Vol. 2 - No. 4

April, 1983


Grace and Works - Romans 11:6

by Hoyt H. Houchen

This text, along with others, is, used by the Calvinists to prove that salvation is wholly by the grace of God without any work upon the part of man, making man wholly a passive recipient. This doctrine is stated clearly in the old Philadelphia Confession of Faith. The crux of the argument is that if one does any work, then salvation is not by grace -- it becomes a matter of debt, not favor.

We are amazed that Calvinism is even having its influence upon some brethren. Although the system has not been adopted in toto, some tenets of it are having their effect upon these brethren, especially the matter of grace and works. Neo-Calvinism, as we know it in the church, is not a temporary and isolated fantasy among a few; it is more than a threat or a danger. It is an issue with which we must deal. Ecumenical efforts toward unity in the denominational world have penetrated the church of our Lord in the teaching and practice of so-called Grace-Fellowship, or open fellowship.

Paul wrote in Romans 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace." John Murray comments on this verse, "If grace is conditional in any way by human performance or by the will of man impelling to action, then grace ceases to be grace" (ICNT, Romans, pg. 70). It is obvious that these proponents exclude any and ALL works from salvation. In doing so, they attempt to eliminate baptism as a necessary condition of salvation by contending that we are not saved by works; baptism is a work, therefore we are not saved by baptism.

A study of the relationship of grace, faith and works is most needful.

The Verse in Context

In the verses prior to Romans 11:6, Paul was not teaching that God had rejected ALL Jews; although some of his critics might accuse him of it. Paul himself was a Jew and gave himself as an example that Jews could be saved upon an individual basis. God never intended to withhold salvation from any OBEDIENT Jew. The people whom God foreknew (vs. 2) were obedient individuals (Jews). These were the ones foreknown by God, recognized and accepted by Him. Elijah serves as a case in point as one who had lived in times past and was accepted by God. Now, even in this time (the time that Paul was writing) there was "a remnant according to the election of grace" (vs. 5). This remnant of Jews was obedient to Christ.

The meaning of Romans 11:6 is more clearly understood when we consider that we are now living under a system of grace in contradistinction to the works of law, a system which required man's work to merit salvation. The meaning of our text is well summed up by Moses E. Lard: "For had it been of works, that is, had God chosen the remnant in virtue of perfect obedience on their part, the choice would have been something due them, a thing of merit, and consequently not of favor. But perfect obedience, the remnant never rendered; and yet they were chosen. Of necessity, then, the choice proceeded from favor" (Commentary on Romans, pg. 349). That is the point. The problem is that some do not make a distinction between works by which a man merits justification, and commands of God which must be obeyed. Because they do not make this proper distinction, is the reason they believe and teach that a man is not to do ANY work to be saved.

Salvation by Grace

We are saved by grace (Romans 3:24; 5:20-21; 6:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11-12, etc.). Webster defines "grace:" "unmerited divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification" (Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, pg. 362).

Grace is Conditional

The scriptures afford us numerous examples of grace, but in each instance grace is dependent upon certain conditions. Paul wrote, "for by grace have ye been saved through faith...." (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is a condition of grace. The point of issue is not, are we saved by grace or by faith? We are saved by both, but the issue is: what KIND of faith justifies? The scriptures teach that it is a WORKING faith (Galatians 5:6). Jesus is the author of salvation to all who OBEY Him (He-brews 5:8-9; see also Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; John 14:15, 23, etc.). Those who are in Christ must be DOERS of the Word (James 1:22, 25). We ask: why does God command us to obey Him by DOING certain things, if by the doing of them we would annul the grace of God? ALL works are not excluded in Romans 11:6.

Illustrative of the truth that grace is coupled with action upon our part, is that God gives us bread but we must work for it. It is by God's unmerited favor that the bread is received. He has supplied the soil, the seed, the sunshine and the rain; but man must plant the seed, till the soil and reap the harvest in order to produce the bread. Air is provided by the grace of God, but man must appropriate that grace by breathing.

"Noah found favor in the eyes of Jehovah" (Genesis 6:8), but he was commanded to build an ark (vs. 14). He was saved by grace through faith. His faith was manifested by building the ark.

