In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul explains salvation. Verses 1-6 tell us what happens when God saves: he brings us from death to life. Verse 7 tells us why God saves: so that in the coming ages God could show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. And verses 8-10 tell us how God saves.
At the heart of this passage is one of the Bible's classic texts on Christian salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
To understand Christianity, you must understand two big words in Ephesians 2:8: grace and faith.
What is grace? Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is God’s kind disposition toward sinful people who can't get their act together, who can’t obey, and who can't find their way to him. Grace is God’s consistent provision for his people, who can’t provide for themselves. Grace is God’s activity of good to those whose activity is bad. Grace is not grading on a curve—bumping a letter grade to a student who tried really hard. Grace is giving an A to a student who rarely showed up, who never passed a test, who never got any question right. Grace is being good to the undeserving. It’s not adding sprinkles to a wonderful cupcake. It’s making a cupcake from a stone. Grace is an outpouring of good when only wrath is deserved.
And grace runs throughout the Bible. When Adam and Eve sinned, God said he would crush the serpent’s head by the seed of the woman—the woman who had just caused the fall of creation. Immediately after, what does God do? He clothes Adam and Eve, covering their newfound nakedness. That’s God’s grace. It's as big as crushing Satan’s head and as small as a pair of pants. It's God’s kindness and care bringing life where death reigns. Grace is Jesus saving the undeserving. Grace is what we’re saved by.
So, what about that other word, faith? If grace is the basis of salvation, faith is the instrument of salvation. Faith is what lays hold of grace. It’s the hand that reaches out and grabs. It’s the proof that grace has come. It’s both trusting God will crush Satan’s head and the action of putting on the pants God provides.
The book of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So faith is forward-looking. Our future hope creates present faith. Faith is not a leap in the dark, where we don’t know what’s on the other side, so we just hope it’ll turn out okay. That’s not biblical faith. Biblical faith looks at the world and sees God’s hand all over. Faith understands that though God is invisible, his promises are certain, because we’ve seen then in Jesus Christ. R.C. Sproul says, “The idea is this: I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but I know that God knows what tomorrow is going to bring. So if God promises that tomorrow will bring something, and if I trust God for tomorrow, I have faith in something I have not yet seen.”
Faith is the rock-solid surety of God’s promises based on God’s character. It’s looking to God and trusting that his grace is sufficient to save because it always has been. It’s believing that God has never once failed one man or woman who has trusted him and he’s not going to start with me.
Now, look at the last phrase of verse 8, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Here’s what Paul is saying, and it’s what the entire New Testament says, the totality of our salvation—by grace through faith—is God’s gift. The primary mover in your relationship to God is God. Nothing inside us compels God to save us. God saves us because God wants to save us.
Here’s how this is good news. If your salvation was up to you, you would never have it. You can’t muster up enough faith apart from God’s grace to believe. You can’t receive grace without God giving it. Grace, by definition, is unmerited favor. How can dead people merit anything? Before God’s activating grace, we were like the dry bones of the valley in Ezekiel 37. We need the Spirit to blow through and give us life.
Some people will say it’s up to us to choose God. But Ephesians 2:1-3 says we can’t choose God and we won’t choose God—not on our own. Ephesians 2:4-7 says God must make us alive to him first. God must do something in us before we can make any move toward him. Before God acts in our heart, we don’t want him. We are led by the Devil and by our own sinful passions. To want God, we need to be alive to God. That’s what God’s grace does. It grants life so that we can have faith. When the Holy Spirit gives us a new nature, we then naturally do what our new nature wants: we come, we believe, we repent, and we trust God.
God’s grace comes before faith, not the other way around. God must grant the gift of faith by grace. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” A few verses later, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” This whole passage is written to show us this truth: we are completely unable to bring about our own salvation. We are totally dependent on God to do it all. We are like Lazarus in the tomb. We need Jesus to call to us, “Come out!”
This truth gives us the ground of all assurance before God. Do you see that? Do you ever wonder if your faith is strong enough to save you? Do you wonder if there’s a point at which God is just going to write you off? There’s sin in your life you haven’t beat. There’s a past you can’t get over or there’s a future that seems too uncertain. Here’s what Jesus says about that, from John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” That verse and John 6:44, about the Father drawing you to Jesus, go hand in hand. It’s both. You come, but you come because God draws you. And when you come to Jesus, you come to safety. The totality of your salvation is found in God.
You don’t need to worry about the amount of faith you think you need. The amount of your faith is not the key; the object of your faith is. When you come to Jesus you’re placing your faith in him. You’re placing your life in his hands. You don’t have to worry if your faith is strong enough to save you, you just have to worry if Jesus is strong enough to save you! And Jesus is very strong. He can hold you up when you can’t hold yourself up. He knows what you need before you need it. The faith that endures is the faith placed in Jesus for safe-keeping. Jesus won’t cast you out. He can’t. He was cast out foryou. How could you lose him now? If you’re in Christ, you are as secure as Christ is. And where is Christ now? He’s seated at the right hand of the throne of God. What greater assurance do you need?
Your sin can’t kick you out of God’s love because your righteousness never put you in it. God saves by grace through faith. It’s a gift. All you must do is receive it.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.