This Sunday (November 2, 2008) I had the privilege of doing pulpit supply at a small church in my area that does not currently have a pastor. What follows is the message:
By God’s Grace and for His Glory
By David S. Dittmer
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Eph 2:8-10 (ESV)
Two days ago was October 31st. As all of you probably know, that was Halloween. What you maybe didn’t know, was that there is another holiday that falls on that same day, one that is very important to us as Protestants. That holiday is known as Reformation Day. This day marks the anniversary of a very important day in church history, and this really shouldn’t surprise you, it was the day that sparked off the Protestant Reformation. It was the day that Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the castle chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany.
This document, the “95 Theses,” as its full title, a “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” would indicate, was an attempt, on Luther’s part, to have a scholarly debate on the Roman Catholic teaching on indulgences.
At this point, I should probably stop and explain what indulgences are and why they were important to Luther and why it pertains to this passage of Scripture today. Indulgences are a Roman Catholic practice, whereby a person is granted a remission from the temporal penalty of sin in purgatory, by doing a sufficient good work. In other words an indulgence I basically way for people to buy their way out of the punishment of sin. This practice is only part of a larger system of doctrines in the Catholic Church that teaches that a person is justified, which is that they are declared or reckoned to be righteous before God, by a combination of God’ grace and our good works. Luther rebelled against this because it goes against the plain teaching of Scripture, and one of the passages that speaks most clearly on this, is our passage today.
My message today is going to have two parts, each of which will revolve around a question. The first part is going to seek to answer the question “How are saved?” The second part is going to seek to answer the question “Why are we saved?” The answers of which will echo the Reformation battle cries, that we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, and for the glory of God alone.
I. How Are We Saved?
So, to begin with, we are going to try to answer the question: “How are we saved?” This passage answers that question in two ways: first that we are saved by God’s grace and secondly, that we are saved through faith.
A. By Grace You Have Been Saved
If you look at our passage for today, it says “by grace you have been saved.” I think Paul’s wording is significant here. In the time that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, they had no way of emphasizing specific texts. He wasn’t writing this letter on a computer where he could underline or embolden something when he wanted to make a point. In fact, in the form of Greek that he was writing, he didn’t even have lowercase letters, but that is beside the point. When Paul, or any other writer of Greek, wanted to emphasize something in what they were writing, they would change the word order of the sentence. Normally in English, our sentences are formed by first stating the subject, then the verb, then the object. An example would be something like: “Bob ran home.” Greek was much more fluid in its sentence construction; word order could be changed based on the desire of the author.
I say all of that because, even when these verses are translated into English, they don’t follow the normal sentence structure. This sentence, if properly written, should read something like “you have been saved by grace…;” however, if the translators would have done that, I think it would have obscured the point that Paul was trying to make: that we have been saved completely by the grace of almighty God. I think that is the primary point of the beginning of chapter two here in Ephesians. So much so, that back in verse five, Paul just broke in to the middle of the sentence and stated it. It was like he was so excited about this that he just couldn’t wait to build up to. He just had to get out. By grace you have been saved.
Since that is Paul’s primary point in this entire passage, let’s take a closer look at what the word grace means. According to one internet dictionary that I used quite frequently, one definition of grace is “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.” That is a secular source, but it is a great definition, though there are some things that could be added to that, though I will get to that in a few minutes.
Right now, let’s take a few minutes and just look at that definition and how it relates to our salvation. First, there is the fact that salvation is something that is freely given. It is not something that you can force out of God. This may not be the case, but some people seem to think that if they just live a good enough life, in the case of us Baptists, if you walk the aisle or pray the right prayer, then God is obligated to let you into heaven. The fact of the matter is that, God is under obligation to no one. There is nothing you can do that can make God save you. If He does choose to save you, it is because it is according to His own plans and purposes.
Secondly, our definition of grace would lead us to believe that salvation our salvation is unmerited, or undeserved. While that is true, it really doesn’t go far enough. It isn’t just that we don’t deserve salvation; it is that we all deserve the exact opposite of salvation: damnation. That has been the case, nearly since the dawn of time. Back in Genesis chapter two, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any fruit in the Garden of Eden, but that they could not eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God in that day laid out, what might seem to be, a steep punishment if they did. He said that “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” You all know the story I am sure, but Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit, and that day they did die. What may not be apparent on the surface of things is that they died it two ways. In that day, they died spiritually. They experienced a separation from God that had not existed before. Not only that, but there was a hostility to entered their nature, hostility towards each other and hostility towards God. Because of this hostile nature towards God their wills were damaged so that they no longer even had the ability to respond to God in any sort of positive manner. Not only did they die spiritually, but they were also guaranteed physical death, and then to phase judgment before the throne of God. The imago dei, or image of God, that they bore was irrevocably damaged, and that is what they passed on to all of their descendants. That is why it says at the beginning of Ephesians 2 that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and are by nature children of wrath. By our very nature, we are not objects of God’s favor and love, but we are objects of his wrath.
