Saved by Grace?
On a tombstone in the old graveyard behind the Meeting House at Knockbracken, nestling among the evergreens, rising from the grass, on a well-mown grassy mound, is a plain and modest headstone: etched upon its granite face is the name of both my parents - at the foot of this is a memorable biblical epitaph which sums up both their professions of faith in Christ. It simply states this: "Saved by Grace" - Ephesians Chapter 2 Verse 5. This was their belief, hope and confidence - nothing good in themselves deserved their rescue from Hell by God.
Tomorrow I hope, by the grace of God, to conclude a communion season mini-sermon series for the Carrickfergus congregation (this East Antrim seaside town, if I am not mistaken, was where the first Presbyterians landed in 1601 to begin their Plantation of Ulster - the first presbytery, if I remember correctly, was also established there in 1625 - Dr. David Whitla, could if asked, correct any chronological errors or historical inaccuracies or fill in the details of this brief sketch for any who might be interested). My text for the week is Ephesians 2:1-10.
It is my intention, in the morning, to speak on the subject of our experience of God's grace - in this little blog, I simply want to draw you attention to the morsel-sized, nugget-filled, goldmine of a single Greek verb which we generally translate: "You have been saved!" Please note the following points:
Salvation is Passive and Monergistic.
We do not save ourselves or contribute any merit or credit to salvation in any way or sense whatsoever - quite the opposite. As the Bible trumpets so clearly on numerous occasions "Salvation is solely of the LORD". The verb does not explicitly say "You have been saved by God" but the passive voice "been saved" categorically implies that God Himself alone is both subject and Savior. As neighboring phrases declare, the former state of once-Adam-bound sinners was that of dead, deviant, doomed, unresponsive, hopeless, lifeless, zombie-corpses. "But God", very emphatically, acted to remedy our case - it is this mighty, merciful, covenant, tripersonal, living Deity, who is life in Himself, who is the subject of string of acts which describe the subsequent state of saints. We have done nothing. We are mere spectators. So if God has done everything, and salvation is exclusively and entirely His work, from first to last, humility is demanded, boasting is excluded, and glad, voluntary, rapturous thanksgiving is mandated for all and any saving grace of God that we taste.
Salvation is through Covenantal Union with Christ.
The whole work of salvation has been accomplished and performed by Christ the Mediator in our place and on our behalf. He has completed the work that the Father gave Him to do. The Eternal Purpose of God, as the rest of the book makes clear, is to unify Jews and Gentiles in One organic body, joined to Christ its Head, by the Holy Spirit, through faith. Though each of the Godhead persons operate in all the external works of God, here the stress is placed upon the action of the Father who is the subject of three "with Christ" verbs: such stupendous, earth-shattering, incalculable, regenerating force was put forth, that God made Christ alive, raised Jesus from the dead, and exalted the Lord to reign: He sits today in Heaven, clothed in radiant human flesh which, as God-Man, He had taken to Himself. Paul has already prayed that he longs for the heart-eyes of Christians to perceive the full extent of the infinite might of the power surge in Jesus now made accessible to the Church. It is as cosmic ruler, who has made full atonement, and poured out the Spirit, that he now reigns exalted in an entirely new glorified mode of human existence. Through faith, which, as one aspect of the comprehensive salvation, is also is described as a "gift", God, by His Spirit, weds and welds us to the Last Adam: if, by a grace-given eye, fist and heart of faith we have embraced the Savior as our Lord, as freely offered in the Gospel, we most certainly, no question about it, have been saved from sin and its penalty by God. Everything done by God to Christ is thus also true for, and applied, to us. Wonder of wonders! We who believe now know that we also have been made alive, raised and exalted with Christ, by the Spirit, to the glory of the Father!
Salvation is Irreversible and Permanent.
If the verb has God as the implied subject, union with Christ as its ground, this is a perfect verbal participle: it points to fact that salvation is a one-way event which cannot be reversed. This sense of the tense refers to something that happened in the past and has therefore been completed with abiding, ongoing, significance and effect in the present. What the apostle means is that what was done back THEN has permanent ongoing relevance NOW and FOREVER. If you have, by sovereign grace, through faith in Jesus, been united to the Savior, we are bound by the Spirit, through faith, in Covenant, to Christ - this vital bond is irrevocable, indissoluble, permanent, eternal and forever. What comforting implications flow from this! It means, for example, without a shadow of a doubt, that no infirmity, trial, experience, demon, persecution or temporary backsliding lapse can rend, sunder, break, delete, sever or part the regenerate soul from Christ - whatever events may make slopes slide into seas (including a chastening rod), our attachment is assured, the connection will not be dropped, and each providence is woven together to work for the eternal spiritual good to those who love their Lord. The blood of the Covenant of sovereign grace affirms "nothing can separate us" from the mercy, kindness, and supply of eternal sworn blessing, bought at Calvary by the precious blood of God's Lamb who offered Himself as a wrath-bearing, sweet-smelling, sacrifice for us.
Salvation is Particular in Design.
Paul is addressing those, like the rest, who through deadly sin were under the power of Satan, and thoroughly worldly in orientation - whether Jews born inside the covenant, or Gentiles outside Messiah's Old Testament church, they were dominated by flesh and condemned to final wrath. Yet, by God's grace, by predestining love, they had been forgiven and adopted by the Father - divinely elected and engrafted into Christ the True Vine of Israel, as branches wild or native. This is what Paul means by "you" have been saved. When Paul says made "us" alive and raised "us" and seated "us" he not only intends believers but precisely and particularly "elect believers" who are chosen and saved, through faith, by sovereign grace - it was for those who had now come to trust and share in Christ that atonement had been made. Others will hear and spurn the sincere, free, offer of mercy through the atonement of the Cursed King of Calvary. But it is His own sheep who listen to His voice, and are drawn by irresistible grace, who will proceed to prove their election to salvation - the evidence they present, by fruitful fear and trembling, is a life of good works and a walk of generous love - a loving lifestyle which God had predestined and prepared as the path for their feet in advance: in other words, like Simon of Cyrene, they follow the steps of Christ and daily take up their own cross. Prior death, demonization, and doom of this select band makes clear that salvation we experience and enjoy, but could not earn, is set in diametrical opposition to the damnation we deserve: we have been saved, we have been joined, we will be loved - yet this is not from us but is entirely divine grace.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was dead just like the rest, but now I live in Him!
"Saved by grace" is the epitaph of my parents - I will probably ask my children to make "saved by grace" the last words on my headstone too, wherever I'm laid to rest. Is this your own profession, conviction, and experience friends and readers? Well then, brothers and sisters in Jesus, you surely have been saved by God! By the mercies of God, and the infinite spring of crucified love, let me stir you up to sing, shout, speak as you delight in humbling grace - you owe nothing to yourself but owe everything to your Lord. Don't boast against brother. Submit to your Savior. Be good, well-connected, properly-functioning, members of His body, which He purchased with His blood. Walk in love as light in the Lord. Cherish, tend, repair, maintain blood-bought relationships. Be Gospel peace-keepers and Gospel peace-makers that also fight the good fight of faith: stand and march, equipped by and clothed in Christ, as prayer warriors of the Lord, who seek opportunities to preach.