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A Study of Ephesians 2:8-9

In both of my books, especially, An Eternity of Four Years, I make reference to Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9. This passage is one of the most important proof texts regarding the doctrine of Christian salvation to be found in the Bible. To understand its meaning, we need to dig down into the underlying Greek text and support what we find with some other passages. But first, some background.

There exists in Christianity different interpretations of the doctrine of salvation, that is, how does one get to Heaven? All of these are “based” on Scripture. It should be obvious that if these varying interpretations of Scripture are at odds with each other, we are faced with two possible choices: 1) none are right, 2) one is right. The option that two or more are right would seem to be invalid if they conflict.

We will define salvation here as seeking to spend eternity with God in Heaven and thus avoiding eternal condemnation separated from God in the fires of Hell. This definition is also Biblical, but we will not get into that at this time.

For the sake of this discussion, the doctrine of salvation will be divided into two main camps. The first we will call “works.” This implies that the person seeking salvation must need such, and he must act in a manner consistent with a righteous lifestyle in order to earn salvation. That begs a definition of “righteous lifestyle.” Since the Bible states that the “judge,” in this case, God, is perfect, we must also define “righteous lifestyle” as one that is just as perfect as that of the judge. That pretty much removes any room for error. And it also suggests none of us are capable of meeting that standard. Can anyone claim to live a perfect existence?

Some denominations do teach this system. Because of the stated limitations, they must create some system of overcoming said limitations. Thus we get things like venial and mortal sins, meaning only some sins will disqualify you, the “mortal” ones. That also suggests the need for some system of penalizing, or cleansing if you prefer, those who commit “minor” sins (which would be all of us), and that would be purgatory, where one does “time” until one works off the sentence through the prayers of those still alive. The problem with purgatory is that it does not exist in Scripture.

This system of works implies judging ones worthiness using a bell curve (yes, like in school). That would imply some of us are better than others. I’m not as bad as Hitler, so I must be “good.” That is an invalid argument, because it rejects the perfect righteousness of God as the standard and instead uses Hitler as the standard.

The other doctrinal system we will call “grace” and for a good reason. Grace takes the position that man is incapable of ever generating human righteousness that can meet God’s perfect standard, whether he is Hitler or Mother Teresa. Man cannot ever do enough good to compensate for the bad.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will define “grace” as unmerited favor, something freely given that is not deserved or earned. And this brings us to our study passage.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

While our focus will be on verses 8 and 9 (For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.), notice who does all the work in the preceding verses.

(He) made us alive together with Christ… (V5)

(He) raised us up together (V6)

(He) made us sit together in the heavenly places (V6)

(That) He might show the exceeding riches of His grace (V7)

Now verse 8 – For by grace you have been saved…. The Apostle Paul is speaking to believers in the city of Ephesus, and here he states the basis of their salvation is grace – unmerited favor. The means is found in “through faith, and that not of yourselves…” Faith is what activated the grace.

The phrase “and that not of yourselves…” has created some confusion among the denominations. There is a lot of debate centered around the demonstrative pronoun “that” (touto translated “this” in some translations). Some think it refers back to “faith,” meaning God must supply the faith man needs to believe. That suggestion is not valid, because the demonstrative pronoun is neuter, whereas “faith” is feminine. We have a gender disagreement.

What then does the “that” refer back to?

The neuter touto usually refers to the preceding phrase or clause. If so, then it refers back to the concept of salvation (2:4–8a), whose basis is grace and means is faith. Thus salvation does not have its source in man (it is “not from yourselves”), but rather, its source is God’s grace for “it is the gift of God.”

That last phrase is very interesting, because a gift cannot be earned, otherwise it is not a gift but compensation for some act (works).

This concept is further re-enforced by verse 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Salvation is not a result of working for it. If that were the case, man would have a basis upon which he could say, “I’m better than you. In fact, I was good enough that God was really impressed and invited me to come live with him.” That is boasting and never condoned in Scripture.

Ephesisns 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

There. Man does not work his way into Heaven. He does not earn it. If he did, he could boast about it. It is a gift from God, and it is gained by trusting (faith) that Christ solved the problem on the Cross 2,000 years ago—and nothing more.

Thus, I leave you with this.

Galatians 2:16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.


Galatians 2:21 … for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

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A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8

This will be the first post in a new category: Bible. If you have read The Last Day of Forever or An Eternity of Four Years, you will know there is a strong spiritual thread laced through both books. Ethan struggles with his faith and often fails because he is human like you and me.

In a previous post I spoke about “The Hebrew,” Judah P. Benjamin, and now I will address the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Bible. (They are kind of alike, right?)

One of the more controversial passages in the Bible is found in Hebrews chapter 6, and some of the finest expositors I have heard interpret it incorrectly.

