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There is a true story told of an Indian missionary. The young man was in India during a great festival in which all of the Hindus travel to the river Ganges to wash themselves for the forgiveness of sins. Thousands of Hindus traveled for miles to wash themselves in this river. The story goes that this missionary was crossing a bridge over the river when he saw a woman weeping uncontrollably. He approached her to see what was wrong.
She told him that her husband was unable to work. They had no money to provide for the family. She told him that her sins were so many that no one knew about. She was burdened with guilt and shame. She needed forgiveness and blessings. In order to receive the blessing and forgiveness of the goddess Ganges, she said, “I have given her the most valuable offering I could give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.” The missionary proceeded to explain the gospel to her. To tell her that she didn’t have to kill her son. God had sent his son in order to save mankind. When he was done the woman looked at him. “Why didn’t you come a half hour sooner?” She asked. “I didn’t have to kill my son.” And with that she took of running and weeping. She’s not the only one you know. There are thousands. Millions are crying out “why?” Longing and searching for an answer to the void in their heart. Looking for forgiveness and salvation. Their religion tells them that salvation can only be gained by working hard to earn Gods favor. Their religion tells them that they have to climb, struggle, work, sweat, bleed, and suffer in order to enter the Kingdom. But the Bible says something else. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The Bible teaches that it’s not what we do that saves us, but what God has done. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did.
The book of Ephesians which I just quoted reveals Gods mysterious purpose for what we call “church.” Paul, the author of the book, paints a picture of a secret weapon that God had planned from the beginning of time in order to defeat evil. That secret weapon in the church. Why church? I mean. Isn’t church boring? Irrelevant? Hasn’t the church caused more evil than good in history? How could this be Gods secret weapon to defeat evil? That answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. Here Paul says, “And God placed all things under his [Jesus] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” According to this verse, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. However, there is something powerful here. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” which means congregation or assembly. According to the Bible “church” is not a building, it’s a community of people. So Gods secret weapon to defeat evil is people. But what kind of people? Ephesians 2:1-2 answers that question. It says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Did you catch it? Gods secret weapon from the beginning of time was people. But not good people. Bad people! People who were rebellious, wicked, and selfish. People who were slaves to sin. Gods mystery of the church is that He was going to get these “evil people” and use them to defeat evil. But how? In order for God to do this He would have to get these people to be on His side. He would have to rescue them from the power of sin. But how?
You know, there are three popular versions of salvation. The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. The second is that you are saved as a free gift apart from works. This means that you don’t have to do anything in order to be saved. You just have to receive the gift. The third is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. For many years I fell into the third version of salvation. However, this version is simply a baptized version of salvation by works. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. But according to Paul, it’s the second version that’s the right one. We are saved by grace through faith. Period. Look at it here in Ephesians. It says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Guys, it’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. We can’t do anything to be saved. We can’t do anything to stay saved. It’s all a gift of God. And the crazy thing is that God gives this gift to evil people, not to good people. Grace is for the sinner not the saint. Look at verse five. It says, “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” It is when we were dead in sin that Jesus offered us salvation. Works cannot save us. It has to be a gift. This is the only way. You can’t be vegetarian enough, or know enough Bible verses, or behave well enough for God to accept you. The gift of salvation is not offered to you when you are good. It’s offered to you when you are evil. It’s not about what you do; it’s about what He did. The church is a community of people who were slaves to sin and have been rescued from that slavery. It is not a building. It is not a club. It is not a group of perfect people. It is a community of people who were once dead in sin and they received the free gift of salvation and are now alive in Christ. They did not receive the gift because they were good. They received it because they were evil. Why? “So that no one can boast.” It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did.
So what about works? When I was a soldier I met a guy named Kennel. He smoked, drank, slept with different women all the time and got kicked out for doing drugs. However, according to Kennel he was saved because four years before he had prayed a prayer at a youth rally. Is this what it means to be saved? If works have nothing to do with our salvation then why be good? Look at verse 10 with me. Paul says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Greek word for workmanship is “poiema” which literally means, “a work.” We are Gods work. When you give your life to Jesus He begins to do a work within you. He begins to change you and transform you. I like to think of it this way. When Paul used the word “ poiema” it simply meant a work. But over time it became the root of our English word poem. A poet is someone who makes a poem. However, the poet works on the poem until it is exactly what He wants it to be. This is what God does with us. He works in us until He makes us what He wants us to be. He doesn’t leave us broken like He found us. He works in us and through us and for us and turns us into a beautiful poem. Good works are the evidence that God is at work within us. But even those good works are His works, never our own. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did.
I knew a guy named Patrick. The first year that I knew him he tried to commit suicide two times. Another friend of mine and I tried to help him. You see, Patrick’s problem was that he was raised to believe that he had to pay penance for all of his sins and he always felt he hadn’t done enough. But for some reason no matter how much we talked about grace it just didn’t sink in for him. One day, after he had tried to commit suicide again, he was in the mental hospital and a chaplain went to see him. He explained the gospel to him. Paul accepted it. He got down on his knees and asked God to forgive him for his sins. At that moment he opened his eyes and the chaplain looked at him. “That’s it?” he asked. “That’s all you have to say?” Patrick said, “yes that it.” All of a sudden, and I’m not kidding, the chaplain grabbed Patrick by the shirt and started to punch him! He hit his chest and shook him back and forth and screamed “why don’t you just get it! Saved by grace! You don’t have to do anything to be saved! Jesus paid the price.” A wall fell. It was an invisible wall. It broke down like the walls of Jericho. And Patrick saw for the first time. He wept like he had never wept before. He laid all his burdens at the cross. And for the first time in his life, he was free. A few days later, I stood on the shore of a beach in Hawaii and watched as Patrick was baptized in the ocean. Patrick finally understood that salvation isn’t about what you do. It’s not about how good you are. Salvation is about receiving the gift of grace. It’s free. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. Every other religion in the world tells you what to do. Christianity tells you what was done. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He did. Period.