1 Kings 4–5; Ephesians 2; Ezekiel 35; Psalm 85
CHRISTIANS ARE OFTEN TAUGHT to memorize Ephesians 2:8–9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast."
Certainly wonderful truths are expressed in these lines. But I shall focus on some of the things Paul says in the surrounding verses.
(1) Before our conversion, we, like the Ephesians, were dead in our "transgressions and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Because of our addiction to transgression and sin, because of our habit of following the ways of the world (Eph. 2:2), because we were simultaneously deceived by the Devil (Eph. 2:2) and committed to gratifying the desires and thoughts of our sinful natures (Eph. 2:3), there was simply no way we could respond positively to the Gospel. Worse, our tragic inability was a moral inability: "Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). There was no hope for us unless God himself intervened and brought life where there was only death, and showed mercy where his own justice demanded wrath.
(2) That is what God did: while we were still dead, out of his great love for us, "God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ" (Eph. 2:4–5). This was out of his sheer grace: we certainly could not help ourselves, for "we were dead" (Eph. 2:5).
(3) Indeed, God so unites us to Christ that in his eyes we are already raised with him and seated "in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6). God has taken these steps "in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). So our ultimate hope and expectation is what still awaits us. No Christian is stable who does not see and value this futurist perspective.
(4) At this point Paul stresses the sheer graciousness of the gift of salvation, a gift received by faith that is itself the gift of God, and is quite apart from any works that we could perform. For if we could, we would boast of them.
(5) But none of this means that we continue to live as we did before—dead in transgressions, following our own desires and thoughts. Far from it: we who have received God's grace, and the faith to apprehend it, are "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). One can no more enjoy saving grace without performing good works, than one can experience saving grace without ever knowing the incomparable riches that await us in the age to come. This great salvation is one superb package!