The gospel of Jesus Christ… confronts those of us who pride ourselves on our self-reliance. It invites us to deal with the truth of our own limits, weaknesses, and inabilities. If we’re going to accept the good news of salvation by grace, we need to acknowledge the impossibility of salvation by our own effort. God isn’t trying to insult you by telling you this truth about yourself. He’s seeking to save you by his grace, because that’s the only way you can be saved.
You have been saved, not by your own efforts, not by good luck, not by getting in touch with the divine within you, but by God’s grace. Or, to put it in the active voice, God’s grace has saved you. The answer to the question, “How can I be saved?” is simple: by grace. What is grace?… Grace, by definition, cannot be earned. It is given freely by God on the basis of God’s nature and decision.
“You have been saved.” Salvation is something that has happened to you. You did not make it happen yourself. You have been saved by something external to yourself. Salvation is something you receive, a gift of God’s grace. If you’re a Christian, I expect you have heard this before. But, if you’re like me and most Christians I know, you struggle to let this truth penetrate your heart and permeate your life.
In his letters, the Apostle Paul uses various tenses when he speaks of our salvation… By using the present perfect tense in Ephesians, Paul underscores the fact that our salvation is grounded on something that happened in the past, namely, the sacrificial death of Christ. In this sense, we were saved (past tense). Yet, our salvation continues to unfold in our life as we experience more and more of what we have in Christ.
Often, Christians use the language of salvation in a narrower sense, describing only what happens after death. To be sure, it is wonderful to be saved in this way. But, from a biblical perspective, God’s salvation is much more inclusive. We who are saved by God’s grace begin to experience God’s shalom—peace and wholeness, life as it was meant to be—now, even as we anticipate the fullness of shalom that is reserved for the future.
Do you like good news? Well then, I have some for you. Great news, actually! Here it is: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” Fantastic! In today’s Life for Leaders devotion, we’ll begin to consider in depth what it means to be saved by grace through faith. This verse deserves such careful scrutiny, not only because it is a touchstone of our faith, and not only because it has been so influential in the history of the church, but also because it has power to transform your life.
These words have changed the course of history through their impact on the Christian church. And they have changed the course of millions of individual lives as people heard these words and were transformed by them. Because these words are so important, we will consider them carefully as we make our way through Ephesians 2:8-10. Often, we will stop and pick up a word as if it were an ornate shell found on a secluded beach. We will study it attentively, both to make sense of it and to enjoy it.
God made us alive in Christ when we were dead. In a sense, God even raised us with Christ and seated us with Christ in Heaven, so that we can begin to experience the kingdom of God in our lives today. Why? Why has God done such wonderful things for us? He has done these things “because of his great love for us” (2:4), because of the richness of his mercy (2:4), and because of his grace (2:5). Yet, there is something more.
Through the Spirit, the future is real to us now. Yet, at the same time, we still live in the present, with its pains, sins, and sorrows. We can see God at work today—the future invading the present—yet we also see evidence that the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” is still wreaking havoc in our world. So we live in the “already and not yet.” We experience life as a collapsed telescope, with present and future overlapping.
It’s easy to be confused by the past tense language in Ephesians 2:6. After all, we don’t remember being raised from the dead. And it sure seems like we’re still on earth, not in Heaven. Moreover, elsewhere in his writings, Paul speaks of our resurrection as something that lies in the future. In Romans 6:5, for example… So which is it? Is our resurrection in the past? Or in the future? Or somehow both?