Salvation originates in the grace of God. God's plan of salvation flows forth from His heart to find its fulfillment in the lives of sinful men. God was under no obligation to save men from sin and to bestow upon them His spiritual blessings. Sinners do not deserve to be saved; they are worthy of death. God could have destroyed the entire human race, and sinners thereby would have received what they deserved. When sinners are saved and receive blessings of salvation, therefore, they receive what they do not deserve within themselves. Salvation is undeserved and unmerited by mankind. It is the gift of God. (Rom. 3:24; 5:15-21; 6:23; Eph. 2:8; Isa. 55:1, 2; Rev. 22:17.) The motivating cause of God's grace lies wholly within Himself. There is nothing within the recipient of God's grace to merit or to deserve His gift of salvation. Grace is God's freely given love in its relation to the needs of man in his state of sin and guilt.
I. Salvation Not By Works
Grace and merit are mutually exclusive. They cannot co-exist; one eliminates the other. Works performed by the sinner cannot be the basis of salvation. Man can neither earn nor merit salvation. Man's natural "goodness" is without merit in God's sight. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). Righteousness produced by self is self-righteousness, and that produced by the flesh is a work of the flesh. All men are sinners, and all of man is sinful. Man cannot save himself.
Sinners cannot attain salvation through keeping the law. Righteousness which counts with God cannot be acquired by keeping the Old Testament law. The law was given to Israel to define and to reveal sin. (Rom. 3:19, 20; 7:7.) The law was not intended to be a means whereby men could be saved and attain eternal life. (Gal. 3:21; Rom. 8:3.) The law was designed to show men their need of the Saviour. (Gal. 3:24.) The entrance of sin came through Adam; the knowledge of sin came through Moses; the remission of sin came through Jesus. Through Christ's death, believers have been redeemed from the law. (Rom. 7:4; Eph. 2:14, 15; Col. 2:14, 20.) The law to which believers are dead includes the ten commandments as well as the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. Paul included number ten of the ten commandments, "Thou shalt not covet," as part of that law to which Christians are dead (Rom. 7:7). Christians, therefore, are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14; 7:6; Gal. 4:30, 31; 5:18.) Christians are warned to "stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). Paul declared, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4), and "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:21).
The basic difference between Christianity and all other religions (including perverted forms of Christianity) is that non-Christian religions are religions of law, whereas true Christianity is a religion of grace. Non-Christian religions are characterized by man's efforts to please the deity through his own works (moral exercises, good works, ascetic practices, prayers, pilgrimages, sacrifices, etc.). The Christian religion, on the other hand, is characterized by man's humble response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for him. Max Mueller wrote:
In the discharge of my duties for forty years as professor of Sanskrit in the University of Oxford, I have devoted as much time as any man living to the study of the Sacred Books of the East, and I have found the one keynote, the one diapason, so to speak, of all these so-called sacred books, whether it be the Veda of the Brahmans, the Puranas of Siva and Vishnu, the Koran of the Mohammedans, the Zend-Avesta of the Parsees, the Tripitaka of the Buddhists -- the one refrain through all -- salvation by works. They all say that salvation must be purchased, must be bought with a price, and that the sole price, the sole purchase money, must be our own works and deservings. Our own Holy Bible, our sacred Book of the East, is from beginning to end a protest against this doctrine. Good works are, indeed, enjoined upon us in that sacred Book of the East far more strongly than in any other sacred book of the East; but they are only the outcome of a grateful heart -- they are only a thank-offering, the fruits of our faith. They are never the ransom money of the true disciples of Christ. (Cited by Pieper. Op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 15, 16.)
If salvation could be earned by man, it would cease to be a gift. Eternal life would be God's payment of a debt to man. "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (Rom. 4:4). Paul reasoned, "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" (Rom. 11:6). If man earned, or even partially earned, eternal life, salvation would cease to be a gift.
If salvation were based upon human works, man would boast of his achievements. In the Kingdom man would pat himself on the back and proudly announce, "I am here because of what I have done. Worthy am I to receive praise and glory because I accumulated sufficient merit through my own works to deserve eternal life." Pride, however, is sin, and sinners will be excluded from God's eternal Kingdom. Paul explained, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not by works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:8-10). "Where is boasting then? It is excluded" (Rom. 3:27). God's plan of salvation through grace produces true humility within man. In responding to God's grace, the sinner comes to God just as he is, without one plea of personal worthiness. He recognizes that be does not deserve salvation, that he merits nothing but destruction. To receive God's gift, the sinner must come to God with empty hands. With Augustus M. Toplady, he says: "Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling."One cannot cling to the Christ of the cross if his hands are filled with works of self. Hands filled with self-righteousness have no room to receive that righteousness which is of God.
Many sinners reject God's offer of salvation because they are too proud to accept a gift. Through pride, they assert their self-sufficiency and independence from God. They boast that they need no outside help, that they can stand on their own two feet, and that they can take care of themselves. They insist that they can fight their own battles and that they never ask anyone for anything. They want to be left alone to live their own lives without any interference from God. If God would permit them to purchase eternal life in some way, they would gladly accept God's offer. Since God insists that salvation is entirely a gift, however, and since man cannot in any way merit that gift, proud sinners want nothing to do with the gospel. Jesus indicated that pride is a major barrier to conversion: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
Salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast; it is all of grace, so that man will eternally glorify God. Conversion does not merit salvation. Repentance, faith, and baptism are not the origin nor basis of salvation. Through them, one does not accumulate merit to earn eternal life. The sinner is saved through repentance, faith, and baptism because these requirements must be met before he can accept God's gift of salvation. God's grace is the origin of salvation, and Christ's sacrifice is the basis of salvation. Conversion is the instrumental cause or condition of salvation, but it is not the meritorious basis of salvation. Man has the responsibility for accepting God's gift, but God receives all the glory for providing that gift. Even after sinners have accepted God's saving gift, and even after they have permitted Jesus to produce the fruit of the Spirit within their lives, they have no reason for pride; they have no basis for boasting. After having fulfilled all of God's requirements, humble believers will acknowledge that they are only "unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10). Every saved sinner in God's future Kingdom will constitute an illustration of the working of God's grace. (Eph. 2:7.) Although immortal and a joint-heir with Christ, the glorified believer will be a testimony of God's grace. He will say, "I am here in God's perfect eternity, but I do not deserve to be here. I deserve destruction. I have experienced salvation because of God's saving grace and the Lamb's vicarious sacrifice." He will always be "only a sinner saved by grace."
II. God's Search for Man
Man's search for God is merely his response to God's search for man. God searches for the sinner until the sinner finds Him. The sinner's finding God is merely his response to God's finding him. New Testament salvation pictures God and Jesus searching for man. Jesus said, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). He told about the shepherd who searched for the lost sheep, the woman who swept her house to find the lost coin, and the lost son who realized his lost condition and returned home. The sinner should place himself at the foot of the cross so that God in grace can find him.
(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)
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