“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.” Eph. 2:8-9
I want to take a close look at this particular verse and the history behind it for it has long been used by the Calvinist to claim that men have nothing to do with their own salvation, that it is all of God. First, if we look into the history of the early church at Ephesus, it was made up of mainly Jewish proselytes. Acts 18:2 tells us of what is known as the dispersion, when the Roman Emperor Claudius drove the Christians (ex-Jews) from Rome where they had been initially converted. They scattered into all parts of Asia and started small fellowships and these were the churches the Apostle Paul visited in his missionary trips, along with the ones that he himself established, teaching in the synagogues, ministering to both the Jews and the Greeks.
In the Old Jewish religion, the requirements were the “works’ of the Levitical and Mosaic laws but mainly circumcision which the Jews continued to insist was to be a part of the new religion since that had been the requirement handed down to Abraham. (Acts 15:1) This was a constant battle that the early church faced. Read of the teaching of Paul to the church of the Galatians in chapter 5:1-6. The entire chapter 15 of Acts speaks of this problem that the apostles faced. It had been also the reason that Peter had received his vision in Acts chapter 10 for all who were not circumcised were to be considered “unclean”. In Romans Chapter 9, the apostle again refers to this encountered problem in verses 30-32
The early church at Ephesus was no different for they still believed that the “Works of the Law’ of the Old Testament should be observed and this is the works that the apostle is referring to and not the obligations for the New Testament to have faith and repent. (Acts 20:21) What I believe that the Scriptures are trying to relate to us is that: God provided the road to salvation through the Cross of Calvary. Without this provision there was no possible way for man and God to reconcile for the law of God tells us that our sins have separated us from our Creator. (Isa. 59:2) The only way for our reconciliation was that, “But God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8 We were without hope until God reached out to us.
The apostle Paul tells us in Romans chapter 3, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? (The Old Testament law) Nay: but by the law of faith. (The New Testament requirement) This is the point that Paul continually attempts to make, that the Old Testament laws (mainly circumcision) are no longer in effect but now, after the Cross, God demands that men make choices and obey. The New Testament circumcision is now of the heart and not the flesh. Instead of the Calvinist understanding that salvation is all of God and solely for His elect, it now is available for “Whosoever Will”. Will what? Choose to repent, have faith, and endure. “But Christ as a Son over His own house; whose house we are, IF we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Heb. 3:6 Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, tell us: “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” It’s YOU REPENT, and not, I will repent you! That’s your job! It’s something that God cannot do for you.
Gordon Olson in his powerful book, The Truth Shall Make You Free, writes the following: Salvation or reconciliation is a voluntary agreement on the part of both God and man to have a changed relationship. The word salvation embodies the idea of rescuing one from danger and destruction. When used in a spiritual sense, it is to rescue or deliver a sinner from the consequences of his sin. Salvation implies the idea of helplessness, for if one can save himself from a given situation, he has no need to depend upon another. We are absolutely dependent upon the mercy of God, but must be willing to allow God to save us along with everything that is involved. It is imperative that man does his part and repents of all know sin as the first condition of salvation. God has provided and now the ball is in our court to repent and have faith for these cannot be done for us by anyone else! This was the message that the apostles taught,
“Repentance toward God and Faith in Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:21 I truly believe it would be much more accurate to say, “Because of grace are ye saved through faith.”