A Much Abused Passage – Ephesians 2:1-10 (Part 2)

The Gift of God

In the last post we looked at Ephesians 2:1-7 and asked whether Calvinism’s claim of regeneration before faith is taught in that passage; by comparing it with a similar passage in Colossians 2:12-13 we saw that Paul taught people are “raised up with Christ” through faith during baptism in water. In this post we want to look at a couple more verses in Ephesians chapter 2 that have been used as Calvinistic proof texts.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.

The Calvinist logic on these two verses is simple. Faith is a gift from God. But even more, it is a gift that we cannot reject. Simply put, no one can believe in Christ except those who are given the gift of faith, and those who are given the gift of faith by God’s unilateral grace cannot resist it.

In a previous post I have discussed that faith is indeed a “gift,” but it is not an irresistible gift or one that is offered to only a few individuals. But in this post I don’t want to discuss how one comes to believe, I just want to look at whether or not Ephesians 2:8-9 are teaching that faith is the “gift of God.”

As I noted in my last post, in Ephesians 2:1-7 Paul is not trying to tell us whether faith, repentance or being “raise with Christ” comes first. Instead he is teaching the awesome truth that God has saved us by his grace in Jesus Christ. When he gets to verse 8 and 9 he wants to tell us how we receive it and how we don’t. His basic logic is simple. Since salvation is a gift, it is not received through “works, lest any should boast,” but instead is received “through faith.”

The disagreement about the meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9 focuses on the words “this” and “it” in verse 8. Calvinism says that these two words are referring to “faith.” They would paraphrase verse 8 in the following manner: “We are saved by grace through faith, and this faith is not your own doing, this faith is the gift of God.”

This interpretation makes sense only as long as we forget about the context of the passage, especially verse 9. In verses 1-7 Paul has been emphasizing that salvation comes from the grace and power of God that is in Jesus Christ, not through our own power. Then in verse 8-9 he sums it up and says, “So, our salvation is by grace, and this grace is received through trusting in God through Jesus Christ. This salvation is not your own doing, it is a gift of God’s kindness; this salvation is not of works so that no one can boast that they saved themselves and take away from the glory due to God alone.”

So how can we know with absolute certainty that “this,” “it” and “the gift of God” in verse 8 refer to salvation and not to faith? Do we need to pull out our concordance and look for some similar passages? Do we need to pull out some commentaries and do some Greek word studies? Not at all! We only need to ask what error Paul was trying to make sure the Ephesians would not fall into. Let’s look at the two options.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.

Calvinism’s Conclusion: If “this” and “it” refer to “faith” then Paul is saying, “Don’t let anyone deceive you into thinking that you can earn faith by doing good works. Otherwise you will boast that faith comes by your good works.”

Paul’s Conclusion: If “this” and “it” refer to “salvation” then Paul is warning them, “Don’t let anyone deceive you into thinking that you can earn salvation by doing good works. Otherwise you will boast that you saved yourself by doing good deeds.”

When we don’t forget to let Paul finish the sentence he begins in 2:8 but concludes in 2:9, we will not be in doubt about what error Paul is warning the Ephesians to avoid. There was no heresy in the early church (and probably in any generation) that taught that one has to earn faith by doing good works. It would be a very strange thing for Paul to warn the Ephesians to avoid a heresy that didn’t exist. It is hard to imagine what such an error would even look like. I suppose it could be argued that the hyper-faith movement might try to “earn” faith by all their “faith confessions,” but that would be a stretch. And it would not be something the Ephesians were tempted with anyway.

On the other hand, we do know that the early church was plagued with people saying that the only way one could earn salvation was to keep the laws of Moses. It makes complete sense that Paul, after making it very clear that we are saved by the power and grace of God in Christ Jesus (vs. 1-7) would then go on to say that this salvation is to be received by faith and not by works. We can understand why he would emphatically say, “Salvation is not by works, lest any should boast that they earned it.”

In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul is making the same argument he made in Romans 4:2-5:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…

Paul is not warning the Ephesians that faith can’t be earned by good works, but that salvation can’t be earned by good works. He is telling them not to boast that they saved themselves by good works, but to boast in the grace of God.

8 thoughts on “A Much Abused Passage – Ephesians 2:1-10 (Part 2)

  1. Jesus made it clear to the pharisees that they could not come to him. Why? They could not hear or more specifically they weren’t able to hear. Their father was the devil according to Jesus. John 8:43 -47 There wasn’t even a hint that they could make a decision or come to salvation. Jesus says, flat out, they could not understand; they could not hear. Sure they rejected Christ out of their own will but if you can’t understand or hear God’s calling, this is inevitable. Putting Ephesians 2:8-9 more into context more than you have, people are “dead” (not half alive) in tresspasses and sins in verse 1 and 5. No dead person will or be able to come to Christ. Therefore Paul, based on verse 1 and 5, makes it known that 8-9 stands on the reality that man can’t come to Christ and it’s only by our merciful God’s grace he so wonderfully bestows upon – his choice not ours.

  2. Another thought about the errors of calivinists. The whole tulip (dutch flower) hangs the “T”. Total depravity– The calvinists has to reinterpret and change definitions of words to make the “total depravity” work. Man in his unsaved condition is made out to be a “rotting corpse” according to “total depravity” definition of reformed thinking. Of course this thinking when compared to scriptures falls flat on it’s nose.

    Gen.4 tells us that ‘unsaved Cain’ spoke with God (Elohim) Himself at least 4 times. Cain was also given opportunity to ‘correct his error’ by going to Abel and get the right sacrifice. These passages alone debunk the “T” and the rest of the ‘flower’ dies. Man in has natural state has a dead “spirit” admittedly, but declaring the unsaved to a “corpse” is a calvinistic ploy. Cain a had “intelect, emotion and will” without a doubt.

    Blessings on your day!

  3. I suppose a Greek study could be used to decipher what “this” and “it” are refering to, but I agree that the whole of scriptures will reveal the answer as you have pointed out. Romans 6:23 simply declares “salvation” (eternal) is what Paul is focusing on as the GIFT. …”but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thank you for debunking the hideous doctrines of ‘reformed theology’ that is killing the churches.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Since I know enough Greek to know I dont know enough Greek, I rely on comparing the various English translation & on the context;) From my experience people (me included) can make the Greek say whatever they want just as they can with the English.

  4. Keep up the good work chris,i don’t know why calvinists can’t see the trust pls read my comment in the part 1 of this artilcle.

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