(from a manuscript of a sermon preached on 12/23/12 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Today is the 100th sermon in the series on Romans. And, the Lord willing, we’re going to be going over one verse. That verse is Romans chapter 11, verse 6. Let’s read it:
Romans 11: (6) But if by grace, no longer [is it] of works; else grace no longer becomes grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; else work is no longer work.
In the previous sentence, verse 5, Paul spoke of the “election of grace.” Here he takes the occasion to speak of grace versus works, especially in the context of election. And you can see by the wording he uses that he is putting forth a logical argument. Let’s let A be grace and B be works. The logical argument is this: If A, then not B, else A is not A. If B, then not A, else B is not B. This is a very powerful argument about the EXCLUSIVITY of A and B. Let’s talk about exclusivity. If one thing is EXCLUSIVE of another, that means that both cannot be true at the same time. If A and B are EXCLUSIVE of one other, then A and B cannot both be true. And there is no more powerful way of demonstrating exclusivity than the way Paul demonstrated it: If A is true, then B cannot be true, or else A really isn’t A. If B is true, then A cannot be true, or else B really isn’t B. I’ll give a concrete example of this logic using dogs and cats. If an animal is a dog, then it is not a cat. If a dog were a cat, then a dog really isn’t a dog. If an animal is a cat, then it is not a dog. If a cat were a dog, then a cat really isn’t a cat. If an animal is a dog, it CANNOT be a cat. And if an animal is a cat, it CANNOT be a dog. They are MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. But we’re not just talking about dogs and cats here. We’re talking about something of eternal significance. If you mix grace and works up, it’s deadly. Now here’s what you get if you plug the words “grace” and “works” back into the argument: If salvation is by grace, then it CANNOT be of works, or else grace really isn’t grace. If salvation is by works, then it CANNOT be of grace, or else work really isn’t work. When it comes to salvation, from election to justification to glorification, grace and works are ABSOLUTELY EXCLUSIVE of one another.
Believe it or not, some people have used the words “no longer” – or “no more” in the KJV – to put forth the notion that salvation USED to be by works, but it is NO MORE or NO LONGER by works. All I’ll say about this ridiculous and heretical interpretation is that the phrase “no longer” or “no more” is used in logical arguments and rhetoric to make a point, not to make a statement about time. You can substitute the word “henceforth” if you like lofty rhetoric, so it would read, “But if by grace, it is henceforth not of works.” Suffice it to say that it’s a rhetorical device and not a statement that salvation used to be by works. Of course, none of us who are believers would ever think that there was a time of salvation by works. So much for that aside.
In this passage, the Holy Spirit through Paul is also showing us that words mean things. “Grace” and “works” mean things. To go back to the dog and cat illustration, if you start calling all cats “dogs,” or even SOME cats “dogs,” then what does the word “dog” mean anymore? The word “dog” has lost its meaning. The words “dog” and “cat” mean things. So, too, you can’t legitimately call something grace that’s really works, and you can’t legitimately call something works that’s really grace. If you start calling all works “grace,” or even SOME works “grace,” then the word “grace” has become meaningless. If you start calling all or some salvation by works “salvation by grace,” then the phrase “salvation by grace” has become meaningless. So let’s go into what “grace” and “works” really mean.
“Grace” means unmerited favor. Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines “grace” as “Favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves.” Now I would add to this definition and say that grace is favor shown without regard to the worth, merit, WORKS, or EFFORTS of the one who receives it.” That makes it much clearer. Some would say that God shows grace in RESPONSE TO what a person does, and it is still grace because that person did not DESERVE a response and was not WORTHY of a response, and such a response was not MERITED. Yet in this scheme, “grace” is still favor shown with regard to that person’s EFFORTS. So it’s really key to define grace to exclude works - after all, our passage today INSISTS that grace exclude works, right? So we’d better have it in the definition!
