“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.” Eph. 2:8-9 ESV
This passage of scripture is a foundational scripture to the Christian faith, but it is probably the most widely misinterpreted and misunderstood passage of scripture with regard to our salvation from sin by God’s grace.
And, that is because it is often taught out of context – out of both the immediate context, and out of the context of the whole of the book of Ephesians, as well as out of the context of the consistent teachings on salvation throughout the New Testament.
So, let’s break it down and see what it is really saying, in context.
First of all, let’s look at the meaning of the word “grace.” It means God’s favor, his kindness extended towards us, which is a gift to us. That means there is nothing we can do to deserve or to earn it. He gives it freely of himself. So, not one of us can boast that somehow we did something in our own flesh to accomplish our own salvation from sin. We did not! We can’t!
But, do we have a part in it? Yes, we do! We have to believe in Jesus Christ and in what he did for us on that cross in providing the way for us to be saved from our sins and to have eternal life with God. Yet, I believe, contextually, that both God’s grace and the faith to believe in Jesus Christ are gifts from God. We just have to accept them into our lives and apply them in the ways that God’s Word teaches that we must apply them.
For, even the meaning of this word “faith” bears that out. The word means to be persuaded, and in this case to be divinely persuaded by God as to his will for our lives (1). So, not only is God’s grace to us not of ourselves, but the faith to believe in him is also not generated within ourselves. They both come from God, but they must both be activated within our hearts and lives. This is our heart response to God to what he freely has given us.
So, the faith that is required for us to be saved from our sins and to have eternal life with God, because it is divinely persuaded, and because it is gifted to us by God, will submit to our Lord and to his will for our lives. If it doesn’t, then it is not genuine faith. So, if you are told that you can believe in Jesus and that you don’t have to repent of your sins or walk in obedience to his commands, then that is not genuine faith. It is not from God!
What is the gift?
And, that brings me to the next point here which is the immediate context of these verses. Too many people freely quote these two verses and try to communicate that we have no part in our own salvation whatsoever, but that isn’t true. Can we produce it ourselves? No! Can we do anything to earn or to deserve it? No! Is it a gift from God? Yes! It is! But, what is the gift? That is the big question. And, the way to answer it is in the context.
For example, verses 8 and 9 are most always quoted alone, as though they stand alone, but do they? What about verse 10? It is part of the context.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
So, here we have the crux of it all. Yes, we are saved by God’s grace. And, yes, even the faith to believe in him is gifted to us by God. But, what are we saved from? And, what are we saved to? Those are the big questions.
Well, we have to look at other scriptures to tell us what we are saved from, but it is clear here what we are saved to. When we truly trust in Jesus Christ to be our Lord (owner-master) and Savior (from sin), we are yielding our lives now over to the control and ownership of Almighty God. For, when Jesus shed his blood for us on that cross, he did so in order to buy us back for God, so that we would now be God’s possession, so that we would now honor God with our lives and no longer live for ourselves (See: 1 Co. 6:20; Titus 2:14; 2 Co. 5:15, 21).
So, what are we saved to? To now be God’s possession, for him to be Lord (owner-master) of our lives, for us to now be his workmanship, and to do the good works which God prepared beforehand that we should not just do, but in which we are to walk (in lifestyle, in practice, as a matter of course in our daily conduct). And, we can learn what those good works are by reading the New Testament of the Bible one verse at a time.
But, we don’t do them in our own flesh, and we don’t do them to earn or to deserve our own salvation from sin. We are only able to do them in the power of God’s Spirit now living within us, under the guidance and direction of our Lord. So, they are God working through us, but as we cooperate with his work and we do what he says to do in his power and strength.
So, what is the gift? What are we saved from? And, what are we saved to? Well, surely we are saved from hell (eternal punishment and damnation) and we are saved to have eternal life with God. But, is that all there is to it? No!
From and To
Ok, here is where we look at the context of Ephesians, as a whole, and then compare that to other scriptures in the New Testament that say the same thing. But, there is not space here to discuss all of Ephesians, so I will focus on a few key verses in chapter 4 which tell us exactly what we are saved from and what we are saved to, i.e. what this free gift entails.
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4:17-24 ESV
So, what is this saying? The way we should have learned Christ, if we were taught the truth in him, is that we should no longer live in sin like we did before we believed in Jesus with God-given faith. That is pretty clear, isn’t it? Our lives should no longer be given over to sensuality, greed and every kind of impurity and evil practice. Why? Because Jesus saved us from that life. He redeemed us back for God. He delivered us from our slavery (bondage, addiction) to sin by his grace, through God-given faith in him.
The truth in Christ Jesus, i.e. the way in which we come to know him, which is by God’s grace, through God-given faith in him, is by putting off our old self-life by dying with Christ to sin – to all that is of the flesh which is corrupt through deceitful desires. These are to no longer be a part of our lives. And, then we are to be transformed (metamorphosis) of the Spirit of God away from those old lives of living for sin and self to new lives in Christ Jesus, our Lord, which are created in Christ Jesus to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. This is God’s gift of grace to us!
But, this is not the only place it says this. This is taught all throughout the New Testament, over and over and over again. We are taught that Jesus died on that cross that we might die with him to sin and live with him to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). We are taught that he died that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him who gave his life up for us (2 Co. 5:15). And, we are taught that belief in him means we are crucified with Christ in death to sin so that we might walk with Christ in his righteousness (See: Lu. 9:23-25; Rom. 6:1-23; Rom. 8:1-17; 1 Jn. 1:5-9; Tit. 2:11-14, etc).
And, we must understand here, as well, that this is not optional. And, we need to understand, too, that our salvation is not past tense only. We are saved (past), but we are being saved (present and ongoing), and we will be saved (future) when Christ returns for us and our salvation is complete.
Thus, scripture teaches that salvation is not some one-time experience, we then live our lives, and one day we go to heaven. Scripture teaches our salvation from sin as continuous, and as a walk of faith in Jesus Christ whereby we die daily to sin and self, and whereby we daily put on the armor of God with which to fight off Satan’s evil schemes against us, and whereby daily we walk (in lifestyle) according to the Spirit of God and not according to our flesh. And, this must happen if we want to have eternal life with God (Lu. 9:23-25; Rom. 8:1-17; 1 Jn. 1:5-9; Gal. 5:19-21; Gal. 6:7-8).
So, if we want to be saved from our sins and have eternal life with God, and if we want to apply Ephesians 2:8-9 to our lives, then we must understand what it is saying, and we must apply it in the context in which it is written, and we must compare it to other scriptures on the subject of salvation. For, it is the truth which will set us free. So, know the truth, believe the truth, and walk the truth in obedience with your Lord, and you will be saved from your sins and you will have eternal life with God.
An Original Work / September 21, 2011
Lord, I love to have You near me
As I go throughout my day,
Walking daily in Your footsteps,
As I humbly pray.
List’ning to You, hear You teaching
Me to live and work for You,
Lord, I pray You lead and guide me
Daily in Your truth.
Lord, I want to be Your witness,
Telling others of Your grace;
Telling how they can be set free
Of their sins today;
Share with them the love of Jesus,
He died on a cruel tree,
So that we’d be forgiven
For all eternity.
Lord, I want to serve You only,
As I bow on bended knee,
Making You my Lord and master,
And Your servant be.
Humbly walking in obedience,
Doing what You say to me,
Lord, may I be an example
Of one who’s set free.
P.S. If you have questions about any of this, you are free to ask away and I will do my best, by God’s grace, and in his power at work within me, to answer your questions. Your comments are welcome, as well.