Merit or Grace

In the beginning of Acts 16, it says that while Paul and Silas were answering the Macedonian call in Philippi, they were beaten and put in jail without a trial. That night there was an earthquake, and the jailer was also afraid that the prisoners would escape, which would result in him being under the death sentence, so he decided to kill himself. “But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’ Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ ” Acts 16:28–30.

That is the most important question that any human being can ask: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (verse 31). That night was a successful one night evangelistic series. No sermons were preached; it consisted only of a song service. Paul and Silas, in chains, sang in the prison praising the Lord. Then, suddenly, there was an earthquake. The jailer realized the prisoners had something that he did not have, and he wanted it; he wanted to be saved. They told him to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Salvation is not complicated. It is simple enough that a child can understand it. All you have to do is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Believe is often translated faith in the Bible. The Greek word translated believe, means to believe something enough to make a commitment to it. It is not merely an intellectual knowledge; it is a commitment. To believe in Jesus is to make a commitment to Him.

United States citizens are proud that they live in the land of the free and the home of the brave and do not live under the servitude of lords. The Roman Empire did understand the meaning of the word lord, because approximately two-thirds of the population was in slavery, with only one-third free. Those who were unfortunate to be slaves had a lord. Their master was called their lord. And that master, or lord, had absolute authority over their lives. In fact, if the slave did something that the lord did not like, he had authority to kill him without a trial because he was a slave. When Paul said, “Believe in the Lord,” the jailer knew exactly what the word Lord meant.

In Western society today, there are many who say they believe in Jesus as their Lord, but He had something to say to them. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” Luke 6:46. Is Jesus really Lord to those who disobey Him and are they guaranteed salvation? Jesus predicted that in the last generation this very thing would happen.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ” Matthew 7:21–23.

Notice, these are people who call Jesus Lord, but they do not do what He says. They break His law. There is no nation in the world that does not have laws. Judges in the courts of all countries consider a person to be a loyal citizen if he keeps the laws. God also has laws, and He decides the loyalty of the citizen of His government by the keeping of His law. In the final judgment, God will ask the same question that worldly judges ask: “Have you kept the law?”

When countries make laws, they are ever changing them and updating them. It is estimated that there have been over 35 million different human laws made; however, in God’s government, He has made only one law that has ten parts. The whole universe can be governed with one law that a child can read and understand. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15.

Ellen White wrote, “Let this point be fully settled in every mind: If we accept Christ as a Redeemer, we must accept Him as a Ruler. We cannot have the assurance and perfect confiding trust in Christ as our Saviour until we acknowledge Him as our King and are obedient to His commandments. Thus we evidence our allegiance to God.” Faith and Works, 16.

Is Jesus the Lord of your life? Many people today in the Western world want Jesus to be the Saviour of their life, but they do not want Him to be the Lord of their life. In essence they are saying, “We won’t have this man reign over us” (Luke 19:14).

  • Paraphrasing John 3:16, it is seen to have seven parts after recognizing God:
  • “God” – brings us to acknowledge an Almighty Authority, Himself, He
  • “so loved the world” – the strongest motive, love
  • “that He gave” – at ultimate cost
  • “His only begotten Son” – that resulted in the greatest gift that has ever been given
  • “that whoever” – this is the widest welcome that has ever been given
  • “believes in Him” – that is the easiest escape that has ever been given
  • “should not perish” – assuring divine deliverance
  • “but have everlasting life” – they will receive a priceless possession

Putting it all together, John 3:16 would read, “The One who has Almighty authority, motivated by the strongest motivation, gave the greatest gift, to give us the widest welcome, and the easiest escape, and divine deliverance, so that we might have a priceless possession.”

It is this subject that we are admonished to talk about the most. Ellen White wrote, “There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all, than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. …

“Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, 420.

If we are going to inherit eternal life, we need to understand that there is nothing we can ever do to provide any part of the merit. It is a gift that comes through grace alone, to the person who believes. One of the greatest deceptions of all time, that has permeated all heathen religions and also the Christian world, is the idea that we are saved by faith and works.

Martin Luther fought this idea during the reformation. The belief that a person is saved by faith and works opens the door for believing that not only your own good works, but also those of others and even the saints give merit to salvation.

The book of James says that, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, 26). True faith produces works; however, those works have no merit and have no saving power.

“Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone, then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt that may be earned as wages. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, 420.

When you work or have a job, your employer is obligated to give you the appropriate wages. But if a man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, and it is received by him, as a sinner, just because he receives and believes the promise in Jesus, then it is completely by grace—a free gift.

