Alexander Maclaren wrote,
Here are three of the key words of the New Testament—“grace,” “saved,” “faith.” Once these terms were strange and new; now they are old and threadbare. Once they were like lava, glowing and cast up from the central depths; but it a long while since the eruption, and the blocks have got cold, and the corners have been rubbed off them. I am afraid that some people, when they read such a text, will shrug the shoulder of weariness, and think that they are in for a dreary sermon.1
I hope that is not true of us; rather, I hope we will exult in the reality that we are treated with grace—as Anne Lamott exults: “I do not understand the mystery of grace; only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”2
Perhaps you can relate. I pray that you can.
Previously, we spent our time in this passage basically addressing the question, who are you? We concluded that the Christian is the object of God’s lovingkindness. Therefore, all things considered, we are in good shape.
Now, we are going to focus on another important question: Where are you? That is, where are you regarding your relationship with the Lord? Where are you spiritually? Related to this, where are you emotionally? Where are you relationally? Where are you mentally—i.e. on what are you focused? Even, where are you physically and financially (e.g. addictions and aspirations and affections and attitudes)?
The point of the questions is to drive home the truth that those whom God treats with grace are those whom He meets where they are and, thankfully, does not leave where He finds them. God treats us with grace in order to transform us into His trophies of grace. This is the theme of Ephesians 2:5–10.
Christians are the most blessed people on the planet. We have been treated with grace. Let that sink in. Rather than receiving what we deserve—eternal condemnation, a hopeless life and future separated forever from God—we are rather given what we do not deserve. We are given forgiveness, reconciliation and an eternal hope. Treated with grace—it does not get any better than that!
Properly understood, we can say that grace is the characteristic word of Christianity. Paul used the word in every one of his salutations in his epistles. Every Christian is aware that we are saved by grace. Christians—every one of us—are treated with grace, through and through. And nowhere is this stated more clearly than in the passage before us.
But what does this mean, and what does this gracious treatment look like?
Grace is a far easier word to define than to explain. And even definitions fall short. Many define grace as “unmerited favour.” Others prefer “God giving to us what we don’t deserve.” Still others enjoy the acronym “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” But perhaps, as with a great many truths, grace is better caught than taught. Nevertheless, since it is before us in the text, I want to teach about grace from Ephesians 2:5–10. And I hope that what is taught will in fact be caught, experienced, exulted in and expressed to others.
We are Transformed by Grace
The first truth we learn, in vv. 5–7, is that we are transformed by grace. Paul writes that
even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The operative word here is “saved.” This is an important concept to understand. Francis Schaeffer once lamented that the problem with our time is that theologians are answering questions that no one is asking. We need to help people to ask the right question(s)—such as the most important question: How can I be right with God? or, What must I do to be saved? But first we need to help people to see that they really do need to be saved. People really do need to be delivered—from the wrath of God.
Unfortunately, most are asking less important questions—economic questions, political questions, physical questions, relational questions, emotional questions, etc. With reference to salvation Maclaren comments, “It is sure to be an uninteresting word and thing to a man who does not feel himself to be a sinner.”3 But we are sinners. May God make us aware!
You may be able to relate to my disinterest on planes as the stewardess is explaining what to do in the event of loss of cabin pressure. It has become such a routine thing to see. If you have flown often enough, you likely feel in no danger of loss of cabin pressure, and therefore you probably do not listen as the procedures are explained.
But what if you are on a plane one day that does lose cabin pressure? As the oxygen mask drops from overhear, you will no doubt find yourself very interested in the proper procedure. We become interested in such things when we feel that they are appropriate for us.
Without repeating previous studies, we need to be convinced that man really does need to be saved. As J. C. Ryle once said, our best deeds are but “splendid sins.”4
Most today have no appreciation of the concept of salvation. And though we cannot convince them, nevertheless we do need to be persuaded of the biblical description of man in his condemned condition.
Man needs to be delivered from spiritual death (moral and spiritual bondage to sin and to Satan and to self). We need to be transformed: from death to life. I was recently struck by the lyrics of a One Republic song that I heard:
And I feel something so right about doing the wrong thing;
And I feel something so wrong about doing the right thing.
Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.
Man needs to be delivered from such futility and fallenness and ultimately from the wrath of God. He really is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11). We are foes, and we need to be forgiven so that we might be His friends. And grace does all this. As Hughes highlights, by God’s grace we have gone from “Hell to Heaven; bondage to freedom; gloom to light; despair to hope; wrath to glory; death to life.”5
Our Condition Calls for Grace
Mercy is God’s kindness to us in our misery; grace is God’s kindness to us in our guilt. Grace is God’s favour when all we deserve is God’s disfavour. Grace is God giving to us, not what we deserve, but rather what we do not deserve. Grace, by definition, is God freely favouring. That is, He owes nothing to anyone.
Christians are treated by grace, indeed! And how privileged we are to be so. If you wish to understand more of this glorious privilege, if you want to revel in God’s grace in your life, if you want to move beyond a weariness in hearing the Word, then ask God to show you more of your sinfulness. As you understand more of what you were before you were transformed, you will no doubt appreciate more about that transformation.
We Trust by Grace
The second thing we learn from this text, in vv. 8–9, is that we trust by grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
The operative word here is “faith.”
One must believe to be blessed by salvation. The Bible does not teach what some refer to as “eternal justification,” where those who were elected before the foundation of the world were at the same time justified. We surely could not have been dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1), and children of wrath (v. 3), while we were justified. Those who are justified are not at the same time under condemnation (Romans 8:1; 5:1)!
Salvation is unconditional from the standpoint of God’s gracious choice to save. He saves us in spite of us, not because of us. God saves because He freely chooses to do so; He saves because He is free to do so.
But God has attached a condition to the experience of this saving grace; we call it saving faith; or simply faith. “Faith … is the only condition, but it is the indispensable condition.”6 Faith can be defined as “the act of the mind in accepting and of the will and heart in casting one’s self upon Christ as the Saviour—that act is the condition of the new life.”7
If the word “condition” troubles you, then use the word “channel” instead. Faith is the God-prescribed and God-provided channel by which the Lord Jesus Christ is laid hold of. After all, Christ is the gift! His righteousness is the gift. The righteousness we need does not adhere in us; it was earned for us.
What is Faith?
We need a “KAT” scan of what we profess to believe: knowledge, assent, trust.
Obviously this is a vital—perhaps the vital—question. If this condition is essential for the experience of God’s gracious salvation, we need to know what it is, what it looks like, what it consists of.
Faith is more than mere correct, intellectual belief (James 2:9). It includes this, of course, but it goes beyond this to trust. And I would add that this trust, especially when it comes to believing the gospel, includes an element of desperation.
Those who call upon the name of the Lord for salvation will only truly do so once they have come to the end of themselves. Though the new Christian will probably not quite fully understand the full implications of Ephesians 2:1–3, nevertheless she will realise that, apart from God, she will have no hope.
Brian Welch is an American musician who was one of the co-founders of rock band Korn. Korn’s music is heavily antithetical to Christianity—mostly featuring lyrics that are dark, sexually explicit and disturbing—but I recently stumbled across a video that told of Welch’s conversion to Christ. Welch told of hearing his three-year-old daughter singing the vile lyrics of one of the songs he had written and wondering whether he wanted to raise his daughter that way.
He recalled being on the brink of destruction when a friend gave him a Bible. He recalls reading the Bible in many different settings, even at one point when he was high on speed. God slowly worked in his life, bringing him to the point of utter desperation before graciously granting him the gift of faith. He parted ways with Korn and has dedicated his musical pursuits to glorifying God.
When we find ourselves in such desperation, we will cast ourselves in complete dependence into the arms of the one who is our only hope, into the arms of the one who has proved that He is able to save: the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been eternally vindicated by God the Father (1:18–23; 2:5–6).
This highlights conviction as an aspect of saving faith. Since saving faith is about heartfelt trust in the Saviour, there must be sufficient knowledge of Jesus Christ that will persuade one to trust Him. This requires exposure to the Word of God. But, again, this requires God’s gracious power to persuade one of the facts (1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul wrote it is necessary for us to know Christ more deeply than “according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:14–16).
