I firmly believe that the Bible teaches that we receive eternal life by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. But is that what Paul is teaching in Ephesians 2:8-9 when he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”? Though many Christians think so, I do not. This study of Ephesians 2:8-9 will explain what I think Paul is really talking about in these verses.
Before we get to that, I want to address a question from a reader about whether it is sinful or not for Christians to engage in New Age practices.
Question from a Reader about New Age Practices
I feel like a lot of Christians are against things like manifesting, meditation, and positive affirmations. I do believe Jesus died for my sins and he is the way to heaven. But most of my day is centered around these New Age practices because they help me clear up the doubt and fear in my life and bring me to a better mental state and ultimately so much more happiness. Is there anything wrong with this and should I feel guilty for it? Is this talked about in any of your books? I would love to hear more about what you have to say. I appreciate your response it was a weight lifted off my shoulders.
Great question! To my knowledge, I have not written about this anywhere.
Let me give you a principle that I use in my life that helps me often make tricky decisions about morality. There are two ways to approach life regarding biblical morality. They are this: First, some people think we should only do what the Bible commands. Second, some think we can do anything the Bible doesn’t forbid.
The first group thinks that we should only do what the Bible tells us we can do. Everything else is potentially sinful. This is why some extreme groups, like the Amish, don’t have electricity and won’t drive cars or have phones. That’s super simplistic, and there are other reasons also, but one reason for this approach to life is that the Bible doesn’t mention such things, and so we should avoid them.
The second approach is that we should only avoid what the Bible strictly forbids. This is the approach that most Christians try to follow, but even here, there is a wide diversity of opinion on what the Bible forbids. For example, lots of Christians in previous generations taught that playing cards was sinful. But the Bible doesn’t forbid this practice anywhere. So why did they think cards were sinful? I honestly don’t know, but they probably had their reasons.
These issues sort of go hand-in-hand with whether the Bible is prescriptive or descriptive, but that’s a slightly different issue, and so I’ll leave that one alone for now.
Anyway, I do follow that second option. For the most part, God gives us freedom to live life how we want, as long as we don’t go against the clear teachings of Scripture on moral issues. This is not a fool proof plan, because of course, the Bible never strictly forbids slavery, but we all know slavery is evil. I use a bit of trajectory hermeneutics to help make these sorts of conclusions.
So how can we apply this to New Age practices?
Well, I need to be honest. I am mostly ignorant of New Age practices and beliefs. I did a little reading and watched a few videos, but based on my extremely limited knowledge, it seems to me that many of the New Age practices are quite similar to some of the practices mentioned in the Bible, but the New Age approach sort of removes God from the equation.
So for example, many New Age practitioners talk about Manifesting or the Law of Attraction, where, which some positive thinking about yourself and the universe, you can bring good things to yourself and turn hopes and dreams into reality. Well, this is somewhat similar to prayer. Rather than trying to manifest your hopes and dreams into reality, why not have a conversation with God about your hopes and dreams instead?
What about positive thinking? Well again, why not think positive thoughts about who you are in Jesus Christ? Why not recognize all the truths from Scripture about what God thinks about you?
Does this mean that manifesting or positive thinking are sinful? …. Probably not. I just don’t think it is anywhere near as effective as prayer or as claiming the truths of Scripture about yourself.
Now look, I would avoid some of the New Age beliefs that teach we are all mini gods. That’s not true. Or that all roads lead to heaven. I am not a universalist and so don’t agree with that either.
Anyway, I am not an expert on any of this. I would love it if you weighed in below by leaving a comment. Let me know what you think about mystical beliefs and practices and how they line up with Scripture or contradict it.
By Grace are You Saved Through Faith … Ephesians 2:8-9
This study was difficult for me to prepare, because I could spend hours talking about Ephesians 2:8-9 and all the various ways of understanding this verse, and also the importance of understanding the key terms in this verse, such as grace, saved, faith, and the “gift of God” at the end of the verse. I have lessons on all these words in my Gospel Dictionary Online Course for those who join my discipleship group.
