Summary: Dealing with one of the greatest truths in all of Scripture, namely being saved by the grace of God.
Not By, but For
Text: Ephesians 2:8-10
By: Ken McKinley
This is one of the most well known passages of Scripture from the Bible, and it’s also one of the most debated. If I was to take a poll within the Body of Christ, across all denominations, and I was to ask, “What would you like to see happen within the Church, among believers?” I am sure that most people would respond with “unity.” And that’s a good thing. The Barna Research Group has stated that there are over 30,000 Protestant Denominations in the world today, and so it’s almost an embarrassment that we as Christians claim to serve one God, we have so many different groups claiming that they alone teach the correct doctrine. For more than 400 years there has been a pretty serious rift between Catholics and Protestants, but in recent years efforts have been made to close that rift. In 1997 the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement took place.
And again I’ll say that I think unity among believers is a good thing, we should be very careful that we understand what we are agreeing on, and that it is the truth, and that we are not compromising just for the sake of unity. And that’s why we have this debate over this passage of Scripture in Ephesians. Every Protestant denomination out there will agree that we are saved by grace through faith, and to my knowledge that is also what the Catholic Church would say they believe. The debate is not over the wording of the passage, it’s over the understanding of those words.
Does God apply His grace which saves us when we join a church or denomination? Does He apply it when we are baptized? Do we have to come forward and make a public profession of faith in order for God to apply His saving grace to us? And what about that faith; does God give us His grace after we have faith? Or does He give us the faith as part of His gift of grace, which in turn saves us? Do we ourselves muster up the faith to believe in God, and if so is it up to us to maintain that faith so that we will be saved at the end of our lives? You see all of these questions are being debated among professing Christians, and this is one of the main reasons we have 30,000 Protestant denominations and something like 6 Catholic denominations (though they would never admit to this). Several years ago a group of British and Scottish pastors gathered in Oxford to debate what was unique about Christianity. They discussed the incarnation, the Bible, the end times, and several other things. Eventually C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and asked the scholars what they were discussing. When he heard their reply Lewis said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
Grace is God’s unearned, undeserved favor. Grace is God giving you a priceless gift that you can never repay. Grace is God carrying you because you are unable to walk.
Paul began this chapter describing the pitiful condition all of humanity was in. He talked about our death due to sin, and how sin was our master. But then he spoke of how God makes those who are dead in trespasses and sin, to live again. He says that it is by grace that you have been saved. I want you to notice that when Paul talks about the Christians salvation he uses the past tense. He says, “You HAVE BEEN saved.” In other words, the action is completed. Grace has already done everything required for your salvation. That’s why Jesus; when He hung on the cross, said, “It is finished.” In other words, all that needed to be done in order to save us, had already been done. What that means is; that the grace that saves us doesn’t need our help. If we believe that we are saved by God’s grace + our church membership, or God’s grace + our baptism, or God’s grace + our profession, or God’s grace + our good works, or God’s grace + anything, then we have made a grave mistake in our understanding of the Gospel.
Now here in the U.S. you will sometimes hear people say, “Ah, but the Lord helps those who help themselves.” And the next time you hear someone say that, ask them where that passage is located in the Bible. They won’t be able to tell you, because it’s not in the Bible. It’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin. They might say, “Well but it’s a principle that the Bible teaches.” But that’s not true either, in fact I would argue that it is a direct contradiction of what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that man is helpless and hopeless without God. The Lord says, in John 15:5, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”