Today, ladies, we can finally study verses 8 and 9 of our passage. As usual, I want to quote these verses with the verses leading up to them so that we can keep them in proper context.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~~Ephesians 2:1-9 (ESV)Most evangelicals can accurately quote these two verses without much thought. And that lack of careful deliberation can cause us to veer from the very Gospel that they proclaim. Paul wrote them, as we plainly see by their content and context, to emphasize that God assumes full responsibility (and therefore deserves full credit) in the salvation process.
Paul repeats his statement from verse 5 that salvation occurs "by grace." But rather than assuming that we know what the word "grace" means, let's turn to The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, which opens its article on grace with this paragraph:
cháris; gen. cháritos, fem. noun from chaírō (G5463), to rejoice. Grace, particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude. A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor. Cháris stands in direct antithesis to érga (G2041), works, the two being mutually exclusive. God's grace affects man's sinfulness and not only forgives the repentant sinner, but brings joy and thankfulness to him. It changes the individual to a new creature without destroying his individuality (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-9).
But now Paul seems to contradict himself by making grace (and therefore salvation itself) conditional on human faith...which of course is completely true! John 3:14-18 maintains without equivocation that every person's eternal destiny absolutely depends on the exercise of faith. Jesus said, in John 5:24, that faith exempts us from judgment and allows us to pass from death to life. In fact, Paul said in Romans 10:9-10 believing that God raised Jesus, Whom we confess as Lord, from the dead, guarantees salvation.
Don't worry! Paul hastens to add that even faith comes as God's gift to us. As we read this comment, it helps to remember that this passage began by saying that we were dead in the sins that characterized our lives (Ephesians 2:1-3, quoted above). Dead people simply have no internal resources that would enable them to produce faith. Remember that, when Simon Peter correctly identified Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the Living God," Jesus informed him that only God the Father could have given him that revelation (Matthew 16:13-17). Similarly, Acts 16:14 speaks of God opening Lydia's heart to the Gospel.
Perhaps Paul best demonstrates how God gives us faith in Romans 10:13-17:
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~~Romans 10:13-17 (ESV)
The Holy Spirit sovereignly uses His Word, faithfully preached, to generate faith.
Verse 9 strengthens Paul's point by contrasting "faith" with "works." Please consider Paul's comment in Romans 11:6 that the very idea of grace necessarily excludes works...including the "work" of faith. Faith, being something that we receive from God's hand, in no way becomes a reason to suppose that we, although dead in our transgressions, could claim any part in our salvation.
Scripture, in fact, makes no allowance for any boasting on our part. We receive salvation, not by any human effort, but as a result of a faith that the Lord Himself supplies to us. Therefore, we find no way to congratulate ourselves, and we certainly can't take pride in what Christ has done for us. I like how The Believer's Bible Commentary puts it:
In contrast to works, faith excludes boasting (Romans 3:27), because it is non meritorious. A man has no reason to be proud that he has trusted the Lord. Faith in Him is the most sane, rational, sensible thing a person can do. To trust one's Creator and Redeemer is only logical and reasonable. If we cannot trust Him, whom can we trust?These two familiar verses, which so many evangelicals rattle off so easily, should turn our thoughts to our complete dependence on the incredible grace of our Almighty Lord. Why He condescends to save any of us, and especially a wretch like me, only causes me to adore Him more. I pray you'll have the same response.