Is Salvation by Grace Alone Insulting?Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In yesterday’s reflection, we considered the fact that we have been saved by God’s grace. In the classic Latin phrase of the Reformation, sola gratia, “Grace alone.” We are not saved by our intentions, good wishes, exemplary deeds, or right thinking. We are saved only by God’s grace.
Many of us hear this as good news. But I have known people who find the notion of sola gratia to be insulting. I remember a man who came to seek my pastoral counsel. He was bothered by the whole idea of salvation by grace because, as he said, “I’m a pretty good guy. If God were to weigh my actions, he’d find that the good deeds far outnumber the bad. So, I don’t need God to save me by grace. I just need him to be fair. I’m kind of insulted by this ‘salvation by grace’ thing.”
Indeed, the idea that we cannot save ourselves does pierce the heart of our self-reliance. Many of us—especially those of us who are American—have been raised to depend on ourselves. We value our personal freedom to choose our own destiny. We don’t like to think that we can’t save ourselves, that we need to rely on God’s grace alone for salvation. That can feel so weak, so dependent, so ... insulting.
I can relate to this response in a way. A couple of years ago, at my annual physical, my doctor informed me that my cholesterol was too high. As he presented my options, I naturally chose the self-reliant one. For the next three months, I strictly avoided unhealthy food (that is, most of the food I like). I ate things that were supposed to improve my cholesterol. I exercised more than usual. I lost several pounds. I was sure that my cholesterol would improve dramatically. When I went back for my next appointment, my doctor informed me that all of my cholesterol numbers had gotten worse. “Now we know,” he said, “that this isn’t something you can control. You need medication to get your cholesterol in line.”
I was disappointed. I felt like a failure. I did not want to accept the fact of my physical limitations, the reality of my aging body. I did not want to take drugs to be healthy. Yet, I did not feel insulted because I knew my doctor was not trying to put me down. He was telling me a truth I needed to hear about myself. I could not heal myself. I needed outside help.
So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It confronts those of us who pride ourselves on our self-reliance. It invites us to deal with the truth of our own limits, weakness, and inability. If we’re going to accept the good news of salvation by grace, we need to acknowledge the impossibility of salvation by our own effort. God isn’t trying to insult you by telling you this truth about yourself. He’s seeking to save you by his grace, because that’s the only way you can be saved.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the truth that you cannot save yourself? Have you ever felt insulted by this truth? Have you ever known anyone else who has felt insulted? What helps you to accept the truth of your inability to save yourself?
PRAYER: Gracious God, you know how much I pride myself on being able to do things by myself. I like to feel as if I’m in control. I don’t like to depend on others. Yet, when it comes to my sin, I do realize that I cannot save myself. No way. Not now. Not ever. I need help. I need your help. I need your grace.
Thank you, dear Lord, for knowing me in my weakness, for accepting me in your love, for saving me by your grace. Amen.