Salvation cannot be earned but must be received through faith in Christ alone. Romans 4:16 and 20 says: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.” (Rom. 4:16, 20; NKJV)
In these two verses, Paul lists four reasons why the inheritance of eternal life is solely through the channel of faith. The first is that it might be received “according to grace.” Grace and works are mutually exclusive; they cannot co-exist. Take for example employees working for a company. At the end of the week the employer is obligated to pay them for their work. Contrast this with a birthday present. The presenter is not obligated but chooses to present the recipient with a gift. The beneficiary pays nothing; the total cost is borne by the benefactor and is an act of grace. If the recipient insists on paying, then it ceases to be a gift.
From these two examples, salvation fits the illustration of the gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
God determined in eternity that salvation would not have its source from within us or from our “good” works. Instead, eternal life would spring from the grace of God through the channel of faith. Salvation is God’s gift; Christ is God’s indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15). In the example of the birthday gift, the recipient must take possession, stretching forth their hand to receive it from the giver. Similarly, faith in Christ’s finished work at Calvary (His death for our sins) is our hand stretched out for the gift of salvation. To insist on working for eternal life is offensive to God the Father; akin to one boasting that God owes us for our “good” works. It is also an insult to the Son, that His cry of “finished” on the cross was not true.
Second, that “it might be sure to all the seed.” If salvation depended upon us, we could never be sure whether we had done enough to please God. Truthfully, we cannot make ourselves right with God because all our efforts and good intentions are like filthy rags compared to God’s standard of perfection (Isa. 64:6). Thankfully, God demonstrated His satisfaction in His Son by raising Him from the dead. When it comes to salvation it is only faith that pleases God (Heb. 11:6). Our faith is in Christ’s perfect work, not our deficient efforts.
Third, so that all would have the opportunity to be saved: “not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” Referencing Genesis 15:6, Paul says in Romans 4:2-3: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” Abraham was not justified by works but by believing God’s revelation to him. Christ’s perfect righteousness was placed to his account in view of His future death for his sins. Salvation is by faith so that both Jew and Gentile can be saved by following the example of Abraham’s faith.
The final reason salvation must be through faith alone is, so that God gets all the glory. Abraham was “strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.” Abraham had nothing to boast about and neither does the believer today. Our boast is in Christ who paid the price for the gift of our salvation. Galatians 6:14 says: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Without exception, every religion and cult teach their own flavor of a works-based salvation. Alternatively, the Bible teaches grace, urging us to place our faith in Christ, giving glory to God.