“A gracEmail subscriber asks what the Scripture means that says we are saved “by grace through faith”
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Here Paul literally says that “by grace” we are “saved ones through faith” (Eph. 2:8). This is all the more remarkable because we once were “dead ones in trespasses and sins” (v. 1). Our state changed because of “God being rich in pity” (v. 4). To say that we are justified “by grace” means that God has declared us acquitted and accepted as his covenant people by a verdict which is wholly undeserved. This declaration is not God’s response or reaction to anything he sees in us, either by his foreknowledge or after the fact. Nothing we do, know, perform, experience or accomplish is any part of the work which sets us right with God (v. 9). However, after God declares us righteous, he continues his work in our progressive transformation, a change accompanied and demonstrated by good works on our part according to God’s eternal design (v. 10).
Justification “through faith” means that the work which sets us right with God was fully accomplished by our representative, Jesus Christ, entirely outside our own personal history and performance. For this reason, we cannot add to, improve on, or otherwise enhance, bolster or make that work more certain than it already is. We can only trust God’s promise in the gospel that he has set us right with himself through Jesus Christ and entrust ourselves to God in response. We can never place confidence in our own performance, our knowledge, our obedience, our good deeds or even in our faith. The faith that enjoys the divine grace places all its confidence in God, who demonstrated his kindness in Jesus Christ our substitute and representative. Whoever rests in that confidence experiences peace with God.
This faith accompanies the good news of Jesus’ work for sinners. We do not bring this faith to God as our contribution in a joint venture, or offer it to him in exchange for his favor or forgiveness. It is God’s gift which he gives to all who do not refuse it. Even those who have relationship with God apart from the gospel, such as those who lived and died before Jesus was born, also do so “by grace through faith.” Everyone who is finally saved will be saved because of the atonement that Jesus Christ accomplished. And everyone who is finally lost will have knowingly rejected (disbelieved) God based on whatever revelation they had from him — whether in nature, conscience, the Law of Moses, some prophetic word or the very gospel itself.