8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
These verses are Paul’s “John 3:16.” They are the “Gospel in a nutshell.” They tell us how to be saved and they tell us…
I. HOW WE ARE NOT SAVED
and that not of yourselves:
it is the gift of God:
καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν·
Θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον·
Ephesians 2:9 Not of works,
lest any man should boast.
9 οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων,
ἵνα μή τις καυχήσηται.
Typically, if you ask someone who believes in Heaven how they might get to Heaven they answer with something about being good, or showing kindness to people in your life. We can clearly see that these are “works.”
Others will answer with something about a spiritual experience that they had once, or that they simply “feel” saved. Pastor James Boice once had a conversation with a young man who claimed he was a Christian:
As we talked, I discovered that he did not believe that Jesus Christ was fully divine. He said he was God’s Son, but only in the sense that we are all God’s sons. He did not believe in the resurrection. He did not believe that Jesus died for our sin or that the New Testament contains an accurate record of his life and ministry. He did not acknowledge Christ as Lord of his life.
When I pointed out that these beliefs are involved in any true definition of a Christian, he answered that nevertheless he believed deep in his heart that he was a Christian. The thing he called faith was only a deeply held gut feeling. (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988], 66–67)
While feeling saved or spiritual experiences are things that we don’t identify as works, they are from ourselves, and therefore are works. Feelings are as much works as good deeds.
A. NOT BY WORKS
The Bible is very clear that we cannot be saved by works, even as far back as Abraham.
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:2–3)
Why can’t we be saved by works? The prime reason that we cannot be saved by works has to do with the fact that we are sinners and God is perfectly holy. God’s standard is perfect righteousness, and there is no way that any human being can attain that standard because we are stained with sin.
Imagine a white angel food cake, with that wonderful white frosting…sounds good, doesn’t it? One problem. The person who made it didn’t wash the mixing bowl or the spoon. They had red jello on them. So the angel food cake is stained with jello. I’m sure it will taste okay, but it’s not perfect.
Likewise, we can do good works, but our good works will all be stained with sin, they will be good, but not perfect. God’s standard is too high and we are flawed, sinful human beings.
There is an old story from the Middle East which speaks to this issue. A man was traveling on his donkey when he came upon a small fuzzy object lying in the road. He dismounted to look more closely and found a sparrow lying on its back with its scrawny legs thrust skyward.
At first he thought the bird was dead, but close investigation proved it to be very much alive. The man asked the sparrow if he was all right. The sparrow replied, “Yes.” The man said, “What are you doing lying on your back with your legs pointed toward the sky?”
The sparrow responded that he had heard a rumor that the sky was falling, and so he was holding his legs up in support. The man replied, “You surely don’t think you’re going to hold it up with those two scrawny legs, do you?”
The sparrow, with a very solemn look, retorted, “One does the best he can.” The little bird’s self-deceit and futile works were obvious. (R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 84)
We like to think that if we just do the best we can, God will let us into Heaven. Human beings like to think that we’re good enough for Heaven, but that’s as silly as a sparrow trying to hold up the sky.
Another reason that we are not saved by works is that…
B. SO NO ONE CAN BOAST
Let us suppose for a moment that we could earn Heaven by good works. Let’s say that God’s standard wasn’t perfection, but maybe scoring at least an eight on a scale of one to ten.
Clearly, I think it would be kind of nerve-wracking wondering if you are scoring high enough—“Am I a seven or an eight? Or a 7.5?” Set that aside and consider how those eight’s, nine’s, and ten’s who make it to Heaven would behave in Heaven.
Why there would be all sorts of boasting going on. “What were you? An eight? Ha! I scored a nine!” Even the nicer ones would be patting each other on the back and saying, “Good job.” Heaven would be a terrible place because the one who deserves the glory—the Lord—would get none.
