For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8
Our culture values hard work. It praises the man or woman who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps. And while perseverance and grit are praised in Scripture, it is also clear that there are certain things our effort cannot earn.
Today, we will explore the meaning of Ephesians 2:8. We will seek to take a fresh perspective on these words and learn how to embody them.
The Context of Ephesians 2:8
To understand the Ephesians 2:8 meaning, we must first understand Ephesis—the city to whom the letter is addressed. During the first century, Ephesus was a commercial and trade port—a literal epicenter in the region. It was home to the famed Temple of Artemus, one of the famed Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. All roads led there, quite literally.
For this reason, it became a headquarters for Paul. It offered ease of access to other influential cities in the region. For three years, he lived there, training apostles and sending them throughout the Roman world.
During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote to the church in Colassae, a neighboring city. This letter to Ephesus followed. Unlike most of his letters, it is less personal in nature, lacking greetings to fellow apostles and church leaders. In addition, the topics discussed are more general in nature. Even ancient manuscripts exist that omit the words “in Ephesus.” For this reason, scholars believe it was likely a circular letter meant to be read and then passed on to other congregations.
The Meaning of Ephesians 2:8
When reading Ephesians 2, it is tempting to focus on “us.”
“You were dead in your transgressions…” Ephesians 2:1
“…we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Ephesians 2:3
“For it is by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:8
However, we are not the main characters of the Gospel—God is. It is God’s love that makes us alive. It is his sacrifice that brings us salvation. As it says in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
These straightforward words hold incredible depth. Salvation is an act of grace, not of works. It cannot be earned, inherited, or purchased. No one is entitled to it by birth or rank.
To the first-century believer of Greek or Roman descent, these words were revolutionary. The deities these cultures worshipped did not deserve their place; it was their birthright. Even Israel’s blessing was inherited through Abraham. This blessing, though, this salvation, had come to rich and the poor, to man and woman. It came by grace, an act of God.
Paul is clear: salvation is a gift. God is the gift-giver—humanity the recipient. It is his grace that is at work here, not our faith. While faith creates the connection, it is God who brings salvation. It is an extension of his goodness bestowed on us.
These words remind me of Genesis 12:1-3 when the Lord promises a blessing to Abraham, one of such a magnitude that it will course through the blood of a thousand generations. Each promise he makes is preceded by the word “I will.” Like in Ephesians, blessing is an act of God, not a prize rewarded for right behavior.
How Ephesians 2:8 Applies to Your Life
When we accept that God’s favor, his love, and his grace are gifts, it alters the nature of our connection to him. Rather than being transactional, it can become transformational. A relationship built on works is unstable, only as strong as the last act. A relationship built on love, though, especially a love as powerful as God’s, is complete. There is no guilt or shame, only grace and forgiveness.
You can begin to build a connection with God, to deepen your intimacy with him. There are two ways you can begin this today. First, when you read Scripture, do so to understand him better, not to tick off a box. Ask yourself, “What does this reveal about God?” Consider highlighting the action words related to God or the descriptors of God. Look for repeated words or themes. This is just one way you can understand him better.
Secondly, as you pray, create space for silence. Listen. For some, writing words or verses that come to mind helps. Others simply sit in his presence. It may feel uncomfortable, but how can we get to know him if we never make time to listen?
Both of these are spiritual disciplines that will draw you closer to God. They will help you better understand the gift of his grace.
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