Salvation by Grace Through Faith
December 2nd, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-2-56 7:30 p.m.
Now in our Bible, let us turn to the second chapter of the Book of Ephesians, and the text is Ephesians 2:8 and 9 and 10. But we’ll read the first ten verses: Ephesians the second chapter and the first ten verses – toward the latter part of your Bible, the Book of Ephesians, the second chapter. If your neighbor doesn’t have a Bible, share it with him, and let’s read it together: the first ten verses of the second chapter of the book of Ephesians. All right, together:
And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved),
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
And my text, one of the tremendously great sentences of the Bible: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves” [Ephesians 2:8] – “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy did He save us” [Titus 3:5] – “And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works,” lest any man should say, “I did it!” – “Lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9].
There are two ways and only two that a human heart can seek salvation. It’s a simple choice. It is that simple between this way and another way. The two ways are man’s way; the other is God’s way. Man’s way is by self-merit, by self righteousness, by his own achievement of goodness and character and reputation. There are many, many ways by which man has sought to work out his own salvation.
Sometimes it will be by self-torture – the chastisement and the immolation of the body. All of us are familiar with those evidences of the castigation of the human flesh whereby men have sought to appear virtuous and meritorious under God. Sometimes they would live in a monastery shut out from all the human race. Sometimes they will dress in sackcloth and in horsehair cloth and do endless penance. Sometimes they will scourge themselves, sometimes fast endlessly. Sometimes, especially in an oriental country and in a country like India, they will go through all manner of torture in order that they might be acceptable unto God.
Man has sought to work out his own salvation through every kind of sacrifice that mind could think of. I suppose there is no visitor who ever goes to Mexico City but that goes out to see the famous pyramid of the sun and of the moon by the ancient Aztecs, Indians. And if you will go to the great museum in Mexico City, you will find there contemporaneous art depicting the worship of those Aztec Indians. The purpose of that great pyramid of the sun and that great pyramid of the moon was for human sacrifice. And in the museum, I saw contemporary pictures drawn by the artists who lived in the day, and they show there the terrible offering of human life for the sins of the people.
Was a common thing in the ancient, long-ago day. When God said to Abraham, “Take your son, and on the mount I will show thee of, there offer him unto God” [Genesis 22:1-2], that was not an unusual command according to the deities of the day. In the burning arms of Molech, mothers threw their children [Jeremiah 32:35]. In the wasting waters of the Ganges, the fruit of the body offered for the sin of the soul. It was everywhere. And animal sacrifice was a universal temple worship. God only knows the Amazons and the Amazons of the rivers of blood that have been shed in man’s attempt to expiate the sin of his soul.
Sometimes, and especially in our modern time, our contemporary life, men are persuaded that by good works, they can find entrance into ultimate glory. Satan whispers into the human heart, “You do the best you can, and you’ll come out all right.” But in the sixty-fourth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, God says, “Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight” [Isaiah 64:6]. And whispered from Satan in the man’s ear, he says, “You keep the Golden Rule, and you’ll be sure of heaven.” But God says, “There’s none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” [John 14:6].
And Satan has his greatest masterpiece fashioned in this world when he whispers to the hearts of men, “These ecclesiastical and these sacramental and these ceremonial virtues are sure-fire entrances into the glory that is to come.” Satan is the most religious of all God’s created beings. Back there in the ancient day, he had his heathen temples on every high hill. Every acropolis, every Acrocorinthus, in every grove, there did Satan have his temple; and his deities were multiplied by the thousands and the millions. And today, he has his churches, and he has his ceremonies, and he has his rites, and he whispers to the human heart:
You be baptized, and you wash your sins away. You observe this memorial, and you’ll have a continuing salvation. You join the church; it’s a ticket to glory. You observe all of the rites and the rituals that are taught you by the ecclesiastic, and you won’t be lost. Mother church will take you to heaven.
And they depend upon sacerdotalism and sacramentalism in order to find peace with God and someday live in His presence. That’s man’s way.
We have a choice of another way: God’s way. God’s way is a simple way, and if the Lord will help me tonight, we’ll make it just as plain and simple as God hath wrought it and revealed it in the Book. God’s way is a simple way: “By grace are ye saved through faith” [Ephesians 2:8]. By grace are you saved.
