Saved by Grace?
The entire sentence that this phrase is taken from is "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." (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV)
A more modern translation reads, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)
The Apostle Paul was writing this letter to the churches of Ephesus, one of the great cities of the Roman Empire. It had become a center for early Christianity under Paul's teaching and preaching. The New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles, provides some of the highlights of Paul's ministry in Ephesus in chapter 19. Many people were converted to Christianity, many people were healed and Christianity's influence was being felt throughout the city and the region.
One of the recurring issues that Paul had to constantly address, however, in every city that he preached in was this idea of law versus grace. In every city that had a Jewish synagogue, Paul would always start there in his evangelism efforts. This provided him with a ready audience of people who were already familiar with the Jewish Scriptures that Paul preached from. The synagogue also provided people who were familiar with the concept of monotheism and were attracted to it.
The drawback to starting in the synagogue was that Paul was constantly running into conflict with the Jewish leaders who disagreed with Paul about what the requirements of salvation were. As Paul began preaching the message of Christianity to more and more non-Jews, the Jewish religious leaders argued with Paul that these Gentiles needed to convert to Judaism if they were truly going to be converted. Judaism was, in essence, the doorway to Christianity.
Paul and other Christian leaders disagreed strongly with this point-of-view. Paul argued over and over again in his sermons, conversations, debates, and letters, that salvation was not connected to the Jewish law. His entire letter to the Galatian churches is an argument against works-based salvation and an argument for salvation by grace through faith.
The church in Ephesus did not appear to be as infected by this debate as were some of Paul's other churches. For Paul, however, it was important that everyone, whether they came from a Jewish background or not, understood what the basis of their salvation was. Human nature is such that all people tend toward thinking that salvation is something that must be worked for, something that can be earned.
These verses describe salvation as a free gift from God. You cannot earn it, and you cannot take credit for it. It is a gift. The Greek word for "grace" is "charis." It means, among other things, "a gift." If it were possible for one to earn their salvation, then they would have something to boast about. As it is, salvation only comes to the person who receives God's free gift through faith.
Have you ever felt like you were trying to earn God's approval? Have you ever got caught up in trying to earn your salvation?
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