“A gracEmail subscriber asks: “How do verses such as 1 Peter 1:22 (you purify your souls through obeying the truth); 2 Peter 1:10 (make your calling and election sure); Acts 2:40 (save yourselves from this perverse generation) and Matthew 7:13, 21 (not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” to Jesus will be saved but those who do the Father’s will) fit in with salvation by grace through faith?”
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The key to these verses and others like them is to remember that grace calls for a response, and that God empowers those who are truly saved to make such a response as the fruit of their faith. We thus make our “calling and election” sure — not to God, who is as sure as he can be about it already, but to ourselves (2 Pet. 1:10). Feeding on God’s truth purifies us, but only because God has begotten us again from above (1 Pet. 1:22). In baptism, we “save” ourselves from our wicked generation, because baptism marks us off as believers and therefore distinct from the unbelieving environment (Acts 2:40). It is not enough to hear, or even to make professions of faith with our mouth alone — God knows that the converted heart will demonstrate itself in outward life (Matt. 7:13, 21).
Justification by grace through faith does not mean that we make a single contribution to our salvation and that contribution is our act of believing. It means rather that we must trust God wholly for our salvation and rely only on what he has done for sinners in the perfect doing and the perfect dying of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a sinless human life, perfectly obedient to the Father in every thought, word and deed (Heb. 10:5-7). Jesus offered that perfectly-obedient human life to God in his body on the cross, on behalf of all those who finally will be saved. By that perfect doing of Jesus Christ our representative, we are “sanctified” and “perfected forever” (Heb. 10:10, 14). God looks on his people as if they had a record of perfect obedience — for they do, in Jesus Christ their representative!
“Although Jesus had no sin of his own, his blood was shed on the cross for others like that of a sacrificial lamb. The “wages of sin” is death, but Jesus died in the place of all those who will finally be saved (Heb. 9:24-27). We are forgiven and washed clean by the perfect dying of our representative Jesus Christ. To say that we are justified “by grace” means that God sets us right with himself although we do not deserve his kindness and favor at all. To say that we are justified “through faith” means that we must trust God’s promise of his favor, based on what he did in the person of Jesus Christ our representative.