You just can’t escape the truth—thank God!—that salvation is of the Lord, from start to finish. And this leads us to the next very important observation.
Faith Too, is by Grace
Christopher Hitchens was a highly intelligent atheist who died rejecting Jesus Christ. His brother, Peter, is likewise a highly intelligent man, who is a believer in Jesus Christ. How do we explain this? How does one brother die a militant atheist while the other submits in faith to Jesus Christ.
The answer is surely found in the fact that we are saved by grace through faith, and that even our faith is the gift of God.
There are some scholars who argue, because of technical details regarding the Greek words used here, that the word “that” in v. 8 is not a reference to faith but to salvation as a whole. That may be true. But it does appear someone redundant for Paul to refer to grace as the gift of God, for grace is, by definition, a gift.
Regardless, the point is clear that even the faith that saves is completely the work of God and not of ourselves (see Romans 4:16; 2 Peter 1:1; Philippians 1:29; Acts 3:16).
We can conclude that the condition required to experience saving grace is also graciously met by God. As Jonah humbly, gratefully and confidently asserted, “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).
It is clear that our sinful condition renders us incapable of making the right choice. We need a new condition if we will meet the condition of faith. We need a new heart. In fact, we need to be made alive. This is the crux of this passage (v.5).
We were dead, and corpses cannot believe. “If faith is dependent on us, then we are not really dead in sin; we would be capable of making a decision for or against God.”8 But, in fact, we are dead, and therefore if we will believe we need to be made alive.
This is why there are two very important concepts in this chapter with reference to our salvation: resurrection and creation. In fact, John Stott makes the helpful observation that “Resurrection is out of death, and creation is out of nothing. That is the true meaning of ‘salvation.’”9
No Place for Pride
God has designed salvation is such a way that He receives all of the glory (v. 7)—for all eternity. And this would not be the case if we had anything at all to do with our salvation.
The exhibition of “the exceeding riches of His grace” and of “His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” leaves absolutely no room for exalting of self.
James Denney once exhorted preachers that no man can show himself clever and Christ powerful to save at the same time. This is equally true of every Christian. If cleverness, or self-actualisation, or moral honesty is the ultimate cause of our faith, then we would have something to boast in. But corpses can take no credit for anything. Where there is spiritual life, resulting in saving faith, it is there by the grace of God alone.
I like how Jonathan Edwards put it so long ago (and yet it remains so contemporarily relevant): You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary. End of discussion.
The doctrine and the doctrines of grace, properly embraced, will have a humbling effect upon the Christian. What other response is even possible? When we consider what we were, and therefore what we deserved, we will give all the glory to God taking no credit for ourselves. A humble disposition will result.
Though there are many, many Christians who live much better than their erroneous theology, it must be acknowledged that a wrong view of man and of salvation can produce a very ugly pride. Consider.
If you explain away God’s free because sovereign grace, ultimately you are crediting yourself with your faith. And this, quite logically and quite naturally, leads to one upmanship over those who have not been so clever or so humble or so morally upright to believe.
At the same time, those who hold to the doctrines of grace must be careful of assuming that they are special because, by God’s grace, they have a firmer handle on understanding the biblical teaching. There is no place for ugliness as we contemplate the most beautiful truth in and for the world.
We are a Trophy of Grace
Third, in v. 10, we learn that we are a trophy of grace: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
The operative word here is “workmanship.” God creates us as His workmanship so that we can do works commensurate with who we are. As Maclaren says, “To be good is the first thing; to do good is the second.” Again, “What He bids us do He fits us for; what He fits us for He thereby bids us do.”3
The truth that salvation is by faith alone apart from works certainly does not deny that works will flow from such saving faith. And if there is any doubt about this, then v. 10 should settle the matter once for all.
