Ephesians 2:8

Sermon preached on April 23, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Marg's mother, Georgie. I started reading it and very quickly realized that it wasn't from Georgie. Even though it was sent from her account, early on in the email there was a reference in it to 'Mom' and then I thought that it was probably her daughter Lynda, who wrote it. Lynda lives the closest to Georgie and sometimes when she's at Georgie's she'll write an email using Georgie's account. This impression was reinforced by a reference in the email to a computer question that Georgie had that she said she was going to ask Lynda about and get back to me. So it fit right in that it was from Lynda. So I read the rest of the email thinking it was from Lynda. But after I was all done, I read the signature and to my surprise it was from Marg's brother, Alan. It was so weird—in reading one email I went from thinking it was from Georgie, to thinking it was from Lynda, to knowing that it was from Alan. For awhile it was most confusing.

It's all right to be confused about an email and who it's from, but it's not all right to be confused about some of the central things of Christianity.
We need to have clear and accurate views about things like faith. What is saving faith? It is not merely belief that God exists. In the book of James we read, (James 2:19)

"You believe that there is one God.
Good! Even the demons believe that—
and shudder."

The demons knew intellectual facts about Jesus. They believed they were true—but that was not faith. We see this in Mark 1:24 where a demon asked,

"What do you want with us,
Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"

Now of course that refers to a demon and there is no salvation for the angels that fell into sin, so the point is not proved. But when you consider that Judas spent three years with Jesus, saw the miracles He performed, heard His teaching etc., yet perished—it shows that saving faith consists of more than knowing intellectual facts about Jesus. John Murray writes, (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, p. 259)

"Faith is not belief that we have been saved, nor belief that Christ has saved us, nor even that Christ died for us."

Saving faith is not any of those things. You can believe that you have been saved and still perish. On the last day many are going to say to Jesus, (Matthew 7:22f)

"Lord, Lord,
did we not prophesy in your name,
and in your name drive out demons
and perform many miracles?"

But Jesus will say to them,

"I never knew you.
Away from me, you evildoers!"

You can believe that Christ saved his people and perish. You can believe that Christ died for your sins and perish. You can believe that the Bible is true and still perish. Saving faith is more than those things.

Thus we see that

it's important that we know what saving faith is.

Not long ago I read a comment about a congregation's teaching. It read,

"The overriding theme has been 'accept Jesus', but I have never really heard what that means."

What does it mean to accept Jesus? No one should be confused about that. We need to know exactly what it means. We need to be crystal clear on that. So what I want to do this morning is to look at faith and its role in our salvation. Our text reads, (Ephesians 2:8-9)

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—
and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God—
not by works,
so that no one can boast."

The great thing we see here is that

we are saved through faith.

Faith is the instrument through which we are saved. Faith itself does not save. Faith in itself is not what saves us.

We must be clear about this because the mistake many make today is that they focus on the means rather than the end. A few weeks ago I read about a
study on prayer. Some of the conclusions that were bantered about in the newspapers was that prayer not only didn't do any good- but it was actually detrimental. They studied a lot of people who were sick. Some were prayed for and some were not prayed for. They found that overall, the people who were not prayed for had fewer complications and got better quicker. So they concluded that prayer was not effective.

But do you see their mistake? They studied prayer in itself. I don't think it mattered what kind of prayer it was or who it was directed to. I don't believe their study was limited to Christian prayer. It was about prayer in general. As a result their conclusion was not surprising.
Prayer is not a force that operates on its own. Prayer in itself does not heal. The reason that prayer is effective is because there is a God who hears and answers prayer and who has determined that our prayers are instruments through which He accomplishes His purposes in the world. In that great process prayer in itself is just an instrument.

It's the same with faith. Faith itself does not save. Rather, it's the instrument through which God saves us. We are saved through faith. We must not look on faith as an end in itself. Rather faith looks to Christ. His work is applied to us through faith. The benefits of His work come to us by faith. Faith is the instrument through which we are saved.

So if faith itself doesn't save us—who does? We are saved by Jesus. We are saved by Him on the basis of His work. It's Jesus who saves us.

Faith is the means by which we appropriate Christ.

John Murray writes, (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 112)

"The specific character of faith is that it looks away from itself and finds its whole interest and object in Christ."

We are saved through faith.

Jesus is the object of our faith.

Jesus is the One we believe in. He is the One we trust. We are saved by Jesus on the basis of His work. He died in our place for our sins. He rose from the dead for our justification. We are saved by Him.

Paul made this very clear. You'll remember his (and Silas') answer to the Philippian jailer when he asked them, (Acts 16:30f)

"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

They replied, (Acts 16:31)

"Believe in the Lord Jesus,
and you will be saved"

This is also what Jesus taught. In John 3:16 Jesus said,

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."

We also see it in Paul's writings. In Galatians 2:16 Paul wrote that we are justified,

"by faith in Jesus Christ.
So we, too,
have put our faith
in Christ Jesus
that we may be justified
by faith in Christ"

Then in Romans 3:22 we read,

"This righteousness from God
comes through
faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe."

And in Romans 3:26 Paul wrote,

"he did it to demonstrate his justice
at the present time,
so as to be just and the one who justifies
those who
have faith in Jesus."

The object of faith is Jesus. John Murray writes, (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, p. 259)

"It is preoccupation with the glories of the Savior that constrains faith."

Now this means that faith includes knowledge. J. Gresham Machen writes, (What is Faith, p. 46)

"it is impossible to have faith in a person without having knowledge of the person; far from being contrasted with knowledge, faith is founded upon knowledge."