“Works” are things that someone does. Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines “works” as “Acts or deeds.” Now that’s fine, as long as “acts or deeds” are all-inclusive of EVERYTHING that a person does, INCLUDING what a person says and thinks. This INCLUDES a person’s EFFORTS. Now “effort” means physical or mental exertion. Sometimes you’ll hear me pair “works” and “efforts” together, like I did a little while ago in the definition of grace. And there’s a reason for that. Even though “works” INCLUDE “efforts,” many just think of works as outward acts or deeds. Adding the term “efforts” makes the necessary implication of MENTAL exertion. For example, some would think that praying is not a work, since it doesn’t involve any outward action. Thus, if God saves a person based on that person’s praying, then it is not salvation based on works. Can you see how heretical this is? This is salvation conditioned on a person’s prayer. Yet some people would call this “grace.” The truth is that PRAYER is a WORK. Even if you pray in your mind and do not pray outwardly with your vocal cords and lips, you are performing a WORK. It is an EFFORT of the MIND. Do you see that?
Now I want to say right here that all works are not necessarily bad or evil. When people hear “grace versus works,” they might think, “grace is good, works are bad.” But that is only true when you’re talking about the ground of salvation, the gaining and maintaining of salvation and acceptance before God. So it is TRUE that “SALVATION BY GRACE is good, and SALVATION BY WORKS is bad.” But notice that I put “salvation by” in front of grace and works. It is certainly true that salvation by works is evil. But does that make all works evil? Well, if that were the case, then everything a saved person DOES is evil — all of his actions, thoughts, and words are evil. We know from Scripture that this is not the case. In fact, the Bible speaks of GOOD works. And every single regenerate person without exception does good works. There’s no such thing as a saved person who does not do good works. The Holy Spirit through James says that if someone does not have good works, then he is not a true believer - he does not have true faith. So works are absolutely important in the life of a believer. However, the grace versus works argument in our passage is talking about something specific. NO BELIEVER believes that ANY PART of his salvation, from election to regeneration to final glory, is based on his works, including his any of his efforts.
Let’s now turn to some other passages that speak of grace and works in the context of salvation. Before we read them, I want to talk about something that you are going to see in some of these passages. In addition to the words “grace” and “works” juxtaposed, you’re going to see the words “faith” and “works” juxtaposed. Now since this is a sermon about grace versus works, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about faith versus works - I already did that in some of the sermons on Romans chapter 4. But I do want to mention it briefly. The first part of Romans 4:16 says this: “Because of this, it is of faith, that it be according to grace.” If salvation is truly through faith, then it necessarily means that it is by grace. True faith - the faith that all believers have - is not a condition of or prerequisite to salvation; instead, true faith believes that Jesus Christ ALONE met all the conditions for salvation. Faith is the instrument through which a believer receives the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and is justified. Faith is like a pot, and imputed righteousness is like water. God immediately gives us a full pot when He saves us. So whenever you see salvation or justification by faith, it necessarily means salvation or justification by grace through the instrument of faith, which is not a condition of or prerequisite to salvation but believes that Jesus Christ alone met all the conditions for salvation. Now let’s read some passages about grace and works:
Romans 3: (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin. (21) But now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Law, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, (23) for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth [as] a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus. (27) Then where [is] the boasting? It was excluded. Through what law? Of works? No, but through a Law of faith. (28) Then we conclude a man to be justified by faith without works of Law.
Romans 4: (1) What then shall we say our father Abraham to have found according to flesh? (2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has a boast, but not with God. (3) For what does the Scripture say? And Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. (4) Now [to one] working, the reward is not counted according to grace, but according to debt. (5) But to the [one] not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (6) Even as also David says of the blessedness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: (7) Blessed [are those] whose lawlessnesses are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; (8) blessed [the] man to whom [the] Lord will in no way charge sin.
Romans 9: (11) for [the children] not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of the [One] calling, (12) it was said to her, The greater shall serve the lesser; (13) even as it has been written, I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.
