The True Meaning of Ephesians 2:8-10

by Peter Salemi



For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Did Jesus have it all wrong? Why didn’t Jesus say to the rich young ruler that “we are saved by grace and not the law?” Instead Jesus said, “but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17). Or when the lawyer asked him the same question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). What did Jesus say? “Did he say “there is nothing you should do it all grace”? NO! He said, “What is written in the LAW? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26). The greatest COMMANDMENT was then quoted and Jesus said, “THIS DO, and thou shalt live” (v.28). Jesus says there are works involved in Salvation. But doesn’t that contradict Ephesians 2:8-10? Or, is grace and the Law one and the same thing? Once you discover the truth of the matter you will look at the law of God and salvation completely different!

Understand Doctrine

To understand doctrine, the Bible says, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

“But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little...” (Isaiah 28:9-10, 13). The Bible is like a huge jig saw puzzle. We must put all the scriptures together to understand doctrine.

What of the doctrine of Grace? Let’s put the scriptures together to understand grace. The Bible says this about grace. In the NIV version of the Bible, it correctly translates Psalm 119:29, “be GRACIOUS to me THROUGH YOUR LAW.” God’s Grace is through the law of God. The very essence of the law IS GRACE! It’s ingrained in the law itself!

Jesus said “mercy” or Grace was contained in the law itself, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23). The “matters of the law” are “judgment, mercy, and faith.” The word for “mercy” is “eleos” (Strong’s #1656).

The equivalent Hebrew word is “chânan” (Strong’s #2603). This word means:

·        to be gracious, show favour, pity

·        1a) (Qal) to show favour, be gracious

·        1b) (Niphal) to be pitied

·        1c) (Piel) to make gracious, make favourable, be gracious

·        1d) (Poel) to direct favour to, have mercy on

·        1e) (Hophal) to be shown favour, be shown consideration

·        1f) (Hithpael) to seek favour, implore favour (Brown Driver and Briggs Hebrew Definitions).

 Thayer’s Unabridged Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says of this Hebrew word “merciful” “chânan” -its Greek equivalent is “eleeō” (Strong’s #1653), “Specifically, of God granting even to the unworthy favor, benefits, opportunities, and particularly salvation by Christ:” (emphasis added). So this word pertains to salvation in Christ which is through the law. “be GRACIOUS [chânan]  to me THROUGH YOUR LAW.” (Psalm 119:29 NIV) “grace reign through righteousness [God’s commandments Psalm 119:172] unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 5:21)

The other Greek word is “charis” and it means “free, undeserved favor;” (Appendix 184 Bullinger’s Companion Bible, p.206).

The law of God is viewed as Grace, why? It’s not just a series of commandments. It’s a way of life that God wants us to live. It’s instructions on how to deal with sin. It shows people how to worship God-It’s a way of Salvation as Jesus said it was (see above)! Grace is God showing his mercy-his favor towards a nation or an individual-By giving man his instructions on how to worship, deal with sin, and being saved.

“So, the law that tells people how to live before God also tells how to get rid of the sin that results from ignoring those instructions. The same law that tells of salvation and gives requirements also tells of the way to get right with God when those requirements are not met. This concept of law is much broader and deeper than our idea of specific commands and rules that are usually seen as negative….[The] Law, then, is a guide for living and believing. It is God’s gracious gift that tells people how to live before Him…. Israel viewed law in this way. They had been granted God’s free salvation. They stood as His people, but they needed help in knowing how to live” (Old Testament Grace, by Jon Dybdahl, pp.59-60, emphasis added).

God’s Law the Way of Salvation

The meaning of the “Law” is a lot broader than most people think. The “Law” is God’s guidance, his way of salvation, his way to get rid of sin through sacrifice etc.… This knowledge was given to Israel so they knew how to be saved as Jesus said.

Notice what God says in Deuteronomy, “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

“For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 

“And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (4:6-8). God’s law was Israel’s wisdom and understanding on how to serve God, be righteous and to receive eternal life, as Jesus said (see above).

Jesus told the Jews, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39). The Jews believed in the Law for eternal life but failed to see Christ in the Scriptures is what this verse means (see F.F. Bruce, p.1243; International Bible Commentary); and failing to see Christ violated the first commandment in the law. So they knew the Law possessed the knowledge of eternal life. Leviticus says, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” (18:5) K&D Commentary writes, “The man who does them (the ordinances of Jehovah) shall live (gain true life) through them” (emphasis theirs; see also Barnes’s Notes). The Apostle Paul quoted this verse describing eternal life (Romans 10:5).

