It Teaches Justification, not sanctification
In the first post of this series we went through Ephesians 2:1-10 to show in context why Ephesians 2:5-6 are not valid verses to use as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. We noted that when Calvinists quote this passage with that in mind they are in error. The passage does not teach that God by grace does an internal work of transformation in the heart of the sinner.
The passage is not teaching that the sinner is actually taken out of their sin and raised up to the right hand of God with Christ Jesus. Instead the passage is talking about a positional change, from being condemned in sin, to being accepted and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. It is teaching us about the new status we have in Christ Jesus as adopted children. So, though it is talking about regeneration (rebirth), it is addressing the positional aspect of the new birth, not the transformative aspect. To use theological terminology, it is speaking about justification, not sanctification.
Only one condition: Be dead
But there is a second reason that the Calvinist cannot justify using this passage as a proof-text of monergistic regeneration. We will restate their argument here so that we can address it.
5 …even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
They argue: “Verse 5 tells us that these people were made alive together with Christ while they were dead. The passage doesn’t speak of repentance, faith or any other thing being done by the sinner, it just states that these souls were spiritually dead and then raised up. This is proof positive that regeneration is monergistic (i.e. done unilaterally by God without the participation of the sinner). The individuals met no conditions, except the condition of being dead.”
Except for that pesky context
The strength of every good proof-text is that there is nothing obvious in the immediate context to contradicts the assertion of the one presenting it as evidence in their case. And if we let these 2 verses stand on their own, though we might disagree with the interpretation of the Calvinist, there is not much in them that contradicts his spin on the verse. But, thankfully these 2 verses are not left to stand on their own. We have the immediate context which does contradict the Calvinist spin and a parallel passage elsewhere in the writing of Paul. So let’s let these 2 witnesses have their moment on the stand.
Witness #1 – Immediate Context
In Ephesians 2:5 Paul inserts a phrase that he addresses more fully a few verses later. He says, “…even when we were dead in trespasses,” God “made us alive together with Christ.” Then He adds the phrase, “by grace you have been saved.” This change of status from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ, this salvation, came about because of God’s grace. By using the same phrase in verses 8 and 9, where he develops this idea in more detail, he is letting us know that whatever he explains in verses 8-9 applies directly to verses 5-6. So let’s take a look.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
The Calvinist wants to say that the saving act that happens in verses 5 and 6 of Ephesians chapter 2 lack any participation from men. But here we see this is not so. The saving grace that is given in verses 5 and 6 is received through faith. The soul that is “dead in sin” receives the grace to be translated from being under condemnation in sin to being alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly places where all spiritual blessings are, through faith. Paul is teaching what Paul always teaches, we are justified through faith, not through the works of the law.
The traditions of men
This should be enough to convince any non-Calvinist that Paul is not speaking of the Reformed doctrine of monergistic regeneration in Ephesians chapter 2. How could he be since he includes man’s role in the process?! But, alas, a robust systematic theology is a powerful thing, & my Calvinist brethren are probably less impressed. My hope is that it will at least be considered something worth considering.
Some, not most, of my Calvinist brethren are so zealous for their tradition, that the connection between veres 5-6 and 8-9 does not even make them pause in reflection. On the contrary, a grin unconsciously appears on their face as they consider the naivete of this “anti-Calvinist” talking about things he knows nothing about. A robust systematic theology almost always has a ready-made answer to common objections. If they are not already memorized, there is certainly an answer in the tradition’s sanctioned commentaries. This is always the danger of a well-established systematic theology. The cry of the Reformation, “Reformed and always reforming!” gets left in the dustbin of history. We must let Scripture be our final authority for truth, and we must read it for what it says, not what our tradition claims it says. They would agree with this statement but then laugh at those of us who affirm that our creed is the Bible.