I do not suppose that to the ancient Greek there was a more beautiful word than the word charis translated “grace.” Long, long time ago in ancient Greek literature, charis referred to beauty of countenance and beauty of life and beauty of soul. It was a warm-hearted, inner beauty that shown on the outside. Then the ancient Greek later came to apply the word also to a gift that was unmerited – a grace, a gracious person, a gift bestowed without hope of reward but out of warm-hearted love and affection. And the Christian preacher in the long-ago took that beautiful, beautiful Greek word and spiritualized it, and elevated it, and made it refer to the warm-hearted out-flowing love of God for sinful men.
The graciousness of God saves us [Ephesians 2:8]; the mercies of God save us [Titus 3:5]. We were like autumn leaves, falling and perishing, and the Lord in compassion pitied us and loved us and saved us. God is not like an infinite, timeless ocean, but God is like a living stream pouring into humanity and into this world a fountain of love and mercy [John 4:10, 14]. Because God is gracious, men – sinful men – are welcome. Because God is abounding love [Nehemiah 9:17], sinful man is forgiven. Because His mercy endureth forever [Psalm 136:1-26], sinful man is not destroyed. Because God’s compassions faileth never [Lamentations 3:22], men are saved and converted and forgiven.
It is the grace of God, it is the mercy of God, it is the love of God, it is the pardon of God, it’s the compassion of God, it’s the sacrifice of God, it’s the atonement of God, it’s the expiation of God, it’s the outpouring of God that saves the human heart, delivers the soul from sin and the wrath that is to come [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. God saves His children, and our part is one of humble acceptance. Our part is one of humility in confession. Our part is one of bowing and adoring. Our part is one of gratitude and love. Our part is one of humble thanksgiving and devotion. God gives and the man receives [John 1:12]. God offers and the man takes. No goodness have I, no merit in me, no worth, nothing, Lord – empty-handed [Romans 3:10-12].
Those old hymns are our truest modern theologies: “In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” [From “Rock of Ages,” by Augustus M. Toplady, 1776]; “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the gift of God, and the love of God, and the blood of God in Christ Jesus” [From “Nothing but the Blood,” by Robert Lowry, 1876].
By grace – by unmerited love and favor, by the elected choices of God, by His compassion and mercies – “by grace are ye saved through faith” [Ephesians 2:8]. God had to find something, a common denominator for all men everywhere: an unlearned man who couldn’t read, an uneducated man who couldn’t understand theological language, a child just quickened in his heart by the call of God – a little Samuel, “Samuel. Samuel!” [1 Samuel 3:10] God had to find a common denominator for all men everywhere if He was to save any who called upon Him, and that common denominator that all men have everywhere is the ability to believe, to have faith.
When a man says to me, “Preacher, I just can’t believe,” he’s lying to me for all of life is put together by a succession of endless beliefs. Somebody said every man that plants a seed trusts in God. Emerson [Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882] said, “Men are born believing. A man bears beliefs,” said Emerson, “like a tree bears apples” [“Worship,” Conduct of Life, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860].
When I drive down the highway, I don’t get out to examine the bridges; I believe in the highway department. When I sit down to eat, I believe in the goodness and wholesomeness and healthfulness of the food. I come in this auditorium; I believe that roof will not fall upon us. Drink this water; I believe it is pure. Go down to the bank; I believe in the bank. Our whole life, from the time we’re born until somebody buries us, is an endless succession of commitments and committals and beliefs and trusts. The great common denominator for all men everywhere is faith, trust, belief.
Now it has three parts that the Bible delineates, and first is this: first is hearing. Romans 10:17: “For faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of God.” In Isaiah : “Incline thine ear, and come unto Me. Hear, and your soul shall live” [Isaiah 55:3]. In the seventeenth chapter of John and the third verse: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.”
“Faith cometh by hearing” [Romans 10:17]. I must hear the Word of the Lord. I must listen to the preacher. I must listen to the message, and when I listen, God is in the living Word. He quickens it. It’s like seed sown in a fertile field. The seed of life is in it. The germ of life is in it. “God’s Word is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” [Hebrews 4:12]. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” [Romans 10:17]. That’s the first part of it: I must hear – there where you sit listening to the preacher.
Second part of faith is an acceptance of what I hear. Faith isn’t blind superstition – blind belief. But I listened to the Word, and like a Berean, I can search through the Scriptures [Acts 17:10-11]. And I listen to the testimony of men who preach the Word and of these apostles and evangelists who have written it down; and hearing them, I come to accept their testimony and what they say. A student goes to school, and he listens to his teacher, and he believes what his teacher teaches him and what he sees there and reads there in the book.