The early New Testament church knew that the Old Testament gave the knowledge of salvation, “And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). The Holy Scriptures were in this case. “The books in the writer’s mind were no doubt the Old Testament. Scriptures, in which Timothy, like every Jewish boy, had been instructed;” (Vincent Word Studies, emphasis added). The wisdom of salvation is contained in the Old Testament law. That one must have faith in Christ, which is the first commandment in the law of God (Read our booklet What is Real Faith for further details) 

It’s a gift

God’s Righteousness is a “gift” there is nothing earned! It must given to the individual, and this is done out of his Grace!  Faith which is the righteousness of God, then, God “imputes” to a person and it becomes their possession, as Paul said, “Christ liveth in me:” (Gal 2:20). So “Abraham believed God, and it was counted [given as a possession] unto him for [Grk. “eis” “as”] righteousness” (Rom 4:3). How do we receive this righteousness? By the Holy Spirit that God gives and is our possession and dwells in us!

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. .” (Rom 8:4, 9).

“…because the love of God [1 John 5:3 God’s commandments] is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom 5:5).

This is done after the calling of God, and he opens ones understanding to his truth. Seeing what God requires of us, “the goodness of God [his law] leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom 2:4). We repent of our sin, and we make the decision to obey God. After repentance, one is baptised and receives the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Then the Law is written on our hearts (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 3:3). At that time Christians are now “under grace.” We are “not under the law [of sin], but under grace [the law of God]” (Rom 6:14) “be GRACIOUS to me THROUGH YOUR LAW.”(Psalm 119:29 NIV). (Read our booklet the Saving Works of God for full study of Romans 6:14).

God gave the knowledge of the law to Israel and to the sinner out of his grace, favor, and mercy. There is no way that man can come up with this spiritual wisdom; God has to give it us! When one sees God working in their life by keeping the law, answered prayer and the miracles, one can declare they are “under his grace” favor and mercy because God shows us his mercy, by giving his law- his way of salvation from sin and the way to eternal life! “and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (Ex 33:19).

Old Testament Grace

The events that took place during the time of the Exodus were done not by Israel doing anything to earn it. God told them, “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:

“But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut 7:7-8).

God told Moses also quoted by the Apostle Paul he would be, “…gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (Ex 33:19; Rom 9:15-18). God showed his grace and mercy towards Israel when he saved them. It was all done out of God’s grace, mercy and love which is actually God performing the second commandment in his great law! The law is God’s character his “divine nature” This is how God lives by his “righteousness.” So when God shows us his grace and mercy it is God living his law!

To Israel, God (YHWH) showed:

·        mercy towards them;

·        Saved them,

·        Loved them,

·        Redeemed them,

·        Baptised them

·        Justified them in his sight (Ex 14:30; Deut 33:29; Ex 15:13; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 45:25; Deut 7:7-8; Ex 33:19; Isaiah 43:3; 1 Cor 10:2).

·        And they “believed” God through Moses (Ex 4:31; 19:8-9)

Then giving and revealing his law to them also demonstrated God’s grace towards them; he wanted them to do the right things and worship the true God in the right way, deal with sin so he can grant them eternal life!

Notice that the Law was given to a Redeemed, Justified, Saved and Baptised people who were shown “grace” and “mercy.” Is it any different in the New Testament? Absolutely Not!

“he [God] might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:7). After he shows and grants us mercy and grace:

·        We believe on Jesus as our Saviour who is the YHWH of the Old Testament (John 1:1; Hosea 13:4).

·        We are Loved by Christ (YHWH) (Eph 5:2; Rev 1:5)

·        We are baptised in Christ (YHWH) (Romans 6)

·        We are justified in Christ (YHWH)  (Rom 2:13; 5:9; 1 Cor 6:11)

·        We are Redeemed in Christ (YHWH)  (Gal 3:13)

·        Saved in Christ (YHWH)  (Acts 16:31)

The Law is then given to us as a gift just like the law was given at Sinai (Deut 7:7). God shows us his mercy, by giving and revealing his law- his way of salvation from sin and the way to eternal life. We receive the “gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17). The “love of God [1 John 5:3 his commandments] is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom 5:5). The law was written, “in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Cor 3:3). And like the Israelites we are to “walk in them,” (Eph 2:10); “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4).

