Paul did not labor that he might receive grace, but he received grace in order that he might labor.
Augustine, De gestis Pelagii xiv, 36
No distinction could be more important to our salvation.
Augustine knew what many over the years have not known—salvation is not of works; it produces good works.
He speaks of grace. Grace is something unmerited. It is an enabling power. Romans 8: 8 says that those who are “in the flesh [unsaved persons] CANNOT please God” (emphasis mine).” Yet people are always trying to do so by their own ability. The fact is that they are not able to do so: “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
That’s why they need the grace of God, regenerating and giving them the ability to believe the Gospel. Prior to that grace which brings spiritual life, one is dead spiritually; he cannot believe.
Roman Catholics have always believed that there is an element of ability left in man to which God may appeal. The Bible teaches otherwise. To be dead, isn’t to still have a little life left!
So, we are grateful to God, who provides for every aspect of salvation—from beginning to end. That provision is called grace.
Grace is an interesting concept—difficult for proud man to fathom. Men want to contribute something-if not everything—to their regeneration and justification.
There were some Puritans who believed by works, you could “prepare” yourself for regeneration, and they set people on long periods of becoming sensible to their sins, so that the Gospel could be given to them when ready. Not so. In Scripture, people are saved on the spot at having heard to GOOD News for the first time. Consider the Ethiopian Eunuch; Lydia (who had to have her heart opened to believe), or the Philippian jailer.
Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted is a handbook of Preparationism and ought to be avoided at all costs. It talks about all sorts of works, but in the chapter called “Directions to the Unconverted,” he never once says, “Repent and believe the Gospel.”
People are saved by grace through faith—which leads to works as a result of conversion.