Even though that is the case, God has chosen to set apart a remnant for Himself, just as He did in the days of Elijah and just as He always has done, out of all of humanity. Not because they did or even could deserve it, or because He needed us in any way, but simply out of the over-flow of His divine love. We deserved His wrath in eternal condemnation, but instead He sent His only Son to bare the penalty for our sins in His body, so that we would be saved.
Something else that I want to make note of here is the preposition that precedes the word “grace.” When I was in elementary, junior high, or senior high school, they did not teach us the parts of speech. For those of you that may be like me, or maybe it has just been a long time since you learned those things, let me quickly explain what a preposition is. A preposition is a word that generally is placed before a noun in a sentence or proposition, to indicate some form of spatial, temporal, or some other relationship with the main verb. Some examples of prepositions would be words like “in,” “as,” “since,” “for,” or (our word) “by.”
The passage says that we are saved by grace. Grace is the very foundation from which our salvation flows. Even the faith and the works that are mentioned later in the passage flow from the outworking of God’s grace. In the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’s article on grace it says that “God's favor differs from man's in that it cannot be conceived of as inactive. A favorable “thought” of God's about a man involves of necessity the reception of some blessing by that man, and “to look with favor” is one of the commonest Biblical paraphrases for “bestow a blessing.”” In other words God’s grace or favor towards someone, is not simply an inactive disposition, but is a power of force that actually brings about some blessing. In the case of our passage today, God’s grace does not simply make salvation possible but makes salvation certain.
The certainty of our salvation is made evident in what comes next. “For by grace you have been saved. In the original language, that is all one word. I hate to do this, but in order for you to understand this completely, you have to know something about Greek, and most people that I know of are bored out of their minds by stuff like that, so I am going try to explain as simply as possible.
Like I said, that last part, you have been saved, is all one word, and it is what is called a perfect passive participle. When I say that it is perfect I mean this: it is an action that has occurred in some time in the past, but it is an action that has been completed and is never to be repeated. Also, this is passive, which means that we are the target of the action rather than the source. So, our salvation is something that has been completed, never be repeated, and was something that was done to us rather than something we did ourselves. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died once for all, so that all that called on Him in faith would have eternal life.
B. You Have Been Saved Through Our Faith
This is an abrupt transition, but we are now going to move on and look at the next portion of our text, that we “have been saved through faith.” For this I want to try to answer three questions. First, what is “faith”? Second, where does faith come from? And thirdly, what is faith’s role in our salvation.
To answer the first question, “what is faith,” could you please turn in your Bibles with me to Hebrews 11:1? There it says, “1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That is what it says in my translation, the English Standard Version, but the version that I memorized that text in was the New International Version, and it is the one that has always made the most sense to me. In that translation it says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There is not a lot of difference between the two, but like I said the NIV just seems to be clearer to me, at least on that verse.
There are two things that I want you to notice about this verse. First is the fact that faith goes beyond merely acknowledging certain facts. As you can see here in Hebrews 11:1, faith is being sure, being certain about certain things. This is so much the case, that some people would render the word that is translated here as faith as something like complete trust or allegiance to a certain cause or person. Secondly, I want you to notice that faith has content. That may seem obvious to you, but there are many people today that would say that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you have faith in something. However, that is a damnable lie produced by a culture that can’t stand real truth. Our faith does have content, it must have content, or it is positively worthless. You must believe that there is a God, who is spirit and has revealed Himself in three persons. You must believe that one day we will all stand before the throne of God where we will be judged, and you must believe that the only hope that we have on that day is found in Christ Jesus who died for us and lives to make intercession for us and the only way that we will be spared on that day is through faith and trust in Him. If you do not believe these things you will be amongst the goats in Matthew 25 who Jesus will tell “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
The second question that I posed about faith was “where does it come from?” Ultimately, we have to confess that faith cannot come from us. There may be some that disagree with that notion, but if you understand what the Bible teaches about human nature, you can believe no other. I say this because of passages like Romans 3:10, so, could you please turn with me there.
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
That doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of humanity does it? However, I want you to notice a couple of things about that. First, these are universal negatives; they apply to everyone, with the exception of Jesus. Secondly notice what is says in verse 11. It says that “no one understands God; no one seeks for God.” Now remember back just a few minutes ago, where I said that faith has definite content. How can you have faith in something you don’t understand? The simple answer is, you can’t.
