Grace or Work
We considered that salvation is of the Lord in a previous post. The biblical sum on the subject ascribes all glory to God in the salvation of men. So, accepting that salvation is God’s work, is there any room for man’s work in the salvation of his own soul? Does he contribute? Does he get any credit?
The Bible answers that question in three key ways.
- God will not divide or share His glory with any other.
Paul states three times in Ephesians 1 that God’s work in salvation is to the praise of His, God’s own, glory. In verse 3, Paul blesses God who has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings . . . in Christ.” The spiritual blessings are enumerated in verses 4-5. These include being “chosen . . . in him before the foundation of the world,” in order that “we should be holy and without blame before him in love;” and being “predestinated . . . unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” All these are “To the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6).
Several blessings are further enumerated in verses 6-12. “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.” “We have redemption through his blood,” and “the forgiveness of sins.” He has “made known unto us the mystery of his will.” “We have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him.” These also are “That we should be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
Furthermore, the saved have been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.” This is so that we will ultimately come into the full inheritance of the “purchased possession,” and this also is “unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14).
- Man cannot boast of anything before God.
Salvation is a particular display of God’s grace, mercy, and love to fallen, human sinners. Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So God does the “work” of salvation and applies that work as a gift of grace to a fallen, incapacitated sinner. Man is left without any boast before God.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe:for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay:but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid:yea, we establish the law.
– Romans 3:21-31
God has so ordered salvation that man has nothing to boast in himself and his glorying is only rightly in the Lord. “That no flesh should glory in his presence . . . That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31).
- Salvation cannot simultaneously be of grace and of works.
Words mean things and, like matter, cannot be and not-be at the same time. Genesis 1:1 declares, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” As Francis Schaeffer put it, “The God who is there.” 1 The Bible begins with a distinction—God creates. So you have God and creation; God and not-God. God is the Creator, not the created. The creation is the created and not the Creator.
The Bible points out just such a distinction between grace and works for salvation.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works:otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace:otherwise work is no more work.
– Romans 11:6
The distinction is made between salvation by works and salvation by grace. It cannot be both at the same time. To make it so does violence to the very meaning of the words—”grace is no more grace” and “work is no more work.” Paul explains this distinction in Romans 4:1-8. To work is to earn a wage, or payment. When the payment comes for work done, that payment is settling a debt. It is a sum that is owed. It is not a gift given.
Salvation is described as an undeserved gift. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Salvation is an overwhelming gift of grace that gives us what we do not deserve and removes from us what we do deserve, namely death or judgment for sin.
So the answer is, No. There is no glory for man to take to himself in the salvation of his soul. Salvation is start-to-finish of God, and, therefore, all glory belongs to Him.
- Schaeffer, F. A. (1970). The God who is there: speaking historic Christianity into the twentieth century. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