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8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
When somebody is in a difficult situation – maybe financial, or emotional, or of some other kind – family and friends will offer a helping hand if they can. Their efforts added to what the person himself can do may be enough to see him through the crisis. Those offering help would expect the person to do as much as he can to help himself. Then the combined effort will be sufficient.
Often people think that that is how salvation works. They believe that as sinners we can’t do enough to save ourselves – we need help from God. They think that we do the best we can and God makes up the shortfall. The Bible presents a very different view of salvation, as we see in today’s passage Ephesians 2:8-9 Four great facts about salvation.
1. It is by grace
Verse 8 begins ‘For it is by grace you have been saved’. The word ‘for’ shows that this statement is the conclusion to be drawn from what Paul says in verses 1-7 about the transformation that God has wrought in his people. He has brought them from being ‘dead in…transgressions’ (v1) to being ‘alive with Christ’ (v5) and he has ‘seated [them] in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (v6). They have been saved from the guilt and power of sin.
Paul now stresses that this salvation is entirely the work of God from start to finish. He is sovereign in saving sinners – they do not save themselves. The same basic principle is stated in Jonah 2:9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’. We find it throughout the Bible.
The key term is ‘grace’. This is a vital word to understand. Grace is the love and favor of God shown to the wretched, to the sinful, to those who deserve his righteous condemnation. It is a love that is determined by nothing in its objects. It is purely the fruit of God’s own nature. Psalm 86:15 says, ‘you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God’. In view of our plight as sinners, this is our only hope. The gospel is good news because it is a message of God’s grace to helpless sinners like you and me, a grace that saves the undeserving.
2. It is through faith
We need to understand clearly that salvation is not automatic. It is received only by those who have faith. This ‘faith’ is not some vague religious feeling or attitude. The Bible means something very specific by ‘faith’. Note Acts 16:31 ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. Paul is telling us that there is one proper object of saving faith- Christ crucified and risen. It is the object of faith that gives it its saving power.
Biblical faith requires knowledge of the person and work of Christ. It also entails assent to the Bible’s explanation of what he accomplished, but it also demands personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord. That’s why in the Bible we have the language of believing ‘on’ or ‘in’ Christ. It is like leaning our entire weight on him. Personal trust in him is essential.
What is the result of believing in Christ? In Romans 5:1 Paul says that we are ‘justified through faith’. That means we are declared righteous in God’s sight. Christ is ‘our righteousness’ according to 1 Corinthians 1:30. His righteousness, in his life of perfect obedience to God’s law and his death on the cross, is counted as ours.
Notice that salvation is ‘through’ faith, not ‘on account of’ it. Faith is not a contribution we make to salvation. It is ‘instrumental’, merely the channel God uses to convey salvation to us. It is like holding out our empty hands for God to fill them. We must never lose sight of the role faith plays and so become proud of our believing or think that it earns blessing.
3. It is God’s gift
Paul drives home the crucial lesson in verse 8: ‘this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’. He could be referring to faith or to the whole of salvation as a gift – it comes to the same thing in the end. God does not grant salvation as if it were a wage we earn or a debt he owes us. Calling it a ‘gift’ stresses he is under no obligation to us.
The gift is entirely free to us, but in fact, it had to be paid for. The gospel tells us that our salvation has been fully paid for. The only one who could pay the price as our Substitute was the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is both God and man. By his perfect obedience to the Father in both his life and his death, Christ paid the price fully. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us’. The whole burden of our sin and guilt was carried by the Saviour in our place. Jesus ‘gave his life a ransom for many’, as he himself puts it in Mark 10:45.
Notice that Paul says, ‘you have been saved’. It’s a perfect tense in the original language, used of something that has already happened and whose effects continue. Although our full enjoyment of salvation lies ahead in glory, we now have full, permanent possession of salvation and it cannot be lost. That’s a truth that’s full of assurance and comfort for us.
4. It is not by works
Paul stresses salvation is by grace alone: ‘not from yourselves…not by works’ he writes in verses 8 and 9. We need to stress this. We are not saved by a mixture of grace and works – that would destroy the element of grace. That is the error the Reformers had to combat. They were correct to affirm that we are saved by grace alone. We cannot and we need not add anything of our own to salvation. Nothing we could do is able to supplement God’s grace
Our efforts have nothing to contribute, and grace and works are mutually exclusive principles. All our efforts are covered by ‘works’, including even religious activities. Salvation does not begin with God’s grace and then continue by our works. It is tragic when some Christians live as if God’s grace forgave their past sins, but now they have to maintain salvation by obeying God well enough. That really denies the power of God’s grace.
The truth about salvation by grace through faith in Christ is humbling. But it is also so liberating. We are free from the burden of trying to earn our salvation. If you have not received that salvation from the Lord, let me urge you to trust in Christ as your Saviour today.