Note how the verse begins: “For we are His workmanship.” Paul continues to drive home that our salvation is not by works. Here is the clincher. Paul is making the point that Christians are God’s work of art, His masterpiece, His poem, which He has “created in Christ Jesus.” To argue that we can take any credit—explicitly or implicitly—is to argue for self-creation which, as Stott points out, is nonsense. “Salvation is creation, re-creation, new creation. And creation language is nonsense unless there is a Creator; self-creation is a patent contradiction in terms.”11
But note that God has graciously and salvifically re-created sinners “for good works … that we should walk in them.” God’s masterpieces are on the move, demonstrating the power of God’s gospel to change our devotion, direction, disposition and destination. We are no longer taking orders from the prince of the power of the air. We are no longer walking according to the course of this world. We are no longer characterised by the desires of the flesh and of the mind, but rather our appetites have dynamically changed. We are no longer under the wrath of God heading for hell, but rather we are children of God seated already in heaven!
But we must never lose sight of the fact that all of this is the consequence of the saving grace of God. These works are undeniable, and even irresistible, for God has “prepared beforehand.” This makes it clear that those whom God saves by His grace He changes by that same grace, through faith. Negatively, if there is no fruit, there is no root. Positively, where there is the root, you can count on the fruit (John 15:1–16). Faith is the “chisel” by which God creates His masterpiece.
The Old Testament affords us an interesting illustration of this truth. In Exodus 35, we read of Bezalel, whom God filled with the Spirit in order to do all manner of “workmanship” on the tabernacle (vv. 31–32). The tabernacle, of course, served as a picture of God’s gracious initiative to dwell with His people. Clearly this was an act of grace. God filled a man with the Spirit who would oversee the construction of this masterpiece, this work of art. God worked from a plan—a heavenly one.
In Ephesians 2, Paul begins to describe God’s ultimate masterpiece—the work of art that the tabernacle prefigured. It is God’s ultimate dwelling place, the Body of Christ (vv. 12–22). The one with the skill to oversee this dwelling place is also filled with the Spirit. His name is Jesus. He knows where everything fits and knows how to fit it. He too is working according to a pattern, the church in heaven.
As the first tabernacle was the result of gifts of grace (Exodus 35:1ff), so is the church of Christ. As the first tabernacle was by God’s grace (Exodus 32–34), secured by a Mediator, so is the church.
In sum, we are works of grace and, by grace through faith, we do works. As Austen notes, “Our good works are not in response to God’s gracious initiative, but are a part of it.”12 It really is all about grace.
The Expectations of Grace
“Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be,” wrote Robert Robinson (1735–1790). He was no legalist. He was a convinced Baptist who understood that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone. In fact, he was so convinced that only Jesus could save that he wrote a book defending our Lord’s deity.
From the line of this hymn, it is clear that Robinson grasped the biblical teaching that grace is motivational; it is dynamic and not static. It “constrains” the ones whom it has in its grip.
In other words, it is God’s predestined expectation that His saving grace personally experienced will result in saving grace practically exhibited. And as Paul will argue, the consequences of this saving grace will be powerfully expressed in God’s community of faith, His new people. We call this the church.
Our Works are Revealed by our Walk
But what do these works look like? Perhaps the best way to answer that is by focusing on the word “walk.” Our walk will reveal that we have been treated with grace in that they will be gracious—gloriously so.
Having described how we once walked (vv. 1–3) before we were treated with such amazing grace, we can now assume that our walk will be profoundly different. In fact, references to our walk are found some seven times in Ephesians. Our works are fundamentally about our walk.
Let me put it this way: If our walk before grace was disordered and disobedient, our walk having been treated with grace will be ordered and obedient. This is precisely Paul’s point here and it remains an emphasis throughout the epistle.
We are Together by Grace
Also in v. 10, we learn that we are together by grace: “We are His workmanship.” The operative word here is “we.” Verses 5–6 similarly speak of us being “together.” Captain and Tennille, who were recently divorced, sang, “Love will keep us together.” Paul would argue that grace will keep us together.
Love operates by and in the sphere of grace. If we are not gracious, we will not love properly. How are you doing?
We are to Treasure Grace
Finally, let’s note that we should treasure grace. The operative word here is grace!
There is nothing like grace. Nothing. We who deserve wrath are now treated by God as those with Christlike worth. Having been transformed by God’s grace, because we have been made raised to spiritual life together with Christ by grace, we are to treasure this grace. In fact, according to v. 7, we will do so throughout eternity. So let’s do so now. Let me drive this home by a few observations.
