Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – Romans
“So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:5-6
Insight: Oh boy, did I have a plethora of verses from Paul’s Letter to the Romans to choose from, but I eventually boiled it down to these two powerful verses, which in many respects has been a cornerstone of my walk with Christ.
Let me start by sharing an illustration that I shared with the church a while ago. I was watching an episode of Family Feud and the opening question for the first member of each family was something like this: “How did one hundred people surveyed answer this question? ‘What must one do to get to Heaven?’” The man quickly answered: “By having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Guess what? Not even on the list! The other family’s leader answered: “By praying.” Nope, not there either. What was the number one answer? People get into Heaven ‘by doing good works’.
For a moment I was shocked, but then I really wasn’t, since that is the general mindset of all people. You see, I believe that all people are legalists at heart. We are all performance-oriented. We are always working, performing to win peoples’ approval, and if we don’t behave properly, then we deserve their disapproval. Deep down we all believe in an ‘eye for an eye’; we want to see justice and eventual punishment that equals the crime. And of course, we want to see the opposite as well: if you do well, then you need to be rewarded or compensated. We should get what we deserve. We believe that if we work hard or work at all, we deserve to get something in return. And in the natural – in the world we live in – that makes perfect sense. If you work forty hours a week, then you ought to be paid for your work.
But here’s the hitch: in the Lord God’s economy, it doesn’t work that way. We may be legalists at heart, but the Lord God is gracious at heart. Oh, our Lord is a holy, holy, holy God who expects perfection, but since none of us can live perfectly – since none of us can follow the Law perfectly – then that’s when His grace kicks in: His Son Jesus Christ, the perfect (divine) man live a perfect life – He followed the Law flawlessly, thus by Christ being our substitute upon the cross (which would have been the just and ‘legal’ consequence for each of us for our sin and rebellion), we how have been given saving faith – the ability to trust in Christ’s work done for us – we have been declared righteous, justified, holy, and perfect before the Lord. This is essentially what the entire Book of Romans is all about. Man is unholy – God is holy – man cannot become holy by following rules/laws (because we CAN’T follow the laws/rules perfectly – so Christ died in our place and became our righteousness. And this free gift – this enablement to become righteous by having Christ die in our place – is grace. Grace can be defined as “the freely given, unmerited, undeserved, or unearned favor and love of God”.
The Book of Romans, and the entire Bible for that matter, make it VERY CLEAR that we come to faith – NOT by our good works – but by God’s grace and grace alone (sola gratia). BUT since we are all legalists at heart we have an extremely difficult time accepting God’ gift of salvation – even after He gives it to us and makes us ‘spiritually alive in Christ’!
Let me explain: a non-Christian – or as the Bible simply calls them – a sinner – comes to church or maybe you are just sharing the Gospel with them over coffee. The Lord opens their eyes (as we saw in Acts in the case of Lydia’s conversion) and they are brought to spiritual life – the Lord crucifies the old sinful nature (Romans 6:6) and gives them – places within them – Christ’s life (Galatians 2:20). They have been saved by God’s grace. They didn’t deserve it; they didn’t merit it; and they didn’t earn it. It was freely given to them by God and God alone through Christ alone (Soli Deo Gloria; Solus Christus).
BUT, the next thing that new believer begins to do is work really hard at making sure they ‘seal the salvation deal’ or to keep their salvation or to ‘pay the Lord back’, and they do so by reading their Bible, praying, going to church, giving money to the church, telling others about Jesus, stop certain bad behaviors, and by exchanging those ‘bad’ behaviors by doing good things. Most of this is subconscious (some churches actually tell them they ‘need’ to do these things to be saved or stay saved), but for the most part we do this on our own. Why? Because we are all legalists at heart. We feel that we need to earn God’s favor. We need to perform to either get God to really love us, or to keep God loving us. And when we live this way we become legalistic (and expect other people to follow our particular rules); frustrated (because we can’t keep up with all of this hard work); angry at ourselves (because we think that we should be able to pay God back or win His love and favor); and then we end up bitter, depressed, and ineffective as a Christian, who is supposed to be filled with God’s joy/contentment and freedom!
