SALVATION BY GRACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-7-69 10:50 a.m.
And if you share this service on the radio and on television, you are looking at and listening to the worship hour of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled, Salvation By Grace. It is a sermon from one of the great, great texts of the Bible, and one of the great, great theological sentences of all time.
We are in the second chapter of the Book of Ephesians, and the great text is Ephesians :8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
There are two ways in which a man might be saved. There are two possibilities, and only two. There’s not one-and-a-half, there are not three. There are only two ways that a man could be saved. One: he could save himself. That’s one alternative. He can save himself. Or the second: God can save him. And we’re going to take those two alternatives, those two contingent possibilities this morning.
First, that the man save himself. And, of course, this is the dedication of practically all humanity. There are four different ways by which men suppose that they can save themselves.
First—and as I go through these and discuss them you will see it in history and in the present record of human life; first by self-affliction. By the tormenting of the body, there is the hope that we could deliver our souls from death; the tormenting of the body, the self-affliction of this physical frame. All of you have seen pictures—and I have looked upon some of it myself—of the Hindus as they seek to expatiate, to expiate their sins. Some of them will hold their hands up toward heaven and do it so long that their hands are rigid, and they cannot lower them. Some of them will lie on beds of nails and spikes. Some of them will starve themselves to death. Some of them will make long pilgrimages on their knees. They afflict themselves in order to save their souls.
This is particularly and unusually a concomitant of Christianity, one of those strange aberrations of the truth. Martin Luther, did you see that film Martin Luther or read it in his life? Martin Luther, when he was a monk, flagellated himself, beat himself with flagella, a whip, many thonged, beat himself, beat himself, and lie down at night covered in blood.
The great church father Origen, I suppose the greatest theological mind that has ever appeared in the human family, Origen, destroyed his own manhood and flung away by self-emasculation what it is to be a man; the torment and the grieving and the afflicting of the body in order to be delivered from the penalty of death and sin.
Another way that men propose to expiate their guilt, to save themselves, in the aberration of sacrifice; the sacrifices that God pronounced acceptable in His sight were types of the great sacrifice for our sins on the cross. But the distortion of that, seemingly, has been a response of the human heart through all of the millennia.
Have you been to Old Mexico? Have you looked at those Aztec pyramids? Do you know what they were used for? If you visit a museum in Old Mexico, you will see there, sculptured carvings of those ancient Aztec Indians, and there on an altar will be laid a warrior for human sacrifice, with a priest and a knife sharpened. The sacrifice had to be warm in blood, and the heart carved out of the victim had yet to be pulsing with life when the death stroke came, giving the human body for the expiation of sin, in the soul.
I’ve stood at the Ganges River. There, until it was outlawed, through the centuries did mothers come to fling their children into the hungry mouths of the crocodiles in order to save their souls; the fruit of the body for the sin of the soul.
When you read through the Old Testament, you will find that Ahaz, king of Judah, Ahaz made his sons pass through the fire to Molech [2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3]. That’s the way of saying that he offered up his sons to the heathen god Molech. In the Valley of Hinnom, a great brass god, heated, and these who sought to save their souls throw their children into his burning arms. Manasseh did that—King Manasseh who reigned over forty years in Judah offered his own sons to Molech in the Valley of Hinnom [2 Chronicles 33:6].
And under the great revival under Josiah, Josiah defiled and polluted that valley forever [2 Chronicles 34:3-7], and he made it a place where the awful and the dead animals and the garbage and the filth and dirt of the city was poured. That is the New Testament word for hell—Gehenna, Gehenna—the Valley of Hinnom. And it was in that valley—and if you’ve been to Jerusalem, it’s one of the most noticeable of all the topographical features of the land—there they offered their own children for the sin of their souls.
I would suppose that there have been literally Amazons of blood poured out to cover over sin. Walking through Africa, you’ll see blood on the trees and blood on the sticks and blood on the stones. And the missionary will say these are animists who believe that spirits live in all these inanimate objects, and they offer to them blood sacrifices—goats, chickens, blood. That’s a second way that men have sought to be saved.
