Ephesians 2:9, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
“How can you be totally sure, right now, that God is pleased with you?”
The question was posed by a popular Bible teacher on the television screen. I was in the midst of a weekly women’s Bible study in my own home. In fact, I was the leader. It was my first year as a missionary, a pastor’s wife, serving overseas.
In that room crowded with young women, the answer came quickly to me, Because I’m trying my hardest. Yes, I thought to myself, God sees me trying my best. He knows I’m doing all that I can to please him. He knows I am working hard.
“Because you are in Christ. That’s how. If you are in Christ, you can know for sure, that God is pleased with you.”
Her answer startled me. It was one of those moments where it feels like the Holy Spirit is speaking directly to you. Right to your heart. Like he opened heaven and hand-delivered a message to me.
The answer was jolting. Paradigm-shifting. Embarrassing, even. Here I was, a missionary. The pastor’s wife and Bible study leader. And even though no one else in the room knew that my answer was terribly wrong, I did. I was appropriately admonished and inwardly reeling.
In my brain, I knew that I was saved by grace, through faith and that it was not of myself, but the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). But that head knowledge had not taken root. It hadn’t washed over me, saturating every muscle memory and knee-jerk reaction.
My reflex was yet self-focused. Self-reliant. Self-dependent. And the Bible teacher’s question exposed that. It unearthed what was really in my heart—where my hope was actually placed. I hadn’t yet fully believed that my position in Christ was a total gift. I was still counting on my own efforts. Still boasting—even if only inwardly—in my own work.
Alive in Christ
This portion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (2:1-10) is one long sentence in the original Greek. The idea of the sentence, of the whole passage, is that we are alive in Christ because of God’s mercy and initiative, not our own. We were dead in our transgressions (2:1), “but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
It is by God’s grace alone that we are alive. And not only alive but seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). Our position is with our Lord, spiritually seated with God’s son, our co-heir. Indeed, he is pleased! He made us alive and seated us with his beloved Son. His pleasure is imputed to us, through Jesus.
Not By Works
So much of life, except for our Christian life, is done by works. We study hard to get good grades. We work hard to get promoted. We practice hard to make the team. We run hard to get faster. We train hard to prepare for the concert.
At least it feels like it’s all done by works. We know from a broader view of scripture that even that hard work is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). It’s actually with all of Christ’s energy in us that we strive (Colossians 1:29). For our God alone gives us life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).
The point is, though, that in almost every other area, when we work hard (rather, when God enables us to work hard), we get results. Not so with our salvation.
There is no way to earn redemption. We cannot buy our forgiveness. We cannot secure our right standing with God through any effort, work, or trick of our own. We were dead. Dead men and women do not work. Our salvation is not our own doing, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). It is by free, unmerited, generous grace.
So That No One May Boast
It has been said that Jesus plus anything equals nothing. Or grace plus anything equals nothing. It’s true: to add anything to the free gift of salvation is to claim credit for oneself and to, therefore, make the free gift of redemption null and void. As Paul said to the Galatians, if we could earn our salvation in any way, “then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21).
Any boasting, any hope placed in oneself, nullifies the grace of God (Galatians 2:21). When I reflexively and inwardly answered, God is pleased with me because I am trying so hard, I was nullifying the grace of God. I was boasting. I was finding security in my own efforts.
The truth is that God is pleased with me, or God saved me, or God made me alive because of Christ. I am covered by the blood of Jesus. My sin was taken by him, and his righteousness was given to me. Through no effort of my own—I was dead!
We May Rejoice and Rest
This truth is life changing and freeing. It makes us free to rejoice in the God of our salvation—to simply praise him and thank him for his rich love and mercy and rescue. It also allows us to rest in Christ. We don’t have to clamor or worry. We don’t have to wonder if we’re doing enough. We don’t have to prove anything to ourselves or to anyone else.
You and I no longer need to boast, because our salvation is not by our works. It is not our own doing. It is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. I don’t have to seek security in my own efforts. I can know—and you can know—that God is pleased with us, he rescued us, as a free gift of grace.
Our faith is not by our work. We have no reason to boast. What a gift! What a reason for praise and peace.