Can you imagine a beggar outside Buckingham Palace, begging for change. And she’s not a rough diamond. She’s not a salt of the earth character deep down. She’s unpleasant, she’s selfish, she’s backstabbing, she’s grubby, she’s been in and out of prison all her life and she’s only got herself to blame.
The Queen comes out of the palace and starts talking to the woman. And she doesn’t just spare some change for the poor unfortunate, she holds out her hand and helps the woman up. She gets dirty lifting the beggar to her feet. And she leads the beggar into the palace, past the security, past the bewildered staff. And they sit down to eat dinner together in the royal banquetting hall.
At the end of the dinner, the Queen makes an announcement. She officially adopts the woman into her royal family and shares all her wealth with her. She will share everything - even the throne - with this awkward, angry beggar.
And we say – That’s ridiculous! Nothing like that would ever happen.
The truth is that something far greater than this HAS happened. And it’s happened to us.
Full text below....
...We have been lifted from the pit of hell to the throne of heaven solely through the work of Jesus Christ. He is that Vast. His work is that enormous. He has bridged such a gap from the pit of hell to the throne of heaven and He lifts us there only by His sheer grace and all we need do, all we can do, is trust Him.
That’s the gospel – the good news which is the beating heart of Christianity. And every time the church has remembered this truth and returned to it – the church has been revitalized, renewed, reformed, revived.
So we’re studying these five phrases that sum up God’s salvation.
We are sinners saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We learn about this in Scripture alone and it’s all to God’s glory alone.
From the pit to the throne by grace through faith in Christ. That’s Scriptures message – that’s God’s glory. And every time the church has remembered it, it’s been healthy and alive. And every time these truths have been forgotten or opposed the church has died and become a lifeless corpse.
And what’s true of the church in general is also true of ourselves individually. We all naturally drift from these truths.
We can do it through our goodness or our badness. Through our moral goodness we start thinking of ourselves as something more than beggars and we get proud and we forget the truth our situation.
Or through our moral badness, we fail and sin and think of God as less than gracious and forgiving. Either way – through our goodness we think more of ourselves, through our badness we think less of God – but either way we easily lose these truths. And when we do, we lose our joy, we lose our comfort and peace and strength and buoyancy to handle life.
So this series is a chance for us at Souls at Seven to let these truths sink in deep. If they are new truths to you – this is your chance to become a real Christian – a liberated and joyful and grace-filled Christian. If they’re not new to you – this is equally for you – because we forget these truths every hour. Every minute I naturally think that my standing with God is about me and my goodness or my badness, my performance. And while-ever I think that I am living contrary to the gospel. So we all need to return to these truths. This week we’re looking at faith alone.
And this is all of a piece with Christ alone and Grace alone. You see Christ alone tells me that Jesus Christ and ONLY Jesus Christ is my Saviour. He has taken all of salvation in His hands. He’s lived my life, died my death, risen to the right hand of God on my behalf. All of salvation is in Christ Alone. Grace alone tells me that Jesus is a free gift given to wretched sinners like me. Jesus – our salvation – is given to us, not because we’re good boys and girls, not because we’re worth it, but only because of God’s free grace. This week we’re thinking about how we receive the free gift of Christ. We receive the gift of Jesus not by fumbling around in our pocket trying to find some money pay God. We receive it freely as a gift. We acknowledge that we DON’T deserve it, that we have nothing in ourselves that could earn such a salvation, we simply look to Jesus, knowing that HE is our Saviour – and by this trust in Jesus ALONE we are saved.
Let’s see how Paul describes it in Ephesians.
In chapter 1, Paul wants us to really understand the truths of Christ alone. He’s going to show us that the Christian is so closely united to Christ that we are IN Christ. You can’t get closer than in can you?
And because Christ is so HUGE, when we are IN Christ, we have everything.
From verse 3 just look at all the ‘in Christ’ language
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Imagine a champagne fountain. And God the Father is pouring out blessings onto Christ at the top of the fountain. All these blessings from the Father crash down on Jesus’ head as He sits at God’s right hand in heaven. And these blessings flow down to Christ’s body, to those in Christ.
And then Paul unpacks what those blessings are.
Verse 4 – we are CHOSEN in Him. If you are in Christ you are CHOICE in the Father’s eyes.
Verse 5 – we are ADOPTED through Jesus. If your are in Christ, you are a child of God, calling on the Most High as Daddy.
Verse 6 – we are freely given GRACE in the One He loves. Undeserved kindness and love washes over you in Jesus.
Verse 7 – in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Do you have sins? In Jesus you have forgiveness. We think that we get forgiven once – go away and sin – then come back and beg for mercy and God says “Alright, I suppose you seem sorry, I’ll restore your sin count back to zero.” That’s not how forgiveness works. You never move away from forgiveness because forgiveness is IN Jesus. And you are IN Jesus. Always. We HAVE redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Those are just some of the blessings I’ve highlighted. That’s the champagne that’s flowing.
How did we come INTO Jesus. How do we come INTO Jesus and share in His salvation and life?
Verse 13 says
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
Do you see how we become included in Christ? We HEAR the gospel and believe it and the Holy Spirit grafts us into Jesus and marks us with a seals – a stamp that says “Property of Jesus Christ.”
All of salvation is locked up IN Jesus. And when we hear the gospel about Jesus, we see Him for who He really is, we trust Him and the Spirit brings us INTO the immeasurable riches that are stored up IN Christ.
That’s where the Christian is – immovable, unshakeably, irreversibly. That’s where we ARE: IN JESUS. But Paul begins chapter 2 by reminding us where we were.
Before we were in Christ we were in Adam – we thought about this last week.
We were born into Adam’s humanity – sinful, guilty, under judgement. That’s every one of us naturally. And what was that like? Ephesians 2 will spell that out. Read with me:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
That is the natural state of humanity. That is life in Adam. DEAD.
Spiritually dead. Not just spiritually sleepy or spiritually weak or spiritually ill. Spiritually DEAD. Cut off from the life of God. And so what humanity needs is not a leg up, not a helping hand, not a shot in the arm, not a motivational pep-talk – we need resurrection.
But not only were we spiritually dead, we were also spiritually dominated.
In Adam we were (v2) helpless sheep following after the ways of the world and following after Satan (he is the ruler of the kingdom of the air).
Now probably our lives in Adam didn’t feel like we were being dominated. Probably they felt like, v3: we were just gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature.
That just means our sinful nature got hungry and we fed it with whatever junk-food sins were available. This is our natural state in Adam. We get hungry, we eat. We have an itch and we scratch it. Our sinful nature wants to be gratified and we sin away.
Now verse 3 relates really interestingly to verse 2 don’t you think. Because v3 tells us we just do what we want to do. But verse 2 tells us: that was our slavery.
Being in Adam is a really insidious kind of domination. Because it doesn’t feel like we’re being dominated most of the time. It just feels like, we’re doing what we want. But the one thing we never want when we’re in Adam is Jesus. While we were in Adam we didn’t want to come to Him, we didn’t want His Way, His Truth, His Life. We wanted our own way, our own truth, our own life. And that was our slavery.
Do you see the paradox – we were completely free in one sense – doing exactly what we wanted: sinning. But that was our slavery – a slavery to sin, the world and the devil.
And if you follow the devil, you will eventually follow the devil into hell. That is his ultimate destination. And so v3 ends by saying that life in Adam is hell-bound.
[SLIDE – damned]
In Adam we are objects of God’s wrath.
So that was our predicament in Adam –dead, dominated and damned.
What hope did we have? None. None whatsoever. Not in ourselves. Our only hope was if God acted. But that’s what Paul unpacks from verse 4. We were dead, dominated and damned but, v4:
4 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.
Here is God’s salvation. It’s not a helping hand, it’s not a leg-up, it’s not a shot in the arm, it’s not a motivational pep-talk, it’s not an offer of assistance, it’s not 6 steps to a happier, healthier you. God raised us from the dead.
Remember the story of Lazarus in John’s Gospel? Lazarus has been dead for four days and Jesus comes to the tomb and says to His dead friend, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11 verse 44 says “The dead man came out.” Even while dead, Christ made him alive.