I have never been to Alaska, yet I believe there is an Alaska. I studied it in my books, and I listened to the testimony of men who’d been there. I have never been in Tibet. I’ve never seen the Dalai Lama. I have never seen that unusual palace, but I read it in the books and I have listened to the testimony of men who have seen it. I have never been to Rio de Janeiro, but I’ve seen pictures of it, and I have heard of it, and I’ve talked to people who’ve been there, and I accept their testimony. I can do that with the great testifiers – the great witnesses – that that I read here in the Bible.
These men of God: Isaiah pointing to the cross 750 years before Jesus was incarnate and before He died [Isaiah 53:8-10]; and Micah pointing out the little town of which the children sang tonight – little Bethlehem when He was to be born [Micah 5:2]; and the testimony of the great evangelist who saw Him die, “And I saw, I who write these words, I saw blood and water flow out of His side” [from John 19:34-35]; and the testimony of Simon Peter, who, when the apostles saw Him raised from the dead – and John, the sainted apostle and evangelist: “The word of God which our hands have handled and our eyes have seen, even the incarnate Christ Jesus of God” [from 1 John 1:1]. I can accept the testimony of the evangelist and of the preacher pointing toward Jesus Christ.
And I listened to the testimony of godly men. I grew up in the church. Those first impressions never leave me until I die, and I suppose helped to frame my life in heaven that is to come. Old brother Gad, a soldier of Jesus: in the age of his life barely able to walk, his frame all stooped and bent over – faithful in church, get up in prayer meeting and testify of the goodness and the grace of God through all of the years of his life. And the faithful pastor: stand up there in our little church and open the Book and talk to us of the things of God; and those dear sainted people gathered round who loved the Lord. I couldn’t get away or forget or deny or repudiate those great spiritual facts and realities that came into my life. Just like God’s sun shines in the sky, so the Son of righteousness shined in my heart and does today: the testimony of men to the grace and goodness of God in Christ Jesus.
And the day came when I felt that quickening. The Lord did something to my heart. I became sensitive to the call of God, and when the preacher would make his appeal, I felt in my heart I ought to go. I ought to respond. I ought to give my life to Christ. I ought to be baptized. I ought to live in obedience to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:14]. The Lord called my name. He knew my name, and God called me: an acceptance of the thing that I heard.
See my hand, your hand? A hand seems to be made on purpose to receive, to take. When my hand takes a gift, I don’t make the gift. I don’t alter the gift. My hand just takes it. That’s faith. Faith just takes the gift of God. We don’t create it. We just receive it from God’s gracious heart. We receive it, take it. Here! Lift your hand! Open your heart! God’s gifts are ours: His grace, His mercy, His love and compassion. I just take it.
So many of you have been to Rome. All around Rome are those great aqueducts: one of them still in use, most of them fallen down in decay. But in their day, they were magnificently built with great arches. And the aqueduct was a channel through which the fresh, sweet-flowing water from the Alban Hills was channeled to the people of Rome. That aqueduct is faith. Grace is the water of life. The channel is the aqueduct. That’s faith. We just receive by faith the Word and the promise of God.
And that leads to the third part of faith. It’s hearing. It’s accepting. It’s a committal. In 2 Timothy 1 and 12: “For I know whom I have believed.” That was a beautiful song you sang – the last hymn tonight. I know not, and there’s a whole lot of things in the song that it says I don’t know, but “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He’s able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day” [2 Timothy 1:12].
The third part of faith is a committal to God. Is that an unusual thing? No. A committal – a trust expressed in a committal. I read in this last week of a famine-stricken country, and the United States took precious wheat and gave to the people for seed., and they took the seed and buried it in the ground. Oh, friend, what a foolish thing to do: precious wheat with a famine-stricken people, and bury it in the ground! But it was a mark of faith and trust in God. Bury the seed in the ground, and God would raise it up. And God – the leaf, and the head and the corn – God would raise it up and feed the starving people: faith and trust.
I, one time, was operated on for appendicitis by a physician I had never seen in my life until he came and examined my side and said, “Now, now, he must be taken to the hospital and operated on.” I never saw him before. I didn’t know him, but a good deacon said, “This is my friend and my personal physician, and he will see you through.” I never doubted. It was a blessed thing to me to know that a good deacon could point me when I was sick to a physician that could heal my body: trust, committal.
A poor widow here in our church: all she has to live on is some savings down there in one of those banks. She trusts those men.
