Jewel #7: The Great Debate

Ephesians 2:8-9

One of the long-standing disputes about the Bible is over that nature of our salvation, whether it is caused by faith or by works.  The passage we examine here in Ephesians 2:8-9 is pitted against James 2:17 which says, “faith without works is dead.”  One group will say that merely agreeing with a set of doctrines is too easy an answer for the question of eternal destiny.  The other group will argue that if people have to contribute to their salvation, they are earning their own ticket to heaven.

The issue is further complicated by Paul (Galatians 3:6) and James (James 2:23) both using Abraham to prove their points.  They are both correct in appealing to Abraham, because his story is the key to this puzzle.  Both Paul and James quote Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham was righteous because he believed.  James shows that Abraham’s faith is proven to be genuine because he was willing to sacrifice his son.  The test of Abraham’s faith was in Genesis 22, but Abraham already had a saving faith from the time God made a covenant with him in Genesis 15.  Saving faith comes first but it will always lead to good works.

John Calvin said, “It is faith alone which justifies, but faith which justifies can never be alone.”

A.​Grace is agency of our salvation (v8a).

1.​Grace is a gift.  Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting the punishment we deserve. Grace is getting a blessing when we deserve punishment.  

2.​Grace is not a prize.  It is not earned in any way, shape, or form.  God is not under any obligation to man.

B.​Faith is how we appropriate God’s grace.  It is how we get it (v8b).  The word “faith” is feminine and it does not have an article.  This shows us that:

1.​Faith does not create our salvation.  If it did, the Bible would have said that we are saved through “the” faith.  

2.​The phrase “That not of yourselves” refers to the whole of our salvation, not just our faith (In Greek, “that” is neuter, while “faith” is feminine.  Therefore, “that” cannot refer to “faith”).  

C.​Good works come later.  Salvation is not an achievement (v9).

Every religion except Christianity offers works-based salvation.  Work leads to pride.  Achievement leaves to bragging.  Anything that I can do by myself is something I can boast about.  Faith is not a work. 

Perhaps we wish we could just get Paul and James in the same room an ask them about this – wait, that already happened. In Acts 15: 12-21, the church gathered to discuss the issue of Gentiles becoming Christians, which would involve being saved by grace through faith and not from works, like keeping the Law. Paul presented his case to the Jerusalem council and James totally agreed (Acts 15:12-21). If we had been able to ask Abraham for his opinion on this, he would think we were crazy. The Hebrew language does not even have a word for “faith.” They could not imagine separating belief from actions. So be saved by grace through faith – then get to work!

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