What Is the Meaning of Ephesians 2:8?

Some twist this verse to say something it doesn’t. What saves a person? What is required of a person to be saved? What does Ephesians 2:8 mean?

What does Ephesians 2:8 say?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Grace seems to be one of Paul’s favorite words. He uses it over a hundred times in his epistles—the most of any New Testament writer.

But, tragically, grace and verse 8 of Ephesians 2 have a lengthy history of being misunderstood and distorted. In fact, some of the New Testament writers felt compelled to warn the early Church about false interpretations of grace.

According to Jude 1:4, the first-century Church faced “ungodly men” who perverted God’s grace into “lewdness,” or a “license for immorality,” as the Berean Study Bible translates it. Their flawed reasoning was that grace permitted, even encouraged, people to continue to lead sinful lives.

But, as we will see, this is totally contrary to what the Bible actually says about grace.

Current understandings about grace are not entirely different from those that were proposed in the times of the apostles. These views can be traced back to the same traditions of those ungodly men. Many now believe that the only prerequisite for receiving God’s grace and salvation is to (as it’s commonly put) “trust in the finished work of Christ.” In other words, all someone needs to do is believe.

While belief is a necessary prerequisite of grace, it is not the full picture. The end result of that incomplete understanding is do-nothing Christianity.

To suggest that there is nothing else to grace and salvation besides belief is a dangerous conclusion and an oversimplification of everything those concepts entail.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide the correct meaning of Ephesians 2:8 in context of other clear scriptures in the Bible. A correct understanding of Ephesians 2:8 is a matter of salvation.

What does Ephesians 2:8 really mean?

Let’s take a closer look at this Bible verse, phrase by phrase.

“For by grace”

Grace comes from the Greek word charis, which at its core refers to God’s gift of undeserved favor.

This phrase tells us how salvation is achieved: “by grace.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say we are saved “by merit” or “because we are so good.” On the contrary, Paul, speaking for all human beings, openly admits, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18, emphasis added throughout). 

Paul is making the point that there is nothing inherently redeemable about us that allows us to save ourselves or earn God’s favor. We have no merit with God of and by ourselves. We are the opposite of good.

There is nothing inherently redeemable about us that allows us to save ourselves or earn God’s favor. We have no merit with God of and by ourselves. We are the opposite of good.Up to this point in Ephesians 2, Paul has been making a contrast—what we did versus what God did, what we deserve versus what God has given us.

He opens the chapter by telling the brethren at Ephesus to pause and reflect on their former lives and the rotten, sinful conduct that made them deserving of death (Ephesians 2:1).

Every one of us, he reminds them, was walking down the same path—“according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air”—before God intervened in our lives (verse 2).

Our lives were directly influenced by Satan the devil, and had nothing changed, our behavior was going to take us straight into the lake of fire—the second death.

All of this, Paul says, resulted in our earning God’s holy, righteous wrath (verse 3).

So, what happened?

Two words: “But God.”

The first thing to understand about grace is that it begins with God. Grace is initiated by God because of God, “who is rich in mercy,” Paul explains, “because of His great love with which He loved us” (verse 4).

This grace comes from God’s love and mercy. It has nothing to do with whatever good spiritual report card we may think we have.

To learn more about the biblical meaning of grace, read “What Is the Grace of God?

“You have been saved”

Once-saved-always-saved proponents like to point to this part of Ephesians 2:8 as irrefutable proof of the so-called eternal security doctrine. The teaching basically states that once a person accepts Jesus, he or she is—from that point on—heaven bound without any fear of losing salvation.

To learn more about the errors of this teaching, read “Once Saved, Are You Always Saved?

Besides the fact that the Bible does not teach that we go to heaven when we die, does this verse prove that salvation is a one-and-done experience?

That there is a past aspect to salvation is undeniable—as this verse plainly shows—but there is more to the story that many in mainstream Christianity do not understand.

The same Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel [of grace] I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you” (English Standard Version).

Notice he uses the phrase “being saved.” He describes salvation as something that is actively happening. It’s ongoing.

But then in Romans 5:9 Paul says, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” Here salvation is described as something that happens in the future.

So, which is it? Past, present or future?

By putting all of these scriptures together, we learn the fundamental truth that salvation is a three-step process—not something that happens all at once.

Salvation occurs in three stages:

  1. You “have been saved” through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism and receiving of the Holy Spirit.
  2. You are “being saved” through daily repentance of your personal sins as you strive to put them out of your life.
  3. You “shall be saved” when Christ returns and you’re given a spiritual body with eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8 specifically deals with the first stage of salvation—forgiveness of past sins. Without that step, the rest of the process cannot be fulfilled.

