For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
IntroductionMany, if not all, of you are familiar with what is known as the Protestant Reformation of the 1600’s. That was a very turbulent period in history, in general, but this was especially true within the church. At that point in time the church primarily consisted of two large bodies, what would later be called the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The later of those two was the one that was by far the more dominant then, and that remains true today.
Within both of those large bodies, there were many changes that had taken place since the church had been founded by the apostles and their immediate descendants. These changes had taken place slowly over time, much of it happening because of foreign ideas, ideas from the world that had crept in, and little by little, were accepted by the church. This was so true, that, to all but a few, even the knowledge and understanding of the Gospel was lost. In this new gospel, they claimed that people were saved by their own good work, which God empowered with His grace.
That was the situation, when a German monk by the name of Martin Luther came onto the scene. Luther was the son of a Saxon coal miner. His father intended for Martin to become a lawyer and even sent him to law school, where young Martin proved himself to be very adept in the knowledge and application of the Law. However, one day that all changed. Martin had gone home and was returning to school and, while on the road, was caught in a sudden violent thunder storm. In this storm, a lightning bolt struck so near to him, that it knocked him from his feet. While Martin Luther lay there cowering in the mud, he called out “Saint Anne, help me! I will be a monk!” Martin survived the storm, and true to his word, he soon paid his vow at the monastery and became a monk.
As a monk, Luther brought his acute legal mind to the study of the Bible. He understood the absoluteness of God’s Law as few ever have. He understood that, in regards to the Law, you either obeyed it, or you were toast. Thus, Luther worked as no monk ever had, seeking to conform every part of his being to the Law. However, as he did so he began to despair. No matter how much he worked, no matter how much he confessed, he could never be free from his sin and the guilt that it brought. Then while preparing a sermon series on the book of Romans, he came to two very important conclusions. The first was that if we are to be saved at all, it has to be by the grace of God alone. The second was that if we are to be saved, it has to be through God given faith alone.
Those two conclusions that Luther came to, though they ran counter to the primary teaching of the church, were what the Bible unquestionably had always taught. Those points are taught in few better places than our passage for today, Ephesians 2:8-9.
I. How Are We Saved?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 We Have Been SavedAs we look at our passage for today, it says “by grace you have been saved.” 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 a word or phrase when he wanted to make a point. When Paul, or any other writer of Greek (which was the language the New Testament was inspired and written in), wanted to emphasize 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: “Bob ran home.” Greek was much more fluid in its sentence construction than English is; word order could be changed based on the desire of the author.
I mention 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 like “you have been saved by grace…;” however, if the translators would have done that, it would have obscured some of what Paul was trying to say: that we have been saved completely by the grace of almighty God. 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 use 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. Now, let us look at that definition and how it relates to our salvation.
First, there is the fact that salvation is a gift that is freely given. It is not something that you can force out of God. Though this is the case, some people seem to think that if they live a good enough life, or 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 shows 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 told them 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 is that they died in two ways.
In that day, they died spiritually. They experienced this spiritual death in a separation from God that had not existed before. Not only that, but there was a hostility that entered their nature, hostility towards each other and hostility towards God. Because of this hostile nature towards God their wills, their ability to think and choose, was damaged so that they no longer even had the ability to respond to God in any sort of positive manner.
In the day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, not only did they die spiritually, but they also died physically. This did not happen immediately, but was something that happened slowly over the course of their lives, they would slowly age and their bodies would begin to fail them, until the point where they passed from this life to the next, where they were guaranteed to face judgment before the throne of God.
With this new reality of death, both physical and spiritual, 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 all 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 or rules of grammar. 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, and its purpose is to indicate some form of spatial, temporal, or some other relationship between the noun and the main verb. Some examples of prepositions would be words such as “in,” “as,” “since,” “for,” or (our word) “by.”