“By Grace are ye saved”

Understanding that the law of God given to us IS God’s grace!  It shows us the way of salvation (Keeping the first commandment in the law to believe on your Savior Jesus), the way to deal with sin (through the blood Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus) and how to worship (Keeping his commandments); given to us as a gift through God’s mercy (God performing his second commandment). The following scripture can be understood:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:8)

For by grace are ye saved through faith- This gift of God’s law (grace) given to us, it shows us the way of Salvation, as Psalms says, “…be GRACIOUS to me THROUGH YOUR LAW” (Psalm 119:29 NIV). It shows us how to deal with sin, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary:” (Psalm 77:13). So by the knowledge God gave us in his law-by grace are we saved.

Now it’s “grace” “through faith.” What is faith? In Deuteronomy 32, Moses gives a prophecy of Israel breaking the commandments of God (vv.16-17) and God says, “…for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.” (v.20). Jesus says “faith” is one of “the weightier matters of the law,” (Matthew 23::23). Clearly Faith is keeping the law of God (Read our booklet What is Real Faith for full details).

Again “grace” is “through faith.” Bullinger explains, “Which is the channel through (dia Strong’s #1223) which flows to us the Divine stream of saving grace….” (The Companion Bible, p.1762). God’s law is grace and it is channeled to us by faith,-keeping the law of God; putting it into action in our lives “faith worketh by love” (Gal 5:6; 1 John 5:3). Grace reigns in our lives if we keep the commandments of God; God’s laws are the ways of life (Deut 30:19), and those who keep them “live in [Grk. because of] them.” (Gal 3:12).

His grace “reigns” through his “righteousness” (Rom 5:21; Psalm 119:172). It is by his commandments that the grace of God has dominion. Nothing else can overtake or take it down; Grace Rules and reigns through his law as demonstrated in his second commandment (Ex 20:6). The Christian will consistently experience the grace of God as long as the commandments of God are kept. So “by grace [God’s law] are ye saved through faith [keeping his commandments].”

“and that not of yourselves”- As noted above this wisdom cannot come from man, it is given by God to men. Man lacks the spiritual understanding and that God has to reveal it to him. If man could obtain this in his sinful state he would as the Apostle Paul said, “Boast.” He could boast that he didn’t need God to be saved. He did it all on his own; “not of yourselves” Paul says, we need God to be saved, his way not ours.

Notice the context, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9). What works? Our works as opposed to God’s works. Isaiah wrote, “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those [God’s ways] is continuance, and we shall be saved.

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isa 64:5-6). Our righteousness is sin and is as “filthy rages.” But God’s ways is the way of Salvation if we “continue” in them. There are two “works” ours and God’s. God’s works lead to salvation, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth MY WORKS unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:” (Rev 2:26).(For a full study read our booklets on What is Real Faith and the Saving Works of God). This is the context the Apostle Paul meant in Ephesians. He is speaking of our ways as opposed to God’s ways. Our ways will not get us saved “lest any man should boast.” To boast is to sin, “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that BOAST themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods.” (Psalm 97:7). To boast is our righteousness, our ways as Isaiah said. Only God’s way can save a person.

it is the gift of God:”- As established from the scriptures above, the law of God is a gift given to us by the creator. When the Holy Spirit is given, the law is shed in our hearts. Hebrews 6:4 says, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost…” (see also Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).

Nothing is earned but given. However once we are given this gift, we must “continue” in them. James wrote, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25). We must continue in the “work” of God-his law!

Now, Ephesians 2:9 we have already quoted and explained; verse 10 is never quoted by these “no law” preachers. Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are God’s “workmanship,” his works in us. God has ordained good works for us to “walk in.” What are we to walk in? The Spirit! How is this done?  It says, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded [Christians who keep God’s law] is life and peace. 

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. [but the spiritually minded are] 

“So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 

“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Rom 8:4-9). Can it be any clearer? These are the “good works, which God hath before ordained.” As opposed to our works that the Apostle Paul spoke of in verse 9! Verses 9 and 10 clearly reveal two types of works in the Bible, ours and God's!

Those that walk in the spirit are keeping the law of God. It is the way of salvation God has given us as a gift to “continue” in, that leads to eternal life.  There is no contradiction between Jesus and Paul. Jesus rightly told the rich young ruler, “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)-That is God’s grace in which we are all to be saved!

Read other booklets on this topic:

What is Real Faith? Here is Real Faith.pdf

Is Baptism Required for Salvation? Here

The Saving Works of God Here

What do you Mean Salvation? Here

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