Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:8a “For. . .”
Paul uses this preposition to begin a summary of the profound truths he has set forth in verses 1-7. Verses 8-10 take us to a magnificent pinnacle, a spiritual mountaintop. These verses are Paul’s “John 3:16.” The Apostle here brings the essence of his theology into focus, and provides one of the best known, and most often memorized, passages in the Bible.
These immortal words, one of the great evangelical statements in the New Testament, helped spawn the Reformation cry: “sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria” (by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory).
Alas! time and use have taken a toll on Paul’s grand declaration. When dealing with people, “familiarity breeds contempt.” When dealing with words, familiarity breeds boredom. Terms like “grace,” “saved,” and “faith” often become old and threadbare. These concepts once flowed like molten lava from blazing lips, but now the words are cold. We often quote them pedantically, and read them with a shrug of weariness.
Familiarity with the words has made us careless. We have not taken time to understand them fully. “We substitute acquaintance with the sound for penetration into the sense” (Maclaren). This sermon is an attempt to help us rediscover some of the original lustre of these priceless truths.
Eph. 2:8b “. . .by grace. . .”
Many attributes of God converge to make salvation possible. Wisdom devises, power accomplishes, immutability preserves. Other traits are also brought to bear, but the great fountain-head of salvation is grace, “charis.”
In the Hellenistic world, “charis” was often used on official government inscriptions. It was the term commonly used to describe a ruler’s bestowal of favor. The philosopher Philo said “charis” was only for the righteous. One had to be worthy of it, otherwise it vanished.
Early believers adopted the term, but retained only half its meaning. They continued to see in the word the generous bestowals of a king, but deleted the thought of worthiness in the recipient. For believers, grace is God’s unmerited favor toward man, as revealed and verified in Jesus Christ.
We are saved by grace only. Salvation is not given because we pray earnestly, repent bitterly, turn over a new leaf, make restitution for past sins, obey the ten commandments, heed the golden rule, or live a good life.
Grace strips away vanity, and crushes pride to the dust. This stabs the ego, and sometimes make a person reluctant to receive grace. Pride is often the foremost stumblingblock to being saved.
Others go to the opposite extreme, saying, “I am not good enough, I am too sinful to be saved.” Beware this false, Satanic imitation of true humility. Godly humility also acknowledges unworthiness, but then presses ahead to accept God’s free grace. It is wrong to reject what God offers.
Let no overt transgression impede your salvation. Grace, properly understood, nullifies despair over some sin deemed extraordinarily heinous. Unmerited favor can forgive any sin as easily and quickly as another, and thus removes our fear of rejection. Transgressions do not take us past the border of forgiveness. When we come as suppliants to grace, we are done with bounds and limits, and though unworthy, we are confident of salvation.
Salvation hinges solely on grace, God’s unmerited favor. No good deed can help bring salvation to pass, no bad deed can prevent it.
Eph. 2:8c “. . .are ye saved. . .”
We dare not fly past the word “saved” without letting its glory soak in. We love to sing the chorus of Jack Scholfield’s song, “Saved by His power divine, Saved to new life sublime! Life now is sweet, and my joy is complete, For I’m saved, saved, saved.”
The New Testament concept of salvation was taken from two sources, the field of medicine and the realm of danger. Salvation referred to the healing of a physical disease. The woman (MT 19:20) with an issue of blood twelve years, touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, saying, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be “whole,” or literally, “saved.” Jesus healed her, and said, Thy faith “hath made thee whole,” or literally, “hath saved thee.”
Our concept of salvation was taken also from the realm of danger. Salvation referred to being delivered from danger. During a storm at sea, the disciples awoke Jesus, saying, “Lord, save us: we perish” (MT 8:25).
Salvation signified healing of disease, and deliverance from danger–concepts summed up in our phrase “safe and sound.” The New Testament lifted the concept to its highest and noblest application. Salvation is God healing man of something which infects us spiritually–the sickness of sin. Salvation is God delivering us from something dangerous–His own wrath.
