Salvation by Grace

by James R. Cope
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 12, October, 1952.

In Titus 2:11-13 we read: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." This passage affirms that the grace of God that brings salvation teaches us. The salvation here mentioned is obviously salvation from sin and its power. There is a grace of God, however, that does not bring salvation from sin, and from its operation we can gain a good idea of the meaning of grace in its spiritual implications.

The word grace simply means "favor." Actually we live and move and have our very being by the grace of God. By His grace we breathe the air. By His grace we eat the food to satisfy our hunger. By His grace we drink water to quench our thirst. Every physical blessing we enjoy may be properly ascribed to the grace of God.

It is equally true that this grace by which we live is unmerited By this we mean that there is nothing inherent about man which obligates God to bestow His favor upon him. Man has not and cannot do anything to obligate God to him apart from God's self-chosen love and Will toward man. This is as true spiritually as physically.

If man lives by God's grace he cannot be passive toward that grace. God provides food but man must eat it. God provides water, but man must drink it. God provides air but man must breathe it. God does not force His grace upon man in the physical realm; neither does He force His grace upon man in spiritual matters.

Grace Teaches

The passage under consideration (Titus 2:11) declares that God's grace teaches. This statement harmonizes with every other passage in the Bible having to do with man's salvation. It was and is through the process of teaching that God reveals His interest in and love for sinful man. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). After man, by his own inventions, learning, wisdom and philosophy had demonstrated the utter foolishness of trying to save himself, Jehovah interposed the gospel to do for man that which he had not done and could never do for and by himself. Thus Jesus spoke: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16), and Paul declares: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). The grace of God, then, reveals itself in the gospel and the gospel can save none who refuse to believe it. This is exactly the point the Apostle makes in Ephesians 2:8 when he says, "By grace are ye saved through faith." This is the same grace of Titus 2:11 -- the grace "that bringeth salvation," the grace that teaches.

With these thoughts before us it is not difficult to understand why Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and preach (teach) the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:16), and "Go ye therefore and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Teaching or preaching the gospel was the means by which God's grace was to be made known to the peoples of earth. For man to reject the gospel, then, is to rebel at the grace of God which brings salvation.

Teaching the gospel is necessary, but teaching alone can profit none whatever. Where teaching falls on deaf ears and stubborn hearts it is as seed sown on hardened, wayside soil (Matthew 13:4). There must be a hearing of the Word, a hearing whose disposition is to heed, if the teaching is to profit; hence, Jesus not only said to His disciples, "Take heed what you hear." but also, "Take heed how you hear." A receptive heart is a necessity if grace's teaching is to enlighten it.

Grace Demands Faith

Just as one cannot come to God without believing that "God is" and that He rewards them who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), so one cannot come to Jesus Christ without believing He is the Son of God (John 5:39,40; 6:28-47; 8:21-24). The heart indisposed to hearing and learning can never be drawn to God in this condition (John 6:44,45). As long as there is no will to learn the teaching there cannot possibly be any faith to save, and for the Word to profit it must be learned (John 6:45) with a view to believing and doing what it says (John 7:17), because apart from faith in it, the Word cannot profit those who hear it (Hebrews 4:2).

The grace of God, then, provides the means for man's redemption from sin, but man in sin must appropriate this means (the gospel) by hearing, learning, and believing it. This means that man is not passive but active in his salvation. For him to be otherwise is to make of him a mere machine, wholly without power to discern or choose between good and evil. If he is altogether passive he could not save himself if he would, and he would not if he could. In such condition if man is lost he cannot help it and if he is saved he cannot prevent it. If we deny man's activity in salvation we thereby deny his free moral agency, and if man, as God made him, is not a free moral agent with power to choose between good and evil and thereby determine his own eternal destiny, the entire Bible is useless. All its pleadings, overtures and invitations plus all its warnings, threats and commandments are but sounding brass and clanging cymbals -- they are empty, absurd and wasted.

There is not one passage in the Bible which indicates man is not free to choose between good and evil, between God and Satan, between salvation and damnation. It is this one consideration which gives grace its efficacy as that grace is revealed in the gospel. The gospel is powerless to save him who refuses to believe it. It is God's chosen medium to save man who does believe it.