While that passage says that no one does understand God, Paul takes it even further in 1 Corinthians 2:14 where he says that “14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In our natural state, before we are regenerated by God, we do not accept the things of God, because they are foolishness to us, and we do not even have the ability to understand them. See it, isn’t just that we don’t understand the things of God; it’s that we don’t have the ability to understand them. If we do not have the ability to understand the things of God in our natural state, neither do we have the ability to come to a saving faith in Christ.
So, once again, where does this faith come from? The only answer is that it comes from God. If you remember back to when we were talking about grace, and I said that God’s grace is more than a passive disposition, but is in fact an active force, and if God looks with favor upon someone they will by necessity be recipient of some blessing. Well, God has ordained that salvation come through faith, and since we are incapable of producing that faith in of ourselves, at least I have to confess that God’s grace produces the faith within us. That is why, in the next phrase of our passage, Paul says that “this is no your own doing; it is a gift from God...” Though that primarily refers to salvation as a whole, it also refers to the constituent parts of grace and faith. One last thing about this, is that though faith comes from God, and is produced in us by the working of the Holy Spirit, it is still up to us exercise it.
The third question that I posed about faith was “what is faith’s role in our salvation?” I am not going to labor this point really at all. The key to understanding it, though, is once again found in the preposition that precedes the noun “faith.” The preposition here is “through.” We have been saved through faith. I believe that I have already said this, but faith is merely the conduit or channel, which God uses to account salvation to us.
C. The Non-Source of Salvation: works
Next Paul talks of what I call the non-source of salvation. He tells us that salvation “is not a result of work, so that no one may boast.” In Paul’s day, there were many people that believed that they could earn salvation, by performing certain good works or living a good life. In fact, Paul had been one of those people. There are still many people that believe that today. They believe that all they have to do is live a good enough life, go to church on Easter and Christmas, maybe give an offering at church every few years. However, without God’s working through faith, these acts are meaningless. I say this because, if we are saved by grace, we cannot be saved by works. Remember our definition of grace, “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.” If you have to do good works to earn salvation, then it is no longer by grace.
Also, there is the fact that there is nothing we could do to earn salvation. In order for that to happen, we would have to pay the infinite penalty of sin in this life and by definition that is impossible. See, it takes more than simply being a good person. Every sin that we commit is ultimately against God, and offends His infinite holiness and because it offends His infinite holiness, it deserves infinite punishment. Since we, as humans, are finite beings, we can do nothing infinitely. In order to pay the price of sin, it took someone who was infinite, and that was Jesus. It is through His death on the cross and His infinite righteousness that we are made righteous and can stand before God. So, in actuality, we are saved by works, just not ours. We are saved by the perfect work of Christ.
II. Why Have We Been Saved?
Now, it is finally time to move on to my second major point. So far, we have answered the question of “how have we been saved,” which is by the Grace of God through faith and because of the perfect righteousness of Christ. Now we are going to answer the question of “why have we been saved?” The answer to that question is found in the third verse that we are considering today. Paul answers it by saying “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that should walk in them.” To simplify that, let’s just say that we have been saved for good works.
Some might be confused by that. They might say that “you just said that we weren’t saved by good works,” and so I did. However, once again, it comes down to a matter of prepositions. We may not be saved by good works, but we have been saved for good works.
Back in the days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the primary objections that the Catholic Church had against the recovered doctrine that we are saved by faith alone apart from works is that it would lead to licentious living. In other words they feared that it would lead to a life that was free from moral influence. In order to come to that conclusion, though, you have to ignore what the scripture plainly teaches on the matter. See, what the Reformers believed was that, while you are saved by faith alone, it is not a faith that is alone. In other words, they believed that good works are the natural accompaniment to true saving faith. That is why James can say in his epistle:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Faith is absolutely essential for salvation, but it cannot be simply left there. We as Christians, if we truly have faith in Christ and believe what the Bible teaches us, will also be engaged in good works. We will be engaged in sacrificially helping the poor, caring for the needy, tending to the sick, and in all of this spreading the gospel message.
Even though that is the case, we cannot think of these good works as an end in of themselves. These works serve a higher purpose than that. To back that up, here as I come to a close, I want us to look at a couple of passages. The first of these is 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says “31 whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is the highest aim of mankind, it is our ultimate purpose on this earth. We are to be seeking to raise God up as glorious in all that we do. That should be the thought even behind our good works, that is why Jesus could say in Matthew 5:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.