“By grace are ye saved”–beautiful, wonderful, but remote and general. Individuals need salvation brought home to their own doorstep. How does one solitary person receive salvation? How do we personalize it?. . . .
Eph. 2:8d “. . .through faith;. . .”
We speak cautiously here. Faith contains no merit, and is not the source of salvation. Faith is merely the instrument, the medium, the channel, the pipe, the conduit, by which the gift of salvation is conveyed to us.
Faith being our only requirement for salvation proves we bring no merit of our own. “To have faith” by definition implies trust in something outside one’s own self. Faith brings a man “empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ” (Calvin).
Faith is the chosen means of salvation because it matches grace perfectly, as a hand fits a glove. Grace only gives; faith only receives. Faith is to our spirit what the hand is to our body. Hands are created to grasp, to take, to receive. To give someone a fifty dollar bill by sticking it in his ear would look strange. We put cash in a hand, for it is made to receive.
Faith functions the same way. Created by God, faith was put in the spirit of man, for the purpose of receiving. Faith is the hand of the heart.
Do not make faith more mysterious than it is. God gives faith to us in the social realm in abundance to illustrate how it can function in the spiritual. Faith, the cement of human society, enables couples to live together in harmony and helps parents let their children become independent. Faith is the common denominator of human life. Each person, including the most skeptical and cynical, lives every day by faith. We expect the sun to rise, our money is in banks, we drive over bridges without inspecting girders, we enter new buildings, trusting they will not collapse, we eat food, believing it is not poisoned. The whole fabric of life is woven with trust.
Salvation occurs when this natural, God-given ability to trust is enabled by the Holy Spirit to turn in the proper direction. This divine miracle of saving faith begins in the written Word of God. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (RM 10:17). Faith hears and receives the testimony of Scripture. Refuse the Bible, and there is no faith; but give heed to the Word, and saving faith begins. Saving faith hears the message of salvation, believes it, and decides to receive the grace of God.
Saving faith is not as speculative as we often deem it to be. It is not a blind leap into the dark, but rests on historical facts which are verifiable and sure. Saving faith is not impractical or dreamy; it stakes itself in knowledge gleaned from reliable Holy Writ. In salvation, the Holy Spirit roots our faith in the Bible, and then turns our faith toward what God has done for us in Christ.
An illustration from nature might help. A vine left to itself spreads across the ground, but put a stake or trellis nearby and the plant will take hold and begin to climb upward. The vine has a God-given yearning for more sunlight, and is able to climb by means of God-given tendrils.
By nature, the vine of faith sprouts in every human life, but grows only along the ground. The Holy Spirit, though, places a Bible in our path, and drives into our lives a stake shaped like an old rugged cross. Spiritually quickened, the vine of faith roots itself in the Bible and suddenly desires more Sonlight. As it reaches for the cross, God gives the vine spiritual tendrils which enable it for the first time to grow upward. With the Spirit as its vinedresser, faith twines itself around the cross, spiralling its way upward until it grasps a seat in heavenly places. To the end of its earthly life, faith remains lifted up to God, intertwined with the cross, tended by the Holy Spirit, and rooted in the Bible. Faith thereby constantly takes in more Sonlight, making the vine ever more opulent and fruitful.
Why not exercise saving faith this moment? Faith is not a meritorious work, but is indispensable. Salvation is “by grace” and also “through faith.” If one does not accept Jesus, he does not have salvation. God loved sinners so much that He sent His Son to Earth to die for them. God loves His Son so much that sinners enter Heaven only if they believe on Him.
To be saved one must “lean hard” on Jesus. The Puritans explained true saving faith by using the word “recumbency,” which means lying down, reclining. It means leaning with all your weight on something, as when we lie down on our beds at night. Throw yourself down before the cross, and if you perish, perish there. Go to Calvary, “and resolve that if it can be that a sinner may die at the cross’ foot, you will die there, but nowhere else” (Spurgeon). Come solely with your miserable and undone condition. Tell God you are utterly lost if He does not save you. Fear not, His grace will be sufficient. You will find recumbency very comforting.