Not by Works

(originally posted on 02/27/2017)

I’m often skeptical when something is offered to me as ‘free.’ I feel much better about receiving something if I’ve earned it, and that is how this world works, but it is not how grace works.

 “Not by works, so that no one can boast.” -(Ephesians 2:9 NIV)

 Paul mentions in the second chapter of his letter about the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” who is at work in “those who are disobedient.” Given that the context suggest this spirit to be disobedient, it is safe to assume he is referring to satan. Both the ways of this world and of satan are in harmony with one another. This can be seen throughout scripture, for satan believed he could exalt himself to the very throne of God (Isaiah 14:13-14) and has deceived most of humanity with the same lie. Isn’t that what he promised would happen for Adam and Eve when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? For the serpent (satan) said to Eve,

 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” -(Genesis 3:5 NIV)

 But what does God say about this?

 “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” -(1 Samuel 2:7 NIV)

 “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” -(Psalm 75:7 NIV)

 And elsewhere,

 “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” -(Matthew 23:12 NIV)

 God is the only one who is able to exalt us, to give us something we could never earn: salvation. Paul writes that we have been ‘made alive’ with Christ, and not just made alive, but also,

 “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.” -(Ephesians 2:6-7 NIV)

 But how do we attain these things? What’s the process, or method? Paul continues,

 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” -(Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

 Day after day, week after week, we work, we sweat, we grind away to earn whatever it is we want. How we view ourselves and our work ethic ultimately affects what we perceive our value to be. Some believe they deserve everything, others believe they deserve nothing. Most of us, I believe, fall in between.

 Thank God His economy doesn’t work the way ours does! God blesses us not because we have been good little boys and girls (take that Santa Claus!), but because He loves us and wants to give us good things. As Jesus said,

 “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” -(Matthew 5:45 NIV)

 Some would contend that God’s system is unfair, and, like the elder brother in Luke 15 (verses 11-32), take issue with God lavishing gifts upon someone so undeserving. This was the type of response Jesus received from the “elder brothers” of His day whenever He showed compassion towards sinners and outsiders. They would even go so far as to question Jesus’ own integrity. Can you imagine standing before the perfect Son of God and having the gall to question His character when ours is so deeply flawed? Putting our “foot in our mouth” would be a very mild way of explaining what that would probably be like for us.

 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -(Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” -(Romans 3:23-24 NIV)

 “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for ouriniquities;the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” -(Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)

 God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32), for He created us in His image, created us to be in a relationship with Him. Through Jesus, God chose to take it upon Himself to deal with our sins instead of dealing with us in judgment. There is judgment coming, for sadly there were, are, and will be those who reject God’s gift of salvation, who reject His Son. They will be judged and punished. But for those who responded in faith and received God’s gift of grace, they are the ones who will enter into the kingdom of God singing, “All my fountains are in You” (Psalm 87:7 NIV).

 As a practical application, we would do well to accept others in the same way God has accepted us. The scriptures are clear that it was God who sought us first, who loved us first. He sought us and loved us not because we possessed some desirable quality or provided opportunities to advance Himself on the social ladder. He pursued us simply because He wanted to. He loves us simply because He chooses to. Therefore, let us treat one another as the beloved of God, just as we are.

 Father, thank you for the gift of grace which you have given us freely in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Forgive our striving through burdensome religion to earn our place in Your kingdom. Help us to take on the yoke of our Savior and rest in His work, trusting that the work of salvation, which was begun in us the day we heard and believed His gospel, will be brought to completion on the day our Lord returns. It’s in His Name we pray. Amen.

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