Beginning with this article, I intend to start a new series on the subject of salvation by grace alone. It is of central importance that we thoroughly understand this truth, and that we know how to take the Scriptures in hand and teach this truth to our children and to others.
We all frequently encounter those who claim to believe that salvation is entirely a gift of God’s grace, but who then contradict themselves when they speak of man having to fulfill a condition to be saved. When speaking to these people, we do well to explain to them key passages of Scripture that show what is wrong with this very prevalent false teaching.
Furthermore, when our children are young, and when we ask them why God has saved them instead of other people, they sometimes give us an answer that suggests that they also are holding to the false notion that they are saved because of something that they have done. For example, if you ask young children in catechism why God chose to save us rather than other people, it is not uncommon to hear one of them say that God chose us because we believe when others do not believe. It is, therefore, of great importance that we understand some central passages that we can use to explain to them clearly what it means that our salvation is entirely a gift of God’s grace.
With that in mind, I plan to cover this subject a bit differently than I have in the past. Each article will have especially one passage of Scripture as its theme. The goal will be to promote our being better equipped, not only to quote Scripture, but also to discuss certain key passages in their context.
We start this series of articles with a passage that says that man by nature never seeks God. This passage is a good one with which to begin, since it manifests clearly that first God saves a person, and only then does that person begin to seek after God.
Does anyone seek God?
If we encounter a child, or anyone else, who thinks that his salvation is based on his own act of believing in God, a good passage to go to is one that tells us that a person outside of Christ will never seek God. Such a passage is found in the third chapter of Romans: “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (). God says here that no one ever seeks Him. This saying should be meditated upon for a while. It must sink very deeply into our hearts.
When one considers this statement, he may wonder how it squares with passages that say that only those who call upon the Lord will be saved. Those specific passages are saying that it is only in the way of constantly calling out to God for the blessings of salvation that we enjoy the ongoing experience of these blessings. Those passages are not saying that an unregenerate person must first call out to God, asking Him for a new heart, before God will give it to him or to her. If that were the case, then the result would be that not a single person would be saved, since calling out to God for salvation from sin is something that an unregenerate person never does.
So how is it, then, that someone changes from being an unbeliever to being a believer? The answer is that first God gives the person a new heart, and that only then does he begin to seek God and to call out to Him for salvation. Having received the beginning of the deliverance from sin, he will certainly call out to God for the ongoing experience of this deliverance. He will find within himself a godly sorrow for sin, and an earnest desire to be freed from sin’s grasp.
This is what is meant by salvation by grace alone. There is no condition that a person first fulfills before God saves him or her. An unbeliever is brought into Christ and receives Christ’s life without even requesting this deliverance. His salvation is based solely on what Christ has done, and not even partly on any activity that he himself has performed.
About to drown or already dead
Many explain salvation by grace alone to mean merely that an unbeliever is unable to save himself, and that thus he needs God to save him by His grace. But that is not saying enough.
Someone who speaks this way often views an unbeliever to be like a man who is about to drown, and who cannot save himself. He does not have enough strength to get to shore or to a nearby boat. Yet although he is unable to save himself, he does have the ability to call out for help.
Yetsays that an unbeliever never cries out to God for help. The text says that he lacks spiritual understanding, and this manifests itself in that he never cries out to God for deliverance from his sin. He thinks he is fine just as he is. In fact, he thinks it is Christ and those who follow Him that are the ones that have the problem.
An unbeliever is not like a drowning man. A drowning man is still alive. Rather, an unbeliever is like a man dead in the water. He has no life within him, and thus is completely unable to call out for deliverance. Then God speaks the word, breathes new life into him, and delivers him out of the water and sets him safely upon the dry land.
in its context
So what is the context of? The apostle is proving that the Jews were no better than the Gentiles. He proves this by pointing out that every man by nature is unrighteous. He has no spiritual understanding, and he does not seek after God. This means that if a Jew was a believer, he was not saved on the basis of anything that he did. He was not saved because he kept God’s law. Before God saved him, he was spiritually dead and did not seek God in the least.
Thus believers, whether Jew or Gentile, have no grounds for boasting. If we were saved because of any activity that we had performed, including the activity of calling out to God for salvation, we would have grounds for boasting. Then believers could say, “We are better than the unbelievers, because we sought God when they did not.” Yet verse 9 says, “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise.” And then Paul goes on to prove this in the text we are considering by quoting an Old Testament passage that says emphatically that there is no one that listens to God and seeks to do what is pleasing to Him.
The passage he is quoting is found inand , the former of which reads:
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
In the middle of this passage we read that God looked down to see if there were any that sought Him, and He found not a single one.
Paul then, in, is applying this passage to the Jews in his own day. He is pointing out to them that they ought to have known from the Scriptures that they were no better than the unbelieving Gentiles, since no one by nature seeks after God. If a Jew has been delivered from his sins, it must be solely because of God’s work of grace within him, and not at all because of any activity that the Jew himself has performed.
The same truth must be firmly grasped by us and by our children. By nature we are no better than any of the ungodly of this world. Before we were brought into Christ, we never called out to God. We never placed our trust in Christ. The fact that we do this today is solely due to the fact that God efficaciously called us out of death, and gave to us the everlasting life of His only begotten Son.
We have no grounds for boasting, but rather for praising our God, thanking Him for saving us, solely by His grace.