"Grace" is, according to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, " unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification". There are five pillars propagated by the reformers in opposition to Roman Catholicism:
- Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
- Sola fide ("by faith alone")
- Sola gratia ("by grace alone")
- Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone")
- Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")
Before we look at any of these five pillars, let's first examine the definition of grace (from above). By definition it's obvious that "grace" is "assistance". The Calvinists would define "sola gratia" differently. It would be that "grace is unmerited favor of God" which would mean that salvation is unearned. Given the five points of Calvinism, the born-again person has only "to be" to be saved. There is nothing the recipient of salvation can "do" to "assist" God. Sola gratia (by grace alone) is different than the dictionary definition of grace. The key word is "assistance". Assistance requires "doing" something for the person's own salvation!
Here's what the Bible says about "grace" leading to salvation"
Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."There is a question here! Is it grace, salvation, or faith which is "not of your own doing"? The primary thought in reformed Christianity, and I agree, is that nobody can save themselves! If anyone thinks they can, then they miss the entire point of Jesus' death on the Cross.
John 11:25 "Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live..."Answering the question "What are we saved from?" Is the answer "eternal death". Jesus made the sacrifice for us such that we may live if we only "believe". Keeping in mind that scripture say that "even the demons believe" (James 2:19). Hence, "belief" is more than knowing that Jesus is the son of God. It's believing that Jesus, the son of God, died for everyone and that "everyone" includes me! That requires faith and faith has three components: belief, trust and loyalty!
Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."Before we proceed with faith, we must understand that faith is enduring. It's not only for a cross-section in time because "conviction" means durability and that must occur over time!
"Assurance" is trusting in God so much that the person is certain! All doubt is gone. People are not certain for only an instant, but for a prolonged period, even forever! What's "hoped for" is what scripture teaches. It's the hope that we will be saved and that the only way to salvation is by the blood of Jesus. Conviction goes back to "loyalty"! In the face of any and all temptation our belief shall be firm! That firmness is day to day and is to the end of our lives.
It's worth noting that faith requires the person to "do" certain things: believing, trusting and being loyal; hence the person is required to do things! Faith isn't the gift! It requires faith! Therefore, "sola gratia" is invalid. Salvation is the gift! I say this because in spite of God's grace and in spite of our faith, God is still at liberty to reward or not to reward. However, because God is merciful, he saves us because of his grace and because we have faith! Faith is a gift exercised and enjoyed:
Romans 10:17 (ESV) "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."Receiving faith is a gift! God's gift of Jesus who speaks "the word". Scripture is the gift which leads to faith! As the eunuch said "How would I know what scripture means unless it's explained." That's actual "hearing" rather than merely reading or understanding words. Our very understanding is a gift of God! However, we can understand, believe, and even accept scripture; yet still fail to be saved! We must yet repent! For one to repent that person must feel sorrow! Hence, we are given the gift of faith, but we must exercise that gift, just as we are given muscle, but we must use that muscle to be effective!
"Doing" things as being sorry, repenting and seeking forgiveness are "works", but yet they aren't entanglement in the "works" of Mosaic Law. They're not doing outward things, but are doing things of the heart!
We are required to do many things! Our ability to do all these things are "gifts" from God because he created all our faculties, emotions and senses. There is one other thing God created which points toward us having to "do things". God gave us a "free will". This aspect of human reason is ignored by Calvinists who adhere to predestination and irresistible grace. Eons ago God decided, they say, who would be saved and all man has to do is "be there". There are no requirements to act in any manner. In fact the elect can't even resist his grace! The combination of all five points of Calvinism means that we are mere robots in a long ago contrived "divine plan" and that our own decision has no bearing on our own eternal fate!
James 2:24 (ESV) "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone"James directly refutes the tower of "Sola fide" (by faith alone)! In fact the reformers can't have it both ways! Is it by grace alone or by faith alone? Faith and grace are different. Since we're justified (saved) by works, then there are things we must "do" to be saved: hear, believe, accept, be remorseful, repent, trust and have conviction! Yes, we "do" those things all by grace, but we still must "do" them. That's works!
