"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…"
The word "gospel" means "good news." But in order for news to be good, we have to know the bad news first. And here it is: you have sinned. All sin is open rebellion against God, and the penalty is death. By making a person aware of the bad news, we are able to till the heart for them to receive the good news.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (v.1-7).Twice in these first seven verses, we are described as "dead." Not just dying—dead. As a corpse. Can you resurrect yourself? No. Nor do you have the power to revive anyone else who is dead.
If you walked up to a dead man lying in the middle of the street and said, "Hey, there's a hospital over there, let's go and get you some help," that man is not going to get up to help himself. Again, he's dead! Even if you dragged him to the hospital, you could put the paddles on his body and shock him all day and he's still not going to have life.
If we're dead, we're dead. We can't revive ourselves and no one else can revive us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are regenerated, brought from death to life. "It is the Spirit who gives life," Jesus said; "the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).
In Ezekiel 37, the Lord brought the prophet to a valley full of dry bones. There were so many bones that they covered the surface of the valley. And he said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" The prophet answered him, "O Lord God, you know."
Then God said, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord."
So that's what Ezekiel did. And when he spoke the word of the Lord, the bones began to rattle. They started coming together, bone to bone. Sinew started to form on them, just as God said, and flesh and skin covered them. But there was no breath in the bones.
Then the Lord said, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So Ezekiel continued to prophesy the word of the Lord, and breath came into them and they lived and stood to their feet, "an exceedingly great army," as he described them.
This is the picture of evangelism. This is how a person is brought from death to life—by the Spirit of God. First the Spirit regenerates the person to receive the gospel, then the Spirit breathes life into the person with the gospel. This is how a person is brought to salvation. Not by praying a prayer. Not by repeating after me. Not by coming down front. Not by being baptized in water. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."All three of those things—grace, salvation, and faith—are all the work of God. Yes, even faith, which is commonly taught to be from man and not of God. But faith is not a thing we direct at God. It's not something we use to channel God. The ability to believe (the ability to do anything, really) is given to us by God himself.
One could argue that "this" in Ephesians 2:8 is talking about "grace," not "faith." That's fine. It still doesn't change the fact that faith comes from God. As Sam Storms wrote, "That faith by which we come into experiential possession of what God in grace has provided is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation. One can no more deny that faith is wrapped up in God's gift to us than he can deny it of God's grace."
Remember Romans 10:17 which says that faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 12:3 says that faith is apportioned by God. In 2 Thessalonians 3:2, we read that wicked and evil men have no faith. It's not from man. It comes from God.
No where—not one place in the Bible—is salvation ever eluded to as being a cooperative effort between God and man. We do nothing to save ourselves. Again, we're dead. Apart from God we can do nothing. Romans 3:10-12 says that no one is righteous, no one seeks for God, and no one does good. So how can we possibly "make a decision" to follow Christ, which would unquestionably be a good thing?
"Well what about repentance?" you might say. "We're supposed to repent of our sins. Isn't that a choice we make? Surely that was all me!" Nope. Repentance comes from God, too (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). I mean, really, we do nothing to save ourselves. It is from start to finish the gracious work of God.
"But I chose to follow God!" you can argue. "I know he called me, and I answered! I made a choice!" The only reason you were able to make that choice is because the Spirit enabled you to. Romans 8:11 reads, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."
It is by no work of ours that we are saved. We can take no credit for it. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, "not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
Paul repeats this theme continually. To pastors Titus and Timothy, he wrote that God saved us not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5), because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9).
Now, even though our works do not save us, we are still called to work. Ephesians 2:10 reads, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Good works do not bring us salvation—we walk in them as a result of our salvation.
In John 15:5, Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
We read in Romans 8:30, "Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." The salvation process, inside and out, from beginning to end, is the complete and gracious work of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
To whom? The church in Ephesus.
What was the setting? Paul was likely writing from prison in Rome.
When did this happen? About 62 A.D.
How did he say it? Through a letter.
Why did he say it? Paul loved the Ephesian church and wanted to encourage them further in their understanding of the redemptive work of Christ.