Have you heard the big gospel BUT? It goes something like this: “Yes, yes … of course we’re saved by grace, BUT …”
The big BUT always manages to bring up the rear in any discussion about grace. We can give unlimited lip service to “saved by grace,” it seems, but when the chips are down, we’d have a whole lot more “faith” in our salvation if we had a decent-sized pile of good works to point to.
Most of us are ready to get a little agitated on that point any time we hear somebody pushing the grace envelope a little “too far.”
“Sure, we’re saved by grace, BUT keep that up and you’ll go straight to hell.”
What are we afraid of?
It’s as though we’re scared to death that somewhere, somehow, somebody might “get away with” something — something we might even wish deep down we could get away with, too. So we have to find ways to put the brakes on the grace train before it rumbles out of control, before people actually start to believe it, before they actually start to shed some guilt and quit fretting over whether God is going to throw them into hell for their failure to measure up to perfect behavior.
The Bible is pretty clear on the point. “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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Even our faith is a gift of God, not something we add to the equation. Our good works, such as they are, are God’s workmanship, not ours.
Paul asked the Galatians rather pointedly: “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3).
So how did the big BUT get into the picture?
We’re all addicted, it seems, to the idea that in the matter of judgment God is pretty much like us — that he doles out kudos and prizes for good actions and curses and plagues for bad actions, that he holds grudges, that he keeps score of all our mistakes, and that he will “get us” in the end. That makes sense to us, apparently, because we routinely do it to each other, to our spouses, to our kids, to our bosses, our employees, our neighbors, our friends.
Just like Jesus
When it comes to harboring grudges and keeping score and retaliating, he isn’t like us at all. He’s like Jesus Christ. Exactly like Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t count up mistakes and hold sins over people’s heads. He forgave. He forgave even his enemies, even the people who killed him. “Father, forgive them,” he prayed, “for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Salvation isn’t geared to how well you behave; it’s geared to how much God loves you. He loved you so much that he gave his Son to save you; he sent his Son not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:16-17).
Here’s the BUT we should be listening to: “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 — it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
You won’t find an extra BUT at the end of that one.
Yes, God will do something about your behavior too. He’ll come and live in you though the Holy Spirit and begin a lifelong transformation of you from the inside out. That means your salvation is entirely his gift from start to finish. You can trust him; not even your weaknesses and problems and sins can stop him from seeing you through to the end he has for you.
If there’s another “but” to reckon with, it’s this: It’s free, but you can’t experience and enjoy what you won’t accept. So why not accept God’s love and trust Jesus for your salvation? You’re safe in his hands.
Isn’t it time you stopped worrying about what’s going to become of you and hand over your life to him once and for all? He’s on your side, you know — and he always has been!