We read these verses yesterday, but they’re so pivotal that I think they deserve a day all their own. I was raised in a Baptist church, and we frequently used vss. 8-9 to explain the plan of salvation when we were sharing the Good News. There's very good reason for that, since this is one of the best (if not the best) summaries of the ins-and-outs of our salvation that you’ll read in all of Scripture.
Paul wants his readers to have a better understanding of the grand and glorious plan of the Almighty, and the part which we play in it. Chapter 2 starts with the ultimate “before and after” picture of us re: salvation, and with these verses he provides a great explanation of how God accomplished all this.
At first glance today's title would seem to be an oxymoron. Why in the world would prepositions be important? The reason for the title hopefully will make some sense as we go on. If you get these verses down and understand how the different prepositions relate to everything else, you’ll be head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of Christians regarding our relationship with our Savior.
He starts out by saying we are saved by grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor towards us. I heard someone once explain that mercy is when he doesn’t give you what you do deserve, and grace is when he gives you what you don’t deserve, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Another great acronym I learned several years ago is grace = "God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense."
The point here is that it all starts with his unmerited favor towards us, which he bestowed on us while we were still sinners, enemies of his, and cosmic traitors. He certainly didn't shower us with this grace because of anything we’d done (quite the contrary), nor did he give it to us because of something we will do in the future. No, as we saw yesterday, he did it out of love and for his own glory.
The next part is that we’re saved through faith. Please please please pay careful attention to the preposition. Strictly speaking, we aren’t saved by faith; although Paul sometimes says in shorthand that we’re justified by faith. But to be more precisely accurate, we’re saved through faith. Why am I making such a big deal over this? What difference does it make if we’re saved by faith or saved through faith? Because faith is not really the basis on which God saved me; that basis is his love and grace, that which is within himself. Faith is the means by which he saved me. I think the best way to see it is that faith is like a conduit. Imagine a pipe that carries water to someone who needs it. God’s grace is the source, and our faith is the conduit by which he channels that (unmerited) blessing down to us. I could believe in Jesus all day long, but if God didn’t decide to initiate all this before the beginning of time, it would do me no good.
One of the reasons I’m harping on this is because Paul seems to go out of his way to bring the focus off of anything we do onto what God did: “and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” What is “this” referring back to? What is the gift of God? Well, some say that it’s just referring back to God’s grace, but the Greek seems to be referring back to everything in the preceding part of the verse. In other words, the Lord gave us his grace and the ability to believe in Christ as well. Jesus explicitly said that unless the Father draws someone, they’ll never come to faith.
If I haven’t lost you already, then we need to add a little caveat here. People love to say nowadays that “You just gotta have faith.” Whenever I hear that, every molecule in my body screams out to ask them: “Faith in what?! Or whom? Astrology? Numerology? My own resources? The luck of the draw? Karma? The innate goodness of people? Politicians?” I know I've produced this example before, but please forgive me, since I haven’t heard any better. When you get on a plane, you’re demonstrating faith in the pilot. You’re placing your life in his hands. You have faith that he’s sober, that the airline has ensured that he has the skills to fly the plane, that he’s not a crazy person on a suicide kick, etc. But if he is drunk or not really qualified to fly the plane, then my faith in him is misplaced, and I might pay for that faith with my life. I might have 100% faith in him, but my faith doesn’t make him a qualified pilot. In other words, faith is only as good as the object of that faith.
So the unspoken phrase, which we get from various other passages of Scripture (for example see here), is that we're saved through faith in Christ. We place our faith in a Person, hand over the ownership of ourselves over to him, and place our trust in him.
Now we come to something that sometimes we tend to forget in using this passage so much in our evangelism. Yes, we’re saved by grace, but there’s a purpose for all this. The Apostle of Grace, the one who fought tooth and nail for the simplicity of the Good News that we’re saved by grace through faith plus nothing, spent almost as much time making it clear that we’re saved for a purpose, and this purpose is not mainly for our benefit. We were created--then saved--for good works. These aren’t good works that we come up with ourselves. For the believer, there’s no such thing as “random acts of kindness.” No, the changes in our lives, leading to the changes which we’re supposed to make in our world, were planned out beforehand by our Father.
By the way, the word here “workmanship” here is way too mundane a word. The word is poiema, from which we get “poem.” The way it was used with artists, you could just as easily translate it as “masterpiece.” We are God’s works of art, his masterpieces. Each one of us is a work of art which he’s painstakingly sculpting into the perfect image of his Son.
So in summary, here’s why every little bit of God’s word is so important, down to the prepositions. We are saved
· By grace
· Through faith
· In Christ
· For good works
Lord Jesus, I’m in awe of your salvation once again. I bring nothing to this except my sin and my need, and in return you shower me with grace upon grace upon grace until my cup can’t hold any more. Help me to be and to do what I was created for, to be about the business of pleasing and honoring you. From beginning to end it’s all your grace.
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