Paul’s statement in his letter to the Ephesians that we are saved by grace, through faith, apart from works, is one of the best known passages in all of Scripture, and rightly so. It contains the best possible news that anyone could ever hear. With the exception of John 3:16 and Psalm 23, it is probably the Bible passage that has been memorised by more Christians than any other.
Of course the reason why this particular passage has been of such interest to Christians in every age is that it states in the clearest and most emphatic way the basis on which we are saved – “It is by grace… through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works.” It’s hard to think of a passage anywhere in the Bible which states so simply the basis of our acceptance before God. I guess this explains why the devil is so anxious to confuse us about its meaning.
Elsewhere in his letters, especially in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul warns us that if there is anything that Satan, the arch deceiver and destroyer, wants to corrupt, it’s the truth about salvation. Of course, this attack can come in a variety of different directions. Satan can undermine our confidence in the Bible or confuse us about the nature of God. He may tempt us to doubt the deity of Jesus Christ or corrupt our understanding of the Gospel. However, one method that he often uses is confusing us about how we are meant to receive Christ and the means by which we are saved.
In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul makes it clear that salvation is by grace, through faith alone. This is a characteristic of Biblical religion. As Isaiah reminds us, God is unlike the gods of other religions in that He “works for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4). In other words, salvation is by grace, and not by works.
The doctrine that we are saved by grace, apart from works, is what distinguishes the true church of Christ from all other churches and religions. For instance, while the Roman Catholic Church affirms the true God of the Bible and acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord, it nevertheless denies the essential truth that we are saved by grace, through faith alone, and not by works.
The Bible makes it clear that there are essentially two religious systems in this world. The first is a religion of human achievement where you please God by what you do. The second is a religion of divine accomplishment where salvation comes to everyone who puts their trust in Christ as Saviour and not in anything that they themselves have done. The point that Paul is making is clear: if you think that salvation comes from faith plus works, then you are not following the true Gospel and will not inherit eternal life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Catholic, Protestant or Othodox – if you are relying on anything in yourself, whether your feelings or your works, you can’t be saved.