Ephesians 2:8-10 | How We Are Saved
In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul explains salvation. Verses 1-6 tell us what happens when God saves: bringing us from death to life. Verse 7 tells us why God saves: so that in the coming ages God could show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. And verses 8-10, our text today, tells us how God saves. So let’s read it now.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Remember the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty? A princess is cursed into a deep sleep and nothing can wake her but a kiss from the prince. Let’s imagine you’re the princess and you’ve been awakened from a deep sleep. It’s a huge story. All the news shows want an interview, and the first question they ask is, “What did you do to break the curse?”
What would you say?
You couldn’t say, “Well, I just thought about it and decided, ‘It’s time to wake up!’” You couldn’t say, “Well, I just claimed the victory for myself.” You also couldn’t say, “I asked the prince to come and he came.” You couldn’t say any of that. You were asleep! You were cursed!
So what would you say?
You’d say, “I didn’t break the curse. The prince did.”
That’s what Paul is saying in Ephesians 2:8-10. How did we break the curse of sin? We didn’t. God did in Christ. It was the Prince’s kiss. But we weren’t a sleeping beauty. We were a lifeless corpse. God had to make us alive, not just wake us up.
So today, let’s consider that kiss of grace—how God saves us.
I have three points:
1. God saves us by grace through faith in Christ (v. 8)
2. God saves us by Christ’s merit, not ours (v. 9)
3. God saves us by making us a new creation in Christ (v. 10)
First, God saves us by grace through faith in Christ
Look verse 8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
By grace you have been saved through faith. Two words stand out in this phrase: grace and faith.
What is grace? Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is God’s kind disposition toward sinful people who can't get their act together and can’t obey and can't find their way to him. Grace is God’s consistent provision for his people who can’t provide for themselves. Grace is God’s activity of good to those whose activity is bad. Grace is not grading on a curve—bumping a letter grade to a student who tried really hard. Grace is giving an A to a student who rarely showed up, who never passed a test, who never got any question right. Grace is being good to the undeserving. It’s not adding sprinkles to a wonderful cupcake. It’s making a stone into a cupcake. Grace is an outpouring of good when only wrath is deserved.
And grace runs throughout the Bible. When Adam and Eve sinned, God said he would crush the serpent’s head by the seed of the woman—the woman who had just caused the fall of creation. Immediately after, what does God do? He clothes Adam and Eve, covering their newfound nakedness. That’s God’s grace. It's as big as crushing Satan’s head and as small as a pair of pants. It's God’s kindness and care bringing life where death reigns. Grace is Jesus saving the undeserving. Grace is what we’re saved by.
So, what about that other word, faith? If grace is the basis of salvation, faith is the instrument of salvation. Faith is what lays hold of grace. It’s the hand that reaches out and grabs. It’s the proof that grace has come. It’s both trusting God will crush Satan’s head and the action of putting on the pants God provides.
The book of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So faith is forward looking. Our future hope creates present faith. Faith is not a leap in the dark, where we don’t know what’s on the other side, so we just hope it’ll turn out ok. That’s not biblical faith. Biblical faith looks at the world and sees God’s hand all over. Faith understands that though God is invisible, his promises are certain, because we’ve seen then in Jesus Christ. R.C. Sproul says, “The idea is this: I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but I know that God knows what tomorrow is going to bring. So if God promises that tomorrow will bring something, and if I trust God for tomorrow, I have faith in something I have not yet seen.”
Faith is the rock-solid surety of God’s promises based on God’s character. It’s looking to God and trusting that his grace is sufficient to save because it always has been. It’s believing that God has never once failed one man or woman who has trusted him and he’s not going to start with me.
Now, look at the last phrase of verse 8, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Here’s what Paul is saying, and it’s what the entire New Testament says, the totality of our salvation—by grace through faith—is God’s gift. The prime mover in your relationship to God is God. Nothing inside us compels God to save us. God saves us because God wants to save us.
Here’s how this is good news. If your salvation was up to you, you would never have it. You can’t muster up enough faith apart from God’s grace to believe. You can’t receive grace without God giving it. Grace, by definition, is unmerited favor. How can dead people merit anything? As Dustin said last week, before God’s activating grace, we were like the dry bones of the valley in Ezekiel. We need the Spirit to blow through and give us life.
Some people will say it’s up to us to choose God. But Ephesians 2:1-3 says we can’t choose God and we won’t choose God—not on our own. Ephesians 2:4-7 says God must make us alive to him first. God must do something in us before we can make any move toward him. Before God acts in our heart, we don’t want him. We are led by the Devil and by our own sinful passions. To want God, we need to be alive to God. That’s what God’s grace does. It grants life so that we can have faith. When the Holy Spirit gives us a new nature, we then naturally do what our new nature wants: we come, we believe, we repent, and we trust God.
