. Can you see that this is a present reality for those in faith? – they ‘now stand’.
Our world tends to think of ‘hope’ sort of like ‘wishful thinking’ – like winning the lotto (‘I hope I win the jackpot’), but that is not the Bible’s view of hope at all. Hope is a sure thing because of God’s grace in Jesus.
Consider for a moment what that means for the person of faith – they ‘rejoice in the [certain] hope of the glory of God’. Every time a person gets baptised (like our Philippian Jailer), every time a person declares that they are a follower of Jesus – they are declaring that they accept what Jesus has done for them and also what that means for their glorious future. They rejoice in hope.
Does that mean that a Christian should expect everything to be all roses – not at all! Christian hope is not simply present when things are good, but also has relevance when things are not so good. Read on in our passage. Verse 3 ‘we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.’
Is that not strange to our ears? Rejoice in suffering!
It is strange because the hope on offer in our world is lost when suffering comes. If all we live for is what can be offered in the here and now, then at some point that will be found to be wanting. Suffering, for any reason at all, is one such point.
With Jesus, suffering cannot take away Christian hope because even if suffering leads drastically to the point of death, there is more – there is peace forever with God.
It is not uncommon to hear reports of Christians suffering for their faith. There are many theatres of war where those most targeted are those who hold to a Christian faith. To be attacked, to be beaten, to be exiled or even to be killed is hardly something to rejoice in. Yet this experience does not mean hope is void – in fact, those who do suffer will often say that it is at those times when hope is most important.
If Christian hope is simply ‘wishful thinking’ then Christians should be pitied more than anyone. Conversely, if worldly hope is to be taken seriously, then it must find an answer for suffering.
It tells us something about ourselves that we don’t like to admit
The third reason salvation by grace is out of step with the world is because it tells us something about ourselves which deep down we know is true but we do not like to admit.
Verse 6 identifies me as someone who is ungodly. Verse 8 calls me a ‘sinner’. Not a very popular notion!
I quite like thinking of myself as a good person, and I am sure given the opportunity you also would like to be seen as a good person. Generally we are – give or take the occasional traffic infringement or swear word – Yes, we are good people! But, I am not sure anyone would want to put their hand up and say they were perfect. And that is the point.
If not perfect then a sinner – and this passage is reminding us that deep down we are powerless, ungodly and sinners.
Paint me with the brush of sin and you paint a portrait of an unrighteous man – and I wish I could say otherwise, but I have been painting a masterpiece with sin!
So how do mostly good people, if not by their efforts, come to have peace with one who is perfect? How do the unrighteous become righteous? The answer is that Jesus took our place – ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’.
Jesus did not need to die for a righteous man, he had to die as a righteous man. In order that we mostly good people might be made completely righteous in God’s sight.
Why is that so necessary?
Simply, as verses 9 to 11 state, it is because all, without Jesus, are God’s enemies. Being an enemy of another is hardly comforting. Being an enemy of the God of the universe should be terrifying! And without someone to step between us and God, then we are in the firing line of his wrath. There is absolutely nothing comforting about that picture.
It is into that reality that God’s grace comes into focus – ‘For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’
For more in this Series:
What must I do to be saved? (Part 1 of 4)
What must I do to be saved? (Part 2 of 4)
What must I do to be saved? (Part 3 of 4)
What must I do to be saved? (Part 4 of 4)