Ephesians 2:8-9

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EPHESIANS 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

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We know that salvation is a gift from God. It is generally understood that grace is unmerited. However, there is a third component in this passage. Ephesians 2:8-9 speaks of salvation, grace, and faith. We might even be able to speak of that salvation as being comprised of both grace and faith. Some consider this synergistically, meaning that God contributes the grace and we contribute the faith. Others of us understand this to be a monergistic process, meaning that both the grace and the faith to believe are the gift of God as referenced in this passage. We wish to examine this passage closely because the two interpretations pose significant implications to our life as believers.

The greater context of our passage is a discussion of salvation. Paul has established that God created a covenant family, with the members of this family uniquely chosen by God. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, we have a number of blessings of salvation explained to us. Then, these two short verses are set in the greater context of the letter. In order to fulfill our goal, we must examine the passage grammatically, so if grammar is not your thing, consider yourself warned and fasten your exegetical seat belt.

First, let us examine the primary verbal clause as that is where we derive the primary thrust and purpose of the passage. The main clause is actually not found until the tail end of verse nine – “no one may boast.” The word used for boast is kauchaomai. This word’s basic meaning is to take pride in something; it is an aorist subjunctive which tells us that it is something that we might do. However, with the negative, it is a command – essentially to not take pride in something. Many things are inappropriate sources of pride. For instance, I can be proud of work that I accomplish, but I may not take pride in being born with blue eyes because I had nothing to do with that. Only God is responsible for my features. “That no one should boast” is the theme of the passage and we are given the reasons why we should not boast. This main verbal clause guides our conversation.

What is that over which we should not be prideful? The subject is salvation. Verse 8 says that we have been saved. Here we find the Greek word sozo – a word that can be identified as noun or verb depending upon its form. In this case, it is a perfect passive participle and thus not the main clause of our passage. It must be rendered as “have been saved.” Salvation can have a variety of meanings in the Bible; sometimes it has the connotation of being rescued from something. However, based upon Paul’s prior discussions, the word in this context would refer to spiritual salvation. Again, that could be seen as rescuing, but would be better seen as uniting us with Christ Jesus. So far, we have the idea of not taking pride in our salvation. It is easy as Christians to be a bit on the prideful side, that there is something in us worthy of salvation. This verse totally unravels any such self-importance. It undoes the very human idea that we are saved because we can contribute something to God and His church. We should only be prideful about something that we do. If we write a piece of music, a certain kind of pride is understandable because it is a personal accomplishment. Paul completely eradicates this human tendency from our salvation. There is no salvific synergy; it is totally monergistic or it does not exist. A salvation that we cooperate with is truly no salvation at all. Salvation only works if it is solely the work of our Savior. Paul’s idea here is that we ought to embrace only a salvation that requires nothing of us.

Now, let us get back to the first verse:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

First, look with us at the more simple parts. The passage starts out with the basic words, “for by grace”.  Arndt, Danker and Bowers lexicon describes grace or charis, as “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”  Many times we define grace as unmerited favor, something we get that we in no way deserved. Someone might earn a good grade, but if they skip half the assignments and still get an A, then it is grace the teacher bestowed upon the student. That is what this passage is saying about salvation: we do not participate in our salvation; rather, it is entirely “graced” upon us. Salvation begins, continues, and is one day consummated completely by God. The form or morphology and syntax of the word for grace used here speaks volumes as a dative singular noun. As a dative, it functions in an instrumental sense and tell us by what means God has saved us. God has, therefore, saved us through the instrument or means of grace.

Next, we are saved “through faith.” We are saved by grace but through faith. Faith is exactly the word that we would expect it to be – pistis in the Greek which has a generalized meaning of belief. It is the grace of God that is the means of salvation, but it is through belief that we come to salvation. So, if we come to salvation simply by believing, does that not mean that we participate in it? Are we not lending our belief to the process? We hear that claim frequently from non-Calvinists, but as we take a closer at the passage, we see that faith is the channel through which the salvation flows. Think of it this way: we have running water in our house like most people do. What is the cause of that water flowing? A utility company provides for the flow of that water – like the grace which we see in this passage. The water does not just mysteriously appear in our glass, though. It flows through the pipes, the channel through which the water flows – like faith carries our salvation. Where do we fit into the picture?

The passage uses a rather curious phrase: “and this not of ourselves.” Do salvation, grace, and faith all refer back to God as reformed theology would teach us? Or does faith itself not refer to God, but to ourselves as Arminianism would have us to believe? This is one of the more complex difficulties that we come to in exegetical study because there are a few possible answers. While we believe one probable answer to this puzzle, we want to posit all of the potential solutions for you.

Daniel Wallace is not a Calvinist, but he is a great Greek scholar and exegete of the Word of God. He presents four possible scenarios when looking into the last phrase of this passage: “THIS is not your own doing.“ To what does the word “this” refer? One possibility is a simple reference to grace alone. There would not be much argument to the fact that grace would have to be of the Lord in order to be grace. The second option refers specifically to faith alone, singling out faith as the sole attribute of salvation in the passage. Neither of these answers seem logical. The third option has the word “this” functioning as the phrase “and especially.” This would carry adverbial force, so the translation should be then rendered, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and especially not of your own doing.” III John 5 clearly uses it as “and especially for stranger.” However, support is limited for this usage in the context of Ephesians. According to the final view, Paul uses the word “this” in referring to the entire clause. Let us rethink the phrases: “For you have been saved by grace,” “through Faith,” and “this not of your own doing.” If we hold to the most probable construction – the salvation, the grace that is the cause of the salvation, and the faith that serves as the conduit – all three are not of your own doing. Does that mean that the ability to believe the Gospel is not of my own doing? Absolutely! As R.C. Sproul has so poignantly stated, “What can a dead man do? Nothing.” We are dead in our sins and we can do nothing. However, the great truth of election is that Christ gifts us with everything listed in this passage. He grants salvation, He uses grace or unmerited favor to do it, His salvation passes through the conduit of faith that He alone grants, and a person dead in their sins is brought to life. After all, it is a gift of God. There is no synergy here whatsoever – only the monergistic activity of our gracious and loving Lord – the message of the Gospel.

What if we rephrase the verse according to our exegesis? “We are saved by the instrument of grace through the channel or conduit of faith, none of which is of our doing, but rather is the gift of God. None of this is a result of anything we have or could have done, even believing. As a result, we cannot boast about ourselves. We can only glorify God because of salvation that is all because of Him, from beginning to end.”

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