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  • Writer's pictureWilson Lim

GRACE: FAITH & WORKS (Part 2) The Biblical Basis

Updated: May 9



Is the faith we exercised to trust in God for our salvation a gift from God?  Meaning we did not or cannot exercise faith out of our own volition?  Or is it that faith is an act of human choice to trust in Jesus Christ?  This is an argument that Calvinists and Arminians have had for centuries. How does all of these relate to God’s grace?  In this article, we will tackle the issue of grace and faith scripturally by diving deep into Ephesians 2:4-9. 

 

This article is Part 2 of Grace: Faith & Works which continues from Part 1 which looked into the experiential part of our faith journey to debunk the Calvinist concept requiring regeneration before saving faith can arise.

 

GOD’S GRACE IS WHAT SAVES US

 

Eph 2:4-7 (NIV) “ 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

 

V5 makes it very clear "by grace you have been saved".  Yet what is “grace” actually?  Grace can be described by the acronym “God's Redemption At Christ's Expense”.  Grace is God’s unmerited favour.  It means God showed favour to us despite zero merit, zero goodness on our part.    We were absolutely undeserving to be saved! Utterly without hope!

 

Why?  For we were absolutely unrighteous.  Spiritually dead in our sins.  To be spiritually dead does not mean that our spirit is absolutely dead wood inside.  The corpse analogy conveys the wrong idea.  It just means our spirit is naturally oriented away from God.  There are many spiritual people, but spiritually-oriented away from God.


Total Depravity.  We were utterly and totally, morally and spiritually corrupted in our sins.

 

Theologically we call it Total Depravity.  We were utterly and totally, morally and spiritually corrupted in our sins.  So spiritually lost that we cannot and would not find the way to God by ourselves.  That is sinful man's natural state.  That is why, God had to take the initiative to reach out to save us. Christ had to pay the price for our sins.  With His sacrifice on the cross. 

 

Why did Jesus make the sacrifice?  V4-5 reveals it is because God has a great love for us.  Because He is so full of mercy.  Despite the fact we were so dead in our sins, God still offered us forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  It was solely God’s grace that enables us to be saved.  Further, in v6 - 7, God will one day raise us together with Christ and allow us to reign with Christ in the heavenly realms.  This reveals how incomparably rich His grace is to us.

 

God could have executed judgment immediately upon us because of our sins.  Instead, God graciously put us on probation.  He offered us the opportunity to respond to His loving provision of salvation through Jesus Christ.

 

Perhaps a question will arise.  If man is totally depraved in sin, how can man respond to God’s grace?  God’s grace is God moving upon the hearts of sinful man to draw us to Himself.  He does this by persuading us, usually through other witnesses.  Enlightening us by opening our understanding to the Gospel. Convicting us by the work of the Holy Spirit and so forth.  It is like a rubber band that is stretch beyond its natural resting state because of God working to draw us to Him.  Our natural state has not changed.  But as long as we are responding to God’s grace, our senses are being opened to God.  If God totally removes His grace, we would snap back to our natural state eventually.


The grace of God draws sinful man to Himself.  Man can choose to respond positively and be further drawn towards God.  Or negatively 

 

The Engel scale describes the phases quite well.  So the grace of God draws sinful man to Himself.  Man can choose to respond positively and be further drawn towards God.  Or negatively and draw away from God. Those who continue to respond positively can eventually be drawn to the point of repentance and exercising faith to choose to trust in Jesus as their personal Saviour and Lord.  Yet through it all, it would not be possible except for the grace of God.  God’s grace is foundational to our salvation.  On this point we agree with the Calvinists.


God’s grace is foundational to our salvation.

  

FAITH IS NOT WORKS

 

Eph 2:8-9 (NIV) “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”

 

Calvinists argue that if man exercised faith for salvation, it is a form of work.  Because it came from us.  That is why faith must be a gift from God for man to be justified.   The question is, “Does God consider our exercise of faith a form of human work?”  Let’s examine biblically the distinction between faith and works.



Works has the meaning of human deeds here.  While faith means trusting God.

Works has the meaning of human deeds here.  While faith means trusting God.  Notice, the Greek word “believe” has the same root meaning as “faith”.  So, believe and faith is essentially the same thing.  The English language did not have the appropriate verbs for faith such as “Abraham faithed” or “who does not work but faiths in Him”.

 

Apostle Paul was arguing against Jewish Christians who thought that believers could be saved or justified by God through observing the Laws of Moses. He was arguing God only justify through faith, not by human deeds.  Let’s follow the logic of the argument.  Following v2, if we claim Abraham could be justified because of what he did, then he could boast about it. 

 

Now imagine the following hypothetical scenario.  Abraham worked very hard to justify himself before God and now declared, “I am a very good person.”  If God then credits him with righteousness, it would be like wages.  Abraham could boast to his mates “See this righteous crown?  I worked my butt off to get it!”.  Yet v2 proceeds to state, “But not before God”.  God does not accept such a declaration.  

 

Now consider the actual scenario.  Abraham did not work hard to be justified.  In fact, not at all. He was not trying to be righteous. But he simply believed what God promised him.  It was Abraham’s faith that prompted God to count him as righteous as v3 makes clear, “Abraham believed God and it was counted/credited to him as righteousness.” 

