17 January 2008

Verse by verse through Ephesians (2:8-2:10)

Ephesians 2:8-10

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.

We saw last time that we were dead. That word "dead means "dead." We were, by nature, dead. There was nothing we could do to restore our spirits to be reconciled to God. But the Holy Spirit quickened us, made us alive to God. Now, we're going to look at this salvation that comes about, not because of any meritorious effort on our part, but by God reaching down and being gracious enough to give us such a great gift, and we will see the means by which we are saved. You know, we Baptists have these first two verses stamped on our foreheads before we join a church. But we need to understand why these verses are so important in the life of a believer.

First, let's look at verse 8. For by grace you have been saved through faith… Let's look at some words. Grace. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time someone used this word to mean something it doesn’t. We use words like "graceful" to mean "elegant, refined, stylish, polished." Physical characteristics. We use it to describe swans and gymnasts and figure skaters. Friend this is a word that belongs to God. And if we do not take the time and spend the effort to understand His grace then our lives in Christ will be one long struggle of trying to measure up to a standard that can never be met in our flesh. What did we read in chapter 1? Why did He choose us? Well, He chose the entire body of believers in order for them to show the world the love of Christ and the glory of God. The first part of Ephesians 1:4 tells us that.

But why did He choose YOU? Specifically? Individually? There's that word "grace." Chapter 1, verse 6. The good pleasure of His will. Because that's how He wanted it. He wanted you, He chose you, He set you apart for His use, so that you could show off His glory to your circle of friends and family. I don’t always agree with Thayer's Lexicon. He was a bit of a Unitarian. But he did get this one right. Listen to how he defines "grace"—The New Testament writers use charis (charis) pre-eminently of that kindness by which God bestows favors even upon the ill-deserving, and grants to sinners the pardon of their offences, and bids them accept of eternal salvation through Christ.

He goes on to describe the grace of Christ—through pity for sinful men Christ left His state of blessedness with God in Heaven, and voluntarily underwent the hardships and miseries of human life, and by His sufferings and death procured salvation for mankind.

Grace is the reason that you—if you have grown from the Vine, if you have Jesus as your Shepherd, if you fear God and His judgment, if you have indeed given your life over to Christ, and if you are a radically different person now than you were before, if you can forgive those who wrong you, if you see your life not just as a few years on a rotting planet, but as a chance to glorify God in the presence of men—can say that God has saved you. And that's the next thing I want us to look at.

By grace you have been saved… No translation does this verse justice. The NKJV and NASB come closest. A literal rendering of this verse would say, …by grace you are having been saved The verb form of eimi (eimi, "to be") in this verse is second plural present. It means "You all are being." The present in Greek is not so much something that is happening at this very moment. It denotes something that continues to happen. Like in Ephesians 5:18, but be filled with the Holy Spirit is best read as but be being filled with the Holy Spirit. Something is happening, and is continuing to happen.

The word "saved" here is in the perfect tense. It means that something happened at a point in the past, and its effects are still being seen. Somebody may say, "I learned all about the Civil War" as if the past tense is the proper tense. However, this is one place where the perfect tense should be used. "I have learned all about the Civil War." They learned about the War Between the States at a point in the past. They read about it, studied it, memorized names and dates and battles. But it is not like it happened, and nothing resulted from it. The effects of those actions are still being seen, in that the person still has that knowledge.

We don’t use the perfect tense much these days. To us, everything is either past or present or future. Which is one of the many reasons God did not use English to bring His written word into this world. But in Greek, tense is very important.

You have been saved. The tense is perfect, the voice is passive. It was something that happened to you. It was not something you did. Paul does not say, "You saved yourselves." For one thing, that would be foolish. You cannot save yourself. It would be interesting to go through the New Testament and do a study of the times the passive voice is used when talking about us. How many times God works on us and in us and yet we attribute it to ourselves.

So what Paul is saying is this: at a point in the past—it may have been yesterday, it may have been ten years ago—God saved you. He did it, you experienced it passively, and you had it done to you. No action was taken on your part. You did not initiate it—God did. It's happening right now, it took place in the past, and the effects are still being seen. By grace you are continually in the state of having been saved.

