For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8–10
In these three verses the apostle summarises the great argument which he has been conducting in the first seven verses of this chapter. He brings it all to a focus. I suppose that in certain respects we can say that there is no more important doctrinal statement anywhere in the Epistle. Of course it is all packed with doctrine, as we have seen; but certainly from our standpoint, and in order to have a true and a clear understanding of what it is that makes us Christian, there is nothing that is more important than this particular statement. And therefore, obviously, it is equally important in a practical sense.
Here is a statement, surely, that must be determinative in all evangelism. In the same way it must determine our entire practice of the Christian life, because belief and practice cannot be separated. You cannot separate finally a man’s view of these things from his whole relationship to them. That is why I say that we are here face to face with one of the most crucial statements that is to be found anywhere in Scripture, and that is obviously why the apostle puts it in this particular form. For the same reason also he has already prayed in the previous chapter that the eyes of our understanding may be enlightened. We can never repeat that too frequently. This great Epistle, perhaps the greatest of all the Epistles in some senses, packed as it is with profound theology and doctrinal statements, nevertheless was written primarily in order to help people in a practical and pastoral manner. In other words, we must not think of it as being first and foremost an attempt on the part of the apostle to write a theological treatise. The apostle was not a professional theologian—I wonder whether there ever should be such a thing? The apostle was a preacher and an evangelist. Such a man, of course, must be a theologian—if he is not he cannot be a true evangelist—but it was not a professional matter. The apostle’s approach is not academic, it is not theoretical; he was concerned to help these people to live the Christian life. That was why he wrote to them. But he knew that no person can live this Christian life unless he first of all has a true understanding of what it is that makes us Christians at all. Therefore as Paul writes to them he must start with this great doctrine and then go on to its application.
That is what he is doing here, and his prayer for them is that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened, that they might know the hope of God’s calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and, perhaps most important of all, the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward that believe. That was their trouble; they did not realise that power. And this is our trouble—our failure to realise the exceeding greatness of the power of God in us who believe. So he has gone on to unfold it and expound it and to put it clearly before them. He has stated it in great detail: the negative description in verses 1 to 3; the positive in verses 4 to 7. Having stated it in detail he says: Now then, it all comes to this … You notice that he starts with the word ‘For’—‘For by grace ye are saved’. It is a continuation; he is looking back to what he has been saying, and then he puts it all once more in a manner that we should never forget.
This is a description of what it really means to be a Christian. More and more am I convinced that most of our troubles in the Christian life really arise at that point. For if we are not right at the beginning we shall be wrong everywhere. And it is because so many are still confused at that very first step that they are always full of problems and difficulties and questions, and do not understand this and cannot see that. It is because they have never been clear about the foundation.
Well, here it is for us—and, as I have said, there is no clearer statement of it anywhere in the Scripture. Why then the confusion? The confusion often arises because people turn these great statements of the apostle into matters of controversy. And they do that because they will insist on bringing in their philosophy, by which I mean their own ideas. Instead of taking the plain statements of the apostle they say: But I cannot see this. If that is so, then I do not understand how God can be a God of love. In other words, they begin philosophising, and, of course, the moment you do that you are bound to be in trouble. We either accept the Scriptures as our only foundation, or else we do not. Many say that they do accept them, but then they bring in their inability to understand. Now the moment you do that you have left the Scriptures and you are introducing your own ability, your own understanding, and your own theories and ideas. That has constantly been the trouble, and especially with these three verses that we are considering. What I propose to do, therefore, is just to put these statements before you, and ask you to consider them and meditate upon them. Here is the whole foundation of our position as Christians. It is here we are told exactly how we have ever become Christians.