A third way: there are those who think to save themselves by good works. “If I am good, if I’m good enough, I’ll go to heaven.” They look upon their lives like a ladder with rungs, and they are good and they’re better and they’re still better, and they leave all this vile thing and that iniquitous thing, and they cast this unmentionable out of their lives, and they go up and up and finally they think they will place that ladder against heaven itself. “We’ll be good enough to be saved.”
The Lord says that in His sight all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6], but we don’t think so. We think we’ll be good enough to be saved. There are those who say, “I keep the Golden Rule [Matthew 7:12]. That’s my religion. My religion is the religion of the Golden Rule.” It is surprising to me how shallow is the understanding of the human race of the depth of its depravity. Sin has entered every faculty of our mind, of our emotions, of our wills. Even when a man may be the most altruistic and philanthropic, at that very moment he may be the most selfish and the most prideful.
There is nothing that we do perfectly. There is always the element of mistake, of shortcoming, of human error in everything that we do. And the Lord says no man can be saved by his own righteousness. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” [John 14:6].
A man cannot be saved by his own goodness. He is never good enough. We may look white to one another, but against the pure, spotless, holy background of God Himself, we are black. We are dark. We’re sinful people [Romans 3:23].
The fourth way that men have thought to save themselves is by religious ritual, ceremony, sacrament. “I can do something and save myself.” And that, to me, is the masterpiece of Satan. You know, the more I read the Bible and think about what it reveals, the more I am convinced that Satan, Lucifer, is the great religionist of all of God’s creation. He is the most sensitive to it and desires it the most eagerly and perverts it the most astutely. The Scriptures say he transforms himself into an angel of light [2 Corinthians 11:14].
One of the reasons that I think of him as being a religionist is this: in the fourth chapter of Matthew, in the third temptation, when Satan took Jesus on a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, this is what he said, “This will I give Thee if Thou wilt”—what? —“bow down Thyself, fall down and worship me” [Matthew 4:8-9].
Satan’s masterpiece is religion. And he perverts men’s minds and men’s lives by false, ritualistic hopes—that by ceremony and sacrament we can save ourselves, we can do it.
“If I get myself baptized, I’ll be saved. Water, the ceremony of ablution, washing will cleanse the stain of sin out of my soul.” As though water, as though you were scrubbed with lye soap could ever suffice to wash the stain of sin out of your soul; but men believe that. The ceremony will cleanse me. Or men believe that I can be saved by the sacraments, and they take that word, which is a great Latin word, sacramentum—a great allegiance was used by the Roman legionnaire for his allegiance to his Caesar to his great emperor; a sacramentum. They’ve taken the word and ecclesiastically apply it to a means of grace, of salvation. “You do this, take this sacrament, and you’ll be saved.” Oh, how Satan blinds our eyes to the real faith and to real religion! We must continue.
The alternative to a man’s saving himself is that God alone can save us [Acts 4:12]. And this is the great theological thrust and impact of this marvelous sentence written by the apostle Paul, “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 say, I did it” [Ephesians 2:8, 9].
“By grace are ye saved through faith.” We’ll take one of them at a time. “By grace”; now, that word is one of the most beautifully meaningful words in Greek language, charis the objective declension; charin in the objective case, charin. Mel Carter has a little girl named Karen—charin—Karen, grace. It is a beautiful word. In the Greek language, and the Greeks loved it, it referred to that indescribable, indefinable, unnameable something that makes you love somebody, be attracted to somebody, a winsome graciousness; charis.
By the way, there are so many of those beautiful words in the Greek language. Marguerite is just the simple Greek word for pearl, a pearl, Marguerite. Irene is the simple Greek word for peace, Irene. Stephen is the Greek word, the ordinary Greek word for crown. Dorothea—turn it around, Theodore, is the Greek word for gift of God.
This word, charis, oh, how the Greeks poured meaning into it. In some instances, they would use it to refer to that burst of generosity that would bestow a lavish gift unmerited without thought of reward or return; charis. Now the Christians took that word as beautiful as it was in classic Greek, in New Testament Greek, it is exalted in the name and dedicated to the love and mercy of Christ Jesus; charis, grace. And they used it in so many ways.