Treasure Grace; Don’t be Troubled by Grace
Throughout human history, the primary stumblingblock to belief in the gospel has been at the same time the most amazing aspect of the gospel: grace.
Paul spoke of the offence of the cross as the stumblingblock. I am not contradicting him, for in fact the cross work of the Lord Jesus Christ is the fundamental expression of the grace of God. To reject the cross of Christ is to reject the grace of God.
I recently read a pastor in the United States making some foolish statements about God’s grace. I’m not sure he would actually stand by his words if pushed, but what he said is disturbing. He claimed, “If God gave you light and He did not give it to me then He’s an evil god. Let’s be real about it.” He added,
Let’s be honest. Everyone who believes that God chose to save some for heaven and chose to send others to hell is cynical, and ungrateful and ultimately becomes depressed. In fact, in their heart, because they believe this, they realize that God is not good and so they are depressed to the point where they desire to take their own lives.
Really? When I came to a proper appreciation of the doctrines of grace, the last thing on my mind was to take my own life. Quite to the contrary, I grew in my appreciation of life.
The pastor concluded: “The difference is between belief and unbelief; it’s a difference between what they do with Jesus Christ.” He is, of course, correct. The question is, why do some believe and others do not? What makes the difference? Rather, who makes the difference? As our text tells us, it is “not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
The Only Reasonable Response
I realise that many questions arise at this point. Why did God choose some and not others? What about freewill and moral responsibility? There are some good answers to the latter question, but at the end of the day Bryan Chapell is correct when he observes, “When we come to the end of our logic we should not turn away from Scripture but rather affirm our humanity and humility by singing the Doxology.”13
Treasure Grace and Talk about Grace
Grace should be on our lips and we should, with a gracious disposition, be willing to defend grace. We should be offended when people are offended by grace!
We should remind one another of God’s grace. We do so by reminding one another of the gospel; by reminding one another that we do not get what we deserve. We do so by words of gratitude rather than by words of grumbling.
Treasure Grace and Teach about Grace
This is the message of the Great Commission. We are called to preach “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Paul wrote of this to Titus:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
Treasure and Teach this Grace by Treating Others with Grace
Lastly, when we have a proper appreciation for the grace of God in Christ, we will be empowered to triumph by grace as we treat others with grace. We can triumph by grace and thereby demonstrate grace in how we relate to others.
Since we are treated with grace we are to treat others with grace as well. We should view people as what they can be by the grace of God. This will help us to treat people hopefully. This especially applies to how we view Christians. As those treated with grace, they are treasured by God as His trophies of grace who will one day completely triumph by His grace.
We need to hear that we are absolutely hopeless apart from God’s grace. We need to hear that we are dead in our sins and our only hope is a resurrection. We need to hear and to heed that Jesus Christ is our only Saviour. We need to hear and heed the otherwise offensive truth that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. And when we do then we will glory in the wonderful reality that we have been treated with grace, we are treasured by grace, and we will spend eternity as trophies of this grace.
- Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Ephesians, Epistles of St. Peter and St. John (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), Kindle edition. ↩
- Anne Lamott, BrainyQuote.com, http://goo.gl/125N6r, accessed 24 January 2016. ↩
- Maclaren, Ephesians, Epistles of St. Peter and St. John, Kindle edition. ↩
- Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God: The Fear of the Lord is a Life-Giving Fountain (New York: Waterbook Press, 1998), 93. ↩
- R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 71. ↩
- Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Romans and Corinthians (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), Kindle edition. ↩
- Maclaren, Ephesians, Epistles of St. Peter and St. John, Kindle edition.[ ↩
- Simon Austen, Teaching Ephesians: From Text to Message (Ross-shire: Christian Focus 2012), 79. ↩
- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 85. ↩
- Maclaren, Ephesians, Epistles of St. Peter and St. John, Kindle edition. ↩
- Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 85. ↩
- Austen, Teaching Ephesians, 80. ↩
- Bryan Chapell, Ephesians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 88. ↩