My favorite American short story writer, William Porter (you know him as O. Henry), wrote about a poor young couple who determined to buy Christmas gifts for one another without the other’s knowledge. The wife sold her beautiful hair to buy her husband a watch band, which he sold in order to buy her a comb for her hair. So, he ended up with a watchband for a watch he no longer owned and she ended up with a comb for hair that she had cut off. It’s a beautiful story of love and devotion between the young couple. Of course, Porter never followed the logic through that the wife’s hair would eventually grow back, but that’s pressing the story too far.
The story illustrates, at least in some measure, a kind of love that sacrifices without expecting anything in return. This is the kind of love about which the Bible speaks. It is the love that God has for us. He gave up Himself for us so that we can have salvation from sin and death. The gospel is the “good news” that Jesus died the sake of our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day—all of it according to God’s Word. That is an objective fact. This gospel is not subjective speculation on my part. The Bible states this plainly.
However, just because this is a true fact does not make it effectual. Man has an inherent sin problem that separates him from God. Isaiah 59:2 states that man’s sin is a barrier between God and man. What we have is a gospel on one side with all of its potential for salvation from sin and death and sinful man on the other side separated from God. There is a natural gulf between the two. Just because there is a gospel does not mean that sinners will automatically be saved. Some will and some will not. There are some sinners who have been saved through faith in the gospel and there are some sinners who have not been saved because they reject the gospel. This is also true.
The question: how is the gospel is offered to sinners? What stands in the gulf between the gospel and sinful man? It is the amazing grace of God. Grace is the key connective tissue between sinners and salvation.
God’s Grace Through the Gospel
The apostle Paul writes: “for by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is the enlivening of sinners through redemption in Jesus. The message of Ephesians has been building up to this point from the beginning of the epistle.
- 1:7 indicates that this redemption comes through the blood of Jesus. By the blood of Jesus our sins are forgiven. We are ‘bought’ by God like a slave being purchased and then liberated.
- 2:1-3 indicates that this is necessary because before Christ we were spiritually dead. The world that rejects God was our guide. The enemy (Satan) who opposes God was our friend. The flesh which encourages sin was our constant companion.
- 2:5-6 indicates that salvation changes the course of our lives. We are turned from spiritual death unto spiritual life. We are promised the resurrection of Jesus (like unto His glorious body).
Moreover, this salvation is the object of our faith (the focus is really on Jesus).
- 1:18 indicates that this faith is the result of our eyes being opened to the truth. God causes me to see (understand) the gospel. This is the only means by which I am capable of believing in Him. Ultimately this focuses our faith onto Jesus Himself. We trust in His death on our behalf. We have faith in His resurrection from the dead.
Man Has No Input into the Salvation Process
Grace is not something man devised. The salvation plan did not originate with us. Paul writes: “and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (v. 8). The word ‘that’ is not insignificant. The apostle is arguing that grace did not come from us first. He’s saying clearly “that” grace is did not come from you. It does not come from man. This is an important part of the doctrine of salvation. Man never reaches out to God first. The direction is always God towards man. It is something He gives. The gospel is the gift He offers to us. Further, not only did the salvation plan not originate with us, but it is impossible that we could ever earn it for ourselves. Paul adds the little addendum: “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (v. 9). Salvation is not something we work for personally. God does not accept anyone on the basis of being “a good person.” That kind of argument is bound for certain failure. Claiming to be good enough for God will get you damned to Hell. It cheapens the work of Jesus on the cross. To claim personal merit is to say “I don’t need the grace of God.” This kind of claim rejects God’s salvation offer. We cannot ‘merit’ the grace of God. It is too costly for anyone to earn. Consequently, we cannot boast for having earned it ourselves. A gift is something given, not earned. There is no self-glory in inheritance. The only thing I can say is, “God did it.” Salvation is the gift of God. I accept it by faith, but that is not a meritorious work.
A man decides to move his couch into a different room in his house. His two-year old “helps” him move the furniture. Of course, everyone knows that the man is doing all the heavy lifting himself. This is how it is with our salvation. It is through our faith in the blood of Jesus, but the heavy lifting is the “grace of God” that comes to us because of His great love.
- What is the gospel? Please restate it in your own words to your discipleship partner.
- How does God offer the gospel to sinners? Use one key word (hint: it’s the connective tissue we discussed already).
- What inherent problem does man have because of sin?
- What three things are enemies of righteousness (2:2-3)?
- What two reasons does Paul point to in order to prove that salvation is by grace?
- How does this demonstrate that salvation is not the result of simply “praying” a prayer?