Ephesians 2:1-10 By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone
Our sermon text this morning is from the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 1-10. Page 1159. This letter was written by the apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus is on the western shore of modern-day Turkey. Paul spent about 3 years in Ephesus and he wrote this letter a few years after that time. The apostle’s purpose was to encourage them in what they believed and how that belief should be worked out in their lives.
The reason we’re studying these particular verses, is that out of the entire New Testament, I think these verses capture the very heart of Salvation in Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That Biblical teaching was the center of the Protestant Reformation. So, since tomorrow is the anniversary of the Reformation, we’ll be focusing on Ephesians 2.
READ Ephesians 2:1-10
Why does the Protestant Reformation matter? Why take one of our Sunday morning worship services to focus on it?
That question is very legitimate. You should be asking it. Many of you have probably wondered why. Well, I hope to answer those questions this morning with a little history and an analysis of these verses.
And by the way, I don’t intend this to be an annual thing. We just happened to be between sermon series, so I thought it would be a good day to focus on these reformation principles that Scripture teaches.
And another important question is, what was the Protestant Reformation? I can’t really answer why it matters without answering the “what.” And to do that, we need to begin with the early church. 2000 years ago Jesus commissioned his apostles to establish his church. As the New Testament describes it, the church includes the people of God throughout all time from every tribe, tongue, and nation, who believed in Jesus, God’s son, as Savior. The book of Acts, which we studied last year, describes the explosion of growth of the church beginning in Jerusalem. It expanded throughout the Mediterranean region and began to go to the ends of the earth. That growth and expansion to every tribe, tongue, and nation, is continuing today.
But even with the tremendous growth of the church over the centuries, the church has struggled in different ways. In the Roman Empire, Christianity spread all throughout. In the 4th century, civil leaders including the emperor became so sympathetic to Christianity, that it became the religion of the state. It was quite the turn of events, especially after the persecution of Christians in the first three centuries.
Becoming the formal religion of the empire may sound good, but it caused a lot of problems. It mixed the civil authority and church leadership. When that happened, the church began to lose its focus and mission. The purposes of the state filtered into the church. The civil magistrates became leaders of the church because of the overlap. Wars were even fought in the name of Christianity. Besides the unholy mixture, it also led to many abuses involving power and money. That only increased over time. Men could buy their way into leadership in the church. That’s how corrupt the church had become. And over the centuries, a separation grew between the people and the church authority. By the 14th and 15th centuries, Christianity didn’t look anything like Biblical Christianity today. The people were not allowed to read the Bible for themselves. No, that was reserved for the clergy. The worship services were in Latin, not the language of the people. The church even taught and practiced that you could buy forgiveness of sins for yourself and even your deceased loved ones.
You ask, how could all of that continue? Wasn’t there anyone who understood what the Scriptures taught and could stand up for the truth? Well, yes! Many tried to, but they were burned alive for their teaching.
On the outside, the Gospel had been lost, the Scriptures were obscured, and the church was corrupt.
But God was at work.
By the 16th century, God had begun to stir a revolution in the hearts and minds of his true people.
On October 31st, 1517, a young Augustinian Monk, named Martin Luther, walked across town. He lived in the little town of Wittenburg in the northern part of Germany. He unfolded a parchment and nailed to the door of Castle Church. It included 95 statements or theses. Each highlighted a different abuse in the church that didn’t align with what the Bible taught - 95 of them.
There was no fanfare or press. At the time, if you had something to announce, you put it on the door of the church. Luther merely wanted to dialog about these abuses. But some of Luther’s students took his 95 theses, copied them, and distributed them all over the region.
The 95 theses were the spark that started the flame of the Protestant Reformation. Protestant meaning protest and reformation meaning a re-formation back to what the Scriptures taught.
The reformation literally changed the world. Many have called the Protestant Reformation the most significant historical event of the last 2000 years, at least in western culture. And that Reformation is still continuing today. I think the further out we get from the reformation, the broader the impact that it has, not just in western culture, but all across the world. And it has impacted the world in lots of different ways… literacy and education, vocation and work ethic, the separation of church and state, seeing all people as being created in the image of God, to name a few.
But what was and is the most significant impact of the Reformation?
Well, the most significant impact of the Protestant Reformation was and is the recovery of the Gospel. God used the Reformation to restore to prominence the centrality of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
We may take it for granted today, but back then, the Gospel had been hidden, bottled up, concealed. It was, in a sense, lost.
And here is where Ephesians 2:1-10 comes in. It teaches the heart of the Gospel. These verses capture very well what was brought to light again. The phrase that summarizes it this: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
This is what the reformers taught, but they didn’t make it up! No, they were teaching what the Scriptures teach about salvation. Look at Ephesians 2 and jump down to verse 8. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
We could probably end right there, and we’d be good. But let’s work some of these details.
