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Paul taught that salvation is a gift from God, by grace, through faith. The Greek word for "grace" is charis, meaning a gift or favour. In the New Testament it can refer either to God's gift of mercy or to His gracious favour.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 we are told: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Paul makes it clear throughout his writings that God's grace leading to salvation is "not of works, lest anyone should boast". We cannot earn salvation. We cannot earn the awesome gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). There is nothing we, as human beings, can do to earn the ability to live forever. That is a gracious unbelievable gift from God.
However, we also need to understand God will not give the gift of eternal life unless we genuinely with our whole heart, mind and strength desire to live following the example of Jesus. And Jesus lived according to the laws of God. He said, “I have kept my Father’s commandments” (John 15:10). He also did many good works, and we are to follow His example. Notice now what Paul says in verse 10 of Ephesians 2: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Those who ignore the reasons for our being God's "workmanship", who ignore why we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works" and why we are to "walk" in them, miss a major part of Paul's message. Paul shows obedience and works have their place in the life of each Christian. "Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). Grace, faith, obedience to His laws, and works enables God to accomplish His purpose in us.
The gift of everlasting life cannot be earned. As humans we possess nothing of sufficient value to pay for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation. Jesus bluntly tells us that "unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3 and 5). Through repentance we do not earn salvation, but repentance is a prerequisite for salvation. Repentance is turning away from sin, and forsaking lawless behaviour (1 John 3:4). We can't receive the Holy Spirit and be converted unless we are willing to repent and live a law-abiding life (Acts 2:38).
Faith is also an important prerequisite for salvation. We read that "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6). We must be "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith . . ." (Romans 3:24-25). But because faith is required by God doesn't mean we earn salvation by having faith.
Neither do we earn salvation through works. But, as the many scriptures show, God clearly expects faith and obedience in those to whom He will extend the gift of eternal life. Paul's discussion of faith and works in Romans 3 is one such passage. In verse 28 we read, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." Paul is talking about justification: Christ's death covering our previous transgressions, and being restored to a right relationship with God.
But once our relationship with God has been restored, through faith, from then on there is a way of life God expects us to live. God's law becomes the guide to our behaviour. To make sure we understand this, Paul says in verse 31 of Romans 3: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." And the law he is talking about is the Ten Commandments. (See Romans 7:7)
Paul wants us to understand that he is not even hinting that faith abolishes or makes void God's law. On the contrary, without the law we would have no way of understanding what sin is -- because "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). For sin to exist there has to be law because "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). And a Christian must avoid sinning – he or she must avoid breaking the laws of God (Roman 6:12).
Paul is saying God’s law defines sin – for which we must be forgiven. Upon repentance, and faith in Christ’s sacrifice, God extends grace to us and forgives our sins. The death penalty for breaking His laws is removed. That forgiveness is an act of grace and mercy by God. But then, God expects us to live, with His help, according to His commandments.
The Christian calling is a combination of grace, faith, law and works. It is not just a matter of grace only, of faith only, or a matter of law only, or a matter of works only – all four – grace, faith, law and works –has a specific place and purpose in the life of a Christian so that the ultimate destiny of each and every human being may ultimately be achieved – that of living forever in the family of God.