 

Note, we are not talking about saving faith here.  Just generic faith, trusting in God’s promise.  So God gave Abraham a gift.  God considered Abraham as righteous.  A gift which Abraham did no work to deserve it.  Hence the contrast in v5 between believe and work, “to the one who does not work but believes”.  So to believe is not considered as work.


God does not consider our faith to be works.  Exercising faith is not a form of works. 

 

Now recall that believe and faith are essentially the same matter. This reveals that God does not consider our faith to be works.  Exercising faith is not a form of works.  In Scripture, faith is never considered to be a human work deserving any merit from God.  Biblically there is no such concept as faith being a meritorious work, as the Calvinists claim.  This is reinforced throughout Scripture where God challenges His hearers to believe, to choose to believe in Him.  If choosing to believe is a meritorious work, then why does God make that such an important criteria?  If faith was only given by God, then how can God challenge them to choose?   Hence, faith is an exercise of human choice, to trust in God.


Faith is an exercise of human choice, to trust in God.

 

Works is about our deeds. Our tangible actions.  Faith is our attitude of trusting God.  It is not tangible. In other words, faith is not works!


Works is about our deeds. Faith is our attitude of trusting God. Faith is not works!

  

SALVATION IS THE GIFT, NOT FAITH

 

Eph 2:8-9 (NIV) “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”  

 

We will now examine this passage more deeply to show here why faith is not a gift from God.  But salvation is.

 

Analysing the Grammar

 

In English translations, the sentence structure is ambiguous. In v8 "this not from yourselves". which is the pronoun "this" referred to?  Is it "grace", "faith" or the entire preceding phrase which is about salvation?

 


As mentioned earlier, the Calvinists have argued “this” refers to faith.  However, in recent years many scholars no longer hold to that view.  In the Greek we have gendered nouns and pronouns – much more than English.  Feminine, masculine or neuter ie no-gender.   In English, it is nouns like “chairman”, “chairwoman” or “chairperson”.  We use the pronoun he for chairman, she for chairwoman.

 

The "grace" and "faith" in the passage are in the feminine form.  But "this" is in the "neuter".

 


In classic Greek literature it is very rare for the gender to switch in the sentence and nowhere does it occur in the New Testament.  Typically, a neuter pronoun refers back to a preceding section.  In other words, grammatically "this" is referring to the theme of salvation, which is by grace in the preceding v4-8a, and specifically to "by grace you have been saved" ie salvation.

 

In fact, this approach is consistently seen in Ephesians 1:15 which refers back to 1:3-14, Ephesians 1:15 (NIV) “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people…”.  Also in Ephesians 3:1 (NIV) “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…” refers back to 2:11-22: 3:14 to 3:1-13. 


The “gift of God” in Ephesians 2:8-9 was referring to salvation rather than faith.  Faith is not the gift from God in this passage. 

 

Hence, a grammatically straightforward explanation why the “gift of God” in Ephesians 2:8-9 was referring to salvation rather than faith.  Faith is not the gift from God in this passage. 

 

Analysing the Syntax or Sentence Structure

 

There are 3 complements which follows from "this" in v8.   What are complements?  Complements describe an abstract noun (an idea rather than an object).  So, if the noun is “faith”, we get:  

 

·       Faith is not your own doing

·       Faith is the gift of God

·       Faith is not the result of works

 


The first 2 can maybe make sense – for the Calvinist. We already argued why it is not correct.  We already established that faith is not a form of works.  Faith is in contrast to works.  How can works ever result in faith?   So last sentence is totally unnecessary.  It is like saying black is not white!  But if the noun is "salvation" then we get:

 

·       Salvation is not your own doing

·       Salvation is the gift of God

·       Salvation is not the result of works

 


Which now makes perfect sense, as a rhetorical device, reinforcing the concept that salvation is because of the grace of God. We cannot save ourselves by what we do. 


No Scripture describes our “exercise of faith”, the attitude of trusting in God as a gift from God.

 

No Scripture describes our “exercise of faith”, the attitude of trusting in God as a gift from God.  1 Cor 12:9 refer to the “charismata” gift of faith, which is a divinely supernaturally enabled faith.  That is not the trusting “faith” we are referring to here.  There are Scriptures which talk about the truth or content of our “faith” as being from God.  That is obviously from God.  So we can conclude that salvation is the gift from God, not faith.  


We can conclude that salvation is the gift from God, not faith.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

We showed theologically that God’s grace is foundational to our salvation.  Out of His grace, salvation was made available to us.  No one can earn it.  It is a free gift.  So salvation is the free gift.  We also showed that faith is not a form of works.  God does not view it that way.


God, by His grace, does enable us to be able to reach a point where we can exercise faith. 

 

Faith is our attitude of trust in God.  It is a choice we make.  God does not make that choice for us. Though I will qualify to say that God, by His grace, does enable us to be able to reach a point where we can exercise faith.  Because of His work to persuade us, enlighten us, convict us, etc.  However, we make the choice whether to place our trust in Him.  Whether to accept God’s offer of salvation. 

 

 

Copyright©️2024 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.

 

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