What saved you? God. How did God save you? By grace you have been saved through faith. By believing in Christ Jesus as your Lord and your Savior. The cry of the Philippian jailer still rings out from voices across the globe. And the answer is still the same. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!" (Acts 16:29-31). But what is faith? What does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Does it simply believe He existed and died and rose, and nothing more? Yes…and no. Yes, you must believe that He lived, died and rose again. But that is not the full measure of faith. Have you not read the words of James? Even the demons fear, and tremble. (James 2:19). Satan knows Jesus lived, died and rose. Does that mean he's saved? So then, what is faith?

Faith in Christ means looking at yourself as God sees you. That you are a fallen human, a sinful creature. It means you understand that you have been living a life that is not pleasing to God, no matter how many good and charitable deeds you may have done. It means stripping away all of your human righteousness and looking at the sinful things you have done in your life for what they are—sins against the holiness and righteousness of God. Then you realize that there is no way that you could ever do anything to erase the stain of sin on your own. You see yourself as Lady Macbeth—always trying to wash the crimson from your flesh.

But, just like Lady Macbeth, you realize that you cannot wash off that stain. You cry out to God for mercy. You call upon the name of Jesus Christ to be your Savior. You submit to Him and call Him Lord. Some people will tell you that you need to "Make Him the Lord of your life." Friend, He already is the Lord of everything! He does not wait for you to make Him Lord. He already is! The only thing we can do is to admit it—to ourselves, to Him, to others. We turn over our lives to Him, we praise Him for bringing our dead spirit to life, we turn our back on our sins, we crucify our old self with Christ, and the life we live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). By grace you have been saved through faith.

…and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God… Did you ever think that even the faith you would need to believe would have to be given to you by God? It's true my friend. Before we can admit that we are sinful; before we can call on Jesus as Lord, we must first have a fear of Him. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments (Psalm 112:1). There's just one problem. We don’t have that fear. It's not part of our programming. It's not something we are born with. …there is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18). So, in order to fear God so that we can see ourselves for who we are and call upon Jesus as Lord, we need to fear Him. But there is nothing inside of us that fears Him. So, we're stuck, right? Wrong. The faith you need is given to you by God.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved


Newton did not just throw that in there because it had a nice ring to it. He wrote truth out of a heart that had once been cold and dead to God. But after it had seen His mighty hand move in a way that he never would have believed possible before, he realized that God is one to be feared, respected, revered and awed above all. Or do you suppose the storm that caused his boat to nearly sink was just the result of air currents and cold fronts? How was it that the prophet Jonah was brought to repentance? Why did the apostles awaken Jesus as He slept on the boat? Do you think these storms were accidents, random occurrences, or fortunate coincidences? How do you explain a miserable, wretched slave trader being saved from a storm at sea that very nearly sunk his boat? Would that not cause one to fear the mighty hand of God?

This faith that is given to us by God comes with the added bonus of repentance. 2nd Timothy 2:24-25And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth… [Emphasis mine]

Yes, it is God who grants repentance. For [t]he Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2nd Peter 3:9). But, alas, how to reconcile these two verses? He does not wish for any to perish, but all to come to repentance, yet they cannot repent unless God grants it to them. It does seem to be a bit of a quandary. Until you carefully consider the words used. He is longsuffering toward us. So many people want to apply this promise to every single person in the world. They say that God wants every single person to come to repentance.

But that is not what the apostle Peter tells us. He is longsuffering toward His chosen, His elect, and does not want any of His elect to perish, but for all of His elect to come to repentance. Now that we understand what that verse says, in that it does not speak of some type of universal salvation (but rather gives added credence to the doctrine of the limited atonement), we can go on with our study of the words of Paul to the Ephesians.

It is the fear of God that leads us to repentance. For without that fear, we would go through our lives, merrily and blissfully unaware of His impending judgment upon us. We would hear the words of truth. We would know that this is the God who brought Israel out of Egypt with His mighty hand. We would know that He is the God who delivered Goliath into David's hands. We would know He is the God who brought down the mighty walls of Jericho, and who caused Nebuchadnezzar to eat grass like an ox, and who delivered Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the flames of the fiery furnace—to the point they did not even carry the stench of the smoke—and yet we would think of Him as some daft old uncle who will look the other way when we impugn His name and stand in opposition to His righteousness.

