Everyone knows Eph 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith, apart from works. But do you know why that is? Paul explained why in Eph 2:1-3.
The Ephesians had been in a bad way.
Here’s how Paul described them:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others (Eph 2:1-3).
Paul paints a very bleak picture of Ephesian life before faith.
First, they had been “dead.” When the Bible describes “death” it is usually a form of separation. For example, the death of the human person occurs at the separation of the soul from the body (see here). In this case, the Ephesians were physically alive because Paul describes them as “walking” (i.e., living). So how were they dead? Paul says they were “dead in trespasses and sins.” Whatever that means, it isn’t good. At the very least, they lacked eternal life and therefore were separated from the life of God.
Second, they were walking according to the age of this world. That is, they were worldly in their thinking, acting, and aspiring.
Third, they were walking according to Satan (“the prince of the power of the air”). When Satan is setting your traveling itinerary, you know you’re in bad company.
Fourth, they conducted themselves in the lusts of the flesh. Their life focus was on fulfilling their lusts. That’s what they lived for. “If it feels good, do it” was their motto.
Now put these four things together and what do you get?
Do you get people who are in a position to contribute works to their salvation?
No. You get people whose only hope is grace. And that’s what God gave. Twice Paul reminded the Ephesians, “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4, 8).
What was true of the Ephesians is also true of you.
Why must salvation be apart from works (v 9)? Because, frankly, you have no works to offer.