“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21).
One of the favorite doctrines of the denominational world is salvation by grace alone. Hiscox’s Standard Baptist Manual states, “We believe the Scriptures teach that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace” (1903, p. 61). Many in the religious world argue that we are saved by grace to the exclusion of any works on our part, especially baptism, since, they say, it is something we do. One of the passages often advanced to prove this point is Ephesians 2:8,9: “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.” Does this passage, or any other, teach we are saved by grace alone?
First, it should be mentioned that the same volume mentioned above also states, just one page later, that the “gift of eternal life . . . is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in Christ” (p. 62). These two concepts, “wholly of grace” and “solely through faith” are logically mutually exclusive. Both cannot be true, in the same way and same sense. Now, it may be partly through grace and partly through faith, but not both.
Second, the passage in Ephesians comes with a context. In the first verse of the second chapter, Paul contrasts two periods of time and two lifestyles. At one time the brethren in Ephesus were dead in sins, but now they are alive. To be dead in sin is to be living in sin and thus spiritually dead to God. Sin separates us from God (Is. 59:2). But sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4). So when they were living in sin they were acting in a way contrary to God’s law or His will. Now, he says, they are not dead in sin, but alive to God, meaning they are acting in a way that is in harmony with or obedience to God’s will. This language plainly speaks of works, of things done in one’s life.
In verses two and three he continues to describe the distinction between these two times and lifestyles. The former time and lifestyle were lived in the world. John tells us that this is the moral sphere of human conduct satisfying the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). In verse three Paul says that these Ephesian brethren had previously fulfilled the lusts of the flesh and of mind, but now they are not. Fulfilling these desires requires activity or works. Paul, in fact, describes them as “works” of the flesh (Gal. 5:19,20).
Furthermore, Paul said that they were the children of disobedience (2:2) and deserving of wrath (2:3). Paul elsewhere said that wrath is deserved by those who “are contentious and do not obey the truth” (Rom. 2:28). If, in their former life, they were disobedient, but now they are no longer so, that means they now must be obedient. That is, they are doing acts that God had commanded. This is works! Paul is describing how at one point in time they were disobedient, but now are obeying God.
Paul describes exactly when this time was. Paul said they were quickened and raised up together (2:5,6). When does this quickening and raising up occur? Paul wrote to the Colossian brethren, an epistle written at about the same time as the Ephesian epistle, that they were “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). They were buried and raised with him in the act of baptism.
Again, Paul wrote “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Just as Christ was raised from the dead, they were (and we are) raised from the watery grave of baptism to walk in newness of life. That new life came at the point in time when they were raised from the waters of baptism. That is when and where the change occurred, for them and also for us.
Furthermore, Paul says we are raised to sit in heavenly places in Christ (6). It is in Christ “in heavenly places” where all spiritual blessings are, including salvation (Eph. 1:3; II Tim. 2:10). How do we get in Christ? We get into Christ by baptism Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:26,27). Thus, the point at which the change occurred was in the act of baptism, when baptism is preceded by the appropriate moral conditions.
This is borne out in the historical account of the establishment of the church at Ephesus. Paul stated of the Ephesians that they trusted in Christ after they heard the word and were sealed with the Holy Spirit after they believed (Eph. 1:13). When did this occur? In Luke’s account in Acts the people of Ephesus heard the word which Paul preached to them and were baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:4,5). After this Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, and thus were sealed (Acts 19:6; Eph. 1:13). Thus, the point at which they were quickened and raised was when they were baptized for the remission of sins.
Paul further points out in the Ephesian letter’s context that God loved us even when we sinners (2:4). Paul said even while we were dead in sins God quickened us (2:5). What is being spoken of here? Paul tells us that even when we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-10). There is the manifestation of God’s grace! We, though undeserving, were the recipients of God’s favor through Jesus Christ’s death. Paul states that in our being saved it shows “the exceeding riches of his grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
If grace alone could save, then all would be saved for God’s grace has appeared to all (Tit. 2:11). But there is a hell and it is prepared for and will be populated by those whose works did not qualify them to be recorded in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:11-15). We are not saved by grace alone, or faith alone or works alone, but by all three (Rom. 1:5).
It is in this context that we are to read Eph. 2:8,9. We are saved by God’s grace, by His kindness shown toward us in the sacrifice of His Son. That part is God’s part for we could not save ourselves. We certainly are not saved by works of merit or works of the law of Moses, but we are saved by works of obedience (Rom. 16:26; I Thess. 1:3; Heb. 5:8,9). If we try to be saved by our own merit, or by the works of the law of Moses, then we frustrate (atheteo) the grace of God (Gal. 2:20). But we violate or frustrate (atheteo) God’s command if we suggest we can be saved by grace alone (Mark 7:9; Rom. 6:1). Either of these two views is really frustrating to salvation.
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:15-18).
Eric L. Padgett