God’s grace comes before faith, not the other way around. God must grant the gift of faith by grace. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” A few verses later, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” This whole passage is written to show us this truth: we are completely unable to bring about our own salvation. We are totally dependent on God to do it all. We are like Lazarus in the tomb. We need Jesus to call to us, “Come out!”
This truth gives us the ground of all assurance before God. Do you see that? Do you ever wonder if your faith is strong enough to save you? Do you wonder if there’s a point at which God is just going to write you off? There’s sin in your life you haven’t beat. There’s a past you can’t get over or there’s a future that seems too uncertain. Here’s what Jesus says about that, from John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” That verse and John 6:44 about the Father drawing you to Jesus go hand in hand. It’s both. You come but you come because God draws you. And when you come to Jesus, you come to safety. The totality of your salvation is found in God.
You don’t need to worry about the amount of faith you think you need. The amount of your faith is not the key; the object of your faith is. When you come to Jesus you’re placing your faith in him. You’re placing your life in his hands. You don’t have to worry if your faith is strong enough to save you, you just have to worry if Jesus is strong enough to save you! And Jesus is very strong. He can hold you up when you can’t hold yourself up. He knows what you need before you need it. The faith that endures is the faith placed in Jesus for safe-keeping. Jesus won’t cast you out. He can’t. He was cast out for you. How could you lose him now?
By grace you have been [past tense] saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. If you’re in Christ, you are as secure as Christ is. And where is Christ now? He’s seated at the right hand of the throne of God. What greater assurance do you need?
Your sin can’t kick you out of God’s love because your righteousness never put you in it. God saves by grace through faith. It’s a gift. All you must do is receive it.
Second, God saves us by Christ’s merit, not ours
Look at verse 9: “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
I love this story from Pastor Harry A. Ironside about an older Christian who was asked to give his testimony. He told how God had sought him out and found him, for God had loved him, called him, saved him, delivered him, cleansed him, and healed him—a great witness to the grace, power, and glory of God. But after the meeting a rather legalistic Christian took him aside and criticized his testimony. He said, “I appreciate all you said about what God did for you. But you didn't mention anything about your part in it. Salvation is really part us and part God. You should have mentioned something about your part.”
“Oh, yes,” the older Christian said, “I apologize for that. I really should have said something about my part. My part was running away, and his part was running after me until he caught me.”
How do you explain your part in salvation?
Christianity is the only religion that doesn’t include any self-made men or women. It only includes God-made men and women. God saves us by Christ’s merit, not ours. Not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Why does Paul bring this up? Because in every other religion and in nearly every other area of life, what you do is what you get. You work hard, and you’ll get promoted. You pay your dues and you’ll be accepted. But in Christianity, it’s completely different. No man or woman has ever become a Christian by their own effort. The only way we become Christians is by the work of Christ on our behalf. You are saved by works, but not your own. You’re saved by Jesus’ works. We can’t boast in ourselves for something another accomplished.
Paul is warning of the danger of pride because often it's not our badness that keeps us from God; it's our goodness. The sinners flocked to Jesus. But think of the Pharisees. They were model citizens. You'd want them as role models for your kids. But they killed Jesus.
We must never forget our deadness to God before his life-giving grace. The sin we've been saved from—both inside and outside us—supports itself on the stilts of pride. Self-esteem is so important to the world. We want to be winners. But the gospel knocks those stilts out from under us. Jesus doesn’t just save the world’s winners. He saves the world’s losers. He saves those completely unable to save themselves. Paul knew the stilts of pride are still in the garage of our heart and we’re tempted to take them for a spin around the block. But you must not do it because it’s a false view of things. You’re not really that tall. You didn’t lift yourself up. Jesus did. He deserves the glory.
That’s why the gospel is good news we hear, not a task list we accomplish. The gospel is the good news that though we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, God has saved us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Where is our part in that? The sin that made it necessary, but that’s it!
So how can we boast?
Paul is a great example. Before Jesus saved him, Paul knew a lot about boasting. He recounts this in Philippians 3. We don’t have time to read it all, but in he Judaism Paul really did good things but none of them gained him an inch with God. His good deeds added up to a mere ant-hill of righteousness compared to the Mount Everest of righteousness God required. And Paul really did good things after Jesus saved him, but he doesn’t boast in them. Why? Because it’s not his works that gained him God. It’s Christ’s works that did. That’s why Paul’s one aim was to preach Christ and him crucified. The redeemed soul loves to sing of the Redeemer.
This is good news for you and for your neighbor who doesn’t believe. When an unbeliever asks, “How does God save?” your answer isn’t, “become like me.” It’s, “look to Jesus.” If you made yourself a Christian, your neighbor must become like you to be saved. But salvation is not based on works, so you can’t boast. This knocks the feet out from under all classicism, all racism, all forms of superiority. The gospel makes beggars of us all. It shows us we’re all equal. No one does good; no, not one. The only way any of us will ever make it to God is if God in grace comes to us.
