Some in the church have a denominational view of Ephesians 2:8-9. This writer does not question their sincerity, but their understanding and knowledge. A clear statement of their position is, “We do not contribute one whit to our salvation” (Rubel Shelly, quoted in Yokefellow, vol. 18, no. 4, p. 3). They take the phrase, “not of works” (Ephesians 2:9) as the main emphasis that destroys any other understanding of the passage. Salvation comes, they teach, by grace only. If “we do not contribute one whit to our salvation”, then there is nothing for man to do. He is entirely passive in the salvation process, and God is the sole actor. If anyone is saved, it is the independent act of God. If anyone is lost, it is God’s fault and He alone is to blame.
Grace Referred To In Past Tense
In the scriptures, grace is referred to in past tense. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” Grace “happened” for all men. The grace referred to by Paul in this passage is not something that comes to each saved man as the future unfolds, but it is some past favor. The apostle points back to the cross when the Lamb of God died for the sins of the world. If there is nothing for man to do, then salvation is universal, because Jesus died for all (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:6-21).
God Created A Plan Or Process Of Salvation
Notice again in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved….” This blends with the revealed expression of divine sovereignty. God creates a plan. He created a process of salvation. Grace reveals the plan to all men to either receive or reject through faith (Romans 10:17; Acts 28:23-24). The phrase, “obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26) assumes a sovereign God. He established a plan and determined that those submitting to the plan receive salvation. It is certain that if God has a plan, He follows that plan.
God’s Plan Affirms Man’s Free Will
God’s plan of salvation affirms the free will of man. God does not ban free will. He grants it! The plan of salvation demonstrates that those who follow the plan “shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Man cannot compel God to save him. Salvation is “not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). The plan comes from God’s will and not by man’s works which he devises. Paul did not want men to think they had done some “great thing” by which they forced God to save them. Salvation is by grace (the plan made known – Titus 2:11-12). It is also by submission to God. Elsewhere Paul calls it “obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). The saved man does not boast (Ephesians 2:9) but submits to God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith (Romans 10:16-17).
Those who abuse Ephesians 2:8-9, making the phrase “not of works” mean any works – any activity, takes the passage out of its biblical context and promotes what Paul condemns. They accuse the Bible of teaching salvation by works when it only teaches God’s plan of salvation, which really declares salvation by grace. Paul says our salvation is by grace through faith. Saving faith requires obedience to every law of God (James 2:14-26). We do not obey our own plan of salvation but God’s plan of salvation revealed by His grace. Therefore, there is no boasting. Truth is the word of God understood (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:17). God’s sovereign will says, “I have a plan”. God’s grace is included in that plan.
By Mike Riley
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