Grace and Faith: What's the Connection?

October 11th, 2013

Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” Some translations use the words “through faith” rather than “because of your faith,” and those who obsess over semantics and syntax have been known to come up with lengthy explanations as to why these two phrases mean different things. I see them as essentially the same. The Common English Bible includes a footnote for this phrase with an alternate translation: “or through his faithfulness.” Some other translations don’t use a footnote there because they’ve left a little more ambiguity in the verse by using, “through faith.”

Whose faith?

John Wesley writes in his sermon Salvation by Faith, “Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.”

There’s some tension, because salvation is supposed to be a free gift, but here’s Wesley (along with Scripture) putting a condition on it. The source is grace, the condition is faith. Faith is what we use to access the gift. Otherwise, we don’t have a say in the matter, we aren’t really free, and anything that seems like a human response is really just an illusion.

But salvation (whether we mean justification or sanctification) isn’t forced upon anyone. Throughout the Bible, human response is a key factor whenever God saves, delivers, or heals. God takes the initiative, and we respond with faith.

In the Gospels, Jesus commends people when they demonstrate faith. He isn’t taking glory away from God when he does this, he’s giving these people encouragement because they have believed God. In the kingdom of God, faith is like a currency.

God responds to faith, plain and simple. But we can’t get prideful, because without God taking the initiative—without grace—there would be nothing to receive, nothing to believe God for. Romans 12:3 tells us that God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of us. But at the same time, God has given us ways to increase that faith. (There’s the response factor again.) So we’re responsible, to a point, for the amount of faith we have. It’s not so much a matter of what God wants to give us—often the question is, are we accessing and appropriating what God has already made available to us.

At the justification level, we can correctly say Jesus died for all people. But sadly, all people won’t accept that gift in faith. At the sanctification level, God has given all believers freedom from the power of sin. But many of us have trouble believing that, so we don’t know how to make use of the power God has made available to us so we can keep sin out of our lives.

But the beauty of God’s grace is that there’s plenty of it. And if we don’t have enough faith, we can ask God to help us increase what we have.

Salvation boils down to grace and faith. Grace is the source, but faith is the condition.

Shane Raynor is an editor at Ministry Matters and editor of the Converge Bible Studies series from Abingdon Press. 

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