There are two options for salvation. First, some argue that the idea that salvation comes from faith in Jesus Christ is too easy or too cheap; just believing is not enough. The second option, affirmed by the scriptures, is that while salvation is free to us, it is neither cheap nor easy.
Salvation by Faith Is Too Easy
Many shudder at the concept of salvation being a gift. Salvation must be earned, they think, for everyone knows you never get something for nothing. Behind this position is the notion that nothing of value is ever truly free.
But something could be of value and free to us if it was paid for by someone else. When a son gets a new car as a graduation gift, it is free to him. But his parents had to pay the price.
Another argument for this position says that if salvation is ours for the taking, it would remove every incentive for righteous living. Why not receive Christ and then go out and live any way we want, indulging any whim?
Paul addresses this very issue in Romans 6:1-2. He has just developed the theme that salvation is by grace, not by works.
Realizing that some may question their motives once they are guaranteed salvation, Paul queries, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?”
His response: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” When a person understands the greatness of God’s salvation and the riches of his mercy, he or she will want to cultivate their relationship with God, not seek ways to violate it.
The big problem with the idea that salvation must be earned is that it contradicts the Bible. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Salvation by Faith Is Not Too Easy
The gift of salvation had to be free because the goal of achieving salvation through good works is not difficult — it’s impossible.
Free is not the same as easy, however. The plan of salvation was not easy for the Father. He had to separate himself from his Son (Matthew 27:46). The plan of salvation was not easy for the Son.
He humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-8), paid the penalty for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21), and was separated from the Father. And the plan of salvation is not easy for us. We have to give up our pride and admit there is nothing we can do to make ourselves worthy before the Father (Titus 3:5).
‘Faith Alone’ Removes Incentive for Being Good
If someone asks the question, “Why should I be good if salvation is based on faith alone,” it shows they don’t truly understand the radical offer of the gospel. The Bible offers other motives for doing good deeds. Here are a few examples:
1. Gratitude to God for his indescribable gift.
2. A desire to serve and obey the one who loves me so much.
4. Rewards in heaven. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 2 Corinthians 5:10, and 2 Timothy 4:8 teach us that it is God’s desire to reward us for faithful service to him. This is one of the great demonstrations of his love and grace.
5. A realization that since God loves me that much, he must want the best for me. And since he’s all-knowing, he knows what’s best. Therefore, his commands are for my joy, and his prohibitions are for my protection.
I do God’s will because I want God’s joy and blessing on my life, which is true success. I also do his will because I want to avoid getting hurt unnecessarily by disobeying his will. Living God’s way leads to a generally better life and avoids much of the world’s avoidable pain.
An illustration of this idea comes from the rules that good parents set for their kids. When our children were just learning to walk, we would forbid them to walk out into the street. Why? Because we’re mean and selfish parents who want to deprive our children of any possible kind of fun?
No, because we love them greatly, and we want to protect them from the great danger on the road that they may not even be aware of and which could have tragic consequences.
So then, there are many reasons for doing good deeds, and faith alone through God’s grace does not diminish or negate doing good.
While our salvation is free to us, it came at great cost to the Father and Son. There is nothing easy about salvation through faith alone, but it is a gift — and one deserving of every part of us.
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Kenneth Boa equips people to love well (being), learn well (knowing), and live well (doing). He is a writer, teacher, speaker, and mentor and is the President of Reflections Ministries, The Museum of Created Beauty, and Trinity House Publishers.
Publications by Dr. Boa include Conformed to His Image; Handbook to Prayer; Handbook to Leadership; Faith Has its Reasons; Rewriting Your Broken Story; Life in the Presence of God; Leverage; and Recalibrate Your Life.
Dr. Boa holds a B.S. from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in England.
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