The apostle Paul wrote about this a great deal in the books of Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. “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.” Ephesians 2:8, 9. “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imparts righteousness apart from works.” Romans 4:2–6 (Literal translation).

Paul emphasized this point because of the error being taught in Christ’s day that a person was saved by grace, but they needed to do something first; they needed to be circumcised first, and then they would receive the grace.

That same teaching is very popular in churches today, including the Protestant churches, but it is not called circumcision. Some say first you need to repent, and that is true, but there are no merits in repentance. Some say that you need to have faith—belief. There is no merit just because you have faith. Salvation is through grace alone; it is a free gift and does not come because of anything that you do.

“It [salvation] is wholly a free gift. Justification by faith is placed beyond controversy. And all this controversy is ended, as soon as the matter is settled that the merits of fallen man in his good works can never procure eternal life for him.” Faith and Works, 20.

But the devil pulls another trick on those who do understand that there is nothing you can do to save yourself. Hundreds of millions of Christians in the world today believe that the church can save you if you are a member or are baptized. If you are a member of the Catholic Church, you need to be an active participant in the seven sacraments, which, if observed, enable you to receive the grace.

Stated bluntly, the church is unable to save anyone, and there will be billions of people lost who have been baptized. Billions of people who have partaken of the communion supper will not be in the kingdom of heaven. We cannot save ourselves, and the church cannot save us either. This same deception that is popular today was also popular in the days of Christ. The people believed that if they were not connected to Israel, the church, they would not be saved. Even Christ’s disciples believed this.

John records an incident when Jesus gave sight to the man who was born blind. There was a big church trial, and before it was over, because the man confessed Christ, he was disfellowshiped. “The Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered them and said, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.’ ” John 9:18–21.

Everybody in town, including his parents, knew what had happened, because the news had gone all over town, so why did they lie? They must have known it was wrong to lie and that no liars will be in heaven (Revelation 21:8). “His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, because the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed He was the Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.” John 9:22 (Literal translation).

They were under one of the most powerful delusions that can happen to a person. They had been taught that if you were disfellowshiped from the synagogue, you would not have eternal life. Ironically, the very thing they did do, lie, would keep them out of the kingdom of God. They thought that as long as they stayed in and had that connection with the church, they would be saved.

If they really wanted to be saved, they would have had to allow themselves to be disfellowshiped and not lie. This story is important, because this has happened millions of times since then. The very thing that people think will assure them of eternal life is the very thing that guarantees their destruction. Jesus’ own disciples believed this.

“ ‘I am the true Vine’ [John 15:1]. The Jews had always regarded the vine as the most noble of plants, and a type of all that was powerful, excellent, and fruitful. Israel had been represented as a vine which God had planted in the Promised Land. The Jews based their hope of salvation on the fact of their connection with Israel.” The Desire of Ages, 675.

Jesus says, “I am the real vine. Think not that through a connection with Israel you may become partakers of the life of God and inheritors of His promise. Through Me alone is spiritual life received.” Are you connected with the True Vine? Baptism with water is a symbol and important, but if you do not have what it represents, the symbol will not save you.

Peter explains what baptism represents. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” Acts 2:37, 38. Baptism by water represents baptism by the Holy Spirit.

Even though church will not save you, it is important to belong to one. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (the church)—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” I Corinthians 12:13. Baptism, water baptism, is the door into the church. But water baptism is a symbol that won’t save you if you don’t have what it represents.

You become a member of the body of Christ when you are baptized by the Holy Spirit. Paul met some people in Acts 19 who had been baptized, and he asked if they had received the Holy Spirit. They said they had been baptized into John’s baptism and were told they needed to be baptized again. This clearly indicates that baptism is not really valid if you have not received the Holy Spirit.

There are many who have attended church all their life and decide to be rebaptized because they did not know before what they were doing or were not prepared. They did not receive the Holy Spirit.

If you have not received the Holy Spirit, the church cannot save you. The big question is, Are you connected with Jesus? Jesus said, “I am the true Vine.” There are two things working to connect the branches to the grape vines. The outer connection, the lignite in the wood, just holds them physically to the vine. The outer connection could be likened to church membership. When a person is baptized with water and makes a profession, they are now a “member” of the church, outwardly. It has an outer connection, but if the life sap does not flow through the inner part of that vine into the branch, it will die. This is described in John 15.

The dead branch is a person who is a member of the church, professing to be a Christian. They profess to be getting ready for Jesus to come, and they look like they are connected, but the only trouble is, there is no life in them.

