Salvation By Grace Alone - Part 4

Theme: The Christian’s Present: Saved by Grace

This week’s lessons describe how God’s grace in salvation impacts the Christian’s past, present, and future.

Scripture: Ephesians 2:4-8

The Christian's past is a dreadful thing, as it also is for all who have not believed on Jesus Christ. But at this point the grace of God comes in. For having spoken of the Christian's past, Paul now speaks of the Christian's present, saying, “But [now] because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved” (vv. 4-8).

This great “but” has changed everything. Left to ourselves, the cause was hopeless. But God has intervened to do precisely what needed to be done. We were dead in sins, but God has “made us alive with Christ.” We were enslaved to sin, but God has “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” That means we have been set free; there are no slaves in heaven. We were “objects of wrath,” but God has made us objects of his overwhelming “grace.”

That is the great word: grace. Grace alone.

During the last century, in one of the worst slum districts of London, there was a Christian social worker whose name was Henry Moorehouse. One evening as he was walking along the street he saw a little girl come out of a basement store carrying a pitcher of milk. She was taking it home. When she was just a few yards from Moorehouse she suddenly slipped and fell. Her fingers relaxed their grip on the pitcher and it crashed to the pavement and broke. The milk ran into the gutter, and the little girl began to cry as if her heart would break. Moorehouse stepped up to see if she was hurt. Then he helped her to her feet, saying, “Don’t cry, little girl.”

But there was no stopping her tears and she kept repeating, “My mommy'll whip me; my mommy'll whip me.” Clearly this was a great tragedy for her.

Moorehouse said, “No, little girl, your mother won't whip you. I'll see to that. Look, the pitcher isn't broken in many pieces.” He stooped down beside her and began to work as if he were putting the pitcher back together. The little girl stopped crying. She had come from a family in which broken pitchers had been mended before. Perhaps this stranger could repair it. She watched as Moorehouse fitted several pieces together. But then, moving too roughly, he knocked the pieces apart once again, and this time she began to cry without stopping. She would not even look at the broken pieces lying on the sidewalk.

Suddenly the gentle Moorehouse picked the girl up in his arms and carried her down the street to a shop that sold crockery. He bought a new pitcher for her. Then, still carrying her, he went back to where the girl had bought milk and had the new pitcher filled. He asked where she lived. She told him, and he carried her to her house. Then, setting her down on the top step and placing the full pitcher of milk in her hands, he opened the door for her and asked as she stepped in, “Now, little girl, do you think your mother will whip you?”

He was rewarded for his trouble by a bright smile as she replied, “Oh, no, sir, 'cause it's a lot better pitcher 'an we had before.”

This is a great illustration of the grace of God toward us in salvation! The Bible teaches that men and women were made in the image of God. But when our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned by eating of the forbidden tree, that image was broken beyond repair, so far as pleasing God by any human efforts is concerned. This does not mean that there is value to human nature from our point of view. Even a broken pitcher is not entirely without value. Archaeologists use broken pieces of pottery to date ancient civilizations. A shard can become an ashtray. Useful? Yes, a bit. But pottery that has been broken is worthless as far as carrying milk is concerned, just as human nature is worthless as a means of pleasing God.

But here is where grace comes in. In the story about Moorehouse, the little girl did not do anything to deserve the social worker's favor. She did not pay for her pitcher, or hire him to help her. She did not even win over his sympathies because she was pretty or wretched or crying or pathetic. Moorehouse helped her only because it pleased him to do it. What is more, he didn't repair the pitcher. He gave her a new one, just as God gives us an entirely new nature when he makes us alive in Jesus Christ.

There is one more part of the Christian's present experience of God's grace that we need to mention here, and this is faith. We need to mention it because the text tells us that although we are saved by “grace alone,” this grace nevertheless comes to us through the channel of human faith so that we can also speak of “faith alone.”

At first glance this seems a contradiction. We want to ask, “How can salvation be by grace alone and by faith alone at the same time? If it is by grace alone, it can't also be by faith alone. If it is by faith alone, it can't be by grace.” The problem is only a verbal one, however, and it vanishes as soon as we read the verses carefully. For what they teach—perhaps more clearly than any other passage in the Bible—is that faith is itself the result of God's gracious working. It is our faith. God does not believe for us. We believe. But we believe only because God has first enabled us to believe. Faith is there only because God has put it there. The text reads, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (vv. 8, 9).

Study Questions:

  1. What effect does God's grace have on our sinful condition?
  2. What does the illustration of Moorehouse and the broken pitcher teach about God’s grace toward us?
  3. How can salvation be both by grace alone and by faith alone?

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Thinking and Acting Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Thinking and Acting Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.