Ephesians 2:8: Is it salvation or faith that is the gift of God?
There are those who say that it is faith and not salvation that is “the gift of God” spoken of in this verse. Is that true? Here’s the passage of Scripture this comes from.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
What does the word it refer to in this passage? That’s the question at hand. If you’ve been reading my other articles, you probably already know the answer I’d give for this but there are those who would be quick to disagree with me on this. I graduated from a seminary where there were many people, both students and faculty, who would disagree with me on this. They all believed it is the faith that God provides for salvation. In their thinking a person’s salvation is totally God’s decision, not man’s. To them salvation is entirely of God. There’s a sense in which I would completely agree with that, but to gain salvation man must himself decide or choose to place his own faith in what God has provided to gain it.
This belief that it is God alone who enables man to express faith for salvation is sometimes called Calvinism. You’ll find a complete article about it on this website entitled Calvinism: What is it all about? Many people who follow this teaching don’t like to admit it, but what this belief makes people is robots, claiming God only saves those to whom He chooses to give faith. In their mind, man is so totally depraved that he on his own would never choose God’s way for his salvation. To them he is incapable of this from birth. Such a belief comes from their misunderstanding of certain passages of Scripture. Ephesians 2:8 is probably the main one. Their claim regarding this passage is that it is faith that is God’s gift, not salvation. A major part of understanding what the apostle Paul is stating in Ephesians 2 is found in the context of the passage. The truth of the matter is that the context here is to do with the salvation God’s provides for us through Jesus Christ. The emphasis is on the fact that it is not man’s works but God’s one work through Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection, that provides the means for it. The phrase saying “It is the gift of God” accurately summarizes salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul tells us this same thing in his other writings.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Emphasis added]
Nothing is said here about faith being the gift. Salvation is free and appropriated by man’s faith, his own personal decision to accept what God has provided for it.
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: [Emphasis added]
It was Christ’s redemptive work on the cross that provided for this, not any work or combination of works on our part. Our works have nothing to do with it.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. [Emphasis added]
Is the gift spoken of here faith? No, it is the righteousness and justification of God that provides everlasting salvation to all who accept His provision for it. Faith is not a work that merits salvation or anything else. Rather it is the means to appropriating the salvation God offers freely as a gift. There’s no merit at all in faith. The merit is in the perfect object of that faith—the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ through His death, burial and resurrection. Because faith is not a work there’s no place at all for boasting in it.
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
It is the “law” or principle of faith that eliminates works.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. [Emphasis added]
Scripture makes it clear that there’s no basis at all for man’s boasting over his salvation. Certain passages may at first appear otherwise but the context in which certain statements are made serves to clear that up.
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. [Emphasis added]
The subject of salvation is noy being addressed in this passage but in the first six chapters of Romans. This passage is instead talking about the believer’s service to Him, not his salvation. The next verse in this passage makes that clear.
4 For as we [as believers and members of Christ’s body] have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: [Emphasis added]
Notice how Paul began this chapter. Here he’s pleading with believers, people who are already saved, to serve the Lord who provided their salvation.
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren [a term used only for believes], by [or because of] the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
This tells us that because we’ve been saved by grace through faith alone, the only reasonable thing for us to do is to be of service to Him in many works.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. [Emphasis added]
What’s stated in that passage clearly relates to us today. The part about spiritual gifts does not! Before the writing of the Scriptures was complete God provided certain spiritual gifts for the edification of the church. But now that the revelation of Scripture is complete, those gifts have passed away. This was foreseen in what was written to the Corinthians church. For more information on this, please see my article about it— Spiritual Gifts: Do they exist today? The apostle Paul anticipated the day when these special gifts would no longer be needed. Note what he says about this.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
8 Charity [AGAPE = love] never faileth [EKLEIPO = ceases: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail [EKLEIPO = cease]; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
The “knowledge” spoken of here is the spiritual gift of knowledge that God used to provide the teaching that specifically relates to us today as members of what is called the Body of Christ.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy [PROPHETEIA = speak forth] in part.
At that time, they only had a partial knowledge of these things. God’s full and complete revelation had still not been provided.
10 But when that which is perfect [TELEIOS = complete] is come, then that which is in part [spiritual gifts] shall be done away.
Here he’s speaking of the coming of the complete revelation of Scripture. This word “perfect” being in the neuter gender in the Greek text tells us it cannot refer to a person, but an object. That object is the complete revelation of Scripture, what we now speak of as the Bible—66 books in one.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Here he’s comparing the infancy stage of what we may speak of as the church vs. the time when it would be brought to maturity as it has been since that time in the first century.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; [complete revelation had still not been provided] but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
God’s revelation would be made clear.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Faith, hope, and love are the ongoing features of the church of today called the body of Christ.
5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. [Emphasis added]
The apostle Paul makes the statement that these people had each been given a measure of faith. This is not to do with salvation but spiritual growth. This whole back section of Paul’s letter to the Romans is about the Christian life, not salvation.
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
These people were all at different levels of spiritual growth and development just as believers are today. But for them as it is with us today, spiritual growth demands the steady intake or learning of God’s Word. In the day in which this was written, all the revelation God was going to give had still not been provided. This is why at that time there was a need for the spiritual gifts listed. This was still true when this letter to the Romans was written. Note what he tells them.
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
This is referring to faith, not as believing, but as that which is believed.
So, what are we to conclude from all this? Is the faith we express that leads to our salvation a gift of God? Absolutely not! Ephesians 2:8-9 is about one’s expression of faith unto salvation. Faith in Christ is simply man’s positive response to what God has provided through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The salvation that God then provides is the gift He provides totally apart from any works on man’s part. None of us could ever be good enough through our own works to earn or deserve such a precious gift. If you’ve not received that gift by faith in Christ, I hope you will right now.