But God (Eph. 2:8-10)
ETR - “I mean that you have been saved by grace because you believed. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. 9 You are not saved by the things you have done, so there is nothing to boast about. 10 God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do.”
This is a beautiful text, and a very popular one. However, it is one of the most perverted and misinterpreted texts in all the Bible.
We observe what this text says. First, we are saved by grace. Grace means the love and favor of God toward man. If you have an insurance policy you may find a clause stating that if your premium is not paid on the due date, you will have thirty days grace during which time you may pay the premium. If you are unexpectedly “laid off” from work and cannot pay your bank note on time, the banker may give you thirty days grace. All of us understand the meaning of the word grace in such connections. It means that we receive something which is unmerited - something as a gift - something not earned.
Our daily food is a matter of grace. In what is commonly called the Lord’s prayer he taught his disciples to say, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). As far as God is concerned our bread is a gift, a matter of grace. God does not bestow our bread in consideration of His indebtedness to us. We have not paid Him for it. We have not earned it. It is a matter of grace. And yet such temporal blessings are conditional upon our part. If mankind fails to use the means which God provided, bread will not be given. We must prepare the soil, plant the seed, and cultivate or we will have no harvest - no bread.
God says, “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return unto the ground” (Gen. 3:19). Paul says, “We commanded you that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Yes, our bread is a gift of grace, but it is a conditional gift. However, the conditions are only what nature requires, and are not meritorious. Our labor in no way benefits God and does not earn our bread. Jesus says, “When you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants, we have done what was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).
Man may have to drill a well in order to obtain water to relive his thirst, yet the water is a gift of God. Drilling the well does not pay God for the water. Because of this very principle we thank God for all temporal blessings. It is because they are gifts of God. When you go into the store and buy a sack of groceries and pay for them, you do not thank the merchant for the groceries, because you paid him. But you did not pay God for what He did in giving you these essentials of life.
But there is another kind of grace that we shall call the saving grace of God. Paul says, “The grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). This grace, like the temporal grace of God, is offered unto all men alike. But it, too, is conditional on our part. Paul says that this grace has appeared to all men. “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
There are two sides of the matter of salvation: God’s side and man’s side. All that God does in order to present our salvation He does by grace or favor. He is prompted by His mercy to do all He does. He owes us nothing, but He proposes to give us all things. On the human side of the plan, all we do must be done through faith. Referring to both sides of the plan, Paul says “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
God acts by grace and we act by faith. The grace of God is not a dead grace, but a living, active virtue. The word “grace” includes all the various acts God performed in order to provide our salvation. Our faith likewise includes every act of our obedience to the gospel. Grace is a channel through which God’s blessings were brought down and deposited in Christ for us, while faith is the channel through which we come by obedience to Christ into Him where salvation is. Yes, God did something that we might be saved, and each act performed was wrought by grace. It was not grace without action on God’s side; neither are we saved by faith without obedience on our side.
Christ was a gift of God’s grace. Paul says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know that he gave up his heavenly riches for you. He gave up everything so that you could be richly blessed” (2 Cor. 8:9; ETR). And the death of Christ, as well as His coming into the world, was an act of God’s grace. The record says, “For a short time Jesus was made lower than the angels, but now we see him wearing a crown of glory and honor because he suffered and died. Because of God’s grace, Jesus died for everyone” (Heb. 2:9; ETR).
The gospel of Christ is also a matter of grace. It was by the grace of God that He sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to guide the apostles into all truth, and to confirm it (with signs following) as we now have it in the NT. Paul speaks of what he called “the gospel of the grace of God” and “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:24, 32). We have never paid for the atonement made for us by Christ, nor for any other provision of the gospel by which we are saved. All of these things are gifts of God to be appropriated by men through obedience to the gospel. Yes, the very fact that God teaches us is a part of His grace (Titus 2:11-12).
SINNER NOT INACTIVE:
Because the Bible says that we are saved by grace, some have jumped to the unwarranted conclusion that the sinner cannot do any thing to be saved. But the very text of our lesson which says we are saved by grace makes it conditional on man’s part by saying it is “through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Just as sure as we are saved by grace and through faith, then the faith must be there in order to be saved through it.
The water cannot flow into your home through a pipe unless the pipe is there. God’s grace then cannot flow into us in salvation unless we have the faith through which to be saved. Jesus said, “He that believes not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Again, He said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Paul says, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:16). So there is no salvation by grace without faith. Again Paul says, “We have access by faith into this grace wherein you stand” (Rom. 5:2).
In order to avoid the fact that salvation is conditional on man’s part, some have taken the position that faith is not an act of man. Paul says, “With the heart man believes until righteousness” (Rom. 10:10). So man does the believing. Faith is not for God, but for man. When the jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas did not tell him that he could not do anything, or that God would have to do everything for him. But they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house” (Acts 16:30-31). They then spoke to him the word of the Lord, and baptized him the same hour of the night - midnight (Acts 16:32-34).
