Works, Grace and Salvation

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”—Ephesians 2:8-10.


Let us remind ourselves once more that grace means “unmerited, undeserved favor.” It is an action that arises entirely from the gracious character of God. So the fundamental proposition is that salvation is something that comes to us entirely from God’s side. What is still more important is this: it not only comes from God’s side, it comes to us in spite of ourselves—“unmerited” favor. In other words, it is not God’s response to anything in us. Now there are many people who seem to think that it is—that salvation is God’s response to something in us. But the word graceexcludes that. It is in spite of us. The Apostle, as we have seen, has already been very much concerned to say this…Listen to him: “Even when we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us together with Christ,” and then, instead of going on to the next step—in parenthesis “(by grace ye are saved)” (Eph 2:5). Here, he puts it a little more explicitly. Salvation is not in any sense God’s response to anything in us. It is not something that we in any sense deserve or merit. The whole essence of the teaching at this point and everywhere in all the New Testament is that we have no sort or kind of right whatsoever to salvation, that the whole glory of salvation is that though we deserved nothing but punishment and hell and banishment out of the sight of God to all eternity, yet God, of His own love and grace and wondrous mercy, has granted us this salvation. Now that is the entire meaning of this term grace.

We need not stay with this because we have been dealing with it in the previous seven verses. What is the point of those verses? Is it not just to show us that very thing negatively and positively? What is the point of that horrible description of man by nature as the result of sin in the first three verses, if it is not just to show that man, as he is in sin, deserves nothing but retribution? He is a child of wrath by nature, and not only by nature but also by conduct, by his behavior, by his whole attitude to God—living according to the course of this world, governed by the prince of the power of the air. That is the sort of creature he is: dead in trespasses and sins, a creature of lusts, lusts of the flesh, “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph 2:3). There is no more appalling description possible than that. You cannot imagine a worse state than that. Does such a creature deserve anything? Has such a creature any right at all in the presence of God? Can he come forward with a plea or with a demand? The whole point of the Apostle is to say that such a creature deserves nothing at the hands of God but retribution. And then he works it out in his great contrast—“but God”…And the whole purpose of that, surely, is to exalt the grace and the mercy of God and to show that where man deserves nothing at all, God not only gives him, and gives him liberally, butshowers upon him “the exceeding riches of his grace” (Eph 2:7).


I have referred to that fifth verse because it is extremely important in this whole argument. Notice the way the Apostle inserted it there, slipped it in, as it were, insinuated it. Why did he do so? Notice the context. He says that it was even “when we were dead in sins” that God quickened us. Then at once—“(by grace ye are saved).” If you do not see it at that point, you will see it at no point. What he has been saying is this: We were dead, which means without any life at all, without any ability, therefore. And the first thing that was necessary was that we should be given life, that we should be quickened. And he says that that is the very thing that God has done to us. Therefore, he says, “Can you not see it? It is by grace you are saved.” So he puts it in at that particular point obviously for that reason. It is the only conclusion one can draw. Creatures who were spiritually dead are now alive—how has it happened? Can a dead man raise himself? It is impossible. There is only one answer, “By grace ye are saved.” We come, therefore, to this inevitable conclusion: we are Christians at this moment only and entirely by the grace of God.

The Apostle was never tired of saying this. What else could he say? As he looked back on that blaspheming Saul of Tarsus, who hated Christ and the Christian Church and did his best to exterminate Christianity, breathing out threatenings and slaughter; as he looked back at that

and then looked at himself as he now was, what could he say but this, “I am what I am by the grace of God”? And I must confess it passes my comprehension to understand how any Christian looking at himself or herself can say anything different. If, when you get on your knees before God, you do not realize that you are “a debtor to mercy alone,” I confess I do not understand you. There is something tragically defective, either in your sense of sin or in your realization of the greatness of God’s love. This is the running theme of the New Testament; it is the reason why the saints of the centuries have always praised the Lord Jesus Christ. They see that when they were utterly hopeless, indeed dead and vile and foul, “hateful and hating one another” (Tit 3:3) as Paul puts it in writing to Titus, then God looked upon them. It was “while we were yet sinners”, more, it was “while we were enemies” (Rom 5:8, 10) that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son—at enmity, aliens in our minds, utterly opposed. Surely, we must see that it is by grace and by grace alone that we are Christians. It is utterly undeserved; it is only as the result of the goodness of God.


