|Saved by Grace Alone?
ARE WE SAVED BY GRACE ALONE?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:1-7 describes our sinful condition before God, God's act in Christ to save us according to his mercy and grace, and his goal of glorifying us along with his Son. We were dead in sin, so God raised us up with Christ so that he might pour out his riches upon us. This is a statement of grace--God acts on our behalf. It is God's act in Christ where he made us alive with him, raised up with him and sat us in heavenly places with him. This single sentence sets the motive and nature of God's actions in the context of God's mercy, kindness and grace. Our actions did not move God to grace, but God's grace moved him to act on our behalf. His work is a gracious work for sinners who did not deserve it.
Ephesians 2:1-7 is summarized in the principle of Ephesians 2:8: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith." The term "for" has explanatory force. The princple of verse 8 explains in summary fashion what he has just described in verses 1-7. In fact, the whole of verses 8-10 have a summary character to them. Paul is summarizing the nature of salvation in Christ.
Grace is the ground of our salvation. Salvation is God's work, not ours. This is the plain meaning of the word "grace"--it is unmerited favor; it is God's disposition of saving love toward undeserving sinners. Wrath is what is owed, but grace is bestowed. The central assertion of the doctrine of grace is that salvation is God's work.
God is the subject of the verbs relating to salvation in verses 1-7. He is the active worker. Further, Paul clarifies this point by excluding works from the ground of salvation. Salvation is "not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." Salvation does not arise out of our own goodness or worthiness. Salvation arises out of God's gracious heart who gives us salvation. We do not save ourselves, but God saves us. God alone, and in this sense grace alone, saves.
Paul underlines this point by offering a further contrast. Not only is salvation "not from yourselves," it is also "not by [literally, out of] works." Salvation does not arise from the works that we do. Our works are not the source of our salvation. Salvation does not arise out of the quality and character of our works. Salvation is fundamentally a gift of God and anything that undermines that principle is legalism and denies the gospel.
Paul does not qualify the kind of works he is talking about here. He simply says "works." He uses the same word in verse 10--we are created to do good works in Christ Jesus. Works follow our salvation. Salvation does not arise out of them. Works are excluded as the source of salvation "so that no one can boast." No one can boast about his works in relation to salvation. If we boast in any work, human effort, or obedience to law, then we exclude Christ. God's grace means that we do not boast in our works, but in his work in Christ. It is God who saves. We do not save ourselves. Salvation does not arise out of our works.
Salvation, however, is by faith. We are saved through the instrumentality of faith. Faith is the means by which we receive God's grace. Through faith we have access to God's grace, and by faith we continue to stand in his grace (Rom. 5:1-2). Faith is the human response to God's gracious offer of salvation. Faith receives what God is willing to give. God saves by grace, but through faith. A human response is required for salvation. No one is saved without faith. Faith is a human response to God's gracious offer. God's grace is offered to everyone, but is only applied to those who receive it through faith.
What about baptism? If all works are excluded, does this mean that it is faith alone which saves without baptism? We must remember that in verse 8 Paul is summarizing verses 1-7. We are saved by God's act, not ours. But what was God's act which saved us? When we were dead, God made us alive with Christ, raised us up with Christ and sat us in the heavenly places with him. God raised us from the spiritual grave and made us alive through his work in Christ. We who were dead in sin are now alive in Christ through our death and resurrection with him. If Colossians 2:12 and 3:1-4 are any indication (as well as Rom. 6), Paul is alluding to baptism in these phrases. God circumcised our hearts, made us alive with Christ and forgave us our sins when we were "buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). When Paul says that God "raised us up with Christ" (Eph. 2:6), the total context of his thought and the parallel with Colossians implies a baptismal context.
Baptism saves, not as a work, but as an expression of faith in the work of God. Baptism is fundamentally God's work--he forgives, he raises up, he makes alive. We simply entrust ourselves through faith. We do not do anything, but receive everything. Salvation does not arise out of baptism; it arises out of God's grace. But we receive salvation through faith as we submit to God's requirement to express our faith in the context of baptism. Baptism, then, is a human response which arises out of faith, expresses faith and receives God's gracious salvation as a gift.
Good works, however, are the result of salvation--they are not the basis or ground of salvation. We are not saved because we work, but we work because we are already saved. We are saved by grace through faith--not because of our works, but as a divine gift so that no one can boast. This is true because, as verse 10 says, we are created for good works, and not because we do good works. On the contrary, we are God's work. We work the works of God because we are God's work of salvation as new creatures in Christ.
"Works" follow salvation. God saves us by grace, not works. But he saves us so that we can do good works. Works are the result of salvation. We are his creation for good works. Paul's order is clear: Grace, faith, salvation, works. It is not: grace, faith, works and then salvation. Works are not a means to salvation, but they are the evidence of a salvation already received. They testify that we are God's new creation; they testify to our salvation. The people of God are a saved people who testify to their salvation through their good works. We are a people devoted to good works. We were saved to do good works, but we were not saved by our works (2 Tim. 1:8-11; Titus 2:11-14; 3:3-8).
Salvation, then, is by grace through faith at baptism unto good works. Salvation arises out of God's grace, and we do not save ourselves. Rather, God creates us through faith. He raises us up with Christ and makes us alive through faith in his power which occurs when we are buried with Christ and rise with him in baptism. God gives 100% of our salvation--he alone saves, and through faith we receive the fullness of his gift--he places the gift in our hands when we open our hands to receive it. As a result, we are God's workmanship who are dedicated to good works, holiness, and discipleship. It is because we are saved that we seek to please God in every respect. Salvation, in summary, is by grace through faith at baptism unto good works.