“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Grace is God’s gift of unmerited favour. It is the greatest of all the blessings that we have received. This grace is as available to all today as it was when it was first offered by God. Since it is a gift we cannot do any good deed to obtain it, for we can never atone for our sin. We know that only rotten fruit grows on diseased trees, so no act of righteousness on our part merits saving grace. This being true, we understand that we have nothing to boast about before God or men. How can we not praise God for such grace that saves us!
But what of faith? God’s grace is the source of salvation, but faith is the condition for receiving it. In this study we seek to understand what this faith is.
What kind of Faith is it that saves?
1. It is certain that it cannot be religious faith. By this we refer to the type of belief in God that adherents to false religions have. They do not have the faith that saves. Salvation requires true faith in God as revealed in the Scriptures. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Therefore faith must be more than living moral lives based upon religious principles.
2. It cannot be the faith devils have. James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Devils know who Jesus is, but they cannot be saved … “I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34).
3. It cannot be pre-Calvary faith. The disciples had left all to follow Jesus, they preached the good news about the Kingdom, they healed the sick and cast out devils, but it was not until the Saviour was sacrificed on the cross that they could receive saving grace by faith.
4. What kind of faith must it be? It must be faith in Christ alone rather than having head knowledge of Him. This means that there must be deep conviction in our souls that His blood alone atoned for our sin. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). The saved acknowledge the necessity of Christ’s sacrificial death, and they believe that He rose again from the grave. Total reliance on His blood is the only means of salvation, that is, through His finished work on Calvary.
What salvation does this faith produce?
1. It is a present salvation. By this we mean that believers are immediately and literally saved the moment they accept God’s saving grace by faith.
2. It is salvation from sin. The Lord Jesus Christ came to save us from sin, but if there has been no change in our lives then we are not saved. The saved are delivered from past and present sin.
3. Salvation from the guilt of sin. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) … “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
4. Salvation from fear of damnation. Condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s grace. It is the feeling that God is still going to punish us for sins that Christ atoned for. This must be replaced with true faith … “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).
5. Salvation from the power of sin. “And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin … We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (1 John 3:5, 5:18). This means that sin should no longer dominate our lives. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9).
6. Salvation includes justification. We are made right with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Those who have been justified grow towards perfection and the fullness of Christ … “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Some objections to saving faith
1. Does not this doctrine nullify personal holiness and good works? Personal holiness and good deeds can never merit salvation. If living moral lives saved then there was no need for Christ to come. Saving faith is by grace alone, but it does produce holiness and good works in the believer as a result.
2. Does not this doctrine make void the law? The New Testament reveals that the law could not bring salvation. It was impossible for any man to be made righteous through observing the law. The law finds its fulfilment in Christ, and it is His finished work on the cross that meets all the laws demands. Saving faith puts us in Christ. He enables us to live obediently unto God. In Christ, the law is not made void, it is fulfilled.
3. Does not this doctrine produce spiritual pride? It may in some, but they should not be set forth as the rule. Those who truly love God and understand His grace do not speak of themselves as being any better than the next person. “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (Romans 11:18) … “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). It is the gift of grace that brought salvation; we simply receive it by faith.
4. Does not this doctrine encourage sin? We do not receive salvation to continue in sin. A truly born-again person does not continue in sin, instead he desires to please God by living a sanctified life. Those who continue in sin have not the faith that saves.
5. Does not this doctrine drive people mad? There will always be those who think that good works merits salvation. They will drive themselves to desperation trying to feel right with God. Those who have faith also have a sound mind.
We must ever speak of this saving faith, for it strikes at the very root of all false doctrine. It is this faith that once drove popery out of our land, and it is this faith that can again bring revival. The enemy of our souls detests this doctrine. He hates and seeks to hinder all who preach it. Nevertheless, the doctrine of saving faith overcomes him at every point. Saving faith is our victory in and through Christ.
[This sermon was first preached by John Wesley on the 11th July 1738].