For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek tells of a young Buddhist monk two thousand years ago who looked pious, clasped his hands, and chanted “Amita Buddha” all day, believing he could thus acquire grace. One day, the Father Prior of the temple sat beside him and began rubbing a piece of stone against a brick. This went on for several days until the young monk asked, “Father Prior, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to make a mirror,” he replied. “But,” protested the youth, “you cannot make a mirror of a brick.” “That is true,” the old man replied, “and it is just as impossible for you to attain grace by chanting all day.”
This ancient Chinese story points to this truth: sinners cannot become saints unless their character changes. Paul understood this and frankly told the Philippians to have no confidence in the flesh, that is, not to consider themselves worthy of salvation because they had gone to the right schools, memorized the right things, and chanted the right prayers. Paul learned this from personal experience; he had done all these things, and they had not saved him.
Salvation is a divine interruption in man’s heart. In Christ, we are made new creatures and become totally dependent, not on our own fleshly righteousness but on His grace. As the songwriter said, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.”