That’s exactly what Paul says happened to each of us when we heard the gospel. Verse 5 – just like Lazarus, we were made alive with Christ even while we were dead in transgressions.
How does a dead person hear Christ’s word and respond?? How did Lazarus hear and respond to the word of Christ? I don’t know. All I know is, there was no power in Lazarus to be able to hear. It’s not like he was a really good listener. It’s not like he was one of those corpses that are particularly open towards being resurrected. There’s no credit that Lazarus can claim for this. The power for this miracle does not lie in Lazarus. But there is resurrection power in the word of Christ. And somehow His word can cause the dead to hear and respond.
And Paul says, that’s what’s happened to us. We’ve been called out of the dead by Christ’s word.
But it’s better than that. We’re not just like Lazarus who was raised temporarily to a bit more earthly life. No, v6:
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 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.
Isn’t this astonishing? We used to be so united to Adam that we were objects of wrath. Now we are so united to Christ that we go where He goes. And where has Jesus gone? To the right hand of God the Father Almighty – to the heart of heaven, to the throne of the universe. And where Christ has gone, we’ve gone too. And the blessings He is showered with, we are showered with. We are drenched in the incomparable riches of God’s grace, immersed in His kindness as we are exalted to the heavenly realms.
We were dead, dominated, damned. Now we have infinite grace, mercy and kindness.
What did we ever do to deserve this?
Absolutely jack diddly squat.
And that’s the whole point.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works so that no-one can boast.
Can you imagine Lazarus boasting on the day he was raised? Telling everyone the secret of getting resurrected? Take it from me, when you’re dead you’ve got to remain really alert and responsive. Don’t let the maggots eat your ear drums. Stay tuned to the resurrection power around you. No, all he could do was point to Jesus. And say “It was Him, it was Him, it was all and only Him. I just found myself drawn to His word. I just found myself in His presence. I can’t tell you how it happened but the word of Jesus did it. Suddenly I was no longer dead, suddenly I heard Him and everything changed.”
That’s what it’s like for us. There is NOTHING we contribute to our salvation. Which is why a boasting Christian is a contradiction in terms. We’re not a black belt in the spiritual arts, we’re not top of the class, we’re not gold medalists in the spiritual Olympics. We’re dead, dominated, damned beggars who have been brought into the throne room out of God’s sheer kindness and mercy.
How do we get a hold of this salvation? It sounds so extraordinary – how do I get hold of such a great salvation? Well the first thing to learn about it, is that God gets a hold of us. It is, v8, the GIFT of God. It’s not our doing. It’s His. We just receive the gift, v8, through faith. And when Paul says ‘through faith’ he’s just giving a little short-hand for what he’s already said in chapter 1 verse 13. There he said we heard the word of truth and we believed. Receiving salvation THROUGH FAITH is basically hearing the word of truth and believing.
And chapter 2 verse 9 underlines that receiving salvation through faith is the OPPOSITE making salvation happen by WORKS.
We are saved by faith and not by works. Faith is in total opposition to works. Works are the deeds that we do whether good or evil. And Paul says, when it comes to salvation God does not want your works, He wants your trust.
If you want to look into this more, I recommend reading Romans chapters 3 and 4 this week to see how Paul contrasts works – whereby we try to earn God’s salvation – and faith, through which we simply receive God’s salvation.
In Romans chapter 4, he makes the contrast like this:
4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the person who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, their faith is credited as righteousness.
So think about it: v4 – when you WORK (in your job or whatever) your wages aren’t a gift. You don’t go to your boss at the end of the month and say “Please, I’d be so grateful if you’d find it in your heart to pay me for the work I’ve been doing all month for you. That would be so kind of you to give me my hard earned wages.” No, you say “Pay me my money or I’ll sue you.” Works lead to payment and it’s an obligation.
But question – Is God our paymaster who is obliged to hand over salvation to us like it’s some wage? Is that God? No.
Well then why do we so often slave away as though He’s a paymaster. We mustn’t work for God like that. Instead, v5, to the person who doesn’t work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, their simple faith is credited as righteousness. Wicked sinners are credited with righteousness when they do NOT work but simply trust.
