Saved by grace
For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Eph. 2:8
When Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (8), we should not exclude the “faith” as that to which “it” is pointing as part of the gift of God. Faith is part of the gift of God, something which has its origin in the life that God gives his elect. This is supported by the observation that if faith was not part of God’s gift to us but something entirely of ourselves, then we would have something to boast in, namely, our faith. But Paul says that we are not saved by works, “lest any man should boast” (9). It does not do to say that faith is different from work. That is true. Nevertheless, the observation still holds: a faith which originates in our hearts apart from God’s prior and effectual work in our hearts would still be a ground of boasting in us. There would be some part of our salvation that we could take credit for, and this would undermine the reality of salvation by grace.
And when Paul finishes this section by saying that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (10), he is again underlining the fact we are not self-created spiritually. We do not give ourselves life. God did that. We do not raise ourselves from the dead. God did that. We do not seat ourselves in the heavenly places in Christ. God did that. We are his workmanship, not our own. And therefore to God alone the glory.
Now I don’t want to deny that at the same time our faith is our faith. Our repentance is our repentance. We believe. We repent. And if we don’t believe and don’t repent we will not be saved. I’m not arguing, and the apostle was not arguing, that we are robots or puppets. Rather, what I believe the apostle is saying is that everything good in us spiritually is a gift of God, including our faith (cf. Eph. 1:3). We exercise what he gives us. As Saint Augustine prayed: “God, give what you command, and command what you will.” The apostle James put it this way, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jam. 1:17-18). Or, as Paul would say to the Corinthians, our faith does not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5).
In other words, Ephesians 2:1-10 emphasizes the reality that the Christian religion is supernatural. It is not a political, or a cultural, or even a moral phenomenon. It is fundamentally a supernatural reality. I think that is one of the major takeaways from this passage. And I believe this is something that we need to constantly remind ourselves of, because in our day Christianity has been in many ways reduced to a formula, to an algorithm. Books come out with the promise, “Here is the secret for ____________!” The underlying message is that if you follow these steps, you will achieve the hoped-for end. The danger in many of these books is that sanctification becomes a matter entirely of what you do. The supernatural element has been removed from our walk with God.
I’m not saying that there are no steps to sanctification or salvation. “Believe, and you shall be saved” is a fundamental step we must all take. There are things we must do, without which we will never grow in grace. But what we have to be careful about is that salvation and sanctification becomes primarily about what you do. At that point, we need to remind ourselves that salvation in all its aspects is not something that we are doing on our own. Salvation is first of all something God has done in us and for us. And then as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we do so knowing that it is God who is working in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phi. 2:12-13). Salvation and sanctification are supernatural processes in our lives.
Yes, the point of Ephesians 2 is that salvation is by grace. But whose grace? God’s grace! Salvation is therefore supernatural in its origin (in the giving of spiritual life, verses 4-6), in its continuance (in the sustaining of spiritual life, verses 8-10), and throughout eternity (in the celebration of God’s grace in giving and supporting us in spiritual life, verse 7).