But let me just try to summarize everything for you. Let us begin with the traditional understanding of Ephesians 2:8-9. The verses say this:
Ephesians 2:8-9. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Traditionally, Christians believe that Ephesians 2:8-9 is talking about how to receive eternal life. I even taught this in the past, and you read my old teachings on Ephesians 2:8-10 here. Christians think this because of the word “saved.” Most Christians think that the word “saved” refers to receiving eternal life and going to heaven when you die.
Therefore, most Christians think that this verse is teaching that God offers eternal life to use solely by His grace, and we receive this free gift through faith … that is, by believing Jesus for it.
There is also an issue there at the end of the verse about the “gift of God” and what it refers to. What is the gift of God that Paul is referring to? Is it the grace? The faith? the salvation? I have taught about this frequently in the past, so I’m not going to dive deep into the question now. (See these articles: Faith is NOT a gift from God, Is faith the gift from God, Faith is Not a Gift from God) The answer to the debate, however, is that the Greek words have the entire “by grace are you saved through faith” package in view. The gift that Paul has in mind is all that God has done for us human to offer us salvation by grace through faith. That’s all I’m going to say about that, and you can read those other articles for a longer explanation.
Now, it is 100% true that we receive eternal life by grace through faith. The Bible teaches this everywhere (cf. John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47).
However, although the Bible everywhere teaches that we receive eternal life by grace along through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, Ephesians 2:8-9 is not one of the verses that teaches this idea.
The reason is because the word “saved” in Scripture does not ever actually refer to receiving eternal life. As I briefly explained in the previous study of Ephesians 2:5-7, the word “salvation” means “deliverance” and the context of the passage determines what kind of deliverance is in view. When you perform this study on every passage in the Bible (as I have done), you discover that the Bible never uses the words “saved” or “salvation” in reference to receiving eternal life.
Not even here in Ephesians 2:8-9.
Again, as we saw last time, the salvation of Ephesians 2 has in view the way God has delivered us from our bondage and slavery to the sin of blame, accusation, scapegoating, and violence that dominates and rules the world. Since Cain murdered Abel, the world has run on violence. We know of no other way to live.
But God, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, came and rescued us, delivered us, SAVED us from this way of living and showed us a completely different way of living. This new way of life is what we were made for originally, and what God has always modeled for us, and what we are now to walk in, as we follow Jesus.
God revealed this to us out of His grace, and as we follow this new way by faith, we will be saved from the death that has enslaved humanity.
In other words, Ephesians 2:8-9 is not about how to go to heaven when you die, but rather about how God stepped in to the human problem to rescue us from our slavery to death.
So with that in mind, here is how to read Ephesians 2:8-9:
God gave us an amazing free gift [by grace] in showing us how to live a different way than through violence and bloodshed [are you saved], and while this new way of living is counterintuitive and seems to contradict everything we think we know about life, if we believe that what we see in Jesus is the true way to properly live life [through faith], then God will lead us into this new way of life. This entire thing did not come from ourselves. We humans did not think it up and come to this new understanding on our own [and that not of yourselves]. This entire revelation of the new way to live life is a gift from God [it is the gift of God]. No one can boast that they thought this up on their own [not of works so that no one can boast]. Nope, it’s solely and only from God.
Does that way of reading these verses make sense?
This way of reading the verse fits perfectly in the overall context of Ephesians 2, where Paul has laid out the problem of humanity in Ephesians 2:1-3, the solution to this problem that has come from God through Jesus in Ephesians 2:4-10, and the application of how to live this new way in Ephesians 2:11-22.
Again, Ephesians 2 is not about how to go to heaven when we die, but is about how to bring heaven down to earth by living at peace with one another here on this earth, just as Jesus did during His life and just as God wants us to do in ours. And our world desperately needs this way of living right now, doesn’t it?
We will pick back up next time with Ephesians 2:10 as we continue to talk about this new way of living as revealed in Jesus.