“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves” (Ephesians 2:8a).
The word “for” (gar) points backwards. The gentiles, before salvation, were dead in trespasses and sins [Ephesians 2:1 (“you” refers to the gentiles. See – Ephesians 2:11-13, 19)]. The Israelites were no better. They were children of wrath, just as others (Ephesians 2:3).
God had mercy on man, because of the great love He had for man (Ephesians 2:4-5 cf. John 3:16; Romans 5:8). The word translated “mercy” (eleos) in Ephesians 2:4 means: “kindness or goodwill toward the miserable and afflicted, joined with the desire to relieve them (Thayer); “the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (Vine’s).
It was by grace that these Christians in Ephesus had been saved. The original language is interesting. Wayne Jackson commented on the Greek “‘Been saved’ is passive voice… The passive voice reflects the fact that the saving is of God; we merely submit to his plan. The perfect tense suggests that we were saved (at the time of our resurrection) and so we now stand (the result) in a saved condition… the verb ‘have’ in this passage is a present tense form. When the perfect is combined with the present it suggests the thought of ‘you were and still are being saved'” (Jackson, Treasures From the Greek New Testament, p. 57). A Christian may view salvation as in the past (Ephesian 2:8; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 2:4-5), and in the present (1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:1-2; Hebrews 7:25; Philippians 2:12), and as in the future (Romans 13:11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:18; 1 Peter 1:9). Salvation is given when one is baptized into Christ. It is maintained by continuing to walk in the light. It is fully realized with all of its benefits in the hereafter.
The basis of salvation is God’s grace. The word “grace” (charis) has a wide variety of meanings depending on the contextual usage. The following definitions seem appropriate to the context: “gracious care or help, goodwill” (B-A-G); “goodwill, loving kindness, used of a master toward his inferiors or servants, and so especially of God toward man” (Thayer); “a beneficial opportunity, a charitable act, generous gift” (Perschbacher); “the friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds” (Vine’s). The word grace is commonly described as “unmerited favor.”
What is the antecedent to the pronoun “that”? (1) Some suggest that it is “faith.” Some of these even suggest that faith is directly infused into man by God. These are some serious problems with this view. First, “that” is neuter gender and “faith” is feminine gender. The pronoun and its antecedent must agree in gender and number (Summers, Essentials of new Testament Greek, p. 43). Moreover, faith “comes by hearing , and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 cf. Luke 8:11-15; John 5:45-47; 17:20; 20:30-31; Acts 17:11-12; 18:8; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10). Various passages indicate that one can hear and obey before receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:4-5, 12, 14-17; 19:1-6). (2) Some have suggested that it is “grace.” However, again there is a gender agreement problem. “That” is neuter gender and “grace” is feminine gender. (3) The reference is to salvation. A.T. Robinson commented that the reference is “not to pistis (faith – B.H.) or charis (grace – B.H.)… but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part” (Word Pictures in the New Testament). Marvin Vincent commented, “that” refers “not to faith, but to salvation” (Word Studies). Roy Deaver commented, “The neuter ‘this’ (Greek tauto) can (and does here) refer to the total subject, rather than a single word. The subject under consideration here is: Salvation…” (Spiritual Sword Lectures, God’s Amazing Grace, p. 428).
The point is this: Salvation is not of (ek, literally “out of”) self. The basis of salvation is God, not man. Salvation does not originate with man. It originates with God. Is salvation 50% God and 50% man? Is salvation 90% God and 10% man? If we are discussing the basis or source of salvation, and not conditional requirements for salvation, then the answer is: it is 100% due to God’s grace that man can be saved!
However, God requires that man accept this salvation by faith. The condition for salvation is not “grace only” or “faith only.” It is “grace through faith.” The question is not: Does faith save? The question is: When does faith save? Faith saves when it leads one to comply with the specific conditions(s) stated for such (cf. Hebrews 11:6-7, 28-29).
“It is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8b-9).
The basis or source of salvation is God. Salvation is the gift of God to mankind. It should be understood that gifts can be offered on conditions. The Promised land was a gift (Joshua 1:2; 6:2). However, it was offered on conditions (Joshua 6:2-5). It was received on obedient faith (Hebrews 11:30). Likewise, salvation is a gift that must be accepted by faith (Ephesians 2:8 cf. Acts 2:36-38).
The basis or source of salvation is not man. It is “not of (ek, literally “out of”) yourselves” (Ephesians 2:8). It is “not of (ek, literally “out of”) works” which we have done (Ephesians 2:9). Man’s works, apart from God’s grace, left him dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Man has nothing, personally, to boast about when it comes to his salvation [Ephesians 2:9 cf. Romans 4:1-8 (remember that “works” is used in Romans 4 of perfect flawless works which does not need the forgiveness of sin or the grace of God)]. It is very humbling. It is only by the grace of god any of us can have the hope of heaven.
It is important that we keep in mind that this is speaking of man’s works as the basis or source of salvation. This is not speaking of conditions for salvation. There are conditional works for salvation (e.g. John 6:27-29; Romans 6:17-18; Philippians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 5:9). However, man is not the basis or source of salvation. Man cannot, by his own works and without the grace of God, resurrect himself out of spiritual death.
Since man’s work is not the basis or source of his salvation, what should this do to pride, boasting, and self-righteousness? It is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). Paul said, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). We sing: “Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my Lord…” (Isaac Watts, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross).
“For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
While it is true that our works are not the basis or source of our salvation, such does not mean that God does not care how we live. He prepared a standard by which we are to live. David Lipscomb commented, “God prepared works in which his children should walk before he created them in Christ Jesus. He who fails to live that life fails to fulfill the ends for which he was created in Christ Jesus” (Gospel Advocate Commentary on Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, p. 44).
Consider the term “walk” in the book of Ephesians. We are to walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are to “walk worthy of the calling… with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). We are to “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk” (Ephesians 4:17). We are to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:2). We are to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). We are to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Our goal should be to live a life which honors God. Jesus instructed “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter instructed us to have our conduct “Honorable among the Gentiles, that… they may, by (our) good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).