If you want wages from God than Romans 6:23 has a sobering warning for you.
If you want your wages, if you want your just deserts, then the wages of sin is death. But if you don’t want to cast God as a Paymaster, but instead simply receive His salvation by faith…
… then the GIFT of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
God does not want your works, He wants your trust. He doesn’t NEED your works – Christ’s work is entirely sufficient. Christ has lived your life and died your death and risen from the grave and He sits in heaven on your behalf – Christ’s work is enough.
God doesn’t need Christ’s work AND your work thank you very much. Put your work away – it just doesn’t compare. God doesn’t want Christ’s work AND your work. Because if you add your work to His, what are you saying?? You’re saying “Christ’s work is not enough.” You’re saying “I don’t trust Christ to save me. I don’t trust HIS work. I trust my works.” Do you see why it’s got to be faith alone?
Jesus’ last words on the cross were “It is finished.” He was saying “I’ve completed the work of salvation. I have accomplished everything required for the salvation of sinners. The work you’ve tried to do but failed – I’ve done it. It’s complete. It’s over. It’s finished.” And every time someone tries to earn their salvation they’re saying to Jesus “Wrong. You haven’t finished it Jesus. I’ve got to finish the job. The work you’ve tried to do but failed – I’ve finished it.” Every time we offer our works to God to save us we’re saying Christ’s work failed, but our works are sufficient.
And the minute you’ve said that you show that you don’t trust Christ to save you at all.
No, if we really trusted Him, we would put our hand to our mouth and shut up. We would allow Jesus to work our salvation for us. We would stop trying to contribute OUR works and would TRUST ONLY in His work. And that’s salvation by faith alone.
But someone might object and ask – “Are you saying that there’s no place for our good works with God? Is there no place then for our good deeds?”
Well, actually there is a place for our good works. Verse 10 tells us the place for our good works. The place is AFTER we are saved.
10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Once you are re-created IN Christ Jesus – then work away. We thought about this last week: Once you have been grafted into the True Vine – Jesus – go and bear fruit. Now you are IN Christ – go and live His life. Now you are royalty – live like it. But it’s not works and then salvation. It’s salvation and then works. Christ saves the wicked and then the wicked go off and start living His life.
Which is the polar opposite of every other religion. Every other religion says “Do this, Do that, Do the other, and then maybe you’ll be in.” Jesus Christ says “Come to me, right now, all you dead, dominated, damned, wicked sinners– come to me just as you are, in all your sin. I’ve finished your work, It’s done, just receive it from me, trust me – and get saved. Then go and do good works.”
But the pressures off. It’s not DO, then maybe you’ll be in. It’s: You’re IN. Now do.
Jesus told that famous story about a sinful son (the prodigal son) who rejects his father completely and runs away from home with his dad’s money. When the money runs out he comes home to get a job. Do you remember? That’s his plan. He reckons he might just be able to work as a slave for his dad, to treat his dad like a paymaster, a slaver-driver and get a wage.
But his dad won’t let him. The father doesn’t want to be a slave-driver for his son. No he receives his son back and throws a party and puts his robe around him and a ring on his finger – and he says “This son of mine was dead and now he’s alive.” The wicked sinner is IN, not by works but by the grace of the father.
Now next morning this wicked son wakes up still smelling of pig sty. As he comes to in the morning, he wonders whether he’s back in the far country and then his eyes refocus and he remembers what happened the night before. He’s IN his father’s house, he’s still got the robe wrapped around him and the ring on his finger – even AS he stinks of pig. You know from that day on I’ll bet that son started working for his dad like he’d never worked before. I’ll bet he worked with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. Not like an entitled slave, but like a grateful son.
And that’s where works come in. Once we really get faith alone, then we can really start to work. And it’ll be the kind of work God’s really pleased with. Not the entitled slavery of a wage earner, but the joyful service of a child with their father.
Which is why when the reformers of the 16th century spoke of faith alone they would always stress that, yes,
We are saved by faith alone. But the faith that saves is never alone.