I left out one thing that we must "do"! I saved it for last:
John 14:15 "If ye love me, keep my commandments."This is what we do because we are saved and we want to love God. John doesn't say "keep The Law". He says keep "my commandments"! There are Ten Commandments. We are to keep them! Notice that "if ye love me" precedes "keep my commandments". We "love" God because he saved us. As a sinner we don't love. Because we are are actually saved is why we love God and because he saved us is why we are to keep his commandments. The order of things implies that "keeping my commandments" does not lead to salvation, but it actually is in opposition to salvation! It seems from scripture that whoever God forgives the most will love him the most (Luke 7:47). There are no commandments we can do to be saved, but as a result of salvation we're to do his commandments. That's works!
The argument that I just made is rejected by reformers who would say that "works" are of a different economy; that by "doing things" is obeying the law, is how people in the Old Testament (OT) "earned" their way to heaven! Scripture tells us that God is unchanging. There are no different economies. We have ALWAYS, since the fall of man, been under a "Covenant of Grace". We were to follow The Ten Commandment in the OT and we still are to do the same, but we have the same reason for following them; to show our love:
Exodus 20:6 "And shewing mercy (salvation) unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."It's obvious that John was saying the same thing: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." This verse is supplementary to the Second Commandment! Commandments 1-4 are all about "loving" God as we see here, and the final six commandments are about loving others! At the time the Ten Commandments were written, salvation was by grace and keeping the commandments were the OBLIGATION and result of those who love God! By "obligation" I mean that we are "obliged" (favoring God) by keeping his commandments!
That's in agreement with John 14:15. Love God is an OBLIGATION in demonstrating love by doing God's will; his commandments! What are those commandments we're to keep if we love God: 5th - honor parents, 6th- not kill, 7th- not commit adultery, 8th - not steal, 9th - not lie, 10th - not covet.
Thus, keeping the Ten Commandments is NOT a REQUIREMENT for salvation, but an OBLIGATION and DESIRE of those who are saved. It is to be noted, though, that Commandments 1-4 is "loving" God. The last six are a demonstration of that love!
Nowhere do I find in scripture that "loving God" is a requirement for salvation! Are you surprised? Love is a response to grace! It takes grace to be saved and free will to partake of that grace. Oftentimes people present us gifts. Sometimes we take them and discard them at the first opportunity. At other times we reject the gift. Our own part in our salvation is ACCEPTING the gift that is so freely given! If we desire the gift of salvation and accept it, then we love God for saving us! (Yes, salvation is truly about loving "self" enough to want to live forever. Loving God is a result of salvation! Loving others is wanting them to be saved just as you are.)
Before we accept a gift, we must have a need for it and desire to have it. That's our part in our own salvation. Remembering that grace "assists" us in our salvation, then our part is having that desire and need. It's exercising the free will to chose (no force here!). God wants our love before our obligation. Our need for salvation is recognizing that we are sinners and need to be cleared of our wrong doings. That awful feeling of being in rebellion to God is called "sorrow". Because we feel sorry, we repent. In order to be saved we must repent and to repent we must feel sorry for our wrongs.
2 Corinthians 7:10 "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation..."As can readily be seen "sorrow" is a "work". That's how we assist God in his grace. With that work of sorrow, we feel the need to repent. That sorrow and repentance is what saves us. That's being "born-again"! Some who have never been born-again are missing the mark. They are certainly beyond keeping the commandments to be saved, and that's admirable, but they are still standing there thinking that they are saved, but have never felt sorrow nor have they repented! Many then, never keep the commandments because they are taught wrongly that do so is Pharisaical!
For others, they argue about whether to keep The Law or not! They are certainly right that it doesn't lead to salvation, but they neglect that it is the assurance of loving God; keeping our obligation to show our love! Going back to the definition of grace, it's not only given for "regeneration" (salvation), but also "sanctification". After we're saved, we're to keep God's Commandments! (Not Mosaic Law by the way. There is a big difference!) Keeping his commandments is how we're set apart from the world; how we're sanctified. As we grow in our desire to keep God's Commandments we work toward sanctification. We'll never achieve it, but that's our goal! That's an OBLIGATION as a Christian, not a REQUIREMENT to be a Christian!