The passage says that we are saved by grace. So what does “by” mean, and is it significant? In this passage, it means that 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 feeling that He has towards people, but is a power of force that actually brings about some blessing. In the case of our passage today, God’s grace is the power, the force that makes the salvation of His chosen people 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 last part, you have been saved, is all one word, and it is what is called a perfect passive participle. The perfect tense means that it is an action that has occurred in some time in the past, but it is an action that has been completed. Also, this is in the passive voice, which means that we are the target of the action rather than the source. Thus, our salvation is something that has been completed, and was something that was done to us rather than something we did ourselves. This was accomplished when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died once for all, so that all who called on Him in faith would have eternal life.
B. We Have Been Saved Through FaithThe second way this passage answers the question “how are we saved?” is that we have been saved through faith. For this portion of the passage, we need 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, (Read Hebrews 11:1). That is what my translation, the English Standard Version says, 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, the NIV just seems to be clearer, 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 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 cannot tolerate 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 to pay the penalty for our sins for us and lives to make intercession for us, 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, let us read. (Read Romans 3:10-18)
That doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of humanity does it? However, I want you to notice a couple of things. 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: (Read 1 Corinthians 2:14). In our natural state, before we are regenerated by God, we do not accept the things of God, because they are foolishness to us. It then goes one step further and says that we do not even have the ability to understand them. 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.
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. God has ordained that salvation comes through faith and we are incapable of producing that faith in of ourselves. But, if God looks with favor upon an individual, that favor or grace is what produces the faith within us. That is why, in the next part of our passage, Paul says that “this is not 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 important thought 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 much 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,” indicating instrumental means. In other words, if we have been saved through faith, as this passage says, than this faith is merely the conduit or channel, which God uses to bring salvation to us. We are not saved because of our faith; we are saved through our faith.
C. The Non-Source of Salvation: worksNext 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, as if they ever could. They might believe that all they have to do is go to church on Easter and Christmas, maybe give an offering at church every few years. However, while going to church and giving from our financial resources are important, 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 free or unmerited and thus it is not 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 somehow have to live a perfect life. Even if we boiled down the requirements to the two most important commandments: “to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it would be impossible. Who, if they were honest, could say that they have always loved God perfectly and loved others as much as themselves.
In the book of James chapter 2 verses 10-11 it says (Read James 2:10-11). That passage may sound harsh, but it is the way God works. Every sin you commit, no matter how large or small, is liable to the same punishment. That is because the Law is a reflection of God’s perfect righteousness, and each sin we commit is an assault against God’s perfect and infinite holiness; with each sin we commit, because it is an assault against God’s infinite holiness, is deserving of infinite punishment. In order to atone for our sin through works, we would have to pay the infinite penalty of sin in this life and by definition that is impossible. 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.
ConclusionIn conclusion, I want you to know the purpose of this passage. That purpose is to tell us how we are saved. I want you to walk out of this church this morning knowing that we are saved by God’s grace. I want you to know that we are saved through God given faith. And I want you to know that you are not saved by any good works. The big truth, the ultimate truth, that I want you to walk out of here this morning knowing, though, is that you are saved solely by the gracious work of God.
Now, why are these truths important? These truths are important because they are at the heart of the Gospel and if you don’t get the gospel right, you are stuck believing man-made lies and remain outside Christ. If you are outside Christ, then you are still in your sin. And, if you are still in your sin, your eternity looks pretty bleak.
So, Christian, make sure you have this Gospel right. If you do, rejoice in your salvation. Rejoice in and worship the God that, in His grace, chose you and sent His only Son to die and pay the penalty for your sin.
For you, unbeliever, I urge you today to put your trust and hope in Jesus Christ. You do not know how much time you have left to live. We all have to die sometime and you may not have another minute left. The Bible says that it is appointed once for a man to die and then face judgment. It is just as inevitable that one day you will stand before a holy God and be judged as it is inevitable that you are going to die. However, the Bible also says that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive them” and “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you have not put your trust in Jesus and His death and resurrection, and bowed down to Him as your King, do so today.
θεός μονός δοξάζηται