Doctrine 1: Justification by Grace
Probably the most important doctrine that we believe in is the doctrine of “Justification by Grace.” We believe that a person is changed from a dead unbeliever into a living saint by God’s grace, and God’s grace alone! So, what does this mean? To show the process of going from unbelief into belief, there is no better chapter in the Bible to study that Ephesians 2, 1-10.
Step 1. Before we came to faith we were “dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Ephesians 2, 1) And because of that “we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Ephesians 2,3) Before we came to faith, were spiritually dead. We had no power to do anything spiritual. To use the picture of Jesus knocking at our hearts door, we couldn’t answer that door, because we were lying on the couch dead! We could make no movement toward that door to open it up for Jesus. Oh, we could make a decision to come to church! We could even make a decision to read the Bible. But before we came to faith, we could not make a decision to believe in Jesus. We were dead in our transgressions and sins.
There was also nothing inside us that would make us appealing to God, so that He might want to do something nice for us. We were “by nature, objects of wrath.” Think about rotting garbage that has sat in your garage for a couple of weeks with 95 degree temperatures, and 95% humidity. That is what we would look like to God. Not very appealing to say the least! Not very flattering is it! Not much room for hope is there!
Step 2. But the good news is this. “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” (Ephesians 2, 4) God’s mercy took pity on us. Why? I could never tell you. But, even while were a stinking corpse that was disgusting, God made us alive.
And then Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2, 8-9) God lavished His grace and mercy on us even while we were dead, and made us alive. And the faith we need to connect ourselves to God, Paul says, that too was not from ourselves, but was a gift from God. It’s not that faith is the one thing we add to our salvation. We don’t do the believing. We don’t do the reaching out. Even the faith we need to believe is a gift from God.
So, from beginning to end, the process of us going from a dead unbeliever to a living saint is God’s work, and God’s work alone. The only thing we do is to lie there like a dead body, and God made the difference. Our salvation has nothing to do with our merits and our works. It has to do with God’s grace and mercy alone.
We do absolutely nothing with regard to the change from unbelief to belief. But once we become believers, there is much we need to do. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2, 10) Once we become Christians, now God wants us to respond with doing good works. Now we live our faith! Now we share our faith! Now we do the things that God wants us to do. We do these good works not in order to become saved. We do these good works because we are saved. And even these good works we need to do, is not something that we need to plan. God Himself plans the works He wants us to do. The paths He leads us down, the things He makes us go through, are opportunities for us to do the good works that God wants us to do.
This is what we mean when we say that we believe in the doctrine of Justification by Grace.