So, what is the ready-made answer that the zealous disciple of Reformed Theology has in his mind when that less than humble grin appears on his face? He, as his tradition has instructed him, explains that the phrase, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” refers to faith; faith is the gift of God. “You see,” he says, “God monergistically gives the one dead in sin new life, and then faith springs up in the newly regenerated soul.” This interesting philosophical argument is usually defended with discussions about Greek grammar, as well as a few theological arguments thrown in for good measure. Though there are counterarguments to the linguistic argument, there is no need for that. The text itself provides enough information to show that this clever argument is not as clever as it first sounds. Let’s look at the Calvinist interpretation of this text and see what we learn:
a strange ephesian heresy
Ephesians 2:8-9 (New Reformed Version)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that faith is not of yourselves; that faith is the gift of God, 9 that faith is not of works, lest anyone should boast that they earned their faith by works.
If this is the argument that Paul had in mind, we must ask the question, what erroneous teaching was the Ephesian church listening to that he had to clarify that faith was a gift of God, and that faith could not be earned by works?! This makes no sense. The Ephesians were not in danger of boasting that their works somehow earned their faith! They were in danger of boasting that their works had earned them deliverance from wrath and entry into the blessings of Jesus Christ!
Let’s look at the verse in another way, and see which makes more sense:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (Old Contextual Version)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that salvation is not of yourselves; that salvation is the gift of God, 9 that salvation is not of works, lest anyone should boast that they earned their salvation.
same old paul, same old doctrine
Let’s be honest, doesn’t that sound a little more like something Paul would say to the Ephesian church? Consider how similar it is to the following passage from Romans 4:2-5:
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…
In Ephesians 2 Paul is telling the church that people who are condemned under God’s wrath are justified in Christ Jesus through faith. They are not adopted into God’s family through works but through faith. They receive justifying grace by believing in Jesus Christ. It really is that simple. Paul is saying what he says in nearly all of his letters. But the immediate context is only our first witness, we have another witness waiting to take the stand.
Input from a Reformed Brother
I received some input from a Reformed brother on Twitter. He shared:
The τοῦτο (that) is not feminine or masculine, it is neuter. It functions to wrap up the *entire* clause that came before [Τῇ γὰρ *χάριτί* ἐστε *σεσῳσμένοι* διὰ *πίστεως*]. The gift of God is not *only* salvation, but is also the means of salvation [χάριτί & πίστεως].
I’m grateful for this input and want to address it here. About half of it is Greek to me, so I will take his word on the conclusion. If anyone who knows Greek would like to challenge his conclusion, feel free in the comments. But he has the advantage on this one because I do not know Greek. I could look it up online through Bible study programs, but I have found that people who do not know a language thoroughly can use grammar in ways that are deceptive, and self-deceiving, and I do not wish to be that guy. And I am not willing to learn Greek thoroughly, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt on his grammatical breakdown.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (Greek Grammar Version)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and being saved through faith is not of yourselves; being saved through faith is the gift of God, 9 being saved through faith is not of works, lest anyone should boast that they earned salvation through faith. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV
In English (and that is what I have to work with), if I say being saved through faith is the gift of God, my focus would naturally fall on the first word (saved), not the second phrase (through faith). I would not conclude that God gave me salvation as a gift and also faith as a gift. I would think that God gave me salvation as a gift, proven by the fact that it is given on the condition of faith, instead of works.
I would think of verses like:
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, – Romans 4:2-5 NKJV
And again, if I am told that being saved by grace through faith is “not of myself,” I again would naturally read it with the emphasis on the first word (salvation). In my understanding God has made salvation by grace through faith precisely so that people cannot say that they saved themselves. If it was by works then it would be something of myself. But faith in the biblical sense, is something that receives from God. Again consider that faith is not considered a “work,” in the sense that it earns something from God according to Romans 4:4-5
4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, – Romans 4:4-5 NKJV
But, I do understand how a Calvinst would read the phrase “not of yourselves.” Reformed Theology is an airtight system. The system begins with the idea that mankind can have no determining role in salvation. Though men are certainly given conditions for justification and eternal life, they cannot meet those conditions because they are totally unable because of their nature from birth. God unconditionally predestines certain men and then He effectually works in them all the conditions that His word requires of men. In this way God’s glory is His and His alone, and is not shared with anyone else. So when the Calvinist reads Ephesians 2:8-9 it confirms what they already concluded elsewhere.