Our works can’t overcome our sin. Only God’s grace can. All praise goes to him. When we accept that with the empty hands of faith, we enter into a new reality so different from our past that the only way to describe it is a new birth, which leads us to verse 10.
Third, God saves us by making us a new creation in Christ
Look at verse 10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Why can't we boast in the Christian life? Because we didn't make ourselves Christians. We are his workmanship. Literally, we are God’s poem.
Remember how this chapter started. We walked in trespasses and sins. Notice how it ends. We walk in the good works God has prepared for us. Do you see the radical change? How did it happen? God saved us and recreated us in Christ. That’s why Jesus talked about the need to be born again in John 3. We need God to rebirth us. When he does, we put away the evil works we once walked in and walk in the good works God prepared beforehand. By God’s grace, we go from darkness to light—not as a result of works but for works.
So, what are these good works? Paul doesn’t say here, but he spends chapters 4-6 of Ephesians describing them. So we will have plenty of time in the days ahead to discuss those. Let me just say this. One way you know you’re a Christian is that you have a new desire to do good works and you actually do them. Christians are busy people—not because they’re working for their salvation but because they’ve been saved.
But Paul’s main point right here is that those good works result from being made alive in Christ. Being comes before doing. Paul’s wants us to see the artistry of God.
Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the greatest painter to ever live. His Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. But did you know he never actually finished it? He was still working on it when he died. He kept it with him, moving it from city to city, never giving it to the man who commissioned it, because he was never done perfecting it. He even painted the undergarments so that the right texture was visible on the outer garments. He researched lip muscles on corpses to get the smile just right. He didn’t consider it “done” until the painting attained a specific and intentional character. That’s how God is with you.
But God’s work is more glorious than Leonardo’s. Leonardo began with a blank canvas and created something beautiful, but God takes a slashed and defaced original and restores it to beauty. That’s why after we come to faith we still feel a little broken. We’re not finished yet. We’re not condemned anymore, we aren’t under sin’s rule anymore, but we’re not totally free from sin yet either. We’ll be free from sin’s presence when we die, but for now, we’re still suffering the effects and still cutting ourselves up. And he’s still putting us back together.
Good art always has a purpose beyond the product. A good painting isn’t displaying only a picture. It’s saying something beyond the picture. It’s saying something about the world of the artist and about the artist himself. Every good piece of art is a message beyond itself. It’s a portal into another world. It’s very real image has transportational power.
God is a good artist, so what’s his message? You are his message to the watching world of what God does to sinners by grace. As you do the good works God has prepared beforehand, you’re a message of how God raises the dead. You’re a message of what redemption looks like. You’re a message of God’s goodness and grace. Even if you don’t feel like it today, you’re a message of the faithful follower. If you’re suffering, you’re saying Jesus is better than suffering. If you’re joyful, you’re saying Jesus is the cause of joy. Whatever you’re facing today, your walk with God is a message to the world that whatever it is, Jesus is better. You are his workmanship! No piece of art creates itself. No one boasts in the brilliance of Mona Lisa. They boast in the brilliance of Leonardo. When you walk with God, God uses you to show the brilliance of his workmanship.
Do you know how valuable the Mona Lisa is? We don’t exactly know because it’s not for sale, but in 1962, it was insured for $100 million, the highest at the time. In today’s money, that would be somewhere around $700 million. That’s an insane price tag for a canvas and some paint.
Let me close with this. How much more valuable are you—a God original? The gospel gives the answer.
The gospel is the news of God’s purchase price. The price was not American dollars. It was the blood of his only Son, Jesus Christ. There’s no higher price God could pay.
But it wasn’t an easy transaction for Jesus. Do you remember how the prince of Sleeping Beauty got to the princess? It wasn’t easy. The evil witch kidnapped him. He had to fight his way out. He had to take the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue and fight the evil witch now turned into a huge fire-breathing dragon. He flings the sword and pierces the dragon’s heart, killing her. In his victory, he pursues the princess, finds her, and kisses her awake.
That’s a fairy tale. But Christianity is the true fairy tale. Jesus allowed himself to be kidnapped in flesh, making himself like us, yet without sin. Satan constantly harassed him, and on the cross, he was tied up, nailed and hung to die. He didn’t fight for his life. He fought for yours. He let the fire-breathing dragon kill him. But the dragon’s victory didn’t last. The sword was thrust into the dragon’s heart at the resurrection.
Today, Palm Sunday, is the reminder of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The surprising twist of the gospel is that the triumph was a cross. But that first Easter, the Holy Spirit broke the stone holding death in place, and Jesus walked out in victory. Where did he go? He went to find you. He went to wake you up. You went to kiss you with grace and wed you to himself.
How were you saved? You didn’t break the curse. Jesus did.