Jesus was telling HIs apostles how all men are to be saved by grace through faith when He said, “Go everywhere in the world. Tell the Good News to everyone. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. But those who do not believe will be judged guilty” (Mark 16:15-16). Surely no one would deny that Peter was telling them how to be saved by grace and through faith when he said, “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Then God will forgive your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
NOT OF YOURSELVES:
Our text is indeed a beautiful one. It says, “I mean that you have been saved by grace because you believed. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God.” “That not of yourselves” means the salvation is not of ourselves - we do not save or pardon our own sins. Neither do we pay for salvation - “It is a gift from God.” Some have argued that the text is saying that faith is “not of yourselves” but “is the gift of God.” But this cannot be true. Salvation is the gift of God that is “by grace,” “through faith” and “not of yourselves.” If you will, bear with me to make one grammatical point here… The words “faith” and “grace” in the Greek language are both feminine nouns. The pronoun “it” in the sentence “it was a gift from God” is a neuter pronoun which means it cannot refer to either faith or grace. Neither grace nor faith in this context is the gift of God. The theme of the paragraph is salvation and that is the gift of God.
There is a sense, however, in which faith is a gift from God. God gives us the testimony which produces faith and “So faith comes from hearing the Good News. And people hear the Good News when someone tells them about Christ” (Rom. 10:17; ETR). Again, John says, “But these are written so that you can believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Then, by believing, you can have life through his name” (John 20:31; ETR). But (as we have already seen), man does the believing (Rom. 10:10; Acts 16:30-31). Neither God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit will believe for us.
NOT OF WORKS:
But there is something else in this beautiful text which has been terribly perverted by Protestant preachers. It says our salvation is “not by the things you have done, so there is nothing to boast about” (Eph 2:9; ETR). It is claimed by such preachers and scholars that this excludes all kinds of works, and that it therefore excludes baptism from the plan. But the text mentions works of boasting, and there is no more boasting in baptism than there is in belief or repentance - which are admitted to be essential to salvation.
The text says, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” There is no ground for boasting in the gospel of Christ. But if one were to reject the gospel and the atonement of Christ and succeed in being saved by the old law he would have ground for boasting. Paul says, “I am not the one destroying the meaning of God’s grace. If following the law is how people are made right with God, then Christ did not have to die” (Gal. 2:21; ETR).
If the Jews could have continued under the law of Moses and if they could have been saved through it, without accepting Christ and Christianity, they naturally could boast that Christ had nothing to do with their salvation. But they could not boast in their salvation because they could not obey God as they needed to do.
NOT BY WORKS OF THE LAW:
One cannot be justified by the works of the law. Paul says, “But we know that no one is made right with God by following the law. It is trusting in[a] Jesus Christ that makes a person right with God” (Gal. 2:16; ETR). Gospel commands are no part of what is called the “works of the law.” but belong to what is called here the “faith in Christ Jesus.” The same verse says it is “not by the works of the law because no one can be made right with God by following the law.”
These passages make it plain that we should rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). We are not saved by the works of the law of Moses - the old covenant. But this is a million miles from teaching that we do not have to do anything to be saved under the new covenant. It simply emphasizing the fact that one never can be saved on the ground of a good moral life.
But no one except Jesus Christ has ever succeeded in living such a life. “Your people will sin against you. I know this because everyone sins” (1 Kings 8:46; ETR). The Bible says, “Surely there is no one on earth who always does good and never sins” (Ecc. 7:20; ETR). The Bible says, “All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness” (Rom. 3:23; ETR). The Bible says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we are saying that God is a liar and that we don’t accept his true teaching” (1 John 1:10; ETR). This being true, all accountable beings in the world are sinners and are lost. The reason not all will be saved, then, is that some reject Christ and the gospel and must suffer the consequences of their choice.
WORKS OF OBEDIENCE:
Some claim that we are saved by faith alone and not by any sort of work or act of obedience. They say that we are saved first, and then we begin to obey commandments. But now let us see about this. When one believes, he is obeying a command; therefore by their argument, one would have to be saved before faith. John says, “This is what God commands: that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ, and that we love each other as he commanded” (1 John 3:23). When the jailer asked what to do to be saved, he was commanded to believe (Acts 16:30-31).
So if one is saved without any obedience to any command, he is saved without faith and this contradicts both the doctrine of those who make the argument and the Bible. Not only so, but if one is saved without obeying any command, he would be saved without repentance for Paul said, “In the past people did not understand God, and he overlooked this. But now he is telling everyone in the world to change and turn to him” (Acts 17:30). Hence, faith and repentance are commands of God to be obeyed by the sinner in order to have salvation, the same as baptism. If baptism cannot be necessary because it is a command, then neither faith nor repentance could be essential to salvation for the same reason.
Peter says, “You have made yourselves pure by obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). Paul says of the Roman Christians, “In the past you were slaves to sin—sin controlled you. But thank God, you fully obeyed what you were taught. 18 You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to what is right” (Rom. 6:17-18; ETR). The “doctrine” was the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
the “form” of this which the Romans had obeyed was that they had died to sin (Rom. 6:2); they had been buried in baptism wherein they were raised up to a new life (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). They obeyed this form in order to be freed from sin and to become servants of righteousness. So, people must obey to be saved and they must continue obeying to stay saved.
So, family, salvation is “by grace” - grace that did something - grace that sent the Son - grace that acted, and not dead grace. We are saved by grace “through faith” - not dead faith but the faith which includes its obedience to Christ and becomes trust or reliance upon the Lord for salvation as promised in the gospel.
To refuse to obey the gospel is to reject Christ and His blood. To refuse to obey the Gospel is to reject the grace of God and all His mercy. You can’t be saved on your morality, for to be saved that way you would have to succeed in living a perfect and sinless life from birth until death. That would be to be saved by works of your own righteousness, and we have seen that is impossible.
Take home message: If you reject the Lord and die guilty of your sins, you will not have the grace and mercy of God to your credit at all. You will be judged on the basis of Christ’s perfect and sinless life!