So in this regard, we are both reading into the text to some degree because the text alone can mean different things depending on how we read it. There are many texts that Calvinists would refer to in order to prove that men are totally depraved, unconditionally elected and irresistibly drawn. And if such verses were exegeted and found to say what they believe they do, it would be a reasonable theological reason for interpreting “not of yourselves” in the way that they do. But I still would not call it strictly exegetical, since as I said, the phrase could be read in different ways. But as it stands, I have read and exegeted the passages they appeal to for those doctrines and do not come to the same conclusions as they do.
Due to my understanding of this issue, I am going to have to disappoint my calvinist brethren and frustrate them a little. If they could convince me that faith was a “work” in Paul’s terminology, and opposed to grace, I would have to revisit this issue. But to me he clearly teaches that it is not a meritorious “work,” but the divinely ordained means of receiving His grace. By choosing this means of receiving God’s grace He retains all the glory for salvation since man does not earn it through work, but receives it through faith.
Paul does teach that faith is something from us (Rom 10:10) as His master also did (John 6:29), but Paul never makes faith something antithetical to grace, in fact they work in harmony. Grace is God’s activity in salvation, and faith is man’s way of receiving that grace. Faith is the activity of men, but it is the way God has ordained that we receive His grace, so it is not counted as a “work.” To put it in the terminology of our Greek Grammar Version, “salvation by God’s grace through our faith” is the ordained plan of salvation. This way of salvation is all of grace because it is not received through works, but through faith. If by works, we could boast, but since it is through faith, there is nothing we can boast of.
If the Greek grammar is indeed referring to the whole phrase (salvation through faith), then I have no problem with that. The passage would then be saying that God is the one who has ordained salvation to be given to us through faith, so that it might be by grace. This is a gift indeed, for if it were through works of righteousness, we would all fail to obtain it. And if by some chance we did receive salvation through works, it would no longer be of grace and not of God, but of ourselves.
“Salvation through faith” is a gift. “Through faith” modifies “salvation.” One concept is in view (salvation through faith), not 2 concepts (salvation & faith). I cannot read salvation through faith ARE gifts, because the English translations do not say that. Since I am not a Greek expert or even a novice, the English translation is all I have to go one. And I do not read “these/they” but “this/it.” If the Greek shows that Paul is referring to 2 things with the words “this” & “it,” our English translators have all done us a great disservice. If 2 concepts are in view, the plural should have been used. As it is, the singular of “this” & “it” are used, meaning the phrases “not of yourselves” & “the gift of God” refer to one thing, namely the salvation which is received through faith; that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
Salvation through works would not be a gift, but something earned. The nature of faith makes salvation through faith a gift. The nature of works would make salvation through works, not a gift. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 4:1-5 & in Ephesians 2:8-9. I see salvation through faith precisely as a gift, which is not of ourselves, because it is salvation through faith.
I believe faith, though inspired by the hearing of God’s word (faith comes by hearing, & hearing by the word – Rom 10:17) & enabled by the Holy Spirit (God opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to Paul – Acts 16:14), is our response from our heart (with the heart man believes – Rom 10:10). I do not believe faith is a gift in the sense that we aren’t the producers of it, but in the sense that we do not do anything to earn salvation by having faith. Faith is not meritorious, it is not a work in the common Pauline sense. Instead, faith is something God requires that we do (this is the work of God required of you, that you believe on the One He sent – Jn 6:28-29) in order to be saved. This might be unthinkable in Reformed theology, but it is standard biblical teaching.
To conclude the linguistic & theological argument consider this summary.
The English translation explains one of two things, depending on how we read it (both are synonymous in my view for the reasons I gave above):
#1 Salvation is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
#2 Salvation through faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
I cannot see expressed the following in the English translations:
Salvation and faith are not of yourselves, they are the gifts of God
I cannot see expressed the following in the context:
Salvation and faith are irresistibly worked by God, they are unconditional gifts.
I have chosen to leave the original post as it is for 2 reasons:
Firstly, because there are those who believe that the gift in Ephesians 2:8-9 is referring directly to faith, not the entire phrase “saved through faith.” So, my argument in the original post will still be useful in refuting that perspective.
Secondly, I will leave it as is in order to amuse my Calvinist brethren. They can now re-read it knowing that my “mic drop” moment was not all I hoped it would be! LOL!