A Bad Illustration
One illustration that brethren have used often to teach the doctrine of grace goes something like this:1
An active, dedicated, hard-working member of the Lord’s church dreamed that he passed away after a long and satisfying life.
And as he approached the heavenly gate, he noticed a posted sign which read, “ENTRANCE REQUIREMENT: 1,000 POINTS.”
The man looked a bit worried as he walked up to the angel guarding the gate and inquired, “That requirement seems pretty steep. Do you think I have accumulated that many points?”
To which the angel kindly replied, “Well, why don’t you tell me what you’ve done, and I will tell you how many points you’ve earned.”
“Alright.” the man said enthusiastically. “I was an immersed believer in Christ for 32 years; I taught Bible school class nearly ever quarter and I served in the worship whenever they needed me.”
“That’s wonderful!” the angel replied. “Now let me see. That’s worth — ONE POINT.”
Stunned at this reply, the man suddenly becoming very pale, beads of perspiration beginning to appear on his forehead, but he pressed on.
“Well, in addition to those things, I always gave at least 10 percent of my income to the contribution and often times much more. I also served as an elder in the church. I attended every work day at the building, I gave funds to evangelists working in foreign fields, I visited the sick, and I often checked in on shut ins.”
Upon giving this list, the man looked expectantly at the angel, who smiled sympathetically and answered politely saying, “That sounds great! That’s worth another point. Now you have TWO!”
At this response, the man looked as if he were going to go into shock. And his speech became much more rapid, with a sense of real desperation:
“Well, I also invited a lot of people to church, and often went door knocking with the preacher, and I won quite a few souls to Christ. I also cut the grass at the church building and did the communion trays and never cheated on my taxes!”
The angel saw the man’s desperation and so he tried to speak encouragingly as he said, “that’s quite a record of good works you have! That’s worth another point. Hey, now you have three!”
At this, the poor man’s face sagged with futility, and his shoulders drooped as he seemed resigned to his fate.
“Well, I may as well give up, ” he mourned.
“I don’t think I or anyone else can ever be good enough to get into heaven. In fact, it seems impossible without the GRACE OF GOD”.
“Ah,” declared the angel brightly, “Did you say the grace of God? Now you’re talking!” “That in itself is worth the OTHER 997 POINTS!”
And it was at that moment that the man awoke from his dream. His bed thoroughly soaked with perspiration, but a broad smile was across his face, having now received a whole new outlook on his Christian life.
The Sufficiency of Grace
I love that story. It is an illustration of salvation by grace that has seen, as I mentioned, much use in recent years.
But, while I find the narrative entertaining, the illustration itself, exposes some wrong thinking when it comes to the doctrine of saving grace.
Perhaps you identified the flaw, as I was telling the story.
The error most fully manifests itself in the angel’s concluding comment, when he informs the brother that his final surrender to God’s grace is worth only the OTHER 997 points.
The question is, if that were true concerning grace salvation, what does it suggest with regards to our right standing before God?
Well, it would imply that 99.7 percent of our “admission price” into heaven is a free gift of grace, but that the remaining .3% is based on our works.
In other words, it is teaching that we are actually saved by a combination of grace and law keeping, or faith and works.
But we are not justified by faith plus works, as the apostle Paul makes abundantly clear in the first 11 chapters of his treatise on the doctrine of salvation, his epistle to the Romans, in which he sums up his view of the Gospel in verse 28 of chapter 3, when he says:
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of law.
In fact, the apostle makes plain that such a salvation system, of grace plus law, or faith plus works is, by it’s very nature, incongruous.
6 And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
An alternative final paragraph to our illustration then that is more Biblically consistent would be something like this:
“Did you say Grace?”, asks the angel brightly. “Now you’re talking. That in itself is worth the WHOLE 1,000 POINTS!”
Such an ending reflects the biblical teaching on grace as the sole grounds of justification.
As the Hebrew writer affirms in unmistakable clarity:
14 For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
In other words, through Jesus’ single sin offering on the cross at Calvary, He has perfected us for ALL time.
When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He meant what He said. And notice He didn’t say it was 60% finished, or 80% finished, or even 99.7% finished. The work that serves as the grounds, the basis, the merit of salvation was completely accomplished by Christ on the cross.
And we can not add one wit to Christ’s glorious work of satisfaction using filthy rags, or excrement as the Apostle Paul described our works.
And fortunately for us, we don’t have to because Christ’s atonement is sufficient to save.
10 And by that will (Christ’s submission to the will of the Father at Calvary) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
We have been sanctified once for all.
1. Jack Cottrell uses this very illustration effectively in his book Set Free: What The Bible Says About Grace. If you can only read one book on the doctrine of grace this should be it.