And that’s what Romans 11:5-6 is trying to get across to us all. All throughout history, even in the darkest of times (Israel’s rebellion; Israeli’s captivity; the Middle Ages; and even today) the Lord always has a remnant of His children that have been saved – not by their good works – but by His grace and His grace alone. And then the apostle Paul goes on to say in verse six that this remnant (anyone who has come to a saving faith in Christ) is saved by grace and NOT by their good works. This was the BIG issue during the Middle Ages before the Protestant Reformation. The Church at the time was making people jump through all sorts of spiritual hoops, and pay a LOT of money through the unbiblical practice of indulgences, in order to be in right standing with the Church, which they said made them right before the Lord God.
So, when people like Augustine, John Wyclif, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, Blaise Pascal, John Owen, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, and on and on, said that the Bible taught a salvation by grace alone and not by works, this ruffled a lot of religious feathers.
And it wasn’t just these pastors and theologians who said this. God’s Word makes it very clear:
Romans 5:6-8 – For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
2 Thessalonians 2:16 – Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace…
Galatians 2:15-16 – We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
Romans 3:20 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Ephesians 2:8-10 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So, back to Romans 11:6, Paul tells us that our salvation is by grace – the Lord God’s free gift given to sinners through the sacrifice of Christ – and thus it is no longer by works. And here’s the clincher: Paul says that if it is by works, or if works play a part, or ‘help out’ with our salvation – in other words, if God speaks the Gospel to us and then WE DECIDE ON OUR OWN to repent and follow Jesus, then that is a mighty fine piece of work that we just did in order to be save – so we contributed to our salvation – and hence, we just canceled out grace!
Add anything to God’s gift of salvation by grace alone, and you nullify, cancel out, eliminate grace. NOTHING can be added to saving grace, ESPECIALLY anything that WE think we are contributing.
If I have a perfectly clear glass of water and I advertise it to you as perfectly clear – pure water – and then I add one grain of sand to it – although it is still very drinkable – it is no longer a perfectly clear glass of pure water. Anything added, changes it – cancels it out – I CANNOT say it is pure water.
Paul is trying to make the VERY important point (again, because we are all legalists at heart who want to participate in our salvation) that we do NOTHING. The Lord does EVERYTHING. Even our belief or faith or trust, which we are supposed to have, is a gift from God. Remember from a previous verse from another day, spiritually dead sinners have no desire and no ability to bring spiritual life – Christ’s life – into themselves. It must be placed there by the Lord God, and the placing of His life within us – since we are undeserving sinners – is a matter of HIS GRACE.
Oh sure, we are to do plenty of good works after we come to faith, but those good works are evidence that we ARE saved, not done in order to be saved. I don’t have to get my ‘act together’ and start behaving really well before I can become a Christian. I have to come to that place where I see that I CAN’T save myself through my works or efforts, and I can only come to that place by God’s grace. How about these few verses and then I’ll finish:
I think I spoke about this previously – first let’s read John 1:12,
Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God…
Right away some Christians will say, “See, you have to receive Him, you must believe in His name, in order to be saved. So, we do have a responsibility to ‘work’” (although they wouldn’t call this a work, but what else could it be but work?!!). But they need to read the next verse that is actually the rest of the sentence:
…children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision
or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Hmm, it says here that we are not ‘born’ – spiritually born/born again by natural descent (just because your parents were Christians doesn’t mean that you are ‘a Christian at birth’); nor of human decision (well, that shoots the ‘decisional’ theology view right out of the water! Our salvation is NOT based on our decision apart from God’s enlightening grace); or a husband’s will (just because the husband is saved, he can’t declare his wife to be a Christian); but they are BORN OF GOD! In other words, He does the saving by His grace!!
Last verse and then I’m done – Romans 9:16 –
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort,
but on God’s mercy.
John spoke the previous verses, and here now we have Paul saying almost the identical thing! It (our election – read the previous verses) does NOT depend on human desire (because we don’t WANT to be saved), or effort (we can’t work towards our salvation through good deeds), but we are saved – we come to faith because the Lord God, according to His good purposes and pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-14), decided/decreed before the foundation of the world to show us mercy and grace.
So, don’t ‘try’ to be a Christian. Don’t ‘work’ hard by going to church, praying, giving, changing, etc., which are all good things, but don’t DO those things to win God’s favor and love. As I tell our church at Grace Christian Fellowship so often, the Lord Jesus died for you, what more could He have done to prove that He loves you! Quit performing, and start resting in His grace, and then you will freely, joyfully, and willingly life a life of goodness, because you will be driven by God’s Spirit, love and grace within you!