Old John Nelson, one of Wesley’s preachers, was a poor, godless, blaspheming blacksmith until God saved him, and after that he became one of the early Methodist preachers, and proclaimed in power the gospel of the grace of God and won many to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One day he was talking to a very self-righteous man who said, “I don’t need your Saviour; my life is all I need. I can present my own life to God, and I am satisfied He won’t be hard on me. If anybody gets into heaven I shall, because of the good I have done, because of the way I have lived.”
“Look here,” said John Nelson; “if you got into heaven, you would bring discord there. All in heaven will be saved sinners, and we are going to sing, ‘Glory to the Lamb that was slain and hath washed us from our sins in His own blood.’
You couldn’t sing that, and so you would bring discord. You would be singing, ‘Glory to me because by my own good life and consistent living, my charity and good behavior, I fitted myself for heaven.’
If the angels caught you doing that, they would take you by the nape of your neck and throw you over the wall.” (H. A. Ironside, In the Heavenlies : Practical Expository Addresses on the Epistle to the Ephesians. [Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1937], 114–115)
Why is it important that no man be able to “boast”?
One reason is that our attention is directed inward on ourselves instead of outward towards God. Man was not made to make much of himself, but to make much of God.
9 All nations whom thou hast made shall come And worship before thee, O Lord; And shall glorify thy name. (Psalm 86:9)
Well, if we are busy boasting in ourselves, our attention will not be on God where it belongs. If we enter Heaven because of our good works, then for all eternity all God will hear from us is, “Look at me, Look at me…see what I have done!”
Folks, only the Lord is worthy of praise and honor and glory. The book of Revelation records for us a scene in Heaven:
10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:10–11)
We’ve seen then, we cannot be saved by works because that would first, be impossible because of our sin, and second, because it would lead us to boast in ourselves and not in the one that worthy of our praise. So now, let’s see…
II. HOW WE ARE SAVED
Ephesians 2:8a For by grace are ye saved through faith;
8 τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσωσμένοι διὰ τῆς πίστεως,
A. BY GRACE
What does it mean that we are saved by grace? What is “Grace” (χάρις) anyway? Grace is, as we have often heard, undeserved favor. Grace is showing kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve kindness. Grace is, as the second part of this verse shows us, a “gift.”
We have already said that we are sinners who don’t deserve going to Heaven, and that’s why God’s grace is so important. Without grace, there’s no way we could ever get into Heaven—we simply don’t deserve it. If we did deserve being saved and going to Heaven, then there would be no need of grace.
Each one of us, whether we’ve been raised in a good home or been the worst sinner on the streets, need grace—God’s undeserved gift of salvation.
[Once, at a communion service in a church in England] the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England — the very judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and become a Christian worker. Yet, as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict, neither one seemed to be aware of the other.
After the service, the judge was walking out with the pastor and said to him, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”
The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”
The judge said, “But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it was natural for the burglar to receive God’s grace when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.
“But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. [I didn’t think that I needed help]
Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.” (R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 76)
As sinners, all of us are undeserving. All of us, whether good people or bad, need help. As sinners, we deserve to die, but God, in his grace, sent his Son Jesus to die for us instead. His grace said, “These people don’t deserve it, but I am going to send Jesus to die for them anyway.”
But while God has provided for our salvation by his grace, it’s not automatically applied to each person. We need each individually to be “saved.”
B. WE ARE SAVED
Throughout the Bible, there are examples of God reaching into the lives of people and saving them.
In the Old Testament, we find the true account of Noah and the flood. Eight people were saved (the rest didn’t want to be saved) when God forewarned Noah, provided the instructions for an Ark, and enabled Noah to build it.
Today, Jesus Christ is our Ark of salvation. When we are in him, we can be saved from the flood waters of God’s judgment.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
By God’s grace, he provided Jesus Christ as the Ark of our salvation. He is how we can be, how we must be saved.
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
So how can we be saved by God’s grace? The means that God has provided for us to be saved is…
C. THROUGH FAITH
What is “faith” (πίστις)? Let’s talk about what faith isn’t first.
