For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
This little phrase “by grace are ye saved” is undoubtedly the favourite of many believers. There is no denying the fact that the Christian life is all of grace from start to finish. Even if you do not know this text, as a Christian, you know or must know that your salvation is all of grace to which you added nothing or contributed nothing and the text is clear in that sense: “and that not of yourselves.” If you don’t know this fact, perhaps I will ask you “how did you become a Christian?” B. B. Warfield, a theologian in the 19th century said that: “The whole gospel turns as upon its hinge on this fact,that salvation is of pure grace.” The text under consideration therefore is one of the glorious truth of the Christian faith that salvation is all of grace.
What Is Grace?
In the world, there are only two religions. There is a religion of grace and a religion of human effort: a religion of faith and a religion of works; True religion and false religion. And Christianity apart from all religions is a religion of grace through faith alone for salvation. Now before we can have a good appreciation of the grace of God, we need to have have a good appreciation of what our problem as human beings is. Grace has become a normal language so perhaps many often lose the true significance of grace. You ask someone how are you and whether they are a Christian or not, you are likely to hear them responding “fine by grace.” Grace is not lost on us I believe, but often many people interpret grace in very shallow and materialistic way. Listen to the words of this contemporary gospel music:
From the planes I fly, the cars I drive, the money I have
Ebe God e dey bless me
Food on my table, houses I’ve built, family I’ve got
Ebe God e dey bless me,
It’s not by power, it’s not by strength, just by the Holy Ghost
And I’m not ashamed to tell the world, my blessings dey come from God
You see what people call blessings out there? Money, cars, houses, food… Not that these are not important. But if these are what we want to point out to the world as God’s blessings, then we are doomed. Our understanding of blessing is very shallow and materialistic indeed. To have a good understanding of grace therefore, we need a good understanding of our condition as human beings. Contrast and compare the words of the song we just looked at with the words of this hymn and the difference will be clear:
Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see
Here is a true reflection of what grace really is and it reveals the condition of the sinner and everyone before they came to Christ: They were wretched, lost and blind. Wretched because we lacked the love of God. Lost because we are distanced from God and blind without an appreciation of the truth of God. Sinners are blinded to the truth of God. Grace, is commonly described as God’s unmerited favour. Others have described it as God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense using the letters that spells grace.
All these are true. But I want us to look at the text and get our own understanding from the text about what grace is and what Paul is talking about. As we attempt to do that, we will also answer the question.
What Have We Been Saved From?
The text speaks of been saved by grace. Now to be saved means one was previously in a dangerous or precarious situation. And as we look at the Scriptures; what we have been saved from becomes clear.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Dead in trespasses and sins
The whole text we are looking at paints a picture of gloom and hopelessness from vv.1-3. Paul here contrasts the life of the Ephesian believers when they were unbelievers with their lives when they became believers. And in this contrast, we learn something true of all humanity before they come to Christ.All of us and all human beings have different personalities. We come from different backgrounds. Different parts of the world. In our own country we come from different tribes. We are different in so many ways. But all of us, despite our different background have one thing in common; we are sinners. We come into his world as sinners. One theologian has said that “we come into this world, dead on arrival” And our sin has actually separated us from God.
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world (vv 11-12).
To be hopeless is simply to be without Christ and without God. The world’s greatest problem is not poverty or sickness. The world’s greatest problem is separation from God. As Gentiles, the Ephesians, before they came to faith were hopeless. They had no hope.
Not only that, as Gentiles, the Ephesians were outside of God’s family: they were aliens and strangers from the covenants of promise. When God’s people are counted, they didn’t belong. The Jews had a national pride for being the people of God and everyone else was outside of the covenant of God. Remember David’s description of Goliath? “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” Circumcision then was a mark of covenant relationship. In simple terms Gentiles did not fit in. They didn’t belong to God’s family. They were far off (v.13).
Enemies of God
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (vv. 14-16).
Because sinners are dead in sin living their lives contrary to God’s commands, they have set themselves up against God. Sinners are enemies of God, they will have nothing to do with God. We hate God. Naturally of our ownselves we will have nothing to do with God. Paul used an actual historical event to illustrate this. There is evidence that in the second temple of Jewish worship, there was an inscription barring Gentiles from entering the temple. Any Gentile who goes against this will suffer death. The inscription reads:
No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow
So both from the natural point of view and the spiritual, man is lost and helpless without God.
that not of yourselves
The very first three verses of Ephesians as you can see is full of gloom and hopelessness. Natural man is depicted as not having the ability in themselves. to respond to God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:44). In fact, if left on her own, the sinner would not come to God. To be dead in sin is comparable to a corpse. A corpse cannot give life to itself can it? It is in this sense Paul say “not of yourselves”. You cannot save yourself. You have no power over your life. In Matthew 6 Jesus said you cant even add a cubit to your height. How much more salvation?
Having spoken of how gloomy our situation was, a light of hope is shown through our hopelessness with the words in vv.4-5“But God”. This juxtaposes God’s ability with our inability: what we couldn’t do with what God did in our regeneration. Out of our despondent, desperate, hopeless situation as sinners, hope sprung from God. From v4 onwards, we see the love and mercy of God at display towards the sinner. And that’s what grace is about:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us (v.4)
Grace is about God’s richness in mercy towards sinners. Grace is God’s great love towards his people.
A New Life
When God intervenes in our deadness, He gives us eternal life. He makes us alive to be able to relate with him. He also grants us eternal life and draws us to himself through Christ. The sinner who once had no hope is now given hope in this life because he is now united with Christ and reconciled to God (v5). We are seated in the heavenly places that means we are now citizens of heaven. We have hope now and hope in the life to come. God has purposed to show us “in the coming ages…the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus “(v7).
This new life is not a result of anything good or meritorious work in us. It is a new life that springs from the love, mercy and grace–unmerited favour– of God
What Must You Do?
If you have not come to faith in Christ Jesus, all that has been said of the former life of the believer is true of you. You are dead in sin, hopeless without God, you are an enemy of God and his wrath is upon you. This is a fearful thing and this very day, God offers you life in his Son Jesus. You have to turn to him in faith and repent of your sins. He makes a call: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).