In 2013 I was one of the authors of a four-views book on the role of works at the final judgment. In that book I suggested that Eph 2:8-9 says that everlasting life is by grace through faith and apart from works (Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, Zondervan, pp. 40-41). One of the co-authors, Dr. Tom Schreiner, said in his response to my article, “First, a quibble. Contrary to Wilkin, Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn’t speak of eternal life. Paul refers to God’s past saving work here and doesn’t use the expression ‘eternal life’” (p. 54).
Years ago a thesis was written for Chafer Theological Seminary by Tim Nichols. In the thesis he showed convincing evidence that the salvation of Eph 2:8 is clearly talking about everlasting life. We know this, Nichols argued, because of the parenthetical expression three verses earlier, “…[God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
The other day I was looking over NT commentaries to recommend on Ephesians and I looked at what Francis Foulkes said in the Tyndale Series commentary on Ephesians.
Foulkes, without going into the detail that Nichols did, touches on the linkage between Eph 2:5 and Eph 2:8 when he wrote as follows:
8. Now the statement made parenthetically in verse 5 is repeated, expanded, and expounded. Why can the life of heaven be possessed here and now? How is there such an exhibition of the love of God from which the whole creation of God can learn and wonder? Because by grace you have been saved. This salvation is God’s work entirely, the bestowal of his infinite love. The human part in receiving it can be described simply by the words through faith (cf. Rom. 3:22, 25; Gal. 2:16; 1 Pet. 1:15) (Ephesians, p. 83).
Foulkes does not repeat the start of Eph 2:5, which reads, “[God] even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved.” As Foulkes and Schreiner know, Paul’s reference to being made alive with Christ refers to regeneration, that is, to everlasting life.
So while Schreiner is technically correct that the words everlasting life are not found in Eph 2:8-9, Schreiner’s point is meaningless. Clearly Paul is speaking about everlasting life in Eph 2:8-9 as the comparison with Eph 2:5 shows.
(By the way, a similar comparison of John 3:16 with John 3:17 shows that the salvation of John 3:17 is clearly a reference to everlasting life.)
I should note that Foulkes goes on to give an explanation of “through faith” in Eph 2:8 that is fairly consistent with Free Grace thought. He wrote:
This faith is defined best as a turning to God with a sense of need and weakness and emptiness and a willingness to receive what he offers, to receive the Lord himself (Jn. 1:12) (Foulkes, Ephesians, p. 83).
While it is not crystal clear what Foulkes means there, he is not advocating a view of faith that includes obedience. It might be possible to see in his statement an allusion to submission. But more likely what Foulkes means is that when we believe in Christ we are persuaded that the salvation is totally of Him (“This salvation is God’s work entirely”). We do nothing to earn it, deserve it, or retain it. We simply believe the promise of everlasting life that the Lord Jesus Christ makes (John 1:12-13).
Foulkes goes on to make the nice point that “verse 9 must refer to the salvation and not the faith” (p. 84). He is saying that the words, “not of works, lest anyone should boast” refer to salvation/everlasting life, not to faith. Amen.
As an aside, I think Foulkes’s commentary on Ephesians is worth having.
Yes. Paul is talking about everlasting life in Eph 2:8-9. We receive everlasting life which can never be lost by grace through faith and apart from works. No works we do before or after the new birth are required to gain it or to keep it. In fact, if we think that we must do good works to gain it or to keep it, then we better read Eph 2:8-9 and the Gospel of John again.