As we come to a close of thirteen studies of the book of James, we are reminded that "the everlasting gospel" is taught throughout the Bible. It is a joy to share in these few paragraphs the 1888 perspective of salvation throughout the Scriptures. Surely at some time in your life you have worked for wages. You know what it is to toil all day long. And all the while you kept thinking about the wage your employer had promised to pay you for your hard labor. When you got it, you knew you deserved every dollar, and probably more because you had worked so hard. What your employer paid you was not a gift, but a debt. A wage is something that is paid since you earned it. But grace is just the opposite. Suppose that you do not work for your employer at all. He owes you nothing. And suppose, that in addition to the fact that you have done nothing to deserve anything from him, you have actually wronged him, perhaps stolen something from him. He could be angry with you if he chooses. But then suppose that he shows kindness to you by freely giving you a precious gift, in spite of all the evil you have done to him. Such a gift would be grace. Now let us suppose that Christ is our employer. Does He award salvation and eternal life as wages to those who work hard to earn them? Or does He give salvation freely as grace to people who don't deserve it at all? And if He does, how can He be fair if He doesn't save everybody alike? And, further, if He saves people by grace alone, what is the point of anyone needing a change of heart? People asked that same question in Paul's day, "Let us do evil that good may come?" (Rom. 3:8). These are some of the questions for which we need answers. If good people can earn salvation, they have every right to be proud of themselves. And if nobody can earn it, why should anyone want to be good? About 1900 B.C. the Lord called a man out of Ur of the Chaldees to become an example of salvation by grace. His name was Abraham, and Paul calls him "the father of all who have faith." All who believe in Christ are Abraham's spiritual "children." When the apostle Paul "turned the world upside down" with his gospel teaching, it was Abraham whom he put forward as proof of his teaching. Abraham's experience in finding salvation is a perfect example of how we too may find it. Did he earn it? Or was he simply saved by the grace of God? Paul answers the question, "What shall we say, then, of Abraham, the father of our race? What was his experience? If he was put right with God by the things he did, he would have something to boast about--but not in God's sight. The Scripture says, 'Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.' A person who works is paid his wages, but they are not regarded as a gift; they are something that he has earned. But the person who depends on his faith, not on his deeds, and who believes in the God who declares the guilty to be innocent, it is his faith that God takes into account in order to put him right with himself." (Rom. 4:1-5, Good News Bible). If God saved Abraham simply by his grace, because Abraham believed, then it follows that you and I are saved in exactly the same way. The gospel was preached to Abraham just as it is preached to us today (see Gal. 3:8). God requires no more from us than He required from Abraham--faith. He has always had only one way of saving the lost--through faith. This is still a new idea to mankind, 4000 years later! You don't see "grace" in the world today, unless it has come by Jesus Christ. Nobody gives you anything for free, whether a nice house, a piece of property, or a car. Nobody even brings you food for free. You have to earn everything you put into your mouth. The world operates strictly on the principle of "works." You get what you earn, and what you don't work for you don't get. So completely are mankind given over to the idea of "works" that they imagine that God operates on the same plan. They suppose they must do something in order to earn salvation from God. They must give Him something. They treat God as though He were a retailer. You never feel ashamed of yourself when you go into a shop to buy something. You have your money, you pay it to the retailer, and take what you have bought and you walk out proud and happy. You may feel you have done the retailer a favor, for you know he has made at least some profit on what he sold you. But when someone gives you something freely as an act of grace, you don't know how you ought to feel. He has done you a favor, and it makes you feel humble. In some way you sense a debt to him. People like to think that God keeps a business and "sells" salvation to those who will pay Him with their goodness. They like to bargain with Him, to feel like they have something they can give to God--their works. It makes them feel a little proud. They consider themselves somewhat on a level with Him; they give Him something, and they receive something from Him. But God pays no wages whatever. All He gives is by grace, a free gift. The reason is that there is really nothing we can do to earn salvation, anymore than a baby can earn the food his parents provide him. They feed their baby "by grace." They love him, that is all. And that is the reason God saves us. "It is by His grace you are saved, ... it is not your own doing. It is God's gift, not a reward for work done. There is nothing for anyone to boast of" (Eph. 2:8, New English Bible). You would think that the world would receive the news with joy. But most people reject it. Why? They are too proud to come to God humbly and to hold out both hands in faith to receive from Him. To receive the "grace of God," we must humble our hearts, and acknowledge that we are nothing, that we have nothing, and that we deserve nothing, and that He gives everything. There are many people living in this world who in their hearts want to be right with God. But they have been taught to believe something that is wrong, which separates them from God. They have been taught to believe that God loves only good people and that He restricts His mercy to those people who think they find it easy to obey Him. But many know that they have an evil heart that loves to do wrong; so they imagine that God is angry with them or has turned away from them. But if the sunshine and the rain fall on the evil and the good alike, surely anyone can see that God's grace comes likewise to every man, woman, and child on the earth. Have you done bad things? Do you feel yourself unworthy of the kindness of God? You are the very person to whom He gives His wonderful grace! There is nothing you can do to earn it any more than you can earn sunshine or rain. You simply receive it with thankfulness. And this thankful receiving is what the Bible calls "faith." The work that grace accomplishes in every heart that believes is "to set us free from all wickedness and to make us a pure people ..." The grace has "dawned" upon all alike and the changed heart is the experience of those who believe (see Titus 2:11-14, New English Bible). Christ redeems us to a new life of true, happy obedience "under grace." Sin actually loses its "dominion" when grace is appreciated, for grace is the stronger master. It "emancipates" us more effectively than Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.
--Paul E. Penno
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org