Abraham was blessed by God's grace (Genesis 12:1-3) but it was brought about by Abraham's faith, a working faith. "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance" (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham was blessed by God's grace when he OBEYED.

By God's grace, the city of Jericho was given into the hands of the Israelites (Joshua 6:2) but they had to compass the city, marching around the walls once each day for seven days and seven times on the seventh day (vss. 3, 4). Again, it was an example of grace through faith. Grace was God's unmerited favor: the receiving of it was by faith -- they compassed the walls for seven days (Hebrews 11:30).

Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy by the grace of God; but it was by his faith, obedience to God's command that the cleansing was done. He had to DIP SEVEN TIMES in the river Jordan (2 Kings 5:14).

Salvation by Faith

As there are numerous scriptures which teach that we are saved by grace, so also many teach that we are saved by faith (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Romans 5:1; He-brews 11:6, etc.). But nowhere in the scriptures can it be found that we are saved by faith ONLY. The faith that saves is not a mere assent of the mind; but it is the doing of what God has told us to do, as we have shown by Bible examples. Many of the rulers believed on Jesus but they would not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (John 12:42-43). "The demons also believe and shudder" (James 2:19), but who would affirm that these rulers and demons were saved? The faith that saves is an OBEDIENT faith (Romans 1:5; Hebrews 5:8-9).

Salvation by Works

Many are confused about works. They suppose that when a passage, such as our text under study, Romans 11:6, says that salvation is not of works, that ALL works must necessarily be excluded. There is no contradiction between passages which teach that we are saved by works, and those which teach that we are not saved by works. The Bible teaches clearly that there are different KINDS of works, and we must make the proper distinction between them.

We are not saved by meritorious works -- works which we have devised and depend upon for salvation. We are saved by grace, not by debt. How does one annul God's grace? He does so by meritorious works or by a system of works such as the law of Moses. Works of man's own righteousness would be meritorious works (see Romans 10:3; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:9). If a man should someday stand before the great tribunal bar of God and plead for entrance into the eternity of heaven because of what he has done, and apart from God's grace, this would be meritorious work and the kind which does not save. So it was with the law of Moses or any system of law. No man could keep the law perfectly, but even if he did, it would then be a salvation earned and would there-fore be a matter of debt, not of grace. This is why Paul wrote, " .... for ye are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). I. B. Grubbs gives a most clear meaning of this verse. He comments: "They are not under a mere legal system with no provision of grace for the cancellation of their infraction of the law (Commentary on Romans, p. 63). This is Paul's teaching in Romans 11:6. He is not saying that we are under no law whatsoever, because there are other passages which teach that we are subject to the law of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). Language could not be plainer. The "grace only" advocates are confronted with a real problem; because when they teach any requirement of grace, then it is no longer "grace only." But K. C. Moser states: "The mixture of law and grace is spiritual adultery" (The Gist of Romans, p. 78). He would put asunder that which God has joined!

We are saved by SOME KINDS of works. We are saved by works of faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), so the works of faith are those that result from hearing the Word of God. We are saved by good works (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:9-14). These passages teach that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works and that we are "to maintain good works." By doing the will of God we appropriate His grace by which we are saved (Ephesians 2:8).

We are saved by faith, and even it is a work. It is the work of God. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29). If ALL works are eliminated from salvation, then out the window goes faith. It is "bye, bye" faith. Baptism is a work, but where does it classify? Is it a work of man, or is it a work of God? It is a work of God, because like faith, God devised it as a necessary condition of salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). These are the works of God (Acts 10:35; 1 John 2:29; 3:7, 10; 5:3) because He authorized them.


God's grace and His law unite, just as do mercy and justice. We must not confuse the meritorious works of man which would ANNUL grace (Romans 11:6) with the works of God which APPROPRIATE grace (Ephesians 2:8). Humble obedience to the commands of God nullifies neither grace nor faith but unites them. We are indeed thankful for the wonderful and matchless grace of God which saves us when we implicitly trust Him and submit to Him by wholehearted obedience to His will.