“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. If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 11:6 ESV)
Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989. For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000. From the beginning, Keller knew that he wanted to engage with the minds of New York students, professors, and intellectuals, especially those were skeptical of the Christian faith. His church often describes itself as “A church where skeptics are welcome.”
As you can imagine, Keller has had many interesting conversations about the gospel over the years. He often recounts a conversation he had with a very intellectual woman (who is now a Christian) who was struggling with the idea of salvation being offered freely on the basis of grace alone. She was a successful woman, and she knew she didn’t get to be where she was by having anything handed to her or by calling in any favors. So why would God extend a gift so great as the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with no requirements? Surely, she could contribute something! Keller recalls her telling him that the idea of a free gift of such great value terrified her. Puzzled, he asked her what would make her come to that conclusion. She replied, “If I could earn the forgiveness of sins or eternal life because of my own effort, I could negotiate the deal. I could have control; I could set the terms. But if God should grant me such a gift by grace alone, then I would be forever indebted to him; he could ask me to do anything!”
When we accept the grace of God, we are accepting Jesus’ atoning death for us on the cross. That’s what grace is—free and unmerited (undeserved) favor! Christ died in our place, and God accepted his sacrifice as payment for our sin. His life for ours. He bore the wrath, we know the grace—what a glorious truth! Not only has the wrath of God been absorbed by Jesus, but we also receive the gift of eternal life! The 16th century Reformer, John Calvin, called this the “wondrous exchange,” in his Institutes of the Christian Faith:
“…we can confidently assure ourselves, that eternal life, of which he himself is the heir, is ours, and that the kingdom of heaven, into which he has entered, can no more be taken from us than from him; on the other hand, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange…” – John Calvin, Institutes IV.17.2
We see this truth in Scripture in 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God’s stunning display of grace and mercy is most evident in the death of Jesus on the cross, but we are also sustained by grace. It never stops! Does that make you rejoice? Or do you feel more like the successful, skeptical woman? Are you terrified of “owing God a favor?” I can promise you this: his yoke is easy, and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). A lifetime of serving God is a lifetime of fullness of joy—and savoring God’s grace.
If what we’ve received is truly by grace alone, then boasting is worthless—we boast only in the cross of Jesus. Grace shouldn’t stop with you. In fact, if you have truly received the grace of God, it won’t stop with you. Run with this message of grace; boast in the cross of Christ!
God, I’ll never understand on this side of eternity why you chose to love me and reconcile me to yourself by your grace, but I am so thankful that you did! Thank you for your grace. Thank you for you mercy. Keep it fresh on my minds as I enter into this Good Friday weekend, preparing to celebrate Easter—may I never lose sight of what your grace accomplished for me. Empower me to boldly proclaim your gospel of grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.