He says that the fact that we are Christians gives us no grounds whatsoever for boasting. That is the negative of the first proposition. The first is that we are Christians solely and entirely as the result of the grace of God. Therefore, secondly, we must say that the fact that we are Christians gives us no grounds whatsoever for boasting. The Apostle puts that in two statements. The first is, “that not of yourselves.” But he is not content with that; he must put it still more explicitly in these words, “Lest any man should boast.” There we have two vitally important statements. Surely, nothing could be stronger than this: “Not of yourselves: lest any man should boast.” This must always be the crucial test of our view of salvation and of what makes us Christians.

Let us then examine ourselves for a moment. What is your idea of yourself as a Christian? How have you become a Christian? What is it dependent upon? What is the background, what is the reason? That is the crucial question, and according to the Apostle, the vital test. Does your idea of how you have become a Christian give you any grounds whatsoever for being proud of yourself, for boasting? Does it in any way reflect credit upon you? If it does, according to this statement—and I do not hesitate to say it—you are not a Christian. “Not of yourselves: lest any man should boast.” In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle puts it still more plainly. He asks his question. Here, he says, is God’s way of salvation, and then he asks in verse 27, “Where is boasting then?” He answers by saying, “It is excluded,” it is put out through the door and the door locked on it. There is no room for it here at all.

It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul is so fond of putting it in that particular way because before his conversion, before he became a Christian, he knew a great deal about boasting. There was never a more self-satisfied person or a more self-assured person than Saul of Tarsus. He was proud of himself in every respect—proud of his nationality, proud of the particular tribe into which he had been born in Israel, proud of the fact that he had been brought up as a Pharisee[13] and had sat at the feet of Gamaliel,[14] proud of his religion, proud of his morality, proud of his knowledge. He tells us all about it in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians. He would boast. He would stand up and say, as it were, “Who can challenge this?” Here I am, a good and a moral and a religious man. Look at me in my religious duties, look at me in my life, look at me in every respect; I have given myself to this godly, holy living, and I am satisfying God. That was his attitude. He was boasting. He felt that he was such a man and had lived in such a way that he could be proud of it. It was one of his great words. But he came to see that one of the biggest differences that becoming a Christian made to him was that all that was put out and rendered irrelevant. That is why he used rather strong language. Looking back on all that in which he had boasted so much, he says, “It is dung and loss!” He is not content to say that it was wrong; it is vile, it is filthy, it is foul. Boasting? Excluded! But the Apostle knows the danger at this point so well that he does not content himself with a general statement; he indicates two particular respects in which we are most liable to boast.

The first is this question of works: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is always in connection with works that we are most liable to boast. It is at that point that the devil tempts us all in a most subtle manner. Works! That was why the Pharisees were the greatest enemies of Jesus Christ: not because they were mere talkers, but because they really did things. When that Pharisee said, “I fast twice in the week,” he was speaking the truth. When he said, “I give tithes of all that I possess,” it was strictly accurate (Luke 18:9). The Pharisees were not merely talkers, they really did these things. And it was because of this that they so resented the preaching of the Son of God and were most responsible for His crucifixion. Is it going too far to say that it is always more difficult to convert a good person than a bad one? I think the history of the Church proves that. The

greatest opponents of evangelical religion have always been good and religious people. Some of the most cruel persecutors in the history of the Church have belonged to this class. The saints have always suffered most acutely at the hands of good, moral, religious people. Why? Because of works. The evangelical Gospel always denounces reliance upon works and pride of works and boasting about works, and such people cannot stand it. Their whole position has been built up on that—what they are and what they have done and what they have always been doing. This is their whole position; and if you take that from them, they have nothing. They therefore hate such preaching, and they will fight it to the last ditch. The Gospel makes paupers of us all. It condemns us every one. It strips us all naked. There is no difference, Paul argues everywhere, there is no difference between the Gentile, who is outside the pale, and the religious Jew, in the sight of God—“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). So works must go out, they must not be boasted of. But we tend to boast of them—our good living, our good deeds, our religious observances, our attendance at services (and particularly if we do so early in the morning), and so on. These are the things, our religious activities, these make us Christian. That is the argument.

But the Apostle exposes and denounces all that, and he does so very simply in this way: he says that to talk about works is to go back under the Law. If you think, he says, that it is your good life that makes you a Christian, you are putting yourself back under the Law. But that is a futile thing to do, he says, for this reason: if you put yourself back under the Law you are condemning yourself, for “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). If you want to try to justify yourself by your life and by your works, you are walking straight to condemnation because the best works of man are not good enough in the sight of God. The Law has condemned all—“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). So do not be foolish, says Paul; do not turn away from grace, for in so doing you are turning to condemnation. No man’s works will ever be sufficient to justify him in the sight of God. How foolish, therefore, to go back under works!