Turn to James 2
James 2 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
That word “such” is important. James is talking about the KIND of faith that is true, living saving faith. And there is a KIND of faith that passes itself off as true faith – but it’s not. Verse 15
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
And now here is an example of this false faith that masquerades as saving faith.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.
I have a member of my family who, if you ask him whether he knows Jesus personally, he literally recites the creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And of course as James points out here – the devil believes that. That’s demon-faith. That’s not true faith.
And then James gives an example of true faith from the Old Testament.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
In Genesis 22 Abraham was incredibly obedient to God. Verse 22:
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
Abraham believed God back in Genesis 15 and was declared to be righteous way back in Genesis 15 a good decade at least before Genesis 22 when he was so obedient. So the true faith of Genesis 15 was vindicated by the true obedience of Genesis 22.
Back in Genesis 15 Abraham was declared righteous by FAITH ALONE. You can go back and read it, you’ll see he was credited with righteousness – that is, he was justified – by faith alone. But that bore fruit in good works years later. The faith that saved was not alone. And that’s the sense in which we understand verse 24:
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
The argument is – what KIND of faith saves. And Abraham’s example shows us it’s the kind of faith that’s vital and living – that united us to the Lord Jesus and bears fruit in good deeds.
Faith alone does save. But the faith that saves is never alone.
James is not saying to us – Have demon-faith, add some good works to it and you’ll be saved. He’s saying – watch out for demon-faith, for false faith – mere agreeing to the creed.
Can you really imagine that at the gates of heaven Jesus Christ will be standing there with a clipboard asking “So, the virgin birth. Do you strongly agree? Agree? Disagree? Strongly disagree?” No, the devil could pass that test! That’s not living, saving faith. And you can tell it’s not living, saving faith because it doesn’t bear fruit in any kind of Jesus-like life.
So if we don’t know whether we’ve got living faith, or if we’re not bearing fruit in good deeds, what do we need? We need the real thing! All of us need living faith in Jesus Christ.
And how do we get that?
We look again to Jesus.
Let me close with this illustration. When David fought Goliath it was mano e mano. The Philistine army lined up behind Goliath – their champion. The Israelite army lined up behind David – their champion. If David fell, all the Israelites lost. If Goliath fell, all the Philistine army fell.
None of the Israelites wanted to take on Goliath. None of them could have. They were shaking in their boots, threatening to desert, scared to death. But David stepped forward and in such apparent weakness he killed Goliath. And he did it for his people. David’s victory was his people’s victory.
1 Samuel 17:52 says that when the people SAW David’s victory “the men of Israel surged forward with a shout.”
What is faith? Faith is seeing David’s victory. All you need to do is see it. And if you see it, everything changes.
Now can you imagine a forlorn Israelite soldier on that day. His friends are all going over the top, and he’s stuck there, still feeling weak and useless, still afraid of Goliath, still worried about what’s going to happen, still wondering whether God is really on their side or not. Well what would you counsel such a friend? You’d say “Look! Look at David. Don’t look at yourself. Don’t look at Goliath. Look at David. Don’t you realize who he is? He is our Champion. He is our king. And don’t you realize your relationship to him? We are united to him. His victory is our victory. Look at David. Look at his victory again. And when you see it – that’s faith.
And that faith will result in shouting – rejoicing. And it will result in surging forward and plundering the Philistines. True faith will produce the joy and produce the works. But first you’ve got to look.
Same with us. Look to Jesus. Open the bible, come expectantly to church and growth group. Romans 10:14 says ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.’ So keep putting yourself in the way of the word of Christ. Keep hearing until you see Jesus with the eyes of faith. You see what he did by dying on the cross to defeat the enemy. You realize your relationship to Him – He is your Champion and His victory is your victory. Look to Jesus. And then the joy will come, then the works will follow. But you can’t get the joy first, you can’t muster up the works first. First LOOK.
It is ever the Holy Spirit's work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan's work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, "Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus." All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that "Christ is all in all." Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee-it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee-it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument-it is Christ's blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by "looking unto Jesus." Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee. (CH Spurgeon)