The Roman Catholic Church taught (and still teaches) that it is not grace alone that saves us, its God’s “grace” + our work. Their definition of grace makes salvation possible – more like a general or common grace. It’s not a grace that actually and completely saves. But grace is the wellspring (source) of our salvation. Further, to spring from the previous post, Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the grounds to our salvation, but faith is the means. We attain this salvation not through our good works or merits, but simply by the grace of God and through faith in Christ’s atonement.
Grace has been defined in many different ways. Unmerited favor, or de-merited favor. Simply put, grace is receiving what you do not deserve. The fact of the matter is that we do not deserve God’s mercy even to the degree that we live and breathe. But then there’s justification from sin which we can in no way earn as it’s outside of our ability to accomplish. This saving grace is an active grace that brings about new birth.
Here’s where even many Christians split. The Catholic church along with many protestants today believe that this saving grace is only active after an individual puts their faith in Christ. It’s a long-debated question: Which comes first, faith or salvation?
To find the answer we need to go to Scripture - as it is our "sola" authority! Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” We are saved BY grace, THROUGH faith. It is very clearly the grace that saves us, but it’s through our faith that this becomes real to our experience. Thus, I believe salvation does theoretically precede faith. Our faith springs from the saving grace that God gives us through the new birth. We were dead in sin then “made alive” as Eph. 2:1 says. And that life in Christ gives birth to faith.
This is key as we remember that our salvation is not dependent upon our faith, it’s dependent upon God. Too many people look to their past, to a moment of “faith” they once had and that gives them their assurance. Many also look at their Christian life and think their standing with God is dependent on their continued efforts and faith. But those are both faulty. That is works-based justification and sanctification. We cannot depend on what we did (or did not do) in the past we must be looking to Christ! Yes, our faith may waver, it’s not perfect, but it’s through persevering in faith that it proves to be genuine. This process is called sanctification and that involves more of us cooperating with the Holy Spirit to grow and change. But justification (our salvation) is all (sola!) of grace not of ANY of our work or effort. And it’s realized all through faith not through any independent effort on our part.
Since it is grace is the source of our salvation and not our faith it gives us nothing to boast in, rather it paves the way for the last “sola” on the list… Stay tuned!