But not only that, he explains further in the tenth verse that it is to put things the wrong way round. Such people think that by their good works they make themselves Christian, whereas Paul says, it is exactly the other way round. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The tragedy is that people think that if only they do certain things and avoid certain things, and live a good life and go out and help others, in that way they will become Christian. “What blindness!” says Paul. The way to look at good works is this. God makes us Christians in order that we may do good works. It is not a question of good works leading to Christianity, but Christianity leading to good works. It is the exact opposite of what people tend to believe. There is nothing, therefore, that is such a complete contradiction of the true Christian position as this tendency to boast of works and to think that because we are what we are and are doing what we are doing, we are making ourselves Christian. No! God makes Christians, and then they go on to do their good works. Boasting is excluded. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” (Rom 3:27). We see that works are excluded in the matter of becoming Christian. We must not boast of our works. If we are in any way conscious of our goodness, or if we are relying upon anything that we have done, we are denying the grace of God. It is the opposite of Christianity.

But alas, it is not only works and deeds that tend to insinuate themselves. There is something else—faith! Faith tends to come in and to make us boast. There is great controversy about this eighth verse—“For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” The great question is, what does the “that” refer to? And there are two schools of opinion. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that (faith) not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” says the one school. But according to the other view, the “that” does not refer to the “faith” but to the “grace” at the beginning of the sentence: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that (this position of grace) not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Is it possible to settle the dispute? It is not. It is not a question of grammar; it is not a question of language…It is a question that cannot be decided. And there is a sense in which it really does not matter at all because it comes to much the same thing in the end. In other words, what is important is that we should avoid turning faith into “works.”

But there are many people who do that. They turn their faith into a kind of works. Indeed, there is quite a popular evangelistic teaching at the present time which says that the difference which the New Testament makes can be put in this way. In the Old Testament, God looked at the people and said, “Here is my Law, here are the Ten Commandments, keep them, I will forgive you, and you will be saved.” But, it goes on to say, it is not like that now. God has put all that on one side; there is no longer any Law. God simply says to us, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and if you do, you will be saved. In other words, they say that by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ a man saves himself.

But that is to turn faith into works because it says it is our action that saves us. But the Apostle says “Not of yourselves.” Whether the “that” refers to faith or to grace, it does not matter; “you are saved,” says Paul, “by grace, and that not of yourselves.” If it is my belief that saves me, I have saved myself. But Paul says that it is not of yourself, so that I must never speak of my faith in a way that makes it “of myself.” And not only that. If I become a Christian in that way, again surely it gives me some grounds for boasting; but Paul says, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” My boasting must be entirely excluded.

As we think of faith, we must be careful, therefore, to view it in this light. Faith is not the cause of salvation. Christ is the cause of salvation. The grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ is the cause of salvation, and I must never speak in such a way as to represent faith as the cause of my salvation. What is faith then? Faith is but the instrument through which it comes to me. “By grace are ye saved, through faith.” Faith is the channel, it is the instrument through which this salvation which is of the grace of God comes to me. I am saved by grace, “through faith.” It is just the medium through which the grace of God bringing salvation enters into my life. We must always be extremely careful, therefore, never to say that it is our believing that saves us. Belief does not save. Faith does not save. Christ saves—Christ and His finished work. Not my belief, not my faith, not my understanding, nothing that I do—“not of yourselves,” “boasting is excluded,” “by grace, through faith.”

Surely, the whole point of the first three verses of this chapter is to show that no other position is at all possible. How can a man who is “dead” in trespasses and sins save himself? How can a man who is an “enemy and alienated in his mind,” whose heart is “at enmity against God” (for that is what we are told about the natural man), how can such a man do anything that is meritorious? It is impossible. The first thing that happens to us, the Apostle has told us in verses 4 to 7, is that we have been “quickened.” New life has been put into us. Why? Because without life we can do nothing. The first thing the sinner needs is life. He cannot ask for life, for he is dead. God gives him life, and he proves that he has it by believing the Gospel. Quickening is the first step. It is the first thing that happens. I do not ask to be quickened. If I asked to be quickened, I would not need to be quickened; I would already have life. But I am dead, and I am an enemy, and I am opposed to God; I do not understand, and I hate. But God gives me life. He has quickened me together with Christ. Therefore, boasting is entirely excluded, boasting of works, boasting even of faith. It must be excluded. Salvation is altogether of God.

