19 October 2010

Ephesians 2:1-14

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." (v.8)


In many respects the letter to the Ephesians provides a mature summary of Paul's thought. This is evident in the way Paul outlines his theology of his mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews), which was the hallmark of his own particular ministry. 'Aliens' and 'strangers' have been brought into the covenant with God through any hostility between Jews and Gentiles being destroyed by Christ.

In today's passage, Paul argues that the basis of God's acceptance of any human being lies not in the nature of their human descent (Jew or Gentile), nor in any religious ritual (such as circumcision). The only basis of God's acceptance of a person was the grace of God.

Although Paul's theology has often been summarised in these terms, it is only here in this letter that we read the clear explicit phrase "by grace you have been saved through faith". On other occasions, Paul has emphasised the place of 'faith' over that of 'law' in his attempt to clarify the foundation of his Gentile mission. Often this has led him to state that the Old Testament figure Abraham had faith a long time before the coming of the Jewish Law.

Sadly, an emphasis on faith has led by some to a distortion of what Paul meant, especially when faith has simply become a substitute for law. Here Paul is crystal clear: we are not saved by either law or faith or by any other human merit. Our relationship with God is not dependent on us at all. Its basis is solely the free, undeserved grace of God. This clear statement of the basis of Paul's theology is the foundation of his mission to the Gentiles. It is the justification of his life's work. And it is brought about only through God in Christ. Christ's work is the means of peace between two previously opposing groups - Jews and Gentiles. And he has brought this peace about by breaking down the dividing wall of hostility.

It is therefore very important for Paul that this theological belief is seen in practice within the Christian groups whom he is addressing in this letter. 'Unity' emerges as its key theme, precisely because only unity can witness to the grace of God having broken down the wall of hostility.

To Ponder

In what ways do you still prefer to think and act as though you have gained God's love through some merit of your own?

What other phrases would you use to summarise the basis of your faith?

In what ways would you seek to show the outworking of the grace of God in human lives?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr David Calvert

David is a retired Methodist minister whose active ministry included a mixture of circuit ministry and theological education..