How does salvation by grace work?

Some believe that we must keep God’s laws and requirements in order to please Him and qualify to be saved by Him. Others believe that ‘Jesus has done it all’ and that everyone is already saved, and ‘once saved, always saved’. But what do the scriptures say about salvation and God’s grace?

Chapter 2 in the book of Ephesians, verses 1 to 10 describes for us an order, a process in part for salvation. Does verse 17 of chapter 1 tell us that it is the God of Jesus, the Father who is doing (has done) all of this in, through and by Jesus the Christ?

Ephesians 1:17 NRSV
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

Ephesians 1:20 NRSV
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

Did He make us alive (spiritually) when we were dead (spiritually) because of sins and trespasses?

Ephesians 2:1-2 NRSV
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

Have we all previously been following our own human passions and desires, of the body and the mind, just exactly like the rest of mankind?

Ephesians 2:3 NRSV
All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

Even when we were in this state of being dead (spiritually), did the Father in His perfect love save us (make us alive spiritually with Christ) by His grace?

Ephesians 2:4-5 NRSV
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved—

This grace of God is His unmerited favourable intervention on our behalf, when we don’t deserve it at all.

Has the Father effectively raised us up with Christ and sees us as sat with him?

Ephesians 2:6 NRSV
and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

In the ages to come will this grace become beyond measure towards us?

Ephesians 2:7 NRSV
so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Is it through ‘faith’ that we are saved by this grace of the Father?

Ephesians 2:8 NRSV
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—

(We will look more deeply at this faith in future studies, to see exactly how this fits in).

So to this point we have not contributed any works of our own, why is that?

Ephesians 2:9 NRSV
not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

So that none of us can boast, we cannot claim credit for any of it in any way! Does it say that we are His workmanship?

Ephesians 2:10 NRSV
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

So why are we saved and created (anew, alive spiritually) in Christ? Same verse 10 above.

To do good works, prepared for us to do beforehand by God!!

So we see that it is not ‘do these works to get saved’, but because ‘we have been saved graciously by God, we can do the good works that have been prepared for us to do’. Being saved comes before the works that God requires of us.

Yes there are good works to be done, but as a result of being saved, not before, trying to ‘earn it’. It is the fruit that proves we have the dynamic, active presence of the Father living and working in us!

In the New Testament salvation is described and referred to in the past, present and future tenses.

Notice that it reads ‘saved’ in the past tense here – we have been, or were, saved when Christ died for our sins and when we, through our own personal decision of faith in him, were joined to him in God’s eyes. (That faith, believing what God says is true and real, we need to allow to work in us rather than quashing it with denial or unbelief).

At that moment our sins were forgiven, we were justified or accounted righteous before God, and we were “born again” by the power of God’s holy spirit presence.

1 Corinthians 15:3 NRSV
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

1 Peter 3:18 NRSV
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

John 3:3-5 NRSV
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

1 Peter 1:3 NRSV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Salvation in the present tense describes us as justified believers, we are “being saved” day by day, as we walk with the Lord and let His spirit work in us and through us to do His will. Grace does not rule out the need for our active cooperation with God, but it is He who makes it possible for us to will and to do.

Philippians 2:12-13 NRSV
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

2 Peter 1:10-11 NRSV
Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

Salvation in the future tense points to when we “shall be saved” at the return of Christ, when our mortality and carnal nature will be taken away completely and we will be resurrected to be “like Him”—sinless, immortal, and glorious.

1 Peter 1:5 NRSV
who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 John 3:2-3 NRSV
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Some believe and teach that ‘grace’ takes away the need to obey God. Since salvation is by grace, they teach that believers can do what they want and ‘grace’ will cover their deliberate disobedience. What does Paul think about this idea?

Romans 6:1-2 NRSV
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Paul explains further:

Romans 6:3-4 NRSV
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

This new life we are raise to is intended to be a life of righteousness and obedience to God. A life of walking in the good works that God has prepared for us to do by means of the power He has provided for us through His holy spirit dwelling and working in us. It is meant to be a life of transformation – into the very likeness and image of Christ.

We have seen that by His unmerited favourable intervention for us, our Father graciously does for us what we cannot do for ourselves – He saves us from our sins by grace through faith, through actually believing what God says He has done and will do for us.

We are actually saved to be involved in the good works that God has planned and prepared for us to do – we are able to do them because we are saved and have His indwelling power and life in us.

We cannot earn salvation by our own efforts, we need to accept God’s grace and trust Him for it, with that saving faith. Once we are saved we do not continue in the old life of sin, but move forward in the new life in Christ, albeit not yet perfectly.

In a future study we will look at if it is possible to lose salvation once we have been saved.