Our whole lives are lived like that. “Preacher, do you reckon the sun’ll rise in the morning?” I trust God for it. God will make His sun to shine in the morning. We trust God. “Preacher, in the long, long night that lies ahead, Preacher, reckon the sun will shine on another shore in another land in another country?” I trust God for it and commit my life to it.
Now, may I make one little observation before we sing our appeal? My text says, “By grace are ye saved through faith” [Ephesians 2:8]. How many times do we fall into the error of examining our faith to see if we’re saved? Looking at me and examining me; you, looking at you and examining your faith: “I wonder if my faith is good enough. I wonder about my faith,” and we fall into all kinds of doubts and weaknesses. Oh, perturbation of mind and troubled soul and heart – “O, God” – and you’re looking at your faith.
When you make a Christ out of your faith, you’re not doing what the Book says. “By grace are ye saved” [Ephesians 2:8], and faith – that’s just a channel; that’s just a hand. Some of our hands are sure gnarled and weak, and some are old and decrepit. Some can hardly reach out, but it’s not the faith that saves us. It’s the gift of God [Ephesians 2:8]. It’s the grace of God.
It may be aching and reaching out. It may be a feeble opening up. It may be just barely, barely, but that’s not what saves us. I’m not to look at my faith. My assurance of salvation is not my faith. I am saved by grace by the love and mercy of God. Some of us may be strong in the faith and some of us may be weak in the faith, but our faith doesn’t save us. It’s God that saves us. It’s the grace of God. “By grace are ye saved,” [Ephesians 2:8] and faith is just the hand that takes it.
I read up in the north – I read of a hunter that was stopped by a large stream, and his pursuits and interests were on the other side of the river. And it was cold wintertime, and he didn’t know how to get across so he got down on all fours. Slung his gun over his back, got down on all fours, and he was just creeping, creeping, creeping – just gradually going out on that ice-covered river, just gradually going.
And when he got out in the middle of it, when he got out in the middle of it, he heard a sound up the stream and looked up the river, and, lo and behold, there was a logger who had a big wagon filled with logs and a heavy team of draft horses pulling them. And looking up the river, that logger was driving his team and the wagon loaded with logs across the river – and he was there gradually creeping, gradually creeping across.
When I read that, I said, “Isn’t that me and you? Isn’t that us? Just little Mr. Afraid, just little Miss Timid over there, just gradually creeping, but somebody with great faith just driving across.” But the ice holds us up whether it’s timid or whether it’s with tremendous surge of commitment, ’cause it’s not the faith that saves; it’s the grace of God.
Oh, that we could just say, “Lord, in Thy love and in Thy mercy, in Thy goodness, in Thy pardon, Lord, into Thy hands now and forever do I entrust my life and soul – all I am or ever prayed to be.” Would you? Would you? While we sing this song, in humble trust, like you trust God’s world in which you live, would you trust God’s world that is to come – the world of the soul, of the spirit, of the life on the other side? Would you? Into Christ Jesus, answering His call: “Here I am, Pastor, and here I come!” Would you tonight? “By grace” – the love and mercy and forgiveness of God – “through faith” – the hand that’ll take it: would you? Into the aisle and down here to the front giving your heart to Jesus, your hand to me, or a family of you putting your life in the church, or one somebody you: as God shall make the appeal, would you come while we stand and while we sing?
SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Man’s way of saving himself
A. Self-affliction, torment of the body
1. Martin Luther
B. The tragic perversion of sacrifice
1. Human sacrifice
2. Animal sacrifice
C. Good works
1. God says our righteousness is as filthy rags(Isaiah 64:6)
2. No man can be saved by his own righteousness(Acts 4:12, John 14:6)
D. Religious ritual, ceremony and sacrament
1. Satan’s masterpiece is religion(Matthew 4:9)
II. God’s way
A. By grace – charis
1. Among the Greeks, refers to the unnamable something that makes you love somebody, be attracted to somebody
a. Also refers to burst of generosity that would bestow a lavish gift unmerited, without thought of return
2. Christians exalted it in Jesus
3. Our salvation the achievement of the grace of God
4. Our part one of acceptance, trust, hope, surrendered yieldedness
B. Through faith
1. God mediates His love to us through the channel of faith
2. All of us have one thing in common – we live by faith
3. Three parts to saving faith
a. Hearing (Romans 10:17, Isaiah 55:3, Hebrews 4:12)
c. Committing(2 Timothy 1:12)