The famous nineteenth century British pastor Charles Spurgeon once explained that when we are saved, we first think it was because we decided to follow Christ. Yet as we come to understand our sin and God's greatness, we realize we would never have chosen to follow Him unless He had first placed the desire within us. This illustration accurately describes what the Bible communicates regarding our human role in salvation. We are saved by God's grace upon us that leads us to place our faith in Him.
How is salvation not about work when faith is required? Isn't faith a work?
Faith is not a work because it is something God must do within us. On our own, we are sinful and would never choose Christ apart from His leading us to Himself. In fact, when we realize the extent to which God has worked to freely offer us salvation, we realize we can take no credit for our salvation. It is only because of Him.
First, God's love is the initiator: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Second, Jesus is the author of our faith: "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). Christ provides the opportunity for salvation and then offers it to us personally. Without Him, we would not have an option for salvation (Acts 4:12).
Third, we are saved for good works, not by good works: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
Believing is not a work, but a response to what God is doing in our lives. No one is righteous (Romans 3:10). We are not saved by works we have done (Titus 3:5). Only Christ can save.
We may not completely understand the full distinction between our faith response and God's salvation in our lives. However, it is clear in Scripture that salvation is not something we earn by any work yet we must trust in Him by faith. Perhaps the analogy of a gift found in Ephesians 2:8-9 best expresses this idea: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Work is contrasted with a gift.
When we receive a gift, we do not consider it "work" to open the gift. What we have received is free. We simply need to open it to enjoy it. The same is true of salvation. It is a gift God freely offers. We need not work to earn it. Rather, we only need to receive it. When we do, we experience joy and desire to share this joy with others.
Is salvation by faith or works or both?
How can a believer have assurance of salvation?
What does it mean that faith without works is dead?
Why does God require faith?
Is God pleased by blind faith?
Truth about Salvation