Romans 9: (30) What then shall we say? That [the] nations not following after righteousness have taken on righteousness, but a righteousness of faith; (31) but Israel following after a Law of righteousness did not arrive at a Law of righteousness? (32) Why? Because [it was] not of faith, but as of works of Law. For they stumbled at the Stone-of-stumbling, (33) as it has been written, Behold, I place in Zion a Stone-of-stumbling, and a Rock-of-offense, and everyone believing on Him will not be shamed.
Galatians 2: (16) knowing that a man is not justified by works of Law, but that [it i]s through faith [in] Jesus Christ (we also believed into Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith [in] Christ and not by works of Law, because all flesh will not be justified by works of Law). (21) I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness [is] through Law, then Christ died without cause.
Galatians 3: (5) Then He supplying the Spirit to you and working works of power in you, [is it] by works of Law or by hearing of faith? (6) Even as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, (7) know, then, that those of faith, these are sons of Abraham. (8) And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel before to Abraham: All the nations will be blessed in you. (9) So that those of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham. (10) For as many as are out of works of Law, [these] are under a curse. For it has been written, Cursed [is] everyone who does not continue in all the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them. (11) And that no one is justified by Law before God [is] clear because, The just shall live by faith. (12) But the Law is not of faith, but, The man doing these things shall live in them.
Galatians 5: (2) Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. (3) And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the Law, (4) [you] whoever are justified by Law, you were severed from Christ; you fell from grace.
Ephesians 2: (8) For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God; (9) not of works, that not anyone should boast;
Titus 3: (4) But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, (5) not by works in righteousness which we had done, but according to His mercy, He saved us through [the] washing of regeneration and renewal of [the] Holy Spirit, (6) whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Savior; (7) that being justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to [the] hope of eternal life.
One of the verses we read was Romans 4:4. It says this: “But to one working, the reward is not imputed according to grace, but according to debt.” If someone works for a reward and gets a reward because he works for it, this reward is not gotten because of grace. The person who worked for the reward actually DESERVED or MERITED the reward. If someone believes that he must do something to gain or maintain God’s favor, then if God were to give His favor, would God’s favor be an act of GRACE? NO! God would actually OWE favor to that person. Remember - grace is unmerited favor. Grace is giving something to someone that they do not deserve. If someone believes that his efforts form at least some part of his entitlement to salvation, then is his salvation by grace, or does God OWE him salvation?
So we see that salvation by grace and salvation by works are totally incompatible with one another. And we can see how this relates to the gospel. In Acts 20:24, Paul called the gospel “the gospel of the grace of God.” That’s what it is - it’s the gospel of God’s grace. The gospel is the good news of God’s promise to save His people conditioned on what? Conditioned on anything man does? Conditioned on any human work or effort? No. God promises to save His people conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ alone, TOTALLY APART from man’s works and efforts. It is only the true gospel if it excludes all of man’s works and efforts. Thus, if anyone believes the true gospel, he believes in salvation by grace and not by works. To put it another way, if anyone believes that salvation is conditioned on what man does in ANY WAY to ANY DEGREE, he does not believe the gospel. If anyone believes that his own works and efforts form at least part of the ground of his salvation or acceptance before God, or make at least part of the difference between salvation and damnation, he does not believe the gospel. And we know that all who do not believe the gospel are not saved.
Let’s think of those who believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, including those who are or will be damned in hell. You will hear these people talk about grace. But is it really grace? They believe that the blood of Jesus Christ made an atonement for everyone without exception. So what is it that makes the difference between salvation and damnation to them? Is it the work of Jesus Christ? No, because they believe that Jesus Christ did the same thing for everyone without exception, including those who are or will be damned in hell. What, then, makes the difference between salvation and damnation? It is their OWN WORKS AND EFFORTS. They made themselves to differ from the others for whom Christ died by SOME EFFORT ON THEIR PART. That’s salvation by works, not grace. Their so-called “grace” is not grace. Grace has been stripped of its true meaning.
