In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul succinctly stated the means by which man is saved:
Though a simple passage, these words of Paul have been twisted by many to say something Paul never intended to say about the grace of God. Without going into detail concerning John Calvins theories on the sovereignty of God, or Martin Luthers rejection of James 2, we will simply state that Paul here affirms salvation by grace, but does not intend to deny the necessity of mans obedience to God.
What does Ephesians 2 teach us?
Paul here affirms that the basis of our salvation is a freely given gift, rather than merit. Man can not earn his salvation. If salvation could be earned through obedience to the law, then we would have reason to boast. However, Paul wrote to the Galatians, But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).
If a man were to live a life of perfection, he would not be in need of the gift of God. It is failure to keep the law (sin) which condemns man. Again to the Galatians, Paul wrote, Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22-23).
Transgression of the law is sin. Sin, by its nature is so vile as to require punishment from God. For the wages of sin is death... (Romans 6:23). As sin is common to all (cf. Romans 3:23), such condemnation is universal as well. But, Paul does not leave it at that, finishing his statement in the following way, ...but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here we affirm it clearly; salvation is the freely given gift of God, accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the fullness of time, God sent his Son Jesus to the world. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This was the entire purpose of Jesus incarnation. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 6:38), and, ...this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:40).
The key to understanding the concept of grace is to fully understand the depth of love that He has for mankind. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8). God saw man, mired in sin, and without the means of lifting himself up, and God sent his Son to suffer and die in our stead. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Now, what does Ephesians 2 not teach us?
Paul nowhere intended to indicate that the gift of Gods grace gives us a free pass. It is indeed an unmerited and freely given gift, given to all mankind, but it is accessed only by those who are willing to claim it through an obedient faith. Too often in scripture the question, Sirs, what must I do to be saved (cf. Acts 16:30; 2:38; 9:6) is answered with instructions to obedience for us to think that the salvation of man is solely in the province of God and His work. Man has work to do as well. Saying that God requires certain things of us, is a far cry from saying that we can earn our salvation. Paul condemns the latter, but recognized in his own life that God required something of him to be saved, So he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what do You want me to do? Then the Lord said to him, Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do (Acts 9:6).
We praise God, and thank Him in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).