Saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ Alone
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
February 9, 2020
The kingdom of heaven is like a master paying those who worked twelve hours in his vineyard the same as those who worked an hour. It’s obvious that the payment did not depend on the work, otherwise the payment would have varied with the number of hours each laborer worked. Rather, the payment is given based on the generosity of the master. This parable of Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is not like any place of employment you know here on earth, whether it is a vineyard or an office building. Rather, our Lord Jesus teaches us today that in the kingdom of heaven one is saved by grace.
The consistent teaching throughout all of Scripture is that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And these three: Grace, Faith, and Jesus must not be separated.
To be saved by grace means to be saved apart from your works. Scripture states in Romans chapter 3 that all are justified God’s grace as a gift. And in Romans 11 Scripture clarifies what is meant by grace by saying, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (vs. 6) Grace excludes works. If you are saved by grace then you are not saved by your works, otherwise grace would stop being grace. Grace is a gift from God. Grace is God’s undeserved love for you. Once what you deserve enters the equation, grace ceases to be grace. The workers received their denarius independent of how much they worked. They received by grace. And so too do we receive by grace alone.
If we receive salvation by grace, then we must receive salvation through faith. Scripture again says, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace...” (Romans 4:16) This is because faith is not your work. Faith is a gift from God, as Ephesians 2 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (vss. 8-9)
Faith is given to you by God by the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through the Gospel. Many people think that faith is some work that you do that makes you a better person, but that is not the case. Faith is simply believing and trusting in the promise of God to forgive your sins for Christ’s sake. Faith is not your work. Holy Scripture consistently opposes faith and works. Romans 4 states, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” And again, Romans chapter 3 says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” And yet again in Galatians 2, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
To be saved by grace means to be saved apart from your works. This means to be saved by grace, you need to be saved through faith. If you are saved through faith, you are not saved by your works. Grace and faith are inextricably joined, just as salvation by grace through faith is necessarily separated from your works. Yet, there is another detail that must be included otherwise both grace and faith fall apart. That detail is Jesus Christ. Faith in yourself does not save you. Faith in the American dream does not save you. Faith in faith does not save you. Rather, only faith in Jesus Christ saves. This is because only Jesus has won for you eternal life.
Only Jesus is God, who became man by being conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Only Jesus fulfilled the whole Law and withstood every temptation of Satan. Only Jesus went to the cross laden with the sins of the whole world and died for all sins. Only Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and later ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. Only Jesus has done this for us. Only Jesus has the gift of eternal life. So, there is no grace apart from Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And faith in anyone else is a false faith.
And because Jesus has done all things necessary to save us, we can only be saved by grace. Grace excludes our works. Jesus has done all the work for us. And because Jesus has made our works unnecessary by himself completing the work of salvation for us, all that is left is for us to believe on him, as Jesus himself says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16)
And this is why everyone in the kingdom of heaven gets paid the same. Grace makes everyone equal. Grace gives everyone the same faith. True faith centers on the same person and work: Jesus Christ. The Jesus you trust in is not greater or worse than the Jesus I trust in, because he is the same Jesus. Your Baptism is not greater than the Baptism of the person sitting next to you, because there is only one Baptism. It doesn’t matter how long you have been a member of the Church, how much you have labored; we all receive by grace. We all receive Jesus through faith.
And just as in Jesus’ parable, people grumble against this. You can understand why someone would get upset if he worked twelve hours, laboring in the sweltering heat, forming callouses on his fingers and cuts on his hands and feet and those who worked only one hour got paid the same. A similar envy developed among the Jewish Christians in the early Christian Church. They had to be circumcised on the eighth day. They needed to offer sacrifices over and over and over again, traveling to Jerusalem year after year. They observed the Law: don’t eat this, don’t touch that. And then these Greeks and Romans were welcomed into the Church and given the inheritance of Abraham their father without circumcision or refraining from any foods or even attending a Passover. The Apostles struggled with the task of showing the Jewish Christians that they should rejoice that God welcomes the Gentiles into his heavenly kingdom.
And such struggles happen today; resentment among Christians. Pride. Christians thinking they are better than other Christians, because they have been Christian longer, because they’re more faithful, work harder, volunteer more, have greater knowledge. Yet, what does Jesus teach us about our labor in the Church? What should we say when we have finished our work? Jesus says, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
There is indeed a great danger in focusing on your own works and accomplishments and comparing others with yourself. There is a danger in desiring to be rewarded for your own works. There is no greater reward that you can receive than that which you receive by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives you eternal life in the kingdom of God as a free gift. Yet, if you, like those grumblers in the parable, would rather be paid according to your works, what reward can you expect?
Scripture warns, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” (Galatians 3:10). If you seek to be saved by your own works instead of by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you will fail. Again, Scripture clearly says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) Yes, indeed, the law shows us our sin. When we seek a better reward based on our works, we do not get a better reward, but rather, we get our just reward, which is punishment. We’re sinners. Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23)
So, let Jesus’ parable be a warning to you not to try to get a better reward by your own works. You can only receive heaven by grace, as a gift of God through faith in Jesus. We’re all sinners. We deserve hell. And you’re not better than the sinners you despise. You need God’s grace as much as they do. So, do not despise those whom you think are less worthy of God’s grace than you. Rather, rejoice that God is so gracious to forgive even our worst sins through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The vineyard is the Church of God. Those who spend their lives in the vineyard should not begrudge those who come late. It’s not like those who were outside the vineyard, standing idle in the market place, enjoyed their life any more than those who labored in the vineyard. Those who labored in the vineyard had the promise from the master that they would get paid a generous wage. Those who stood aimlessly in the market place feared that their family would go hungry. Those outside the Christian Church do not have it better than those inside the Church. Those outside the Church are in a very precarious situation. They have no certainty of eternal life. It is much better to labor in the vineyard, to do the work of a Christian with the certain knowledge of your heavenly inheritance. And the work we do as Christians is not difficult. We do not labor in order to earn salvation. We labor as those who already know our salvation is secure. Our labor is a labor of love. God so loved us, so we love one another. So, let us labor cheerfully. And let us thank God for every soul our Master brings in, who will receive the same reward of everlasting life as we will. Amen.