To learn more about the three-step salvation process, read “When Are You Actually Saved?

“Through faith”

By grace a person is saved—from the penalty of his or her past sins—through faith.

What is faith? Is faith a matter of simply responding to an altar call with a teary-eyed confession and saying the words “I accept Jesus”? Is that all that’s involved in faith?

No-law advocates, or antinomians as they are sometimes called, believe this is the only prerequisite for salvation. This approach leads to the very dangerous idea that as long as people have faith, they can break God’s law without fear of consequence. This distortion of faith is one of the most abominable doctrines taught in churches today.

Romans 10:9 is a favorite scripture of theirs: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Every word of that verse is true, but is that all there is to it? Can we neglect other clear verses in the Bible? What did Jesus—the originator of Christianity—say?

True faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ will always result in an absolute abhorrence of sin, which leads to heartfelt repentance and a strong commitment to always obey God. Readers may be surprised to learn that Jesus actually criticized some “believers” of His day for their actionless faith: “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Of these same individuals, Jesus said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).

How many people do you know who fit that description? Belief that is just an intellectual acknowledgment or verbal profession has been around since the first century. Millions of people pray, “Jesus, Jesus,” but neglect what He said to do. They believe in Jesus, but they don’t believe Jesus—the things He taught and the way of life He told His followers to live.

Instead, they manufacture their own doctrines, using only parts of the Bible, and create a religion that is altogether unrecognizable from the religion of Jesus and the apostles.

What it really means to “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus” is to internalize in mind and heart, and demonstrate through word and action, that He is Lord—your personal Lord over your life.

The word lord means “master.” But He is your Master only if you obey Him. That is true faith.

Unfortunately, the other kind of faith—which is really no faith at all—won the affection of some of the believers in the early Church. Real faith was exchanged for a counterfeit kind of faith.

This made the rounds within first-century Christianity and became appealing to the point that some of the apostles felt compelled to address it.  

James’ letter, for example, shows that the dispute over what constitutes real faith—whether any kind of obedience was necessary at all—was something he faced and was forced to answer.

“What does it profit,” the apostle asked, “if someone says he has faith [believes in Jesus] but does not have works [obedience to God’s law]?” (James 2:14).

James went on to point to the example of Abraham and how his willingness to offer Isaac was a demonstration of real faith—belief and obedience (verse 21).

True faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ will always result in an absolute abhorrence of sin, which leads to heartfelt repentance and a strong commitment to always obey God. Faith that does not produce obedience to God is dead (verse 17).

To learn more about having real, active faith, read “What Is Living Faith?

“And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God”

Lest people strut around and think they are high and mighty because they have been selected to be the recipients of God’s grace, Paul reminds the Ephesian brethren that they did nothing to earn this gift.

If a gift can be earned, it ceases to be a gift. It becomes an owed payment.

The question then becomes, Does the Creator of the universe owe anyone anything?

In an age where feelings of entitlement swell far too easily, it is necessary to remind ourselves of how undeserving we are of God’s free gift of grace.

David, awestruck by this profound truth, was inspired to say, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy . . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8, 10).

Our sins and iniquities earned us death. That was the only thing truly owed to us.

But David clearly explains that God shows mercy and kindness in spite of what we deserve.

The New Testament stresses that God is the great Benefactor, who pours out blessing after blessing on His people in spite of themselves. And this is something we must never forget.

Ephesians 2:8 and you

The concept of being saved purely by God’s grace and not a collection of righteous acts of our own is so vital to understand that Paul reinforces it in the verse that follows: “Not of works lest anyone should boast” (verse 9).

No human being could ever begin to believe and walk the path of salvation if it were not for God’s grace. Why?

So that no one can “boast.”

No one will be able to pound his chest and tell God, “I did it on my own.”

In 1 Corinthians 1:29 Paul says the same thing but in different words: “that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

The purpose of God’s grace is to highlight His mercy, compassion and love against the backdrop of our wretchedness, rottenness and complete insufficiency to achieve salvation apart from Him.

That is the meaning of Ephesians 2:8.

Topics Covered: Doctrine, Christian Living, Bible Study

About the Author

Kendrick Diaz

Kendrick Diaz

Kendrick Diaz is a full-time writer at the Life, Hope & Truth offices in McKinney, Texas. He spends his workdays writing blog posts and articles for Discern magazine and LifeHopeandTruth.com.

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