Note: Once again, I no longer agree with everything I have written in this sermon (See Ephesians 2:1-3 and Ephesians 2:4-7 for more about this). It was first preached about 15 years ago, and my theology has changed quite a bit since then. Here is the basic summary of how I would preach this text today:
These verses, though quite popular as texts about how to receive eternal life by grace alone through faith alone, are actually about what God has done to rescue us from the condition described in Ephesians 2:1-3, so that we can become what is described in Ephesians 2:11-22. As such, the “salvation” in these verses is from the main sin which has kept humanity in bondage since Genesis 4, which is the sin of rivalry, accusation, blame, scapegoating, and violence. In Jesus, we have been shown a different way. 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.
None of this is to say that eternal life is not a gift of God’s grace and is received by faith alone. It is! But this passage is not talking about how to receive eternal life, but is instead talking about how God rescued us from our enslavement to the sin of death and showed us a new way of life in Jesus Christ. 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.
In other words, this text is not about how to go to heaven when you die, but rather about how to go from slavery to death in this world as we war against others (Eph 2:1-3), to unity and peace with others as we live in the family of God (Eph 2:11-22).
If you want to learn more about what Scripture teaches about the words “save” and “grace” and “faith” and how these are related to the gospel, consider taking my course, “The Gospel According to Scripture.”
I heard a story of a man once who wanted to be a firefighter. He had almost everything you need to be a firefighter. He was in good shape. He was strong. He was quick. He knew a lot about fires – he had even burned his eyebrows off as a kid several times. The only problem was that he wasn’t too bright. But the fire chief thought the man would do OK, so they hired him.
On the first fire call they had, the fire engine pulled up to the burning building, and the fire chief told the new recruit to get the hoses out for the fire. So the man took the hoses off of the fire truck, and ran, and before anyone could stop him, he threw the hoses through a window of the burning building. “What are you doing?” screamed the fire chief, “we need those for the fire!”
“Yeah,” the man said, “you told me to get them to put out the fire, so I thought you meant that the hoses would put out the fire. So I threw them in.”
“No, no, no! Water puts out fires, not hoses!” yelled the chief.
And that day, the house burned down.
The very next day, the chief thought about firing the foolish fireman, but thought he would give the fireman another try. So he bought new fire hoses, and then, just to get it through the young fireman’s head that it was water that put fire’s out, the fire chief made it the young fireman’s responsibility to fill all the fire trucks with water, all the while saying to himself “Water puts out fires, not hoses. Water puts out fires, not hoses.”
A few weeks later, there was another fire. So all the firemen jumped onto the fire trucks which were filled with water, and rushed with sirens wailing to where the fire was. But when they got there, the fire chief was horrified to discover that while the trucks were filled with water, none of the new hoses were anywhere to be found on any of the trucks! Seething with anger, the fire chief bellowed for the new recruit. “Where are all the hoses?”
“Oh,” the not so smart fireman said, “I took them all off the trucks so that all of us fireman wouldn’t be tripping over them when we’re trying to put out the fire.”
“How do you expect us to put out fires without hoses?” screamed the fire chief.
“But you told me that water puts out fires, not hoses. We have water, what do we need the hoses for?”
The fire chief ruptured his aorta and had to be rushed to the hospital. And needless to say, although they had all the water they needed only a few yards away, the building, that day, burned to the ground.
Now obviously, this is a fictional story. No fireman is that foolish. Everyone knows that water puts out fires, not hoses, but that you need the hoses to get the water to the fire! But while everyone might know this about putting out natural fires that burn down buildings, it seems that many very wise and intelligent spiritual fire fighters are very confused about how to put out the spiritual fires that are burning down lives all around us. There is a lot of confusion about how to put out the fires and what is needed. But God, as our Fire Chief, is not confused, and He has laid out very clearly in Scripture how to put out spiritual fires and what is needed to do it. One of the clearest passages on this subject is Ephesians 2:8-10.
The passage doesn’t actually talk about spiritual fires, and putting them out, but the passage is somewhat technical and confusing to understand, so I have employed the picture of a fire to help us understand it. In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us directions for putting out the fires of eternal judgment.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
In this passage Paul tells us how we are saved and what we have been saved for. Verses 8-9 tell us how we are saved, and verse 10 tells us what the results should be.
1. By Grace You have been saved
The main idea of the entire passage and of the entire context is the phrase by grace you have been saved. Did you ever do some sentence diagramming in grade school? If you did, you probably never diagrammed a sentence as complex as this one in Ephesians 2. However it appears in your English Bible, the first seven verses make one long complex sentence. Then Ephesians 2:8-9 make another sentence, and Ephesians 2:10 is a third sentence.
And as you remember, every sentence has one main point. If you were to complete a diagrammatical analysis of the long sentence of Ephesians 2:1-7, you would discover that the main idea, the main point is the phrase, by grace you have been saved. If you were to do the same thing with the second sentence in Ephesians 2:8-9, you would once again discover that the big idea, the main point is the phrase, by grace you have been saved.
So what is Paul’s point in the first 9 verses? By grace you have been saved. Paul says it in Ephesians 2:8, and he also says it in Ephesians 2:5, and it is the central idea and the main point of the entire passage. Since it is Paul’s main point, let us make sure we understand what he is talking about. The phrase is made up of two parts. First, the adjective and noun by grace, and second, the participle you have been saved. Let’s look at them in reverse order beginning with the participle, you have been saved. This phrase, and indeed, the entire passage is about our salvation.
Let’s just look through the first seven verses briefly to see this. Ephesians 2:1-3 talk about our sinful and depraved condition before salvation. We were dead in our sin. We walked in the ways of the world and in obedience to the devil. We conducted ourselves after the lusts of the flesh. Our destiny was wrath.
Then Ephesians 2:4 begins the two of the most majestic words in the entire Bible: “But God.” If God had not stepped in and intervened, we would still be dead in sin and on our way to hell. But God did step in. Not because we had reformed ourselves and made ourselves better people and became more lovable. No, God stepped in simply because He loved us. Out of His mercy and His grace, He saved us.
And Ephesians 2:5-6 tells us what Paul means by salvation in this passage. There are three things Paul has in mind when he talks about salvation here. First, we were made alive. This is regeneration. We were made new creatures in Christ. Second, according to Ephesians 2:6, we were raised. This talks about our spiritual resurrection in Christ. In Christ, we died, were buried, and rose again. We were raised to a new life in Christ. Finally, at the end of Ephesians 2:6, we were seated with Christ in the heavenlies. This talks about our reigning with Him in glory.
So when Paul says you have been saved in verses 5 and 8, he has in mind our regeneration, resurrection and reigning in Christ Jesus. These are not technically justification, but are part of the gifts and privileges that come along with justification, and will be experienced more fully at our glorification in heaven. And all of this wonderful, matchless, priceless salvation is, according to Ephesians 2:5 and 8, by grace. Both verses say that it is by grace you have been saved. We’ve seen what Paul means by salvation, but what is grace?
There are two ways to remember what grace is. The first is an acronym: G.R.A.C.E. God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. The other definition is one that is a bit more accurate and precise. Grace is getting something good that we don’t deserve. (Some people get bad things that they don’t deserve – like Christ getting put on the cross, or people getting put into prison unjustly – but that’s not grace. Grace is getting something good that we don’t deserve.) It is like a good gift. Paul says here that it is by grace that we have been saved. In other words, salvation was given to by God even though we did not deserve it. We did not work for salvation, we did not earn it. It was given to us freely by grace as a gift.
And since it is a freely given gift, it must also be freely received. Just like you cannot force someone to accept a gift that you want to give them, God cannot force you to accept His grace. Grace, like any gift, cannot be forced upon someone. God, by His grace, freely offers us salvation. We did not do anything to make Him offer it to us. It is not because we are more lovable than the next guy. It is not even that we asked Him to offer it to us. He offered salvation to us simply because He loves us and wants to see us saved. Though we were sinners and there was absolutely nothing lovable about us, God took the first step and offered salvation to us. That is grace. If we are saved, it is only because of His grace.
But offering something is not the same as receiving. In any gift exchange, there is the one who offers and the one who receives. God has offered us salvation by His grace, and the rest of Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us how to receive this incredible gift of salvation, this regeneration, resurrection and reigning that comes from Jesus Christ.
Paul gives three qualifiers. Each one is vitally important to understanding how to get the salvation, the new life in Christ, that Paul has been talking about. If you ever want to know how to be saved, or if you ever want to tell somebody else how to be saved, you cannot get much clearer than Ephesians 2:8-9. There are three things here to remember. The first is that this salvation by grace package comes to us through faith.
a. Through Faith
Ephesians 2:8. For by grace you have been saved through faith
It is not just by grace itself. Another element appears. Another step in the process. Another ingredient to the recipe. It is all of grace from God’s part. It is infinite, matchless grace. But grace must be received through faith. Salvation comes by the grace of God, but through our individual faith. So when you tell someone how to be saved, tell them first of all that they are saved through faith.
Synonyms for faith are belief and trust. A good definition of faith is: “believing that what God has said, He will do.” God says everywhere in Scripture, “If you believe in Jesus for eternal life, I will give it to you.” That is God’s promise. That is God’s free offer of eternal life. And if we believe the promise, if we believe what God has said, if we believe in Jesus for eternal life, then we have received the free gift of grace. So the equation is like this: We are saved by grace through faith. The little words are very important: by grace, through faith. It is not by faith through grace.
In the fictional fireman story, what did the fireman need to put out the fire? He needed both water and hose. But which of the two actually put out the fire, the water or the hose? The water of course! The fire is extinguished by the water, but the water must go through the hose. This is just like salvation. The fires of sin that rage within are put out by God’s grace alone, but we receive God’s grace through our faith. If sin is the fire, then grace is the water.
But grace needs the hose of faith to be effective. The fire of sin is put out by the water of grace through the hose of faith. So when Paul says, you have been saved by grace through faith, we can – to help us remember – say “the fire has been put out by water through the hose.”
The whole process of salvation is a package deal. Christ came and died for the sins of the whole world, but Christ’s death by itself didn’t save anyone. God needed to offer the benefits of Christ’s death to the whole world by His grace – the water. And this is exactly what He has done. Revelation 22:17 says, “And let him who thirsts come. Whosoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” God has offered the water of His grace freely to whoever wants it.
But God’s act of offering the gift of salvation does not mean that all are saved. This is very important because there are some who teach that if Christ died for all, then all will be saved. But what they are forgetting is that Christ’s death didn’t actually save anyone. The benefits of Christ’s death are offered to all, but only some receive it by faith. Scripture tells us everywhere that we need to receive the grace of God and the benefits of Christ’s death for us through faith – through the hose. To sum it all up, we can say it very simply, almost as Paul has done here. We have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That is what Scripture teaches. Salvation is a free gift of God received by our faith.
That’s the first condition of salvation. It is received by faith. Second, as we read in the rest of Ephesians 2:8, we need to remember that this salvation is the gift of God.
b. It is a Gift of God
Ephesians 2:8b. and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
Now, this is one of the clearest verses in the Bible on salvation, but for some reason, a lot of people have muddled and confused this passage over the years to say something it does not. They look at this verse, and not having done their homework with the sentence structure, or the Greek text, say that the gift of God is not salvation, but our faith. They have good motives for such a teaching, but good motives never made good theology. It is good exegesis that makes good theology.
And so let me simply tell you that I have done the homework here, as have countless other pastors and theologians, and we all agree. The gift of verse 8 refers back not to “faith” but to the entire main phrase of this passage. The gift of verse 8 is that “by grace you have been saved.” This is what this passage so clearly teaches, is it not? There is no more amazing gift than the one that God has offered to us in Jesus Christ. Though we were headed to eternal punishment, and deserved nothing less, God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place, and shed His blood for our sin, so that we might be raised to life and reign with Him forever. This is the ultimate “rags to riches” story ever. And God gives it all to you, freely, as a gift, if you will simply receive it by faith.
Now, once again, however, there are some who want to sneak works in there somehow. You see, some of us don’t like to receive free gifts. It is an affront to our pride. We feel we have to earn what is given to us. Or that it is not valuable unless we work for it. And so countless millions of people around the world try to throw works into the equation. And Paul knows this. He spent a lifetime trying to get people to realize that there were no works involved in this great exchange. It is a free gift of God, offered by grace alone, through our faith alone. But nevertheless, just to make sure there is no confusion about works, he lays it out for us in Ephesians 2:9. This is the third things he says about the “by grace you have been saved” package. It is through faith. It is a gift of God. Finally, it is not of works.
c. It is Not of Works
Ephesians 2:9. not of works, lest anyone should boast.
What Paul says is so simple and straightforward, it is amazing to watch the contortions some people go through to try to squeeze works in somewhere.
A few argue that faith is a work, and so simply by making faith a human condition for salvation, we are making salvation by works. But the Bible clearly refutes this in many ways. Take Romans 4:5 as one example. There, we read, “But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” If faith were a work, then this verse makes no sense. It would read, “But to him who does not work, but does the work of believing on Him who justifies the ungodly, his work of faith is accounted for righteousness.” The idea that faith is a work cannot be found anywhere in Scripture.
Other people just blatantly deny what this verse says, and add works anyway. They say things like, “Jesus has done his 99%, but I must do my 1%.” This position is popular among Catholics. But 1% works is still works, just as 1% poison is still poison.
Many in Evangelical churches try to squeeze works into faith itself. They say things like, “Salvation is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” I’ll tell you what, not only is this statement pure logical nonsense, it is also completely un-Biblical. Those who hold to it though say that faith includes commitment and obedience to Christ. They argue that there is a true faith that results in works, and a spurious or false faith that does not. But no matter how you cut it, such teachings are adding faith to works, and Paul clearly says that salvation is not of works in any way, shape or form.
Finally, there are some who try to add works into the equation after faith. They say that although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, not by works, we have to have a faith that works. In other words, we have to have works after we are saved, or we either lose our salvation or were never saved in the first place. But again, follow the logic. In such a situation, works become necessary in order to get to heaven. In such theology, if there are no works, there will be no heaven. Salvation then, is not by faith alone, but by faith plus works.
But Paul is very clear. Salvation is not of works in any way, shape or form. It is not dependant upon works, either prior to, in conjunction with or following faith. Works play absolutely no part in being made alive with Christ, being raised with Christ, or being seated with Christ.
Why not? Lest anyone should boast. In other words, if salvation were of works, we would be able to boast that we saved ourselves. Again, remember the analogy of the fire. What put out the fire, the water or the hose? The water did! Can the hose boast and say “Look how I put out the fire?” NO! The hose did nothing in putting out the fire. The fire was put out by the water. In the same way, faith is not a work because it did nothing to save us from the penalty of sin. All it did was allow grace to save us. God did it all for us in Christ by His grace through our faith. Works play no part in our justification.
2. You Are Saved For Good Works
But that does not mean that works play no part in our life as a Christian. Do you understand the difference? Works play no part in us becoming a Christian, or staying a Christian. Works play no part in whether we go to heaven or not. But, and this is very important to understand, although works play no part in how we become a Christian, works play a large part in living as a Christian should. Although works play no part in getting us to heaven, works play a large part about what kind of reception we will get in heaven. All of this we will be talking about in the weeks and months ahead, but we see it here in Ephesians 2 also. Throughout this message, I have been using the picture of a fire to help us understand these verses. And so far, we have seen that if sin is the like a fire, then grace is like the water that puts it out, and it travels through the hose of faith.
But we have all seen fires. When a building burns, and the fireman come and put out the flames, is that the end of the story? No. Let’s say your house burns, and the fireman come and put the flames out. When they are done, can you round up the kids and go back into the house as if nothing happened? Does life just go on as normal? NO! Of course not! Not unless you want to live with charred furniture and smoke damage, burnt holes in your roof and ashes on everything. It takes a lot of work to put your house back together again.
In fact, a few years back, the Cardinal Ace Hardware in Evergreen which was set on fire by arsonists. The fireman showed up and put the fire out by water with their hoses. But a few months later, the Daily Interlake reported that the manager of the store said that the cost to re-open for business will be around $1 million. That’s a lot of work and a lot of cost. Oh sure, he wasn’t charged for the fireman to put out the fire, that was free. But there is great cost to him in re-opening for business. He said that only 10% of the store’s merchandise was salvageable. A high acid content in the smoke caused much of the hardware inventory to rust. A new roof was needed, along with new electrical work, a drop ceiling, shelving and interior walls. The fire’s had been put out right away, but a lot of fix up work was needed in the months that followed.
It is the same in our life. Verses 8-9 tell us that God put out the fire by grace through faith. It was a free gift. There was no cost to us. We didn’t have to do anything. No works of any kind. But once your fire has been put out, to reopen for business, there is a lot of work to do.
Ephesians 2:10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, if your fire has been put out, if you have a new life in Christ, if you have placed faith in Christ for eternal life, you now need to start cleaning up your life. You need to start sweeping the rooms, and washing the walls, and throwing out all the damaged possessions and replacing them with new.
You can continue to live in the damaged house if you want to – but who would? Who wants to sleep in a soot filled bed? Who wants to eat food from a burned out refrigerator? If you are a Christian, and you are not actively pursuing a life of holiness in obedience to God, you are living in a fire damaged house, and it’s no wonder that this Christian life isn’t all you heard it would be! Paul tells us that the fixing up of our life is what God put out the fire in our lives for! He says in verse 10, For we are His workmanship. In other words, God is going to help us. He made us originally, He has the blueprints and the architects. He knows what we need to do to fix up our lives. If you go off and try to do it on your own, you will end up with a very unstable and unsafe life, ready to fall down with the first storm that comes by (Matt. 7:26).
Because we are his workmanship, God knows what is best for us, and He has told us what this is in the Bible. We just need to read it and obey it.
Next, in Ephesians 2:10, he says that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. The good works that we are to do are not to gain salvation, but they are for those who are already saved – for those who are in Christ. Paul says that we are God’s workmanship, and the new life we have is because we are in Christ Jesus. As a result, we should live like Christ Jesus, and do the things, Paul says next in verse 10, that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. This list is called the Word of God. God prepared it beforehand. He made this list before we were even saved. He made this list for everyone who would be saved. For you. For me. For everyone who is a Christian.
And not just so that we can look at it, or put it on our refrigerator and say “I’ve got the list, isn’t that nice.” No, God prepared this list so that we should complete the list. Paul actually says, so that we should walk in them. The Greek word here is peripateo, and it means “to walk about.” To go back to our analogy of the fire, it is like Paul is saying, “Hey, your fire has been put out. Don’t you want to be able to walk about in your house? Don’t you want to use your house? Don’t you want to live in your house? Well, before you can do that, you’ve got to complete the list that God has given you of things to do. You have all the resources you need to do it, it’s just a matter of disciplining yourself to do it.”
Christians, I encourage you this week, walk about in the house that is your life. It has been damaged by the fires of sin. But God, by His grace, through our faith, has put out the fire that threatened our souls and wants to helps us build a new house. So, each one of us needs to walk about our damaged house, examining each room in the light of God’s Word, seeing what God’s list points out for you to fix, and then doing it. That is why, according to verse 10, God saved us. Let us not fail in what he has called us to do.
How are you saved? You are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. God promises to give eternal life to everyone who simply believes in Jesus Christ for it. No strings attached. No fine print. It is a free gift to all who believe.