•“by grace alone” point 1.
•“through faith alone” point 2.
•“in Christ alone” point 3.
1. By Grace Alone
So first, by grace alone. That word grace is scattered throughout these verses. It means an undeserved gift. And I think if you had to come up with a full definition of what grace is, you would look no further than Ephesians 2:1-10. It doesn’t just tell us that salvation is a gift from God. No, it also tells us why it is a gift.
Verses 1-3 get to the problem – we were dead in our sins! This is talking about spiritual death. We may have been alive in our bodies, but we were of the devil. We had no capacity to know God, no capacity to believe, no hope for any kind of reconciliation with God, and no future with him. Not half dead. Spiritually dead as a doornail.
But even though we were dead, we were made alive by God’s grace. That’s right in verses 4 and 5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
The image here is not of God coming halfway down to us, and we coming halfway to him, meeting in the middle. No! We had no spiritual pulse. We were doomed. We had no ability in any way to come to God. It is all God’s work. He fully comes down to us. “Grace alone” captures both the gift part and the undeserved part.
There’s a great quote about the reformation understanding of “grace alone.” I don’t know who to attribute it to because it’s been used so widely without reference. Grace alone means “grace at the start, grace to the end, grace in the middle, grace without fail, grace without mixture, grace without addition, grace that allows no boasting, and grace that precludes all glorying but in the Lord.”
Salvation is all a gift of grace from God from beginning to end.
When I was in college, a couple times we would go to the local community college and talk to people. Our desire was to share the hope of Christ. We used a survey to start the conversation – and one of the questions was this “why should God let you in to his heaven?” Almost every single person said this “because I am a good person.” That’s our natural inclination, isn’t it? To think that we’re good enough for God to accept us. That we can reach out to God and then he’ll reach out to us.
The problem is, that’s not what the Scriptures teach. Like it says in Ephesians 2, we’re dead in our sin. We’re children of wrath. There’s nothing we can do to come to God or be acceptable in his sight. Rather, it’s all his grace. The end of verse 8 into verse 9 captures it well. “…it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” When we see that salvation is all by God’s grace, it humbles us and directs our gaze to him, seeking to glorify him.
Romans 11 also captures it well. Verse 6 “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
In salvation, God take our cold dead hearts that deserve nothing but hell, and he gives us a new heart. It's all by his grace. Nothing else. The Holy Spirit awakens us and brings us to Christ. God frees us from the penalty of sin, raising us from spiritual death, and bringing us to spiritual life. None of it is our own doing.
Salvation is by grace alone. There’s no merit in salvation. We were dead, and he made us alive.
2. Through Faith Alone
And second, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone.
Martin Luther lived on the eastern side of Wittenburg. The building was known as the Black Cloister. It was a three-story building, built earlier in the 16th century for the clergy – for monks. In 1517, it was where Luther and about a dozen other monks lived, who served the town. Eventually, that same building, the Black Cloister, would become the home where he and Katie would raise their children, and host their famous Tabletalk gatherings. In the front of the building was a spiral tower that rose above the structure. Up high in the tower was a study room. Luther spent a lot of time there studying, and thinking, and praying.
In fact, at one point Luther locked himself in his tower study for a couple of days. He was so engrossed in his research and prayer that he tuned the world out. Well, Katie, it’s said, got so fed up with it, so she took the hinges off the door, in order to break him out.
But let’s go back to 1517. I think it’s true to say that Luther’s 95 grievances sparked the reformation. But what brought Luther to that point? When did his heart change?
Later in his life, Luther wrote about his “tower” experience. You see, earlier in 1517, he was in the Black Cloister tower… and he was thinking about God’s righteousness. One of the things that haunted Luther up to that point was the idea of God’s righteousness. It brought terror to his heart. Fear gripped him at the mere thought of the almighty God’s divine justice. It angered him. Luther wrote that he “raged with a fierce and troubled conscience over it.” He wrote that he hated the righteousness of God, which punishes sinners.
And as he grappled with God’s righteousness in the Black Cloister tower, he was reading Romans 1:17. That was part of our assurance of pardon this morning. You can read it in the order of service. Verse 16 speaks about the Gospel, which it defines as “the power of God for salvation for those who believe.” And then in verse 17, it says, “For in it [in the Gospel], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
And there in the tower in early 1517, God revealed to Luther justification by faith. The eyes of his heart were opened. All the lies from the church about merit-based salvation came crashing down. Luther came to understand that our righteousness is not a righteousness of our own based on works. Rather, he came to understand that it is a righteousness that comes from God through faith. It is a righteousness given to us, when we believe by faith. That faith itself also being a gift from God.
