So grace is the distinguishing mark of the gospel and a crucial concept to communicate as we proclaim the Good News. But this is no easy task. The notion of free grace is counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, and counter-everything our society is based on. We write résumés to tell people what we’ve done so we can get hired. We list accomplishments on applications so we can be accepted to a school or club or society. We do! That’s how our world works.
Sometimes we can simply quote Ephesians 2:8–9 and show people that the New Testament emphasizes the contrast between grace and works. Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”2 We can then quote verse 10 and show how works come after grace. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We might offer the catchy slogan, “Grace alone saves but the grace that saves is never alone.”3 Or we can write out two contrasting equations to distinguish grace-based salvation from the works-based varieties:
Grace + Works = Salvation
Grace + nothing = Salvation + works.
Note: In the second equation, the way the New Testament speaks about grace, the word works is written on the right side of the equals sign.
I’ve presented this equation many times and have seen the lightbulb go on for many nonbelievers. But not always. And I think I have an idea why this may be the case. The word grace can legitimately be used in different ways in different situations. We say “grace” before meals. A dancer moves with “grace.” Some speakers express themselves with “grace.” Dictonary.com lists as many as twenty-two distinct definitions for the word grace.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting some bizarre postmodern notion that words can mean anything or that definitions are determined by hearers totally apart from the intent of the speaker. (It always seems odd to me that people who want to argue for this idea use words to express themselves. And they expect you to understand them. They might even get mad at you for not interpreting their words correctly!)
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