The Great American Mistake: Salvation is Not About Behavior

After about fifteen years in the ministry and talking to a whole lot of people inside and outside of the church, I believe that I know the biggest misunderstanding Americans have about Christianity.  Quite simply put, Americans don’t understand grace.   person-371015__340

It’s not necessarily that the word is misunderstood but let’s define it anyhow:  Grace is “unmerited favor.”  In other words grace is receiving something that you haven’t worked for, you don’t deserve; grace is getting something for free.  Grace is a gift.  If you work for something to earn it then it is not grace.  The Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace.  If you want to test my theory go to the mall or the little league park or even more troublesome go to your local church and ask people “how are we saved?”  And you will get many answers along these lines:

Believe in Jesus and follow the Ten Commandments.
Believe in Jesus and live the best that you can.
Believe in Jesus, read your Bible and go to church.
Believe in Jesus and get baptized.

Do you smell what I’m stepping in here?  The first part of the answers above is a message the church has done a pretty good job of getting out there.  Salvation has to do with Jesus.  We have bumper stickered that slogan out into the general public very effectively and many people make it part 1 in their response to, “how are we saved?”  But then the wheels fly off after part 1.  Part 2 is where so many leave grace and enter works into salvation.  Take a look at the passage below which directly addresses, “how are we saved?”  See if you can find a loophole that allows for works to be any part of the answer:

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.  (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

From that famous passage, here are all of the phrases that refer to grace:

by grace
not from yourselves
it is a gift
not by works
no one can boast

Salvation is clearly by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.  Understanding this is obviously vital since salvation is the most important issue any of us will ever deal with.  But not understanding grace also effects our enjoyment in life.  I will discuss this in my next post.  Until then, know that if you are saved, direct all of your praise and thanksgiving to Jesus because He paid for it.

How do you think understanding grace can enhance your quality of life?

5 thoughts on “The Great American Mistake: Salvation is Not About Behavior

  1. Americans seem to have a particular problem accepting this truth because we feel like we have to work or earn everything. But it’s not a new problem is it? Didn’t Luther fight the same battle 500 years ago? I also hear people say “Paul talked about justification by grace alone all the time but then I read James and he brings up works”. Did James write to a different audience? I don’t think they contradict one another in any way though.

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  2. So true; grace goes against the rugged individualism that Americans hold so dear. A true understanding of grace removes any self pride we have in our salvation. It also makes us less judgmental of others who are struggling.

    The pattern I see throughout the New Testament Scriptures is a three part pattern; 1) A declaration of what God has done for us. 2) “Therefore” and 3) A call to respond to God. Often times we focus on # 3 and neglect “before the therefore.”

    A major theme throughout the book of James is certainly the importance of good works. It seems to stress works so much that I believe Luther questioned whether or not it was inspired. I, like you, believe it is inspired and therefore does not contradict the other parts of Scripture. A big key is to read it with the pattern above in mind; good works are a legitimate response to salvation and not a means to that end. All of the passages that seem to indicate works as a necessity for salvation fall in place when you view the message as works being a natural response to salvation.

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  3. that pattern holds true throughout the whole of the Bible. Moses and Abraham believed God first. I must remind myself of this all the time. Humility can be a hard thing. Sometimes without realizing it we can fall into a pattern of trusting in our own effort.

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  4. Those who truly experience God’s grace love Him more and have a deep abiding desire to please the Father and be like Jesus. Good works flow out of grace that has been experienced.

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