It is this fear, leading to repentance, which creates in us the faith to believe on the Son of God unto our salvation. For without that fear, without that repentance, we would be continually and perpetually an enemy of the government of God, and thus an enemy of God Himself. For as these words of our Lord tell us—which words were recorded by that apostle whom Jesus loved—"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." [Emphasis mine] Remember the words in bold, my friend. For these will be my answer to you if you should ask, "What about those who have never heard the gospel?" Do you think that one who has never heard will have a chance to hear when they stand before God? At the risk of sounding froward, that is absurd my friend! What do you think, that if one, while standing before the throne, will be asked, "My Son Jesus Christ died on the cross and shed His blood for your sins. Do you believe this?" Would that soul, sensing some doom would come to them, answer in the negative? Consider the rich man.

There he was, in the fires of torment. Lifting up his eyes to heaven. If he had had the chance to repent and escape such a fate before he had to enter into it, would he not have accepted it? Seeing as how he wished for one to go back and warn his brothers? But ah, my friend, as even the patriarch Abraham said, "…neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead." (Luke 16:19-31. And one did rise from the dead. Yet Israel is still not convinced.) And why did they not believe? Because they were not His sheep (John 10:26). And why were they not His sheep? Because they did not believe (John 6:36). And they did not believe because they had not faith from God to believe. Faith is the gift of God.

…not of works, lest any man should boast. The skeptic says, "See, there's a contradiction! This says we are not saved by works, but James says we are saved by works! These two cancel each other out!" The Papist will tell you that we are saved by faith—at the first—but that we keep ourselves saved by our works. Neither of these adequately explains what is going on here. Although I wouldn’t say they're not in the same neighborhood. I would say they're not even in the same galaxy.

It was because of this verse—along with Romans 3:20Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law—that Martin Luther asked the young men he mentored to "Throw Jimmy in the oven." Luther did not particularly care for James' epistle. He did not consider it to be inspired of God. He thought that it preached a doctrine of salvation by works. It was only later in his life he repented, and saw it as the other side of the coin in the faith/works conversation. That said, are we saved by works? After all James did say that,

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (James 2:14).

And

But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (James 2:20).

Ah, but friend! Again we go back to the question, "What is faith?" Is it simply believing in facts? No. Go read the answer above and come back. You see? A "faith" that is nothing more than acknowledging the veracity of certain facts is not faith—that is, it is not a faith that profits any. For if that faith is simply knowledge and acknowledgment, then Satan and his demons have so much more faith that any of the greatest saints! For these have seen God first hand, and know His awesome power and might! Revelation 12:9So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And, as if to expound on the vision of the apostle whom Jesus loved, James tells us—just before he warns us that faith without works is dead—that You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

Do you tremble before God? If you do, then you are one of those God is searching for. For He told the prophet "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word." (Isaiah 66:2). But, is it enough to know He is God? Is it enough to even tremble at His presence? What must we do?

Believe. Was this not the answer from Paul to the jailer? Believe that you are a sinner. Believe that God will judge. Believe that He is eternally righteous and eternally holy. Believe that there is nothing you can do to earn His favor, or cover your sins, or dwell in the house of the LORD. Listen to the words of the Psalmist:

Psalm 5:4For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You.
Psalm 15:1-5LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honors those who fear the LORD; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change; He who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

That, my friend, is the goal of faith. And if the words of that second Psalm describe you, then you will do well. But only if you do so in Christ.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. This last verse and we will be finished. If we are not saved by works, then what is their purpose? If we do not go about earning stripes or merit badges for our good behavior, then are works really necessary? No…and yes.
Let me draw the distinction. We who are in Christ were created to do good works. We were chosen by God, before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4), according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:5), and to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6). Now we see that we were indeed created in Christ. To be His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). That He puts up with our disobedience until we come to repentance (2nd Peter 3:9)—which repentance was given to us by God (2nd Timothy 2:24-25), that we might have faith in the Son of God (John 3:16) when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and were alienated from Him (Colossians 1:21), having no fear of Him (Romans 3:18)—but He has made us alive who were once dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Now we are to let our light shine before men (Matthew 5:16), and do the good works we were made for. Not that they keep us saved. But they are the result of our being saved.

We are His workmanship. You know what that word poiema (poiema) literally means? Achievement! We are His crowning achievement!

To the praise and glory of His grace!

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