Works Don’t Nullify Grace

Sometimes in religious disagreements, we talk symptoms but ignore the real problem.  My last article on “baptism bullies” was about a symptom.  Let’s address the real problem now.  The reason most people reject baptism as necessary for salvation is because they believe works nullify grace. 

“Baptism is important,” they’ll say, “But not necessary.  After all, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ Baptism is a work, therefore it’s not necessary for salvation.”

Underlying this argument is the belief that if we have to do anything to be saved, salvation is no longer a gift of God’s grace.  Grace means undeserved favor, and many believe if we have to do anything to access that favor, it’s no longer grace.  After all, Paul the apostle said, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Romans 11:6).

Do Romans 11:6 and Ephesians 2:8-9 say works nullify grace?  Definitely not.  Look again carefully at Romans 11:6.  Does Paul say, “If salvation is by grace, you don’t have to do any work to get it”?  No, he says “it is no longer on the basis of works.”  Let’s examine the English first.  I don’t want to be one of those guys who twists the entire meaning of a verse because of “what it really means” in the Greek.  That’s a baptism bully move.

Another way to say “on the basis of” in English is “based on.”  It describes origin, source, or the reason for establishment.  It describes what something is ultimately attributed to.  Paul is saying in Romans 11:6, “If salvation is by grace, it can no longer be attributed to our works.  It can no longer have its origin or source in what we do.”

To drive this point home, the phrase “on the basis of” in Romans 11:6 is simply “ek” in Greek, which means “out of” or “from.” Again, origin.  Source.  Ultimate attribution.  The phrase is literally, “If it is by grace, it is no longer of works…”.  That matches perfectly with Ephesians 2:8-9!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of (“ek”) yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of (“ek”) works, so that no one may boast.”  Again, Paul doesn’t say we don’t have to do any work to be saved, nor does he say doing works nullifies grace.  He says our works are not the source, or origin, of salvation.  Salvation cannot be attributed to our works.  It can only be attributed to the gracious gift of God!

Let’s make this practical.  Notice the picture above.  This woman was given a gift for her birthday.  It was a gift by grace; she didn’t deserve it.  She didn’t earn it; it was given to her “on the basis of” the giver’s kindness.  However, in order to benefit from the gift, she has to open it.

She has to do the work of untying the bow, peeling off the tape, unwrapping the paper, and opening the box.  By doing all that work, does that mean it’s not a gift anymore?  Does it mean she earned it because of all the work she had to do to open it?  Is the gift now attributed to or based on her works?  Of course not!  Just because she does something to open the gift doesn’t nullify the giver’s grace.

Likewise, if someone writes me a check for $1,000 out of the kindness of their heart, but I have to drive to the bank to cash it, does that nullify the grace of the giver?  Does it mean I earned that $1,000 so it’s not a gift anymore?  Of course not.  If someone gives me the keys to a new car, but I have to pick the keys up off the table, walk over to the car, and start the engine, does all that work nullify the grace of the giver?  Of course not, but all those works are absolutely necessary to benefit from the gifts!  I can’t enjoy the present without unwrapping it, I can’t spend the $1,000 if I don’t deposit it, and I can’t drive away in my new car without putting the keys in the ignition.

How about Bible examples?  Did Noah earn his salvation because he built an ark, or was that still God’s grace?  Did the Israelites earn their salvation by walking across the Red Sea, or was that still God’s grace?  Did they earn their right to the land of Canaan by fighting the Canaanites, or was that land still a gift by God’s grace?  God said the city of Jericho was a gift (Joshua 6:2), but they still had to march around it once a day for 7 days and 7 times on the 7th day.  Which was it?  A gift or something they worked for?  Both of course!

There are hundreds of examples in Scripture of people doing things to access God’s gracious blessings.  Just read Hebrews 11 and notice the repeated formula, “By faith so and so did/worked something.”  Their works were absolutely necessary to receive God’s blessings, but those works never nullified God’s grace.

Likewise, if I repent to be saved, my repentance doesn’t nullify God’s grace.  If I’m baptized to be saved, that doesn’t nullify it either.  Just because I’m baptized, doesn’t mean salvation is “ek” (of) my work of baptism.  It’s always “ek” (of) grace.  Our works are never the source or origin of salvation, but some, like baptism, are absolutely necessary to gain access to God’s gift of salvation in Christ.

Now, is it possible for our works to nullify grace?  Yes, but only by thinking salvation is “of,”“ek,” or “based on” our works.  That’s the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who trusted in himself that he was righteous.  He boasted because he thought his salvation was based on, or of, his works, directly violating Ephesians 2:8-9.  As long as we remember salvation is a gift from God, our works will never nullify His grace.

If you’ve not been baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, you still haven’t unwrapped God’s gift of salvation.  How sad to carry around an unopened present, thanking the giver daily, but never experiencing what’s inside.  “Why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16)

Feel free to share your thoughts on this below!

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