As John Murray writes, (Redemption, p. 110)

"there is a knowledge that is indispensable to faith… We must know who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is able to do. Otherwise faith would be blind conjecture at the best…"

As we read in Hebrews 11:6,

"anyone who comes to him
must believe that he exists
and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

So an essential ingredient of saving faith is knowledge of Jesus Christ. As we read in Romans 10:14,

"how can they believe
in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear
without someone preaching to them?"

But as we have already seen, faith is more than knowledge. Knowledge is just one part of faith. One can know all about Jesus and still perish.

We are saved through faith.

What this means is that those who have faith trust Jesus to save them.

John Murray writes, (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, p. 259)

"Faith is in its essence commitment to Christ that we may be saved."

You need to do more than just know about Jesus—you need to trust Jesus to save you.

We see this quite clearly in Jesus' story of the
Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. In Luke 18:9 we read,

"To some who were confident
of their own righteousness
and looked down on everybody else,
Jesus told this parable:
Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:
'God, I thank you that I am not like other men
—robbers, evildoers, adulterers
—or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance.
He would not even look up to heaven,
but beat his breast and said,
'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
I tell you that this man,
rather than the other,
went home justified before God.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The tax collector trusted in God. In contrast to the Pharisee, he was not confident of his own righteousness.

This shows the contrast between faith and works.

Faith is the opposite of trusting in your own works to set you right with God.

We are saved through faith, not through works.

The thing about works is that they earn something. You'll remember how Paul put it in
Romans 4:4,

"Now when a man works,
his wages are not credited to him as a gift,
but as an obligation."

In other words, if we are saved by works, it is not grace. If someone works for something they deserve their pay. God owes it to them. Paul continues Romans 4 with these words, (verse 5f)

"However, to the man who does not work
but trusts God who justifies the wicked,
his faith is credited as righteousness.
David says the same thing
when he speaks of the blessedness of the man
to whom God credits righteousness
apart from works:
'Blessed are they whose transgressions
are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin
the Lord will never count against him.'"

The whole section in Romans 4 is about how God Abraham was saved by faith and not by works. In verse 3 Paul wrote,

"What does the Scripture say?
'Abraham believed God,
and it was credited to him as righteousness.'"

Abraham trusted in God. He was saved through faith.

It has to be that way. Indeed, a great truth that the Bible stresses is that

we cannot earn our salvation by our works.

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) This means that our attempts to earn salvation are doomed to fail. They fall far short. So it is the utmost folly to trust in them.

Thus our salvation has to be of grace. In
Galatians 2:21 Paul wrote,

"I do not set aside the grace of God,
for if righteousness could be gained through the law,
Christ died for nothing!"

The Garden of Gethsemane showed us that there was no other way of salvation except through the sacrifice of Jesus.

You'll remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was in great agony. He said that His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. (Matthew 26:38) His sweat was like great drops of blood. (Luke 22:44) There He was undergoing the baptism that was so distressing to Him. (Luke 12:50) That was the context in which Jesus pleaded with the Father and said, (Matthew 26:39)

"My Father,
if it is possible,
may this cup be taken from me."

But what was the answer? The answer was that there was no other way possible for salvation. Man could not earn his salvation. The only way for man to be saved was for Jesus to die in their place. The only way for man to be saved was for the spotless Son of God to take their sins upon Himself and lay down His life for them.

The great truth is that in order to obtain that salvation, man must believe in Jesus. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:23,

"And this is his command:
to believe in the name of his Son,
Jesus Christ,"

It's not by works—it's by faith in Jesus Christ. In Galatians 2:16 Paul wrote,

"know that a man is not justified
by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.
So we, too,
have put our faith
in Christ Jesus
that we may be justified
by faith in Christ
and not by observing the law,
because by observing the law
no one will be justified."

And in Romans 3:28 Paul declared,

"For we maintain
that a man is justified by faith
apart from observing the law."

We also see this clearly from the context of Ephesians 2. Paul declares that we are saved through faith and that it is a gift of God. Notice how he surrounds his assertion with grace. Before it, he insists that it's all of grace.

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God"

It's all of grace. Then Paul continues, absolutely excluding works,

"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."

Our good works are not meritorious as far as salvation is concerned. They too are from God. He prepared them beforehand for us to do. John Calvin asks,

"in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own."

Those who are Christians trust in Jesus to save them. They look to Him for the forgiveness of sins.

John Murray writes, (Redemption, p.107)

"Faith… is a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences."

Again, (Redemption, p. 111)

"Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation."

Having faith in Jesus means that you trust Him completely, exclusively. You commit yourself to Him 100 per cent. It has to be that way. You can't combine faith in Jesus with faith in your works. It has to be one or the other. It's like a parachute. If you were on a plane that was going to crash and you had a parachute, in order for you to be saved you have to commit yourself 100 per cent to the parachute. You can't hang on to the door of the plane and say that you're going to partially trust the parachute and partially trust the plane to land safely. It has to be one or the other.

Now for those of you who are not Christians this means that

you need to ask God to give you faith.

You need Christ. You need the salvation that comes through Him. You need the forgiveness of sins. You need to be clothed with Christ's righteousness. You need to trust in Jesus. You need to ask Him to save you. You need to give up any reliance on works, on your own worth, on any merit that you see in yourself.

You need to trust in Jesus. Mediate on the love of Jesus, on His invitation to sinners, on the glory of the cross—on the glories of Jesus. Let these things fill your mind and ask God to give you faith. Believe the promises. Believe Jesus. Commit your life to Him.

Lastly, for Christians.

How you should be thanking God for the faith that He has given you.

It is through faith that Christ is given to you. This faith is a gift from God. How you should praise Him for this great gift. What a precious gift God has given you. Through faith you obtain Christ. Having Christ you have everything.