But what about those who would agree that Jesus Christ only died for those whom God had chosen to save, and all for whom Jesus Christ died will be saved, yet they believe that there are one or more conditions that the sinner must meet in order to be saved? Some will say that the condition is faith; others will say that the condition is perseverance; others have different conditions and will say it in different ways, such as, “Your everlasting habitations are based on your present stewardship.” Yet they believe that there are conditions that the sinner must meet. Some will say that Jesus Christ purchased these conditions on the cross and that God infallibly enables these sinners to meet these conditions. Some will even call them “non-meritorious conditions.” They think that just calling them non-meritorious will make them non-meritorious. But just think about it: Anybody can make ANYTHING a condition and then call it “non-meritorious” in an attempt to fend off the charge of conditionalism and even to soothe their own consciences. They could say that making a trip to Mecca is a condition of salvation but that it is non-meritorious because Jesus Christ purchased this condition on the cross and God enables all of the elect to meet this condition. Every condition that you can possibly think of, including any of the Roman Catholic conditions, could be labeled as “non-meritorious.” But, back to Romans 11:6 and Romans 4:4, is this really grace? Or is it a form of works and thus debt? If you think about it, it is STILL salvation conditioned on the sinner. It is salvation conditioned on God-enabled works. Their so-called “grace” is not grace. Grace has been stripped of its true meaning.
Let’s now talk about grace vs. works in the immediate context of our passage in Romans 11. As we saw before, in the previous sentence, verse 5, Paul spoke of the “election of grace.” So let’s talk about election by grace versus election by works. Paul clearly said that if it’s by grace, it can’t be by works, and if it’s by works, it can’t be by grace. Election by grace is God’s choosing to save certain people from before the foundation of the world without regard to the chosen people’s worth, merit, works, or efforts. How could anyone conceive of election by works? Well, there is a large segment of professing Christians who believe that before the foundation of the world, God looked down through the corridors of time and saw who would choose him, and then, based on this, he chose them. So in this scheme, God foreordained to eternal life those whom he foresaw would believe the gospel. That’s quite a theological contortion, isn’t it? Well, these people can’t tear the word “election” out of their Bibles - that would be too conspicuous - so they go to great lengths to make election compatible with free will. And in doing that, they come up with a very blatant form of works election. They might as well have just torn the word “election” out of their Bibles. I don’t even know how they can call this “grace” with a straight face.
So we see from this passage that salvation, including election, is totally, absolutely, 100% by the grace of God, and it is ZERO percent by man’s works. Since we’re onto percentages, let’s think in these terms for a little bit. We’ve seen that it’s either grace or works. There’s no in-between. Think of someone who believes that salvation is 100% by his own works and 0% by the grace of God. Would you say that this person believes in works salvation? Yes, of course. What about this: Someone believes that salvation is 50% by the grace of God and 50% by his own works. Well, what would make the ultimate difference in salvation? Of course, works would. So this person believes in works salvation. How about a person who believes that salvation is 99.9% by the grace of God and 0.1% by his own works? Does this person believe in works salvation? Again, what would make the ultimate difference in salvation? If God did his 99.9% part, would this guarantee salvation? If God did 99.9999%, and it was up to the sinner to do 0.0001%, what would make the ultimate difference? What if this person refused to do his 0.0001%? Would God’s 99.9999% ensure this person’s salvation? Nope. So even THAT is salvation by works. It has to be 100% by God’s grace, or else it is salvation by works, no matter how small you try to make man’s part. And if you do not believe that salvation is 100% by God’s grace, with absolutely NO conditions to be met by the sinner, then you do not believe the gospel. If salvation is by grace, then it cannot be by works in any way to any degree. And that is the only way the gospel can be good news. It is GOOD NEWS that salvation is not left up to us! If it were left up to us, we would all die in our sins and go to hell. But because of God’s wondrous grace, He chose us before the foundation of the world, Christ’s atonement guaranteed our salvation, the Holy Spirit saves us in time, and we are as sure and certain for heaven as if we were already there, TOTALLY based on God’s grace, and based on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that we have done or continue to do or are enabled to do. THAT’S grace. Amen.