When working with grape vines, you learn to trim and tie up the vines. Every dead branch is cut off. Jesus said, “That’s what My Father does.” Notice what He says in John 15:2–5: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes [cleanses/purifies], that it may bear more fruit. You are already purified or cleansed, because of the word which I have spoken to you. ‘Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing’ ” (Literal translation).

Is the life of Christ coming into your life and is the Holy Spirit working a transformation in your life, changing the way you think and the way you act? Do others recognize you as a Christian?

There have been many discussions about creature merit. Theologians have been arguing these things for hundreds of years. Ellen White wrote about these discussions. She said,

“Discussions may be entered into by mortals strenuously advocating creature merit, and each man striving for the supremacy, but they simply do not know that all the time, in principle and character, they are misrepresenting the truth as it is in Jesus. They are in a fog of bewilderment. They need the divine love of God which is represented by gold tried in the fire; they need the white raiment of Christ’s pure character; and they need the heavenly eyesalve that they might discern with astonishment the utter worthlessness of creature merit to earn the wages of eternal life.” Faith and Works, 23.

How much is creature merit worth? She calls it utter worthlessness.

“The Lord Jesus imparts all the powers, all the grace, all the penitence, all the inclination, all the pardon of sins, in presenting His righteousness for man to grasp by living faith—which is also the gift of God. If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason.” Ibid., 24. Even the angels would say it was treason against the government of God.

Salvation is not complicated. It is a natural human tendency to want to do something to gain merit, so that we can be saved, but we can never be saved that way. Ellen White says, “He need not wait until he has made a suitable repentance before he may take hold upon Christ’s righteousness. We do not understand the matter of salvation. It is just as simple as ABC. But we don’t understand it.” Ibid., 64.

How can you receive the gift of salvation? Just say, “Lord, I’m choosing to believe in Jesus as the Lord of my life and Saviour from sin.” Jesus stated it in that simple language, over and over again. The apostle John, more than any other apostle, quoted Jesus’ words on that subject. For instance, he said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” John 5:24. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” John 6:47. That is not complicated. Jesus said, “If you believe in Me, you have eternal life.”

There is much to be thankful for. “The people had not been destroyed by the serpents in their long travels through the wilderness. They had been an ungrateful people.

“We are just so. We do not realize the thousand dangers that our heavenly Father has kept us from. We do not realize the great blessing that He has bestowed upon us in giving us food and raiment, in preserving our lives by sending the guardian angels to watch over us. Every day we should be thankful for this. We ought to have gratitude stirring in our hearts and come to God with a gratitude offering every day. We ought to gather around the family altar every day and praise Him for His watchcare over us. The children of Israel had lost sight that God was protecting them from the venomous beasts. But when He withdrew His hand their sting was upon them.” Ibid., 69.

We ought to have such gratitude that we gather around the family altar every day and praise Him for His watchcare over us. The children of Israel had lost sight that God was protecting them from the venomous beasts, but when He withdrew His hand, their sting was upon them. If we could just comprehend how simple the plan of salvation is. All you have to do is choose to believe. Some may say they cannot. Remember the man who came to Jesus and He said, “If you can believe, everything is possible” (Mark 9:23). The man then said, “Lord, I believe,” but he was struggling with doubt, just the way people are today. It is the devil’s intention to try to destroy all who believe by causing doubt. This man was struggling with doubt, and he said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” [verse 24].

Ellen White says that if you pray that prayer you can never perish. The plan of salvation is that simple. If we really believed it, we would be happy; we would be thankful; we would be rejoicing; we would be praising God every day for what He has done for us.

In the wilderness, the children of Israel were told to look at the brass snake and be saved (Numbers 21:8, 9). The Lord says, “Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and none else.” Isaiah 45:22 (Literal translation). This is not complicated. Are you willing to look? A dead snake, a brass snake, cannot save anybody. The Lord says, “If you will look, I will save you.” The problem we have is that we live in a world where the religion of Cain is more popular than the true religion. The religion of Cain says you have to do something for the Lord to save you. That is a deception. Just come to Jesus, just the way you are right now, with all of your sins, with all of your weaknesses. You cannot make yourself better.

Jesus said, “He who comes to Me, I will in no case cast out” (John 6:37). If you will come, He will save you. If you look, He will save you. You don’t have to do something first; just come to Jesus right now, just the way you are, with all of your sins, with all of your guilt, with all of your failings, with all of your past; come with everything that is wrong with you. He just says, “Look to Me. Come to Me, I will save you. You do the coming, I will do the saving.”

We cannot save ourselves; the church cannot save us, and no human being can save us. Only Jesus can save us.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.