A charisma is a gift of God’s grace. A charismatic gift. We’ve taken it into the English language, “charisma, charismatic,” charis. It originally referred to a gift. Then it referred to the forgiveness of a debt. The man couldn’t pay, and in grace, in charis, he forgave a debtor. And finally it came to mean the mercy of God in forgiving us and saving us. And this is how God does it. All of us were perishing like falling autumnal leaves, and God in His goodness and mercy, lifted us up and saved us. He did it [Ephesians 2:8-9].
You see, according to this blessed revelation, the Word of the Lord, God is not like a tideless sea, blissful, holy, undisturbed, separate, apart. Rather, according to the revelation of this Holy Book, God is like a living stream of mercy and love and grace and affection. That’s why you’re like you are. That’s why we are as we are.
God loves and is moved. He is veritably a living stream of affection. And you’re that way. One of those comedians will sing, “Everybody loves somebody sometime.” You may be as hard as nails, you think, made out of cast iron. Nobody ever gets to you. But you’re not. Because on the inside of you, you’re just as soft and tender as you can be. And you can fall in love. That’s what the kids say. You can fall in love and usually do sometime, somewhere.
That’s because you’re like God, and God’s like you. We’re made in His image [Genesis 1:27]. Not an ocean, not a star, not the universe, but you. And God is a veritable stream of love and concern and affection.
Why? Because God is gracious. Therefore, sinners are welcome [Ephesians 2:8]. Because God is abounding, infinite love, He forgives us. Because His mercy endureth forever [Jeremiah 33:11], we are not destroyed. Because He is all-compassionate, Jesus, moved with compassion” is His enduring name [Mark 1:41], therefore, we’re saved [Ephesians 2:8-9].
It’s in God. That’s why Paul would say that our part is one of acceptance, of trust, of hope, of surrendered yieldedness. And he’ll say it positively and negatively, “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” [Ephesians 2:8, 9].
It is something God has done for us. It’s in His mercy [Titus 3:5] and grace [Ephesians 2:8] and love [John 3:16]. But the apostle is very careful to speak of its mediation to us. How does God’s grace and mercy, however He might love us, how does God mediate that love to us by which we’re saved? And the apostle says that God does it through faith, through the channel of faith [Ephesians 2:8].
Now what little time, oh dear, what is left. Let us just look at that a moment: “Through faith” [Ephesians 2:8]. There is a common denominator in every life. All of us have one thing in common, and that’s it. We live by that. We live by trust, by belief, by faith. We just do.
How do I know that the sun is going to rise in the morning? I couldn’t prove it to you. I have no way in the earth to prove that to you. But I believe it. I believe that the sun will rise in the morning. How do I know that my money is safe in the bank? I couldn’t prove it to you, but I believe it. I just do.
How do I know those bridges are safe down which you drive your car? I never got out in my life to examine one of those bridges before I drove the car over it. And had I done it, you’d say, “Our pastor is a blank idiot.” That’s what you’d say. I take it by faith. I just drive that car over it. I believe it’s safe. I don’t get out and examine the posts and pillars and foundations and beams up there when I go underneath the roof. I just take it by faith that the thing is not going to fall on me.
And I do the same thing when I eat. Did you know this last week, I listen to the radio as I visit, as I drive in the car, visiting the hospitals and going around, I listen to the radio. Well, I was very intrigued with a dear cultured lady who was telling us how to eat.
Now she said, God bless her, she said that a long time ago when you sat down to eat, when the servant brought in the food, it was proper and correct that the hostess be served first and then all the guests. But she said, that was because the food might be poisoned.
So when the guests sat there and saw the hostess eat it, why, then they could all feel free to eat it. That’s why the hostess was served first. But she said times have changed now and all of us believe that the food is good. We don’t doubt it. Isn’t that right? We all believe it’s good.
So she said, today when you’re going to be nice—and we all want to be nice. We don’t want to be heathen and pagan and boorish and provincial and uncouth. You know, we all want to be nice. Well, when you’re nice and somebody brings it in—we don’t have any servants. It’d be the eldest daughter, let’s say. When the eldest daughter brings in the food, to be nice nowadays, why, this cultured lady said you first are to serve the guest of honor who sits here on the right of the hostess.
You serve the guest of honor first. Then you serve all of the women. Then you go around. And the only catch in that is, to be real nice, unusually nice, you ought not to take your first bite until the hostess takes the first bite. And that’s a real catch, I tell you. And I’ll show you how it is.
