But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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.
Those few verses from Ephesians chapter 2 sum up the message of the gospel in a nutshell. Every individual who is alive and all who came before, as well as those who are yet to be born, are condemned because of sin. That passage reminds us of our sinful nature. It’s a reminder of our need for a Savior and that there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ. And that passage makes it very clear that our salvation is a gift from God. Remember, this was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the Apostle Paul, who, in his letter to Timothy, described himself as the “worst of sinners”. He better than anyone understood the meaning of grace and he knew full well that grace is a gift that only God can give because that truth was played out in his life so dramatically on the Damascus Road.
The act of giving a gift is a two step process. First, a gift must be offered. Second, it must be accepted. God’s offer is the gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins for anyone who professes faith in Christ. The gift of grace then, is accepted by our profession of faith.
Before I go any further I want to clarify something. There are always those who ask “What about babies and little children who die before they’re old enough to grasp the meaning of the gospel?” Let me assure you, infants and little children who die before they are old enough to understand the gospel message are in Heaven and are in the presence of Jesus Christ. I have no doubt about that. Go back and read that line in Ephesians again: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Infants and small children who die at a young age.are saved by grace. If that were not true, then grace would not be grace. Mercy would not be mercy.
For many years, in fact, for much of my life, I lived under the notion that being a good person was good enough to get me into Heaven. I talked about my belief in God, not very often I might add, but what little I did say about God was little more than lip service and since I didn’t start reading and studying God’s word until I was almost 50 years old, I didn’t have whole lot to say about God anyway because I really didn’t know that much about Him. I bought into the lie that good enough was…good enough. Plus, I did what many people do: I compared myself to some really bad people. I figured since I had never committed any heinous crimes, never abused my wife and kids, never did any hardcore drugs, and so on and so on, well….that was….good enough.
Here’s the problem with that sort of thinking and I praise God for opening my eyes to the truth: God doesn’t compare us to other people. He does not compare us to the murderer on death row. He does not compare us to that person who has no conscience when it comes to stealing. He does not compare us to the adulterer who habitually cheats on his or her spouse. God uses a much higher standard. We are not compared to other flawed human beings. We are compared to the standards of God as lived in the life of Jesus Christ, and when we are compared to such a holy and righteous standard, we all fall short.
As Christians, we know Romans 3:23 by heart, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul expressed that same truth in Ephesians 2. We are all dead in our transgressions…..all have sinned. And that should be a warning for anyone who believes, like I once did, that all you have to do is be better than “bad people”. It may be true that when you’re being chased by a bear, you only have to outrun the slowest camper! But no one escapes from the punishment for their sin. No one can outrun the fate that awaits them if they die without Christ.
So yes, the words of Romans 3:23 are a warning, to be sure. But notice that in both Romans chapter 3 and in the passage from Ephesians 2, Paul followed his “warning” with a message of hope. We all know Romans 3:23, but the message of hope is in verses that follow – “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.
That is the message of hope. We need a Savior. We have a Savior in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. And the good news is, there is nothing we need to do because grace is the gift of God. Like I said, that’s the message of the gospel in a nutshell.