My first year in full-time ministry, I worked with a small church in Ruston, Louisiana. I still recall one Sunday morning, walking into the church building and overhearing a lively discussion going on in one of the adult classrooms. With a loud slap of his hand on the table, a frustrated man shouted, “Dammit! I’m trying as hard as everyone else in this room to be a good Christian!”
When I heard this, my first reaction was, Then STOP! We are not called to try hard to be good Christians. That frustrated man was trapped in the lies of a deed-reward faith, driven by a deed-reward religious culture.
One of the key passages cited to combat the deed-reward approach to faith is Ephesians 2:8-9. Here we find one of the greatest and most compact statements on salvation in all of scripture.
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. – Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV
Most everyone reading that great statement will nod in agreement, because we understand it, intellectually, at least. But I will assert that most of us don’t know it. We get the concept, yes, but we don’t know the underlying truth of it. I say this because I have long believed we do not truly know a thing until we begin to live that thing out in our lives. And I know very few in the Christian community who truly live Ephesians 2:8-9.
In two brief verses, we find five powerful gems of truth regarding salvation.
1 – Salvation is By Grace
Grace, in its simplest form, is the receipt of something that is undeserved. If I did, or do deserve it, then it’s remuneration, not grace. I do not deserve God’s forgiveness, but he gives it to me anyway. I do not deserve salvation, but God gives that to me regardless.
Grace is often confused with, or muddled together with mercy. Grace and mercy are not synonymous. Where grace is seen in me receiving what I do not deserve, mercy is 180 degrees out from that. Mercy is the withholding of what I do deserve. When a deserved punishment is about to be meted out, the victim will say, “Please, have mercy.” Withhold the punishment, though it is deserved. In this way, God can be both gracious, gifting us salvation, and merciful, turning away his wrath.
2 – Salvation is Through Faith
Faith is the instrument, or the means of being saved by grace.
I have two tubes of nasty, sticky goop on my workbench. By themselves, they will always remain nasty, sticky goop. However, if I combine them, within about five minutes they transform into a rock-hard chemical bond with which I can glue or seal just about anything I want. The hardener combines with the resin, resulting in epoxy. Gods grace comes to me through the conduit of my faith resulting in salvation. Much as water is delivered to my garden “through” a hose, salvation is delivered to me through my faith.
3 – Salvation is Not of Us
With regard to salvation, there is no “I’ve lived a good life and done the best that I could do.” There is not “I am a pretty good person and I try to do the right thing.” Salvation is not “of us.” It is not a product of our skill, natural abilities, or of any merit within us. Salvation is granted to us completely apart from any work of merit we might be tempted to offer on our behalf.
4 – Salvation is Not of Works
Salvation for me cannot possibly be “of works” because the work has already been completed through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
“Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” – John 19:30, NASB
I am grateful that salvation is presented to me not on the basis of my abilities or merit, but rather on the basis of my great need for it. I cannot purchase it. I cannot exchange anything of value for it. I am completely passive where salvation is concerned.
5 – Salvation is a Gift
With birthdays and Christmas, we typically engage in a tradition of gift-giving. I am sometimes asked, “What do you want for your birthday/Christmas?” This question always hits me a bit awkwardly because I want whatever they choose to give me, if anything at all.
Neither do I like to be told by others, “What I want for Christmas is…” No. I want to make that choice. It is an expression of my love toward you to think through the gift, and to make my selection based on that thought process. All control over the nature and presentation of the gift remain with me, the gift-giver.
So it is with God. The gift is from him, and is given upon whatever basis he chooses to give it. All we must do is receive it. Note the opposition of self to gift in this passage. With God, we will find that he always lands in opposition to self.Blessings upon you my friends.
Victoriously in Christ!