Saved by Grace Through Faith

by Tom Wacaster

History has proven that man, for the most part, has a propensity to rebel against God’s will and seek a means of “salvation” apart from the Gospel of Christ. One passage that has been twisted and tortured by so-called “scholars” is that which appears in Ephesians 2:8-9. These two verses have been a source of much false teaching among modern day “Christian theologians.” It is a perversion of the passage to insert the word “only,” whether with pen and ink or by precept and preaching. This passage deserves close consideration by those seeking to come to a knowledge of the truth in the matter. Note what the text clearly affirms: (1) We are saved; (2) We are saved by grace (but not grace only); (3) We are saved through faith; (4) The fact that we are saved is “not of yourselves”; (5) The fact of our salvation is “the gift of God”; (6) The fact that we are saved by God’s grace leaves no room for boasting on our part. Let’s take a closer look:

First, notice the BASIS of salvation – “for by grace.” The very mention of grace suggests the following: Without the grace of God, human beings could NOT be saved; man is unworthy of that salvation which God has extended to His creation. It was because of God’s grace that the opportunity for salvation was ever provided in the first place. One must keep in mind that “grace” identifies God’s motive, not man’s responsibility. The very fact that grace is extended nullifies meritorious salvation, for if man could earn his salvation there would be no need for grace. We also note that the salvation which God offers to man flows from the heart of God and originates with Him alone. What is the difference between salvation by GRACE and salvation by MERIT? Were a man to labor for ten hours at an agreed rate of $10 per hour, he would be legally and rightfully entitled to a payment of $100.00. The employer is thus indebted to the laborer. That indebtedness stands until such a time the wages are paid and the obligation on the part of the employer is met in full. That, my friends, is “meritorious” labor. Now let us imagine someone accustomed to generously tipping those who shined his shoes. Every shoeshine boy who is aware of the man’s generosity might scramble to put their polish and rag to the man’s shoes. Let them give the man the best shine, and they would still know that our generous benefactor is not “obligated” to leave his customary tip. The tip received is out of “grace” on the part of the one giving the gift. But who in his right mind would suggest that this benevolent tipper would tip someone who refused to shine his shoes?

Second, we notice the OBJECT of that salvation – “ye have been saved.” Exactly who is included in this little word “ye” was set forth at the outset of the letter. It is those “in Christ,” called “saints.” The only ones who ever received God’s favor are the ones who met the conditions which God set forth.

Third, we notice the MEANS of salvation – “through faith.” The two most favorable positions regarding these words are (1) that Paul was referring to the faith of the individual, or (2) he was referring to “the faith,” i.e. the system of faith, the gospel. We’ll examine this later position first. Among the Greek manuscripts, the Majority Text has the definite article, and is literally “the faith.” The second position is that the “faith” spoken of here is individual faith. The overwhelming majority of commentaries we consulted on this passage view the “faith” here as individual faith, due in large part to the context of the passage. If Paul was indeed speaking of personal faith, the characteristics of such saving faith are clearly set forth in such passages as James 2:15 ff, and Hebrews chapter 11. Paul would be speaking of faith that is active, alive, and obedient. Whatever position one might take with regard to the “faith” mentioned here in no affects the overall meaning of the passage. 

Fourth, we notice the ORIGIN of salvation from both a negative and positive standpoint. From a negative standpoint, our salvation is “not of yourselves” – that is, our salvation did not originate from within ourselves. Man did not design or devise the plan of salvation. Peter stated this same truth when he wrote: “knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Some have concluded that “not of yourselves” means that man plays absolutely no part in his salvation. They have, in effect, inserted a word into the passage and made Paul say, “we are saved by grace alone without any further acts of obedience.” This is not what Paul had in mind. If salvation is by “grace alone,” then man can be saved without faith, repentance, confession, et al. But this is false on the very surface, since man simply cannot be saved apart from repentance (Lk. 13:3), faith (Heb. 11:6), confession (Rom. 10:9-10), or baptism (1 Pet. 3:21). In addition, one must take into consideration other passages that clearly address man’s responsibility to help provide his salvation, such as Philippians 2:12 and Acts 2:40.From a positive standpoint, our salvation is a “gift from God.” The word “gift” considers the fact that God gave it “freely.” Keep in mind that “freely” describes God’s action, and not man’s responsibility. God was in no way obligated to provide salvation to sinful man. God could have withheld His Son, kept the “mystery” a mystery, and simply isolated Himself from man. His absolute holiness would permit Him to condemn man, and He would have been absolutely just in so doing. Some have suggested that Paul was saying our “faith” was a gift from God. But Greek scholars point out that the word rendered ‘that,’ is in the neuter gender, and the word faith is in the feminine.  Paul could not, therefore, have been suggesting that our faith was a gift from God (as the Calvinists would aver). It is our salvation that is a gift from God. But this in no way suggests that man can do nothing to obtain that salvation. Brother Ted Clarke makes this astute observation: “The fact that we can do nothing to deserve God’s grace through Christ does not mean that there is nothing we have to do to acquire this grace.”

Fifth, we note the EXCLUDING FACTOR of our salvation: “not of works, that no man should glory.” The TYPE of works here are, by necessity, those works that would give man the right to boast; thus the context demands that the works here are “meritorious works.” The idea that God rejects every kind of work of man as a condition of salvation is utterly opposed to a number of passages in the New Testament. Notice Philippians 2:12 and 1 Thessalonians 1:2 to mention just a couple. The late R.L. Whiteside summed up the point we are trying to make here:Grace provided the plan by which sinners are saved, or made righteous, and grace tells us how to come into possession of that salvation. If people would quit arraying the commands of God against the grace of God, they would have a clearer vision of the scheme of redemption. God’s grace is in every command he gives. The sinner was lost; God prepared a way by which he could get out of that lost state. That was grace. But that was not enough. He needed to know how to find that way, and how to walk in it.  It is as much a matter of grace to tell him how to find that way, and how to walk in it as it is to provide the way. But when the way is fully prepared, and full directions given as to how to find the way, and how to walk in it the next move is man’s . The whole matter is strikingly illustrated by the events of Pentecost. The way had been prepared and revealed to the people; and then, in response to their question, Peter told them how to get in that way. That was all a matter of grace. Then Peter exhorted them to save themselves. Many did what was commanded and were saved. On’ God’s side their salvation was wholly a matter of grace. And the people were as prompt in their obedience as if their salvation were wholly a matter of works (Whiteside, 97).When we sing the song, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” let us reflect on these points and rejoice in knowing that God desires that all men be saved, and then give thanks for His “wonderful grace” that provides that salvation for all men.

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