Why is it so hard to believe that we, as humans, are incapable of ultimately saving ourselves? We want to think that we can take care of ourselves. We can punch our own ticket. We can clean up our own mess. We can make our own way. Many of us are taught from a young age to be self-sufficient, not trust others with what we can do ourselves, and not ask for help if we don’t have to. However, these teachings and ideas are completely counter to what we see taught in the Bible about how Jesus saves us. We read in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV):
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Understanding what God is saying
There’s a lot to unpack in these two verses that are critical to understanding God, Christ and salvation. Let’s start by defining what some of the most important words in these verses mean.
- Grace: “Unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”
- Saved: “Delivered from sin and from spiritual death.”
- Faith: “Complete trust.”
- Gift: “Something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.”
- Boast: “A statement expressing excessive pride in oneself.”
So let’s state these verses in another way …
When I had done nothing to deserve it, God delivered me from death and eternal separation from him, by completely trusting in him—not that this started with me, this was something undeserved from God that he provided—not because of anything I have done, did or will do, so that I can only speak of what God has done for me, not what I have done for myself.
The gift of grace
People strive all their lives to reach goals for themselves, both personally and professionally. A perfect example of this is retired professional baseball pitcher, Cy Young award winner and two-time World Series champion, Barry Zito. In his book Curveball, he shares the story of his life and how he searched for identity, meaning and fulfillment in life by focusing solely on his ability to control his own destiny through baseball.
In the book, he talks about how his father instilled at an early age that his self-worth was directly connected to his pitching performance. He felt that the amount of love he received depended on what he did, rather than simply who he was. While he had been exposed to the idea of God and Christ, it wasn’t the true picture of Christ as our savior who gave himself over to death on the cross for our sins. Without a true belief in the one true God, Zito talks about how he often found himself at Barnes & Noble looking for any self-help book that could help him find meaning, gain a mental edge in his game or bring some positive feeling in his life.
“But every belief system and metaphysical solution I tried eventually failed because they never got me away from the root of the problem: myself. While I was the cause of all my own turmoil, no matter the method, they all taught basically the same thing—if I was headstrong enough, I could be my own savior.”
As he achieved the highest levels of fame, success and money by playing the game he’d loved his whole life, Zito describes how he “would have traded all the stuff for any form of peace and security.” When we place our faith and hope in things on this earth, there is no peace or security because of sin in our lives and in the world.
Enter Christ. In Romans 6:23 (NIV), we read that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This underserved gift of Christ dying in our place for our sins (Romans 5:8) covers us with righteousness (Romans 3:22).
The act of God saving us from sin
However, none of this originates with us. God sent his son, Jesus, to earth (John 3:16). Jesus died the death we deserved for our sin. God created this path to eternal life, and God grants us saving faith to be able to access it because of his love for us.
The preacher Charles Spurgeon described this point in this way:
“I ask any saved man to look back upon his own conversion, and explain how it came about. You turned to Christ, and believed in his name: these were your own acts and deeds. But what caused you thus to turn? … Do you attribute this singular renewal to the existence of something better in you than has been yet discovered in your unconverted neighbor? No, you confess that you might have been what he now is if it had not been that there was a potent something which touched the spring of your will, enlightened your understanding, and guided you to the foot of the cross.”
God reveals himself to us. He reveals our sin and lays bare our inadequacies apart from him. Without God, the unbeliever considers things that come from God as “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
As the theologian John Piper writers, “Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Whatever goodness faith sees, it sees as the fruit of grace.”
God opens our eyes
For Barry Zito, God placed people in his life and used them to reveal how the life he’d been living was built on lies and half-truths that distorted who God was and what God wanted for his life. His girlfriend and future wife, Amber, had felt the urge to give him a Bible and encourage him to read it instead of all his self-help books. At the same time, he had started attending his baseball team’s weekly Bible studies. Zito described himself as desperate and hungry to learn more about how Jesus and Christianity were different than the spirituality he had pursued his entire life. He says the key was Ephesians 2:8-9.
“Grace … through faith … gift from God … not by works… so that no one can boast. A single sentence wrecked my spiritual paradigm. I had always heard about grace but never understood. The idea of anything being given that I didn’t earn and couldn’t take credit for was life changing to me. For so long, I had been relying on my own strength to save myself—from myself. Sounds like a walking contradiction!”
As he grew in his understanding of who God is, he understood how there was also a real enemy trying to sabotage his mind and heart.
Living a changed life
When God changes our hearts, we can’t help but live in a different way. God, who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day that Christ returns (Philippians 1:6). Our faith produces works in our life. A common misunderstanding is that it’s the other way around—that our works produce or validate our faith. While it’s true that “we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other, and that anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14 NIV). “Our assurance of final salvation rests on God’s past work by Christ, and his future work by the Spirit in us,” says Piper.
If you have questions about salvation by grace through faith alone, take the time to review this helpful resource that explores the subject in greater detail.
To hear more about Barry Zito’s journey to faith in Christ, make plans to join the 34th Annual Christian Prayer Breakfast. He’ll be sharing more about his story during this free, virtual event. Click here to register to gain access to the video, which will be available April 18-24. We hope you’ll help us spread the word and share this encouraging message with someone who may need it.