Over the years Christians come to love certain Bible passages. Undoubtedly John 3:16 is at the top of our list of favorite verses. Another passage we treasure is Ephesians 2:8-10, for here we find one of the best explanations of the meaning of salvation:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The focus of this article is the words “this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Every component of this passage is critical. And certainly this section is essential, for it teaches that salvation does not come from ourselves or from anything we do. It is all God’s doing. Salvation cannot be earned by doing “good works”; rather, it is received as a gift, the result of God’s work through Christ.
This not from yourselves.
What is the “this” that is not from ourselves? Salvation is not from ourselves. We had nothing to do with obtaining it. It is not a human achievement; rather it is a divine accomplishment — something only God can do.
Not by works, so that no one can boast.
I love the logic of this passage. If salvation is by grace and through faith, it is therefore impossible for us to earn it by our good works. Grace and works are mutually exclusive. It has to be one or the other; and since Paul has already told us that salvation is God’s doing (via His grace), then it cannot be the result of man’s doing (via his works).
Now, let’s apply this verse to the question of the ages, “What do I need to do to get to heaven?” When we ask this question, we are usually asking for a list of “works” (good deeds) that would guarantee eternal life to the doer of those deeds. Based on this passage, there are no good works that enable a person to earn salvation. Since salvation is the result of God’s unmerited favor, there is nothing a person can to do to merit His favor. Even if you’ve done a million good works, you are still a sinner, and even if you’ve only committed one sin (and haven’t believed in Jesus as the only person who can save you from the penalty of that sin), that one sin is enough to keep you out of heaven forever.
And that’s why Paul says that salvation is a gift from God to man. It is freely given to the one who receives it by faith. Paul says in verse 9 that salvation is “not by works, so that no one can boast.” If a person could work his way into heaven, just think what an accomplishment that would be! If doing a million good deeds was the price it took to earn eternal life, you’d really have something to brag about, wouldn’t you? You’d really be something special. But salvation is about God’s greatness, not ours. Salvation is nothing to boast about, because we didn’t do the work to obtain it – Jesus did all the work when He died on the cross. He is the only one entitled to brag about it.
Sadly, the Bible’s teaching on salvation by faith rather than works has been misunderstood by many. Virtually every other religion teaches some version of “salvation by works” or “salvation by faith and works” rather than the biblical truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Even among professing Christians, this teaching can be a hard pill to swallow. Because of our pride, we have convinced ourselves that we must earn salvation rather than receive it as a gift that only God can provide through the death of Jesus Christ. Over the years I’ve talked with countless people about the means of salvation — people who consider themselves Christians – and I hear the same thing repeatedly from Protestants, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox alike. Namely, that our good works are necessary to earn salvation from sin.
Oh may the Spirit of God enlighten our hearts and minds to see the error of this stubborn refusal to trust Christ for salvation rather than ourselves! My friend, I pray today that you will take to heart the teaching of Ephesians 2:8-10. May we all understand that salvation is the work of God from start to finish.