By Harry Bultema
“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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
There are no death-bed stories in the New Testament. In the Old Testament we find a few centered about the patriarchs and the wicked King Joash, but in the New Testament we see only Stephen fall under the stones and hear his prayer for his murderers. Though we hate death, it seems that the average audience loves death-bed stories and how we would desire to hear of the deaths of Peter, John, Paul, etc. How did they die? Were they afraid? Who were with them? What were their very last words? But the Holy Scriptures are eloquent in their silence concerning such details. Tradition has woven and spun some fine stories but we shun them. We are reminded of the soldiers of Napoleon that went into Russia and were never heard from again or the many sailors that went to sea and were silent ever after. The Lord is silent about the latter end of the Apostles in order that we might focus all our attention on their letters.
In our text, we find two great thoughts: 1) saved by grace apart from good works; and 2) saved unto good works. The word “grace” has as its fundamental meaning, “that which causes pleasure.” The name Isaac in the Old Testament is similar to it, meaning also a “pleasure tat makes one laugh with joy.” This was given, not because of Sarah’s laugh, but because of the joy of the covenant, and Abraham and Jacob had their names changed, but it was not so of Isaac. The word “grace” occurs 146 times in the New Testament and only 21 times outside of Paul and Luke’s writings. Paul’s Epistles begin with grace and end with grace. God is the God of all grace (1 Pet. 5:10); the Spirit is the Spirit of grace (Zech. 12:10); Christ is full of grace (Jn. 1:14-17). Further, the Bible speaks of the election of grace (Rom. 11:5); Word of grace (Acts 14:3); the Gospel of grace (Acts 20:24); the gift of grace (Rom. 5:15); reign of grace (Rom. 5:21); time of grace (2 Cor. 6:2); Throne of grace (Heb. 4:16); riches of grace (Eph. 2:7); glory of grace (Eph. 1:6); and in our text we read of salvation by grace (Eph. 2:8-9).
Oh, that we might truly visualize the super-abounding goodness and favor to the wicked and worthless on the part of the God of grace. Perhaps the words of Romans 8:32 picture it for us if we would but meditate upon the words: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things.”
“By grace are ye saved” does not denote eventual salvation but a present possession. In the perfect tense, it describes a work accomplished . How assuring and triumphantly it is stated. There is no IF nor doubt implied. Grace stands alone and does not mix with works when used in connection with the sinner’s salvation.
“Through Faith” is the channel, and faith is here put before us as the hand that accepts from God that which He offers. Some folks seem to pay more attention to their faith than to their Savior, just as though faith were their Savior. The paramount question is not “How do you believe” but, rather, “Whom do you believe?” You must be able to say, “I know in Whom I have believed.” If you flee for refuge to Christ, you have true faith and without that faith it is impossible to please God.
“And not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” The word “gift” refers to the whole clause; faith is a gift; grace is a gift; life is a gift. All these are a part of the “all things” mentioned in Romans 8:32. Regardless of the play on words, that theologians of various schools of interpretation may bring to bear on this verse, the entire context plainly refers to salvation, and all it implies is ours by grace (gift) and that alone.
“Not of works lest any man should boast.” This phrase is indeed humbling to man’s pride for it allows him no credit. We read of men in India sleeping on nails and broken glass, going through all sorts of self torture, crawling through jungles, deserts and mountains to fling themselves in the River Ganges, thus hoping to earn salvation. Man rebels at receiving salvation as an unmerited gift from God. The people of the church at Galatia sought o mix grace with works but the Apostle called them fools and demented. These in their very nature cannot be mixed for if it is of grace, it is not of works, and if it is of works it is not of grace. If man could boast of his earned salvation, what discord there would be in the Hallelujah Chorus in Heaven. All our boasting must be in the Lord and in the Cross upon which the Prince of Glory died. The Satanic mixture of arrogance, pride, and self deification God will not tolerate. God will need no angel “sergeant at arms” in Heaven to expel the boasters; they won’t be there. Let us prostrate ourselves before Him in great humility for what we are by the grace of God.
Knowing that we have not been saved by our works, let us know assuredly also that we have been saved unto good works.
“We are His workmanship” (literally—poem). A poem is characterized by beauty in form and thought. It is rhythmical and harmonious, sublime and elevated in style. And all this believers should be in their conduct before God and men.
“Created in Christ Jesus.” There are two creations: the Old one being created by Christ Who is seven times designated as the great Creator. It was created by Christ but not in Christ. This is the marked distinction between these two creations. Adam was near his Creator and fell but the believer is IN CHRIST and cannot fall away. Fall, yes, but he cannot fall away from Christ.
“Unto good works.” Good works is the fruit of salvation and not the root of it; the result of it and not the cause of it. This new creation was not brought about then by man’s good works anymore than the old creation was but the end in view with the whole new creation is good works on the part of the created. The whole Bible was given to us with the same end in view (1 Tim. 3:17). The Cross of Calvary had the same purpose, “…that He might purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
Knowing this, the pertinent question may well be asked, “Where are your good works?” You all believe that you were saved by grace and grace alone but in the same sense, do you realize that you were saved unto good works? If you were created unto good works, we ought to be able to see some of those good works. Barrenness is a sin when it comes to good works. May our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in Heaven. We are hiding in Him from the storms of judgment; let us reflect Him!
Do you say you are not talented or gifted as an excuse for your barrenness? God has ordained you unto good works from before the foundation of the world and we are to walk in them. God willed and planed our good works long ago and it is not His will that we only occasionally do a good work but that we walk in them.
God tells us in Colossians 4:5-6: “Walk in wisdom, redeem the time.” Redeeming the time means working. Our speech is to be “with grace seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Our work, walk, and word should be marked by grace. Men and women that are saved by grace are to talk grace and, of course, smutty stories, idle chatter, foul words, etc. are not of grace. The world talks on meaninglessly but our talk is to be worthwhile. A sprinkling of salt does marvelously to bring out the flavor in foods, so a few words of grace may mean the salvation of a soul or the edification of a child of God. Salt purifies as does the salt of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God.
I beg of you, dear fellow Christian, remember how God saved you and to what end you have been saved.
And you, my dear unsaved friend, flee to the refuge, to our blessed Savior, while you may. Soon He will be here and you do not want to meet Him unprepared.