That brings us to the last principle, which I summarize in this way: our being Christians is entirely the result of God’s work. The real trouble with many of us is that our conception of what it is that makes us Christian is so low, is so poor. It is our failure to realize thegreatness of what it means to be a Christian. Paul says, “We are his workmanship”! It is God Who has done something, it is God Who is working; we are His workmanship. Not our works, His work. So, I say again, it is not our good life, and all our efforts, and hoping to be a Christian at the end, that makes us Christians.

But let me go further. It is not our decision, our “deciding for Christ” that makes us Christians either: that is our work. Decision does come into it, but it is not our decision that makes us Christians. Paul says we are His workmanship. And thus, you see how grievously our loose thinking and our loose speaking misrepresent Christianity! I remember a very good man—yes, a good Christian man—whose way of giving his testimony was always this: “I decided for Christ thirty years ago, and I have never regretted it.” That was his way of putting it. That is not Paul’s way of describing becoming Christian. “We are his workmanship”! That is the emphasis. Not something I have gone in for, not something I have decided, but something that God has done to me. He might better have put it like this: “Thirty years ago, I was dead in trespasses and sins, but God began to do something to me; I became aware of God dealing with me; I felt God smashing me; I felt the hands of God re-making me.” That is Paul’s way of putting it; not, I decided, not, I went in for Christianity, not, I decided to follow Christ, not at all. That comes in, but that is later.

We are His workmanship. A Christian is a person in whom God has worked. And you notice what kind of work it is according to Paul. It is nothing less than a creation. “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” The Apostle is very fond of saying this. Listen to him saying it to the Philippians: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). God! He has begun a good work in you! It is God’s work! He came when you were dead, and He quickened you, He put life into you. That is what makes a man a Christian. Not your good works, not your decision, but God’s determination concerning you put into practice.

It is here [that] we see how our ideas of what the Christian is fall hopelessly short of the biblical teaching. A Christian is a new creation. He is not just a good man or a man who has been improved somewhat; he is a new man, “created in Christ Jesus.” He has been put into Christ, and the life of Christ has come into him. We are “partakers of the divine nature,” says the Apostle Peter (2Pe 1:4). “Partakers of the divine nature”! What is a Christian? A good man, a moral man, a man who believes certain things? Yes, but infinitely more! He is a newman; the life of God has come into his soul—“created in Christ,” “God’s workmanship”! Had you realized that that is what makes you a Christian? It is not attending a place of worship. It is not doing certain duties. These things are all excellent, but they can never make us Christians (They could make us Pharisees!). It is God Who makes Christians, and He does it in this way. He created everything out of nothing at the beginning, and He comes to man, and He makes him anew and gives him a new nature, making a new man of him. A Christian is “a new creation,” nothing less.

“If you are interested in works,” says Paul, “I will tell you the sort of works that God is interested in.” It is not the miserable works that you can do as a creature in sin by nature. It is a new kind of work—“created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”—God’s good works! What does he mean? He means that our trouble is not only that our notion of Christianity is inadequate, [but] our notion of good works is still more inadequate. Put down on paper the good works that people think are good enough to make them Christian. Get them to put them all down on paper, all those things on which they are relying. Put them on paper, and then take them to God and say, “This is what I have done.” The thing is laughable; it is monstrous. Look at what they are doing! They are not the good works in which God is interested. What are God’s good works? Well, the Sermon on the Mount and the life of Jesus Christ provide the answer: not just a little negative goodness and morality, not perhaps doing an occasional kindness and being very conscious of it—no! Disinterested love! “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phi 2:5-8)—giving Himself for others without counting the cost. Those are God’s good works. Loving God with all the heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves! Not doing him an occasional good turn, but loving him as yourself! Forgetting yourself in your concern for him!Those are God’s good works. And those are the works for which He has created us.

Excerpt From Ephesians: God’s Way of Reconciliation (2:1-22), pp. 129-139, published by The Banner of Truth Trust,

“The adornment of good works, the adornment in which we hope to enter heaven, is the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ; but the adornment of a Christian here below is his holiness, his piety, his consistency. If some people had a little more piety, they would not require such a showy dress; if they had a little more godliness to set them off, they would have no need whatever to be always decorating themselves. The best earrings that a woman can wear are the earrings of hearing the Word with attention. The very best ring that we can have upon our finger is the ring that the father puts upon the finger of the prodigal son, when he is brought back; and the very best dress we can ever wear is a garment wrought by the Holy Spirit, the garment of a consistent conduct. But it is [amazing], while many are taking all the trouble they can to array this poor body, they have very few ornaments for their soul; they forgot to dress the soul.”—C. H. Spurgeon


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