I recall this time as a little kid growing up in the country of Japan.
There was an old lady, climbing up to a thousand step up towards an ancient shrine, offering her gift in the wooden basket, claps her hands to awaken the gods, bowing her head in solemn silence to the Buddhist god to request favor to the ancestors and plead protection from evil spirits that surrounded the family.
As I saw this sight in Japan, unfortunately, I was reminded of sometimes this very same action happens within churches. People come to a building, pay their dues as they offer their tithe, come before an altar call so that somehow God will take notice of them. People do “good works” to somehow cancel the debt in the past and somehow try to earn God’s favor and merit.
Both are equally far from God, as people try to win God’s favor and earn his grace. Both are equally in bondage by their work, own virtue, and own merit to please God. Why? For we fear that somehow God will not fully love us or accept us for who we are.
Paul’s sole confidence lied within Christ alone for he was radically transformed by this good news of the gospel.
Why People Cannot Be Saved by Their Own Works
When you look around, if you had to be honest with me, there seems to be only evil wickedness that isn’t there? In our family and workplace, there is much hatred, cruelty, jealousy, and envy amongst one another. In the political realm, there’s violence, injustice, and conflict. I was watching the news and saw a young teenager, a mass murderer who killed many innocent people! These are all evil, the opposite of what is “good”. One of the fundamental questions that people often ask amid evil is, “Why God? Where are you amid evil?”
G.K. Chesterton answered this very question in the London Times once. The journalist invited correspondence from readers in answer to the same question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Chesterton wrote a letter in reply that read, “Dear Sirs: I am. Yours respectfully, G.K. Chesterton.”
Chesterton realized the source of all the world’s problems was just as much was in him. If you and I had to be transparent for a moment, you and I realized that is true, isn’t it? The world is a mess indeed because we are a bunch of sinners, who are children of wrath.
Therefore, we all people are born in sin. In fact, Paul says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins,” (Eph 2:1). Death is a separation from and removal of life. Scripture says that people are, “sons of disobedience…. Children of wrath.” (Eph 2:2-3).
This sin was first caused by Adam and Eve when they doubted and disobeyed God’s teaching (Gen 3:7-24). Adam represented the human race and that sin was passed down from generation to generation (Rom 5:14-18).
This sin as a result brought shame, guilt, and fear within man’s heart. All men are born with a corrupted sinful nature. This sin that entered in has affected all of humanity’s life and separated people from God. Therefore, all man has a sinful nature and out of that is born in action such as thoughts, affection, words, and deeds which are direct opposition to God himself.
All humans are born in disobedience, bred by disobedience, having disobedience in the very nature. Paul would say in Romans 8:7, “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” People are fallen and by nature rebellious.
As a result? Men are totally depraved and perverted in every aspect, including the heart and mind. Therefore, man is not capable to love God out of their own heart and will (Jer 17:8; Rom 7:19).
Grace Alone. Faith Alone. Christ Alone.
Paul realized that nothing of his merit nor good work will inherit eternal life. In fact, his sole confidence lied in Christ’s crucifixion.
Ephesians 2:1-10, this perhaps is the most remarkable passage in all of Scripture. It is the essence of the gospel message: you were dead in sin, living in it, and headed towards the final judgment, yet God saved us.
How is this possible? Through Christ’s declaration to believers that have been raised and exalted with the risen Christ (Eph 2:6). Only through Christ’s work on the cross that reconciliation was achieved and is made possible (Eph 2:16). This amazing rich grace of God has been poured out for wicked sinners and delivered them from death, wrath, and slavery.
Why would God extend such mercy? So that he might demonstrate his grace in the coming ages (Eph 2:7). To simply raise broken sinners together in Christ because of Who He is. The immeasurable riches could not be explained rationally nor described measurable sense.
Even in my weakest moments, even in times I fall short, even when my feelings come and go, God reminds me in the darkest night of the soul where my soul is tormented, “my grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9) Oh, what a Savior, oh hallelujah! Christians are indeed saved by grace by being regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit! (Eph 2:4).
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5).
Paul on and on emphasizes that it is in faith alone apart from works for salvation that saves man. In fact, the letter of Ephesians is shot through with the phrase “in Christ” and its variations.
Through the use of the expression “in Christ” – which occurs thirty-four times in Ephesians, Paul describes the corporate solidarity of believers with the resurrected and exalted Lord. The phrase is one element of the larger idea of union with Christ, a doctrine that has been discussed and refined throughout the history of the church, and which is fundamental to the whole of salvation in Christ.
Jesus Christ alone is the one who breaks down barriers and unites forgiven sinners as one by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).
Where Sin Abounds, Grace Abounds Even More
“Oh grace, God’s grace is indeed greater than all our sin” as the old hymn sings. God’s grace is exceeding great and it is lavished on sinful and imperfect people. No matter how great our sin, God’s grace is more than sufficient to meet our needs.
How could God do such a thing? God wants them to realize that just as Christ was physically dead, but God raised and exalted him, so they were spiritually dead, but God raised and exalted them with Christ! By giving believers eternal life with Christ and seated with Christi n the place of victory.
This is the picture of where Christ demonstrated abundant mercy, love, and grace on the cross. God rescued sinners who were lost in misery and sin, caught in the dominion of darkness, and held to the highest point of glory by demonstrating the overwhelming gracious act of his character and reigning forever on the cross.