Faith isn’t intellectually understanding something about Jesus and God. Plenty of people know something about the Bible, or even a lot about the Bible, and are not saved. One famous atheist recommends that everyone read the Bible so that they will see how silly and offensive it is.
On the opposite side, faith isn’t a subjective feeling. This is terribly common today. We think that we can just work up faith in ourselves. We might encourage someone going through a difficult time, “You gotta believe and it will be okay.”
Faith isn’t about being positive or optimistic, not that those are wrong attitudes, but that isn’t Biblical faith.
Biblical faith isn’t going to be based on our attitudes or feelings. Think how insecure you would be if your faith was! One day you feel saved, the next you don’t!
Charles Spurgeon pulled together a Biblical definition of faith using three words: knowledge, belief, and trust.
In Romans 10, we find a couple statements emphasizing the importance of knowing in our faith.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
Faith is always based on the Word of God, it’s not simply a subjective feeling. You just can’t make up your own faith in God. It comes from the Bible.
What must you know from the Bible to be saved?
First, you need to know that you are a sinner who cannot save himself and that you are condemned to go to Hell. In short, you must know that you need to be saved.
Second, you need to know that God sent Jesus Christ to take the punishment for your sins. You need to know that Jesus died for you and that he rose again.
Then that leads us to the second part of faith, belief.
Belief is the heart’s response to the knowledge you learn about Jesus Christ. Sometimes the Bible uses belief as being the same with faith, but here we just mean a heart’s response to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
You can know about Jesus. You can know that the Bible says he died for our sins and rose from the dead, but do you believe it?
By trust I mean a commitment to the knowledge and belief that you have come to have. Trust is the evidence that you know about Jesus and you believe in him.
Concerning trust, Spurgeon wrote:
Commit yourself to the merciful God; rest your hope on the gracious gospel; trust your soul on the dying and living Saviour; wash away your sins in the atoning blood; accept His perfect righteousness, and all is well. Trust is the lifeblood of faith; there is no saving faith without it. (C. H. Spurgeon, All of Grace: An Earnest Word with Those Who Are Seeking Salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009], 46)
During the 1900s Jean Francois Gravalet, better known by his stage name, Blondin, was a world-famous acrobat. Born in France in 1824, Blondin became well-known while still a child. As he grew older, his skill and showmanship brought him fame throughout Europe and America. Once in London he played the violin on a tightrope 170 feet off the ground and then did a somersault wearing stilts. His most spectacular feats were the crossings of Niagara Falls on a tightrope 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. On one occasion he took a stove onto the tightrope and cooked an omelette above the roaring falls. “Bon appétit!” On another occasion he pushed a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded. On still another he stood on his head on the precarious wire. That is why today in London there are Niagara and Blondin Avenues.
Once, in an unusual demonstration of skill, Blondin carried a man across Niagara Falls on his back. After putting his rider down he turned to the large crowd and asked a man close by, “Do you believe I could do that with you?” “Of course,” the man answered, “I’ve just seen you do it.” “Hop on,” said Blondin, “I’ll carry you across.” “Not on your life!” the man called back. There is no real faith without trust. (R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 77–78)
(4) Biblical Examples of Faith Being Knowledge, Belief, and Trust
In Romans 10, there is an example of belief and trust and knowledge coming together:
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
You need to know that God raised Jesus from the dead in order to believe that he did. And when you believe that, you step out in trust and publicly “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus.”
Here’s another example of how these three components come together in a Bible verse:
8 And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
See how it says that the Corinthians first were “hearing”? Through hearing they had knowledge. Then they believed, and then they were baptized. Baptism is evidence of their trust, the third component of faith.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
We cannot save ourselves; if we could, it would give us reason to boast, and the only one who deserves the glory is God alone.
But God, in his grace, sent his Son to die for our sins and take our punishment on himself. He provided the only way of salvation that we can have through faith.
Faith is knowing the facts about Jesus Christ, believing those facts, and trusting our very lives to those facts.
Are you saved today?