“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.”
These are such familiar verses to us. I memorized verses 8 and 9 early on in my life. They immediately spring to my mind when I hear a false gospel- a message where someone or some group has added to the beautiful simplicity of God’s message to us. There are three things mentioned in verse 8; salvation, grace, and faith. These are the foundations of the gospel message. Salvation is deliverance from the death, slavery, and wrath described in the first part of this chapter. Grace is God’s free and undeserved mercy toward us. And faith is the trust with which we receive this gift.
It is important to emphasize that this is a gift from God. It is through nothing that we have done. David Guzik, in his commentary on enduringword.com writes, “Paul cannot speak of this glorious work God does without reminding us that it is a gift of grace given to the undeserving. We are not even saved by our own faith (though faith itself is not a work) but by grace through faith.” It is only because of God’s grace that we can be saved. I think Paul emphasizes this for two reasons. First, so we don’t think too highly of ourselves, and second, so we don’t think too lowly of ourselves. Let me explain.
Let me go back to my memory verses. I said I remember them when I hear a false gospel. It also makes me think of all of the denominations that add rules to the gospel. Years ago, I had a woman at my table in Bible Study who had just left a church. At that church she was not allowed to wear jewelry or make-up. She could not cut her hair. She had to wear skirts and long sleeves. Now, this is a pretty extreme example, but I am sure you all can think of other rules like these. This sets up a system where pride can take hold. When someone is more concerned about outward appearance (and the outward appearance of others) rather than what is happening in their own heart, this goes against what the Bible teaches. We become so concerned with following man-made rules that we forget what Jesus said the main commandments are- love God and love people.
On the other hand, there are those who think that they are too great of sinners to be saved by God. Again, nothing we have done, either good or bad, earns or negates salvation. We can look back to chapter 1, where we see that he chose us before the foundation of the world. Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 9, “For I am the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (vs. 9-10). Paul had persecuted the church. In Acts 8, it says he ravaged the church. He knew he was underserving of salvation. But thankfully, we don’t get what we deserve! I think sometimes that this is also a matter of pride, even though it goes against what we think pride is. Biblestudytools.com describes pride as “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in conduct. Whether craving compliments, fearing our own image, or entertaining an overly critical view of ourselves, pride can be both glaringly obvious and deceptively sneaky.”
We are saved by grace, through faith. Nothing we can do will earn it. 2 Timothy 1:9 says “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” But Ephesians 2:10 does mention works. Where do they fit in? It says we are God’s workmanship. I read in commentaries that this word translates as poem. We are his poem. We are his work of art. And we were created to do good works which he has prepared ahead of time for us to do. These works don’t earn us our salvation. They are a result of our changed hearts. Paul talks about being crucified with Christ in several passages. In Romans 6:5-7, he writes, “For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,since a person who has died is freed from sin.” In Galatians 2:20 he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Because we now have the Spirit of God living in us, (remember Ephesians 1:13!) we should now demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-24 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The book of James is about our faith being not genuine if it is not demonstrated with a consistent lifestyle of good works. Many of Paul’s letters to the churches are either commending them on their faithful lifestyles (1 Thessalonians, Colossians) or teaching them how to live this life (Galatians). It is so important for us to stay in the Word, because this is how we learn how to live a holy life.
To conclude this post, nothing we can do can earn us salvation. It is a gift of God. We are saved by grace, through faith. The natural outcome of this faith is that we will want to live a life worthy of him.
Grace be with you!