Hebrews 6:4-8 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (NKJV)

Some claim that this passage is teaching that a believer can lose his salvation and point to words like impossible, once tasted, fall away, renew, repentance, and burned, and say “See, you can lose your salvation!” There is one problem with that interpretation: This passage has absolutely zero to do with salvation or losing it! Hebrews is apologetic in character; it is a defense of the faith.

The author is unknown, but the epistle is full of Paulineisms so some believe Paul wrote it. More likely it was someone who spent a lot of time with Paul, like Barnabas or another of Paul’s disciples. It was written before the siege of Jerusalem (AD68) and fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (AD70). We believe that because the epistle makes mention of the animal sacrifices and Temple worship as if they were still being practiced.

The epistle was clearly written to Jewish believers in Jesus Christ as Messiah who are likely part of a larger Jewish community. For them at the time of writing, it has been perhaps 40 years since the Cross, and they were under tremendous pressure from non-believing family members and others in the local Jewish community, who are trying to convince them they have made a mistake. They must have been thinking Jesus just may not have been the Messiah after all. He promised to come back, but He hasn’t yet. Maybe it is time to return to our old system of worship, the Law.

What would that mean for them?

  1. The law was a Conditional Covenant – “Carrot and stick” system to manage Israel and through which God could relate to His people.
  2. It was designed to point out the impossibility to achieve righteousness through human effort. No universal indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit, thus no guidance, enablement like we enjoy today. Keeping the Law was done through human effort alone.
  3. It was designed to point to the need for a mediator (Christ – the Lamb pictured in the Levitical offerings.)
  4. It was a system whereby, through the Levitical sacrifices, they could be declared “judicially blameless” from sin under the terms of the covenant and find forgiveness for one year, then the process had to be repeated.
  5. They looked forward to the coming of Messiah and His Kingdom

Context review… A quick review of the 13 chapters of Hebrews demonstrates four things very clearly

  1. It was written to Jews and the message has a strong Jewish context that would have resonated with Jews, but not so much with Gentile believers.
  2. These Jews were under some kind of pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah and return to their old ways of worship under the Law, thus all this Old Covenant New Covenant contrasting.
  3. The problem for them is they have not advanced spiritually and are still babes in Christ and are thus easily swayed because …
  4. Their faith is weak. Faith and the consequences of the lack of faith are the core themes of Hebrews.

Chapter 6 begins with the writer saying they need to move on and not go back. “Dead works” = a system of worship that is now dead – the Law. The only option for them is to move forward because “back” is no longer there to go back to. And what happens when they try to go back? – Verse 4 “It is impossible … if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance…”

“Fall away” in the Greek means to abandon a former relationship or association. “Restore” should be translated “renew” (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:9-10). The Greek means “to make new,” “to produce something new,” “to bring into use,” “to dedicate.” “To” is the Greek eis, which can have a spiritual application in the sense of connecting a separate divine reality with a cosmic reality.

“Repentance” actually means “a change of mind (or one’s way of life) for the better” and is not used here in the context of salvation or from sin but refers to spiritual maturity. Returning to the Levitical sacrificial system is returning to ritual and rejecting reality (the Cross). The Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant (Romans 6:14-15).

Summarized: It is impossible … for those who have fallen away (abandoned a former relationship or association – faith in Christ as Messiah) to renew them again (for them to grow spiritually) to repentance (to have the divine imparted to them – maturity, Christ-likeness).

More simply: it is impossible for those who turn back to the Law and its system of sacrifices with its looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, to find spiritual growth and gratification there again. You can’t go back, because “back” isn’t there anymore!

The writer spells out the consequences of attempting this with an agricultural metaphor (verses 7 and 8), which is saying God brings blessings (rain on the field) upon those who are His, and the field (you) can bear fruit or briars. If the latter you can expect chastisement (burning the field) to get rid of the “briars” so you can become productive. This does not refer to the fires of hell.

Hebrews is simply an apologetic defense of the faith and a warning to those Jews who would abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah and would attempt to return to an old and now obsolete system of worship where they will no longer find judicial blamelessness through the sacrifices. That is no longer available because of the Cross. Nor will they find the possibility for spiritual growth. And if you do go into this apostasy, you will be an unproductive child of God, and you can expect chastisement to bring you back to the truth and fruit production.

The Message for us today

  • There is no going back for believers.
  • There is no standing still for believers.
  • There is only spiritual advancement as an option.
  • Anything else will bring chastisement because God will burn your field of briars for fruit production.
  • God didn’t save us to just become His trophies on a shelf. He saved us for service and to be productive for Him and His Plan.

You can’t go back, because “back” isn’t there anymore.

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