Luther wrote of that day in the tower that he felt that he was altogether born again and “had entered paradise itself through the open gates.” He wrote later in life that, “there I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.” And so it began. The gospel flame of justification by faith in Luther’s heart, which God would use to spark the Reformation.
It could be said that the Reformation started, not when Luther posted his 95 critiques of the church, but a few months earlier. In that Black Cloister tower, God brought him from a place of crisis to a place of believing in the righteousness of God through faith.
But what is faith? As Hebrews 11 says, faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That conviction and hope involves knowing, believing, and trusting in God. Faith is the means or the instrument, through which we participate in the righteousness of God. Let’s go back to Ephesians 2 verse 8 again. “for by grace you have been saved through faith.” The prepositions are important here. We’re saved “by” grace, “through” faith. The power of salvation come by God’s grace. It’s received, “through faith.” Through meaning faith is the avenue or channel. Faith is not the thing that does the justifying, rather it’s the thing through which we receive righteousness from God in Christ.
To be sure, it’s fine to say “by faith.” The Scriptures use that description as well. We “walk by faith,” we “live by faith.” But here in Ephesians 2, it is defining the relationship between grace and faith. It helpfully says by grace, through faith. Our faith does not justify us. God does. We receive his righteousness through faith. In just a couple of minutes we’ll consider the grounds of our justification, but faith is the channel through which God saves us. We are saved by the gift of grace alone, which we receive through faith alone.
It’s really important to understand that these three concepts cannot be separated. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The unmerited saving grace of God is the gift of Christ. And the faith that God gives is a faith in Christ for what he has done. It’s not works, it’s not merit or any special status that someone has, rather it’s a gift from God. In other words, the grace of God and the faith that God gives us is inseparable from the ministry of Christ.
3. In Christ Alone
“In Christ alone” mean that the grace and faith are in Christ alone. In other words, God’s grace comes to us only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the object of our faith. We believe by faith in Christ. You see, it’s a package deal, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Ephesians 2 makes that clear.
•Verse 5, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ.” Our spiritual deadness was remedied by Christ. We’ve been made alive with him. That is God’s grace in Christ for us now.
•And Verse 6 – God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This speaks of God’s future grace for us in Christ. Verse 7 verifies that. It says, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The immeasurable riches of God’s grace is found in Christ.
Our faith is in the grace given to us in Christ.
When we say that salvation is in Christ alone, we are saying three things.
•First, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the only sacrifice that could atone for sin. His ransom payment is the only payment sufficient to pay our debt. Nothing else.
•But also, and second, Christ is our only savior. No one else and nothing else can save us from death and damnation and give us eternal hope. He alone can save.
•And third, he is the only mediator between God and man. Jesus is the only one we need to go to for forgiveness and to be in communion with God. There’s no one else.
In the 16th century, the church was not teaching that salvation was found in Christ alone. In fact, much of the teaching was quite the opposite. The “mass” which was their worship service, included the idea of re-sacrificing Christ. That was part of their understanding of communion. In other words, Jesus’ sacrifice was not a once-and-for-all sacrifice.
Related to that, the church also believed that taking the Lord’s Supper was necessary for salvation. It gave you saving grace, not just God’s sustaining grace. Furthermore, they believed the priests played a mediatorial role. You had to go to a priest to confess and receive forgiveness. But Christ alone is our mediator. Even worse, the church taught that you had to pay for your sin and work for your salvation. That included paying money, called indulgences. You had to recite certain prayers and live a good life in order for God to accept you. You see, salvation wasn’t a free gift. Christ’s payment wasn’t sufficient. In other words, Salvation wasn’t by faith alone in Christ alone, it included faith plus a priest, faith plus taking communion, faith plus indulgences, and other types of faith plus works.
But the fire of the Reformation had been started. As the Scriptures were being taught, all these false views of salvation were being exposed. God was on move in the hearts and minds of many.
One of those was a young French law student, who at some point in the early 1530s came to an understanding of grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. His name was John Calvin. In 1533 he wrote a speech for one of the bishops of the church in Paris. In it were these words: “[the priests] teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification; or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all…. I beg you, who are here present, not to tolerate any longer these heresies and abuses.” As you can imagine, that speech, although true, caused an uproar. Persecution began to spread throughout France. Both the Bishop who delivered the address, and Calvin who wrote it, fled for their lives. Calvin, allegedly, had to dress up as a gardener and be lowered down by a sheet from a window to escape. He would flee to Switzerland and eventually ended up in Geneva. He became yet another pillar used by God, to bring about a true revival of what the Scriptures teach.
The heart of the Gospel as Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches, would not and will not be repressed. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone.
May we each know and believe in the love of God in Christ… that while we were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ, by his grace. We receive it not by works, not by merit, but through faith. It’s the only hope we have. Amen.