Over the last two Sundays, we’ve been saying that there are two equally-unbiblical views of how salvation works: legalism and cheap grace. Legalism says, “Everything is dependent on what I do. I must earn and keep up my salvation.” Cheap grace says, “It doesn’t matter what I do. I’m saved by grace so I can sin now and be forgiven later.”
And here’s why you should care about this topic: Whether you realize it or not, whether you’re theological or not, your heart will look for any and every way to distort the biblical message of salvation in one of these ways. More specifically, you will continually be tempted to cling to your control and self-sufficiency and pride and ability, rather than completely and humbly trusting in God each and every day.
And the attractiveness of these two views of salvation, these two cliffs on either side of the biblical view, is understandable. With legalism, we think we can control God, whether through our goodness or seriousness or religious devotion. We think that if we merely stay at a certain level of obedience, God will have no choice but to love, accept, and save us. And so we stay firmly in the driver’s seat rather than relinquishing control to God.
Which puts us on an endless roller coaster of pride (whenever we think we’re performing well) and despair (whenever we think we’re not performing well).
With cheap grace, we think that God’s grace and forgiveness frees us to do whatever we want without any guilt or consequences. We ignore the high cost which Jesus paid for our salvation, and think that his mercy is an excuse for ignoring his commands. In other words, we accept Jesus as Savior, but refuse to submit to him as Lord.
But both of these views—legalism and cheap grace—are serious distortions to the way that God has ordained that we would come into a relationship with him and be saved.
On the one hand, the Bible tells us over and over again that “salvation is from the Lord.” The Christian gospel is not, “Here’s what you need to do to get to God,” but rather, “Here’s what God has done to get to you and save you completely. Repent of your pride, selfishness, and sin, and trust in what God has done for you in Jesus. Your efforts, goodness, and religion will never be enough.”
But on the other hand, the Bible tells us that those truly saved will bear the fruit of their salvation, i.e. their lives will begin to display godly characteristics. And this is because, from a human perspective, accepting Jesus as Savior is not possible without submitting to him as Lord (in other words, true faith is always combined with true repentance).
And from God’s perspective, being saved is not merely us “making a decision for Jesus,” but is God bringing about a real change in our natures, overcoming our cold, dead hearts and making us alive to Himself. This is what the Bible calls the new birth or regeneration.
And while legalism and cheap grace both take our eyes off of God and put them on ourselves, everything about the way God has ordained our salvation compels us to worship, love, enjoy, and obey God. In the words of Paul, the great love and mercy of Christ compels us towards obedience (2 Cor. 5:14). Or, in the words of the well-known hymn “Come thou Fount”:
“Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee”