“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, any man should boast.”
“And you . . .”
These are the words with which the apostle begins this chapter in which our text is found. The apostle, it appears, is so overwhelmed by the expression that he elaborates upon it. The reference is in the first instance to the congregation at Ephesus; but, as it is true of all his epistles, they refer to the church of all ages, and therefore-to you and me.
“And you . . .”
You also were dead in trespasses and sins. Not only is it true that you were ungodly, wicked, as all the rest of mankind, but you were dead. There was no spiritual life in you. You were dead because of your trespasses and sins. Not only were you dead because of Adam’s sin, but you actually walked in time past in your sins; and your walk was according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. You had your pleasure in doing the lusts of your flesh and mind; and were by nature children of wrath, even as others. You were spiritually dead!
“But God . . .”
Note the sharp contrast!
The contrast is so great that the apostle does not return to his original thought, about our death in trespasses and sins. He is overwhelmed with the greatness of God’s mercy and love, according to which He made us, who were dead, to live with Christ.
But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, hath quickened us together with Christ. God wanted to show in the coming ages the exceeding riches of His grace, the revelation of His kindness upon us in Christ Jesus; and therefore saved by His grace.
For by grace are ye saved!
Not of works, lest any man should boast!
Saved by grace!
Grace! What is it? O, you have heard it many times. But it is not superfluous to call your attention to this Scriptural concept again. Inseparably it is connected with our salvation; Without it there is no salvation possible.
Grace in Scripture is that which is objectively beautiful, and therefore affords joy because of its beauty and pleasantness. Thus it stands opposed to that which is ugly, plain, awkward, harsh, and crude. For example, inLuke 4:22 we read, “And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” In other words, Jesus’ contemporaries marveled at the gracious; i.e., beautiful words which He spoke.
Grace may also beg looked at from the point of view of that which is essentially good as bending down to that which is truly beautiful. In this sense it is realized in a relation of friendship and favor. The angel who appeared unto the Virgin Mary said unto her: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
If this grace is directed to unworthy and sinful objects, it also has two other meanings. In the first place, it is unmerited, forfeited favor; and stands opposed to obligation, reward according to works, earned favor. In this sense Paul speaks of it in Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” In the second place, it also has the meaning of redemptive power, active favor; that which makes blessed. “And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”John 1:16.
In our text grace, no doubt, has this latter significance. Grace is, then, that redemptive power which is favor in action. Grace is, then, the pouring out over, and working in of God’s beauty in the chosen and justified sinner; imparting all spiritual blessings to him, granting him all the blessings of salvation. In one word, grace is the causal means used of, God to make the chosen sinner beautiful. Free, sovereign goodness of God bending toward the bound, dependent, wretch; to deliver him. Grace is the unmerited, forfeited favor of God which brings blessedness and spiritual beauty to poor miserable sinners.
Saved by grace!
To be saved is to be delivered from the greatest possible misery, and to be made partaker of the highest possible good. In the light of the context it is not difficult at all to determine what in the mind of the apostle he considered to- be the greatest possible evil. Very simply, it is to be dead in trespasses and sins. Nor is it difficult, to understand what the apostle considered to be the highest good. It is to be-made beautiful as God is beautiful. It is to be quickened, to be made alive together with Christ. And be sure to notice the tense which the apostle uses here. He says, by grace are ye saved. It is a completed act. He does not say, you will be saved, that is, in some future time. But you are saved by grace now. It is an accomplished fact. All of which was accomplished in the death and resurrection of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Saved by grace!
Not of works, lest any man should boast!
O how ugly, how God-dishonoring is the doctrine that men can save themselves! Would that men who preach this doctrine of salvation by works could see how this doctrine robs God of His glory; while it glorifies man instead of God. Would, too, that they who hear this doctrine could see how vain it is. That they could see that God will not have His honor profaned. For God will not allow any man to boast before Him. Any individuals, or any church that professes to stand as a projection of the Reformation, and still purports to be saved by an act of their will, or on the basis of their work, has never understood the basic truth which the Reformation brought forth. Let them be honest, and go back where they came from, namely, to that church which always believed and still believes and preaches that men can be saved by works which they perform. Or, let them repent, and embrace with us the truth of God’s Word, that we are saved merely of grace.
How beautiful is the conception, the truth that by the redemptive power of God’s grace which bent down to us miserable, lost, hell-bound sinners to make us beautiful as God is beautiful, has saved us by bringing us to the highest good,—to dwell in eternal life in the blessed communion and fellowship with the living God! Such is the meaning of being saved by grace!
But this is not all that the Word of God says here.
We are informed that we are saved by grace through faith.
And faith is the living bond of fellowship which ties us to the Captain of our salvation. As the umbilical cord connects the fetus, the unborn child to its mother, through which cord the child receives of its mother all the food and life-giving energies the fetus needs for normal and healthy growth, so is faith the living connection of the saved sinner to Christ, in Whom is his salvation. The difference to be marked in the above comparison is the fact that the fetus is totally unaware of the connection to its mother, while the saved sinner is consciously united to Christ.
Faith, as is well-known, contains two elements; that of a certain spiritual knowledge, and that of a hearty confidence. It contains a certain knowledge of God as the God of my salvation and His grace in Christ, in and through Whom all that grace flows to me. According to this knowledge I know my original state and condition of misery and death. Accordingly I also know my need of deliverance, and Him Who delivered me. Faithcontains also the hearty confidence or trust that the grace in Christ is sufficient to save me, and to make me to conform to the beauty of my Saviour.
Faith is the divinely ordained means and divinely given grace through which Christ, the God of my salvation conveys consciously to me all the graces of salvation. Never is it a condition dependent on me for its fulfillment before I can be saved. Nor is it the ground of my salvation. Nor is it another work which I perform in order to be saved. But faith is the divinely ordained means, and divinely bestowed gift, whereby I, who am saved by grace, am consciously made aware of my salvation. It is that gift of God through the conscious appropriation of which I become the recipient of all the beauteous grace which is in Christ Jesus.
But we do not have this faith of ourselves! Contrary to the very prevalent view that all men have faith. It is said that if all men did not have faith, why, life in this world would be impossible. If I am to travel, for example, by plane from my home city to another across the country, I must believe that the plane will be able to transport me. I must believe that the pilot will be able to get the plane off the ground, properly navigate it, and be able to set it down at my destination. I must believe that the young lady who put a little slip of paper in my hand in exchange for the proper number of dollars gave me a ticket that will get me entrance into the plane. I must believe that the extra luggage which went into the baggage department of the plane will be where I can pick it up when I arrive at my destination. O, I must have faith! Without it I cannot do business. I cannot live in this world. And so, men apply this also to the matter of our salvation. The faith that is in you when you board a plane, or when you transact your business, is the faith you must also exercise when salvation, be it a salvation of grace, is offered to you. But this is what men say,—it is not what the Word of God says. Notice what our text says so beautifully, but emphatically: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that NOT OF YOURSELVES: IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD.”
All of our salvation, as well as our faith to believe, is not of us: it is the gift of God!
Salvation is of grace!
Faith is of grace!
It is not of us in any sense of the word, but it is the gift of God!
Not of our will! Not of any-merit on our part!
It is all of God! It is given to us in His sovereign and free grace. If flows to us from the stream of His eternal and unchangeable love.
Here is indeed a gift with no strings attached. No prerequisites which we must fulfill before we can have it. No conditions with which we must comply before He will give it. No work we must first perform that will make us worthy of it.
Very simply, but O so graciously, He gives us all of our salvation from the beginning to the end.
And you can see why it must needs be so, and not otherwise. The apostle makes this very plain in the last part of the text: “Lest any man should boast.” Isn’t that precisely what we would do if our salvation in any way was dependent upon us? If you say NO! to this question, you do not know yourself. But God knows us. He knows that if He conditioned our salvation and made it dependent on our will, or our faith, we would certainly conclude that God ought to be very graceful that we accepted His salvation.
Shall God alone be glorified, salvation, grace, faith, and all that pertains to it, must all be of Him!
This is the gospel the Reformers embraced! It is for the preservation of this truth that they took up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, to fight against the he. It was for this that they were willing to be castigated, and excommunicated by a fellowship that maintained, and still maintains, that salvation is by works. O, indeed, not the works of the law, but by the work of faith.
It is this gospel which is our precious heritage!
It alone gives us a beautiful and very precious God!
And those whom He saves by His sovereign grace through faith shall become beautiful as He is beautiful!
Say with me, Amen!