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, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
While our focus will be on verses 8 and 9 (8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 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, 9 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.