I can’t tell you the number of homes that I have been to when I’ve been invited to break bread with a sweet family. And I sit there on the right, and I’m the guest of honor, and I love that. Can’t help it. It’s easy to get spoiled. So I sit there on the right, the guest of honor, and they serve me first. And there is that table all full of marvelous, delicious hot food and I’ve been saving up for it, and I’m starving to death. Then I wait till all the others are served.
Then I am trying to be nice. I sit there to wait for the hostess to take the first bite, and she’s a talking and talking and talking and she goes out in the kitchen. And she comes back and she talks and talks until finally, I say, “Please sweet, dear hostess, take a bite so I can eat.”
Sweet people, I’m just trying to get us to see that faith is a common denominator of all of us. We live by faith. The food we eat, the roof above us, the bank in which we do business. Ah, the whole fabric of life is faith, belief, trust.
Now there are three parts of it in saving faith. One is hearing. I must hear. I must listen. Paul wrote in Romans, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the ord of God” [Romans 10:17]. That’s why a man ought to preach the Bible when he’s in the pulpit. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” When a preacher stands up in the pulpit and he’s expatiating upon economics and he’s talking about race relations and he’s talking about politics and he’s talking the events of the day, the people can hear him forever and never be saved. Never be convicted.
That’s what they hear on the radio. That’s what they hear from the commentators on television. That’s what they read in the newspapers. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God” [Romans 10:17]. If a man will stand in the pulpit and preach this Book, somebody will be saved. He just will. Maybe not all, but somebody will be saved. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of God” [Romans 10:17].
One of the most marvelous passages in the Bible is Isaiah 55, “Ho, ho, ho, every one that thirsteth [Isaiah 55:1]—and that’s a glorious anthem you sing—”Ho, ho, ho, every one that thirsteth,” do you remember it? “Incline thine ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live” [Isaiah 55:3].
Hear. Hear. Saving faith is hearing [Romans 10:17]. . Saving faith is accepting: I hear it. I accept it as true [Romans 10:8-13]. The testimony of the Book and the testimony of other Christians, I believe it. I’ve never been to Tibet. I believe there’s a Tibet. I’ve never been to Afghanistan. I believe there’s an Afghanistan. I’ve talked to people who were there. I’ve never seen the Himalayan mountains, but I’ve talked to those have. I believe there is a Himalayan range. I believe this testimony. And that’s the channel by which God’s grace comes to me.
Like your hands. Your hands are made on purpose to receive, to take. They just are. They just are. Your hands are made that way. Your soul is made that way. Your soul is made to take, to receive. Like those aqueducts in Rome. Most of them have fallen in ruins, but there’s one that I’ve looked at many times. From those Apennine mountains, living water comes down to the eternal city, a channel of life-giving water. That’s the faith, that’s the channel by which God reaches us with His grace and mercy [Ephesians 2:8].
And the third part of it: not only hearing [Romans 10:17] , not only accepting, but the other part is committing myself to it [Romans 10:8-13]. Like the sower sows his seed in the field. He believes it’ll grow, bring a harvest to God. Like the mariner, out in the trackless sea, he trusts those stars and the mariner’s compass, and he gives himself to it. It’s like a man who’s sick. Under the hands of the surgeon, he trusts the surgeon for it. Like getting in an airplane, you trust the pilot.
That’s the way we’re saved. We trust Jesus for it [Acts 16:30-31]. We hear His voice. We accept it, the offer, the promise that He has made, and we give ourselves to it [John 10:27-30; Romans 10:8-13]. That’s it. When you do that, you’re in. You’ve crossed the threshold. You’ve gone through the door. You’ve stepped over the line. You’re saved. Looking to Jesus, oh, how precious and how sweet a communion, a fellowship, a salvation, a promise, a hope, a vision, a dream, a commitment, a life, a glory. Do it today.
In a moment we’ll stand up to sing and while we sing the appeal, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you to come to the Lord, “Here I am, I make it today” [Romans 10:8-13]. In the balcony round, you can come down the front stairway and make your way here to the pastor. There’s a stairway at the back on either side. On the lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, make the decision now. And in a moment, when we stand up singing, stand up coming into that aisle, down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now.” Do it now. Make it now. When we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.