Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ephesians 2:8-10

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul has already said, in v5, that we are saved by grace, but he actually pauses here for a moment to summarize his stance on this issue. It’s critical, and he wants to make sure there is no confusion that salvation is all of grace. How is it that God gets all the glory in our salvation? Well, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved (Romans 5:9-10; 8:24; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15) from death, from life without God, from alienation to God, from rebellion against God (hostility), from bondage to sin, from slavery to the ways of Satan, the world, and the flesh, and from God’s just judgment, His wrath due us for our sinful nature and actually behavior in thought, word, and deed – both in terms of commission and omission. The idea of a completed salvation is unique to Paul’s later writings. In fact, as you study the chronology of Paul’s writings, you can see that he is learning along the way. Only later in Paul’s writings does he see salvation as a completed work of God. Earlier, he saw it as an ongoing activity, or even only as a future hope.

Oftentimes, some questions are asked in regards to this passage: What does the “this” refer to in v8? What does the “it” refer to in v8? Salvation? Faith? Grace? All of those? Something else? See Acts 13:48; Philippians 1:29. While the gender in the original Greek of the word “this” is neuter, and can therefore refer to the feminine “faith” and/or salvation in general, my interpretation of this sides with the context of the letter to this point. Certainly salvation is all of grace. But Paul’s intent here is to say that our faith is the gift of God to which Paul refers.

The verse certainly doesn’t say that “faith is from yourselves; it is not the gift of God.” Nowhere in the Bible is that sentiment supported. It would be redundant for Paul to be saying that grace is a gift of God. We already know that by the mere definition of grace. Vincent Cheung says, “Biblical faith is not something by which we obtain salvation from God, but it is the means by which God applies salvation to us. Also, Scripture explicitly testifies that it is something that God sovereignly gives us, and not something that we produce in our minds by our own free will, with [the popular idea of] free will being something that we do not have in the first place.”

Again, in the context of the letter, Paul is elaborating on the predestination and election portion of his prayer from Ephesians 1:3-6. Furthermore, Paul is contrasting faith and works; faith could be considered to be a work, since you do it; God does not believe for you. Nevertheless, even your faith, and your perseverance in faith, is a gift from God, lest we see faith as a work and, therefore, as a reason for boasting. “I believe the gospel, and you don’t; I get to go to heaven, and you don’t.” Obviously, that thinking is ridiculous. We must acknowledge, at the core of our being, that the only reason we came to faith in the gospel is that God bestowed that faith upon us. Thus, we thank Him that we believe (Romans 6:17).

Finally, in keeping with the context theme, v9 downplays works, not because they are unimportant, but because they are fruits of grace – evidence that one’s faith is real, evidence that God is at work (John 3:19-21). In v10, notice that God “prepared in advance” the works that we must – and certainly will – do. Paul here prohibits grace from being a license to sin. This concept ties into Paul’s predestination theme, as well as his greater effort to refute both legalism and antinomianism in many of his letters. God created us in Christ to do good works. Works are the result of God’s gracious salvation through faith – not the cause of it.

Paul “works” at great length to exhort us to right living (Ephesians 4:1, 5:2, 5:8, and 5:15) in light of how we lived prior to salvation (Ephesians 2:2; 4:17). The point is this: Your salvation is not the product of your workmanship; your salvation is the product of His workmanship. Indeed, you are the product of His workmanship (1 Corinthians 15:10), for you are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). You were saved because of His work, not because of your work. And your whole “life” is the product of God’s workmanship. In conclusion, we learn from this passage that, although our faith is rightly said to be “our” faith, in the sense that it happens in our minds, it is in fact a gift of God – He is the one who produces this faith in our minds. The same is true in sanctification. Although our works are rightly said to be “our” works, since we are the ones who perform them, still, God is the One who grants both the will and the action in our good works (Philippians 2:12-13). Our old life apart from Christ was death, walking in the way of unrighteousness and disobedience, because of our sin and sin nature. Our new life in Christ is life, walking in obedience, doing good works, loving God, and our neighbor, because of the grace of God.

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