Ephesians Meditations No.16
16. Saved by Grace
Eph 2:8,9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.
These are possibly some of the most famous ‘grace verses’ in the New Testament. We’ve been saying a lot about grace in the previous meditations but, because of misunderstandings about the Christian faith, perhaps we can’t say enough about it. Despite education we still hear of many misunderstandings about the Christian faith in today’s world.
At one end of the scale there is the public perception. Here in the West, drawing closer to the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, public perception has been honed by the constant scraping of an unbelieving media and unbelieving government, to believe that ‘being a Christian’ is rather like being a member of the Women’s Institute, a member of a minority grouping that is fun to laugh at but which has little relevance to everyday living. Of course the truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. At the other end of the scale is the person who ‘goes to church’, who is nice and respectable, middle class, and sees their once a week attendance at a Sunday morning performance as their entry ticket to heaven. Again very far from the truth!
Yet again we would do well to pick up on the ‘link word’ at the beginning of these two verses – “For”. Verses 1 to 3 were full of human pronouns – you, we, us, but at verse 4 it turned to what God has done: “God… made us alive with Christ ….And God raised us up with Christ …in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace … to us.” The first three verses emphasise our foolish activity before we were saved; the next four verses emphasise God’s activity in saving us.
Thus it is when we come to verse 8 we find, “For” where Paul could have written “And so” or “And thus it is” summarising all that has gone before in these crucial words. Some of us may have blanched as I referred to us being saved in the paragraph above, because people don’t like using that expression today, perhaps because it reveals the need that we had that verses 1-3 showed up, but Paul is unapologetic in using it here: “For it is by grace you have been saved.” ‘Rescued’ is a word with a similar meaning that Paul uses elsewhere: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) As we commented previously, we were hopeless and helpless and the only way for getting us out of that darkness in which we lived, was by God moving and saving us.
The old analogy of a lifeboat is a good one. You were on a sinking ship and the lifeboat came to rescue you. Once you were winched off the sinking ship you were saved. As the boat took you back to shore you were being saved. When you stepped on to the shore you were well and truly saved. No one objects to that sort of language in that situation and we should not here. When you were converted or ‘born again’ you were saved. Between now and the time when you die and go to heaven you are being saved. When you arrive in heaven you are well and truly saved. That is al the work of Christ and the work of his Spirit.
So did you have a part to play in all this? Yes, of course but it was a minor part: “you have been saved, through faith.” The “through faith” part refers to you. It was simply you responding to what God said. He drew you and when, like Moses at the burning bush, you responded and went to see what it was all about, He spoke (even though you were probably not aware that it was Him) and He convicted you of your need. In your desperation you cried out to be saved, to be forgiven, to be given a new life. That was you responding to Him; that was faith, but it was a pretty lowly level of faith wasn’t it! When you put it like that you can see that it was 99% Him and 1% us. As Paul explains it, “and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Oh yes, the person who ‘goes to church’ once a week’ or does the flowers or whatever else it is that makes them feel they are doing good, ‘helping the church’ completely misses the point. It’s nothing to do with their activities. It is “not by works” because nothing we do can be good enough to make up for all the other times when we sin by thought, word or deed. Because we were godless and self-centred THAT was our sin and it only changes when we surrender our life to God and accept Jesus as our Saviour (to save us from our sins) and Lord (to lead our lives from now on).
Oh yes, when we have been through this process of being drawn, of being convicted to bring us to a point of surrender, and then of receiving His Spirit so we are ‘born again’ (see Jn 3), only then do we start to fully realise the wonder of all this. Until we do, we remain defensive and seek to justify ourselves and try to convince ourselves why Paul and these notes are wrong! No, “this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God“ and so if you are still ‘trying’, it’s time to give up and surrender to God and receive the salvation that Jesus earned for you at the Cross. Give up – now!