Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 05/17/1998
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God hath prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
As we enter a new sub-section in our study of Ephesians, let me remind you that the theme of the book is God's eternal purpose to bring glory to his Son and salvation to his people by building his church; its purpose is to inspire and instruct us to walk worthily of our calling in the light of that fact. 2:1-10 deals with the relation of the doctrine of regeneration to this theme. The natural man cannot be a living stone in the Temple of the Church as long as he is dead in his sins. If he is DEAD in sin, he cannot be a living stone unless he receives new life. And if he is dead in his SIN, he cannot be a living stone in a holy temple unless his sin is forgiven and cleansed. The solution to both of these difficulties is the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf: in Him we also are made dead to sin and alive to God. Therefore, in 2:1-3 Paul deals with the death from which we are delivered; in 2:4-7 he deals with the life to which we are delivered; and in 2:8-10 he deals with the means and purpose and results of that deliverance and its application to us as believers.
There is therefore no more clear and crucial summary of the Gospel than in these verses that we begin to study today. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones said rightly, "Here is a statement surely that must be determinative in all evangelism. In the same way, it must determine our entire practice of the Christian life. For no person can live the Christian life unless he first has a true understanding of what it is that makes us Christians at all." Therefore I will break this familiar passage down into three parts. Today we look at verse 8, which tells us "how to be saved." Next week verse 9 tells us "how not to be saved." And then verse 10 answers the question, "So what if you're saved?" Today, then, how to be saved: "By Grace are you saved through faith."
We are saved by grace, through faith, period. Grace is the operative word here. Since our salvation depends on it, we had better be sure we understand what it is. One nifty definition is the acrostic G.R.A.C.E., ""God's Riches At Christ's Expense." The standard definition is that grace is "the unmerited favor of God.," that is, undeserved mercy flowing from the unconditional love of God, not in response to any merit in Man but only to his utter need. R. W. Dale put it this way: "Grace is love passing beyond all the claims of love, conferring on a revolted race honors which no loyalty could have earned." God's unmerited favor, flowing only from his own merciful and loving nature, motivated not by desert but only by itself: that is the only way sinners dead in their sins can be saved.
Specifically, we are saved by the Grace of 2:5 and 2:7. Charis (grace) in v. 8 has an article, which in Greek specifies it. It could be translated "that grace," the grace just mentioned: in other words, the grace God will manifest in us eternally as the final vindication of his own character from the malicious slanders of Satan, as we saw last week. Ever since the Garden, Satan has been using sin to try to erase from the mind of every creature all knowledge, recognition, or experience of the goodness of God. The work of Christ is to create in the Church an eternal object lesson of God's grace, something that goes beyond even goodness or justice, though in a way that respects the demands of both, as the final refutation of Satan's slanderous lies. So E. K. Simpson said, "Each saved soul is a monument of matchless benevolence, not only when we reflect on the record of its guilty past so completely blotted out, but also when we scan its high and holy destiny, resplendent with a luster eclipsing all the poets' golden dreams." This leads us to consider
What this means is that the ultimate means by which God will make known to his creation the deepest possible revelation of the wonderful and majestic goodness of his character is the grace by which we are saved. We cannot therefore say too much in praise of this grace. It is the epitome of his attributes, the crown of his character, the apex of his excellence, the pinnacle of his perfections. We fear him for his justice, we tremble at his power, we marvel at his wisdom, we worship him for his glory; but we adore him for his grace. It is that attribute without which all the others would be either irrelevant or devastating to us, but with which each facet of his character becomes both an indescribable wonder and an inestimable delight. It is by this grace that we are saved, through faith.
If faith is the means by which we receive and appropriate this grace of God by which we are saved, then nothing could be more important. We must be certain we do not go astray in our understanding of faith, for to miss this is to miss everything. What then is the definition of true, biblical, saving faith?
It is useful in the first place to see what it is not. It is not simply positive thinking or optimism. That is either naivete or perhaps a quirk of personality; it is not faith. It is not merely holding the correct opinions; it is not a cavalier and detached expression of agreement with orthodox notions. That could just be a manifestation of intellectual sloth. As Milton said, "A man may be a heretic in the truth." Nor is it a state of subjective confidence that we manufacture in ourselves. It is not anything that we do; it is not of ourselves but is itself the gift of God.
What is it then? It is the trust which commits, the belief that embraces. Embraces what? Jesus Christ as Lord; the specific promises of God in his word: that if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved; that he who cometh unto me I will no wise cast out; that if we confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we shall be saved; that if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us out sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It is the hand of the soul that clasps the offered hand of God's grace as it lifts us out of the miry pit of sin and futile self effort. It is in the final analysis an act of the will, enabled initially and then established, fixed, and made permanent by God, which says "Yes!" to Jesus Christ: believing his doctrine, trusting his promises, yielding to his lordship, embracing his person, accepting the free gift of his grace. As Calvin summarized it, "When on the part of man the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means on which men are accustomed to rely are discarded. Faith then brings a man empty to God that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ."
The implications of salvation by grace alone, received by faith alone, are spelled out first in vs. 9-10 and then in more detail in the last three chapters of the letter. Today we shall mention just briefly three implications. First, the relation of salvation and works: works must always be conceived as the result, never the cause, of salvation. Second, the necessity of works: true faith, since it is more than mere opinion, will inevitably express itself as God designed in v. 10. And finally, the possibility of assurance: a salvation that depends not on our own righteousness but only on the grace of God is the only kind of salvation in which men and women like us can ever be confident.
Have you received the grace of God? The blood of Christ purchased it for all who believe, so put your faith in him today! Have you received the grace of God? Then live as those who understand what it means to be the objects of such grace. Isaac Watts understood it well:
Were the whole realm of Nature mine,
That were a present far too small!
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams