Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:8e “. . .and that not of yourselves:. . .”
“That” refers to the whole idea of salvation, as conveyed in the former phrase. We are saved in spite of ourselves, and claim credit for no part of our salvation. God alone is the Fount of salvation. The Father wrought the plan, the Son bought the pardon, the Spirit sought us when astray.
Even our exercising faith leaves us no ground for boasting. Apart from God, saving faith could not exist, for it is based on God the Father’s Word, has God the Son as its object, and is prompted by God the Spirit.
Some nevertheless try to make a savior of their faith, saying, “If I just had more faith, if I could believe more strongly, maybe then I could be saved.” The issue in salvation is not “how much” we believe, but “in Whom” we believe. Jesus is the Savior. Faith is merely a means of receiving.
As the ground, because of the way it is created, is able without exertion, labor, or travail, to receive rain and absorb moisture, even so our faith, due to the way it is created, is able without exertion, labor, or travail, to receive grace and accept salvation. Do not try to merit salvation.
Eph. 2:8f “. . .it is the gift of God:”
How clearly can Paul express himself? If terms have meaning, if we are to trust the obvious definitions of words, salvation is “by grace.” Any other proffered explanation must be deemed a distortion of Scripture.
Salvation has to be “a gift.” for though it is possible to make restitution for a broken law, it is impossible to make adequate compensation for a broken heart; and sin breaks God’s heart. At the heart of the Universe is a shattered, crushed heart in desperate need of mending, but forgiveness for a splintered heart can never be earned. Reparation is impossible.
If a motorist carelessly ignores a school bus “stop” sign and kills a friend’s child, law is satisfied by a prison sentence, but what about the child’s mother? What can the motorist do to restore his relationship with her? How can he atone for a crime committed against her love for her child? His only hope for restoration is free forgiveness on her part.
Similarly, our only hope of being put back right with God is an act of free forgiveness on His part. In Eden, we broke not only God’s law, but also His heart. At Calvary, we intensified God’s pain by killing His Son. Our present sins continue to desecrate God’s law, but even more seriously, they also violate His heart. We can never merit forgiveness from God’s shattered heart. God either gives salvation freely, or not at all. Man must accept salvation as a the free “gift of God,” or not receive it at all.
Salvation “is the gift of God.” We can barter nothing to earn it, for it has no equivalent. Man owns nothing costly enough to trade for salvation. We come to a throne of grace, not to a bargaining table. Do not try to buy, offer no terms, suggest no conditions. Simply ask to be given “the gift.” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Do not dicker with God. Salvation is infinitely beyond human means of payment. Leave all thoughts of merit behind forever. It foolish for a beggar to claim anything but need.
God sent His Son to save sinners; thus come as a sinner. Since Jesus was nailed to the cross to forgive sins, bring yours for forgiveness. Christ came to seek and to save the lost; therefore come lost.
Salvation truly is “the gift of God.” While we commit evil with both hands, heaping up sins and guilt, God is at work with both hands, heaping up pardon. The temporal consequences of our sins remain, but our fellowship and communion with God can be fully restored. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isaiah 44:22).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (PS 103:12). Hezekiah revelled in this truth, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isaiah 38:17).
Micah (7:19) proclaimed, “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” In the Mariana Trench, 200 miles southwest of Guam, the Pacific Ocean reaches a depth of 35,800 feet. Pikes Peak, our best known mountain, rises 14,110 feet above sea level. This means if Pikes Peak were dropped in the Mariana Trench, one would have to go down four miles before reaching the top of the peak. Our sins are mountainous, but God buries them in the depths of the sea–what a beautiful picture of grace.
A poor woman once desired a cluster of grapes from the king’s greenhouse for her sick child. She took money and tried to purchase grapes from the king’s gardener, but he rudely sent her away crying. The king’s daughter heard the angry words of the gardener and the cries of the woman. The princess kindly intervened and said, “My good woman, you were mistaken. My father is not a merchant, but a king: his business is not to sell, but to give.” With this she plucked a fine cluster from the vine, and gently dropped it into the woman’s apron. Thus the woman received as a free gift what she could not secure with money. In fancy, replace this Princess with the Prince of Peace, and hear Him say to all who seek to earn salvation, “You are mistaken. My Father is not a merchant, but a king: His business is not to sell, but to give.” Salvation truly is “the gift of God.”
Eph. 2:9a “Not of works,. . .”
This certainly goes against the grain of our culture. One of the most popular songs of my era contains the lyrics, “You won’t get to heaven if you break my heart.” The predominant view of our society is, God keeps brownie points. Of course, everyone thinks they have earned enough points to enter Heaven. Often, the hardest part of soulwinning is to get a person lost, to convince them “guilty” is their only acceptable plea before God.
To divert attention from grace, Satan tempts man most severely at this very point. He promotes salvation “of works” because it appeals to our ego. “Grace glorifies God. Works glorify man” (Wuest). We have nothing good in ourselves, but our fleshly vanity wants us to think we have.
Do not let the devil reduce you to being a hireling. One who accepts grace serves God because he loves God; one who seeks salvation “of works” serves God because he loves self. The latter is a servant who works for wages, and who would turn to another master if he could earn better pay.
Eph. 2:9b “. . .lest any man should boast.”
Here is a major reason why salvation is not by works. God does not want croaking bullfrogs or crowing roosters in Heaven. Strutting peacocks and chest-thumping apes would be totally out of place there.
All who stand on heaven’s streets will know they deserve to be falling elsewhere in a bottomless pit. Any who hear Heaven’s music will fully realize they should be hearing screams in another place. All who see the wonders of Heaven will know they should be shrouded in outer darkness.
In Heaven all praise shall be rendered forever unto Jesus alone. Here we are clothed in His righteousness. When we enhance our apparel by donning His glory, we will confess who made this, our best suit, and who paid for it. We should be rehearsing this acknowledgement here and now.
One true mark of a heaven-bound saint is, he casts aside pride and finds no room for boasting. If your idea of how to be a Christian or how to enter Heaven makes you boastful, or reflects credit upon you, you do not know what it means to be saved. When a sinner truly approaches the throne of God, an overwhelming sense of personal guilt is unavoidable.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded” (RM 3:27). Put boasting outside your heart, lock the door, and allow no room for it inside ever again. With Paul, always jealously guard the honor of the Beloved. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (GL 6:14).
Paul had known the danger of boastful pride. Saul of Tarsus had been pompous, proud of himself in every way–proud of his nationality, proud of his tribe, proud of being a Pharisee, proud of being a student of Gamaliel, proud of his morality–proud, proud, proud. He and his fellow Pharisees were not mere talkers. They truly fasted twice a week, and tithed of all they possessed. They did works proudly. The idea of grace was beneath their dignity. They preferred the honor they gleaned from works.
Such people hate to hear preaching which downplays the role of works in salvation. If you take away their works, they are left with nothing, a very uncomfortable position for ones who choose not to believe in grace.
On Judgment Day, boasters will not fare well. Many will say to God, “Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” The repeated reference to works is significant; it reveals a rejection of salvation by grace. The outcome is dreadful, “I never knew you: depart from me” (MT 7:23).
By contrast, God will commend His sheep, saying they ministered to Him when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. Significantly, the sheep will be unable to recall their good deeds. Their only response to God’s praise is, “When? When? When?” (MT 25:34ff).
Baxter said near death, “All my hopes are from the free mercy of God in Christ.” A friend tried to comfort him by mentioning the multitudes being blessed by his writings. Baxter replied, “I was but a pen in God’s hand, and what praise is due to a pen?” In the spiritual as well as the physical, ears of wheat which bear the most grain always hang the lowest.