Grace and Works

"But," asks one, "does not Paul declare in Ephesians 2:8, 'By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast'?" Indeed the Apostle so states, but instead of this passage teaching that salvation is of grace without man's activity, it affirms the exact opposite. Notice the expression "through faith." Salvation is "by grace through faith," not by grace without faith. The grace is God's part, in man's salvation, the faith is man's part.

Then what about the expression: "that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast?" Obviously, though man is active in salvation his salvation comes neither through his own wisdom (I Corinthians 1:21), his own merit (Romans 3:9-19), nor his own works as is the clear implication of the passage before us. God does the saving, not man. Jehovah has designed the plan of salvation, has revealed it to man in the gospel, and has invited man to embrace it. When man in sin accepts the divine plan and conforms his life thereto, by virtue of this action he acknowledges his own inability to design and execute a plan for saving himself. Though he submits to the will of God, salvation is not of himself but of God; hence it is "not of works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5).

If finite man could save himself through his own wisdom or his own standard of righteousness he would have whereof to boast even before God. This is exactly what Paul declares in I Corinthians 1 man has not done and can never do. As indicated above, God designed and perfected the plan for man's redemption; hence, salvation is not and cannot be by the works of man apart form God's revelation and, therefore man cannot boast about his salvation.

"It (salvation) is the gift of God" in exactly the same sense that Jesus Christ is the gift of God. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16), but because God gave His Son it does not follow that all the world is saved by Him. Actually, Jesus Christ is God's "offer" of salvation and cannot be a "gift" unless and until He is accepted. So it is with salvation. Salvation if "offered" to sinners through the gospel but does not become and cannot properly be a gift until accepted or appropriated. Man's action or inaction with reference to God's offer is that which determines salvation's remaining an "offer" or becoming a "gift." Here again we see salvation predicated on man's disposition or will toward it.

Grace and Baptism

Sometimes we are told that if one must be baptized in order to be saved, salvation is made to depend upon a work of man, not on the grace of God. The fallacy in this reasoning is easily detected when we remember that baptism is not a work of man. While it is true that man is active in submitting to baptism, it is not true that baptism had its origin or continues its purpose in the wisdom or works of men. The Lord Jesus once asked the stubborn Jews a timely question about the baptism administered by John the Baptist. Said He, "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" (Matthew 21:25). Obviously, John's baptism came from God (John 1:33), not from men. This being true, Jews submitting to it were doing the work of God. In like manner, when sinners are baptized at the command of Jesus Christ, they are doing the work of God, not the work of men for baptism exists now by order of God, not by order of men (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2;38; I Peter 3:21). On another occasion the Jews asked Jesus, "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent" (John 6:28,29). We ask: "How can this be true?" i.e. in what sense can one do the work of God when he believes on Jesus Christ? The answer is clear if we will remember that God thus commands it. Anytime we do what God commands because He ordered it we are working the work of God. This is equally true of believing on His Son, repenting of sins, confessing faith in
Christ with the mouth, being baptized, partaking of the Lord's Supper, or doing anything else of which God is the Author.

Divine and Human

We should not lose sight of the fact that there are two sides to the scheme of redemption -- the divine and the human. God and man's. There are some things that belong exclusively to God while there are others that belong entirely to man. For example, it was God's prerogative to decide to offer man salvation; it is man's prerogative to accept or reject the offer. It was God's choice to send His Son; it is man's choice to believe on or disbelieve Him. It is God's order for men to be baptized in order to be saved; it is left up to man whether he will be baptized and be saved or reject baptism and be damned.

As certain as God offers salvation to sinners by the preaching of the gospel it is just that certain that this is the grace of God that brings salvation by teaching. Contrariwise, to reject the gospel as it is preached, i.e., the gospel taught, is to refuse the grace of God and thereby forfeit salvation.

"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25).

"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; While it is said, 'Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation'" (Hebrews 3:12-15).

"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. for if the Word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-3).

"And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:31).

"And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now He commandeth all men every where to repent; Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness but that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him form the dead" (Acts 17:30,31).

"And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).

"Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14).