A Whole World Hangs on a Word

A Whole World Hangs on a Word

Sometimes a whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word.

Consider the word “this” in Ephesians 2:8. Does it refer to “faith” or “grace” or both? Is faith a gift of God?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.

What does “this” refer to? “And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” What is its antecedent? The question is not settled by the fact that in Greek “this” is singular and neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are both feminine. “This” is just as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English.

Faith As a Gift

But consider these four pointers to seeing faith as a gift in Ephesians 2:8.

1. When Paul says “this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” he seems to be referring to the whole process of grace-faith-salvation. That may be why “this” is neuter and not feminine.

2. But more important than that is the way Paul uses the phrase “by grace you have been saved” back in verse 5. In verse 8, he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Back in verse 5, he said, “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”

This is striking. Paul breaks the flow of his sentence in order to insert “by grace you have been saved.” And he does it precisely after saying, “When we were dead, God made us alive.” Why does he insert “by grace you are saved” just here?

Is it not because he wants to make clear the true nature of grace? He made you alive when you were dead — by grace you are saved! This grace is God’s free act of giving life to the dead. By inserting “by grace are you saved” immediately after saying “when you were dead, God raised you,” he shows that this saving grace is not caused by our participation. We are dead when it happens to us. This saving grace is resurrection of the dead.

So when Paul gets to verse 8, one of the reasons he repeats, “By grace you have been saved,” is to describe how we experience this divine miracle of being raised from the dead. He adds “through faith.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” In other words, the life God creates by grace out of death is experienced in our believing. Our believing is what this new life does that grace creates. So faith is the creation of grace. Therefore, it is part of the gift in verse 8 that is not from ourselves.

3. This is confirmed in verse 10 when Paul actually uses the language of “creation” to describe our new life as believers: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” The language of “creation” confirms that when God “made us alive” (verse 5), we were not part of the cause.

Things that are created do not cause their creation. The existence of a new believer is a “creation in Christ Jesus.” And that confirms that this new believing is part of the gift in verse 8. Our faith is a gift of God.

4. Finally, consider that Paul says the same in Philippians 1:29 — that our faith is a gift: “It has been given to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Literally: “It has been given to you to trust him.”

A Different World

So when Paul says, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” part of his meaning is that our faith is a gift of God. It is a divine creation. It is the work of grace when we were dead. It is not “from ourselves.” Therefore, our faith is the mark of being chosen by God. He chose to give us faith.

A whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word. “This is not from yourselves.” “It is the gift of God.” That is, faith is not from yourselves. Faith is a gift of God.

To believe this changes everything. You live in a different world if you believe this. We will be discovering the wonders of this world for all eternity.


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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.