“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)
The first part of the verse combines with the later part of verse 8 to say that salvation is totally something given to us by God. There is nothing we could have done to earn it, nor is there anything we can do to justify it such that we might say, “God sure made a good choice in me.” Salvation is something that He gives at His own perfect, good, loving, and right discretion. It is something He determined for each person before they were ever born or before even the foundation of the earth. I know these things have been covered in previous posts, but they are critical truths that God felt worth repeating as the Spirit moved Paul to pen. We are saved by grace and not by works. This is the whole thing, and as a result there is absolutely nothing in our salvation for which we can stick our thumbs up under our armpits and say, “Look at me!”
The “look at me” mentality was that of the Pharisees and religious leaders who Jesus contended with and who He told that their efforts were futile. Works are the result and not the condition. We serve response to what He has done. We are saved as a gift from Him, and because of that we live for Him. In Romans 12:1 we read an appropriate response, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable or logical] service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95) It is a response and not a pre-requisite. We are saved by grace—God doing something for us that we did not deserve and which we could not do for ourselves. He did it because He loves us and chose to do so.
He did it by grace as His gift. Tony Evans in his book, Theology You Can Count On” wrote, “Theologians have developed a classic definition of this great concept called grace. They define it as God’s unmerited, or undeserved, favor toward sinners. I [Tony] define grace as the inexhaustible supply of God’s goodness whereby He does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Grace is the “gift of God.” (pp. 770-771) Tony went on to add that “Paul used the word grace itself twelve times in this letter….”
But we also read that salvation is received through faith. In this there is a great mystery known to God and wrestled with by man. It is one in which we can best understand by study, but ultimately accept by faith. Scripture that says before the foundation of the world God chose us, and knowing who He chose He also is faithful to bring us to salvation without fail. This teaching of Scripture (election) says that our being saved is God’s choice and that His choice is perfect and absolute. All who are saved are saved because they are the elect of God. The complexity comes in looking to see that Scripture also says that people are saved by faith; that they have to believe and call upon the Lord to be saved. This leads to the question of what role man or “faith” plays in his own salvation.
Going back to Tony Evan’s book, we read, “Now this is where some of the mystery of God’s work in election manifests itself. God’s offer of salvation is valid to all, and yet those who respond do so because they are the elect of God before the foundation of the world was laid. And those who do not come to Christ are blameworthy because the Bible never says that people are lost because they are nonelect. The lost are lost because they refuse to believe. These two truths may seem mutually exclusive, but the Bible teaches both and holds both in perfect balance. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to the people of Pisidian Antioch on the first missionary journey. When they had finished their message, the Bible clearly says, “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)” (Evans, p. 775) [This subject was also covered also in the post, “Chosen in Christ,” Ephesians 1:4.]
While I may not be able to grasp exactly how God works these two, what I do know is that that God’s word teaches that He elects and we believe. His Spirit works to bring these two truths together in perfect harmony with His established will. The best way I can explain this is to say that the “that” in verse eight points to the effective grace that gives salvation and the faith that believes for salvation as both gifts from God. He does not force our belief, but in His perfect way He works such that we do believe and we wholeheartedly agree in the doing.
The bottom line is that we didn’t do it. We didn’t deserve it. God chose us. He shows Himself to us. And in His perfect way He works in us to respond. There is absolutely nothing about our salvation in which we can boast. Our salvation is a love gift from our Him, and one which we are called to share with others such that they might also hear, believe, and respond to the work of God in them.
By way of experience giving understanding to what I have studied in Scripture, I can look back to the day that the need to trust Christ made sense to me. It sure seemed like a lightbulb went on. Included in the process was not only a message I had heard that day visiting a church, but also some verses that had been buried deep inside from years past in going to a midweek church club program. This light was not one that I could turn on, but one that was turned on when I heard a message that made sense, these verses came to mind, and I knew that God was who I wanted to follow for the rest of my life. Did I make a choice? Yes. But was it really my idea? No. There was a groundwork laid by the Spirit that brought me to that point, and I believe without any doubt as I have searched God’s word that it was also the Spirit who gifted me to believe as that light was turned on.
“For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)