May 31, 2018 • Life for Leaders
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we considered the fact that we have been saved by God’s grace. In the classic Latin phrase of the Reformation, we are saved sola gratia, “by grace alone.” We are not saved by our intentions, good wishes, exemplary deeds, or right thinking. We are saved only by God’s grace.
Many of us hear this as good news. But I have known people who find the notion of sola gratia to be insulting. I remember a man who came to seek my pastoral counsel. He was bothered by the whole idea of salvation by grace because, as he said, “I’m a pretty good guy. If God were to weigh my actions, he’d find that the good deeds far outnumber the bad. So, I don’t need God to save me by grace. I just need him to be fair. I’m kind of insulted by this ‘salvation by grace’ thing.”
Indeed, the idea that we cannot save ourselves does pierce the heart of our self-reliance. Many of us—especially those of us who are American—have been raised to depend on ourselves. We value our personal freedom to choose our own destiny. We don’t like to think that we can’t save ourselves, that we need to rely on God’s grace alone for salvation. That can feel so weak, so dependent, so… insulting.
I can relate to this response in a way. A few years ago, at my annual physical, my doctor informed me that my cholesterol was too high. As he presented my options, I naturally chose the self-reliant one. For the next three months, I strictly avoided unhealthy food (that is, most of the food I like). I ate things that were supposed to improve my cholesterol. I exercised more than usual. I lost several pounds. I was sure that my cholesterol would improve dramatically. When I went back for my next appointment, my doctor informed me that all of my cholesterol numbers had gotten worse. “Now we know,” he said, “that this isn’t something you can control. You need medication to get your cholesterol in line.”
I was disappointed. I felt like a failure. I did not want to accept the fact of my physical limitations, the reality of my aging body. I did not want to take drugs to be healthy. Yet, I did not feel insulted because I knew my doctor was not trying to put me down. He was telling me a truth I needed to hear about myself. I could not heal myself. I needed outside help.
So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It confronts those of us who pride ourselves on our self-reliance. It invites us to deal with the truth of our own limits, weaknesses, and inabilities. If we’re going to accept the good news of salvation by grace, we need to acknowledge the impossibility of salvation by our own effort. God isn’t trying to insult you by telling you this truth about yourself. He’s seeking to save you by his grace, because that’s the only way you can be saved.
Something to Think About:
How do you respond to the truth that you cannot save yourself?
Have you ever felt insulted by this truth?
Have you ever known anyone else who has felt insulted?
What helps you to accept the truth of your inability to save yourself?
Something to Do:
In order to help me control my cholesterol, my doctor gave me a prescription. If I would take a couple of pills each day, I would get better. Reluctantly, I did take my medicine. Gladly, I did get better. What might you do on a regular basis to remind you of how God’s grace has saved you and is saving you? Set aside time this week to practice remembering God’s grace, and allow this truth to work its way into your heart.
Gracious God, you know how much I pride myself on being able to do things by myself. I like to feel as if I’m in control. I don’t like to depend on others. Yet, when it comes to my sin, I do realize that I cannot save myself. No way. Not now. Not ever. I need help. I need your help. I need your grace.
Thank you, dear Lord, for knowing me in my weakness, for accepting me in your love, for saving me by your grace. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Grace and Righteousness Lead to Eternal Life through Christ (Romans 5:12–21)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.