Ephesians 2:5 and 8-9 Reconsidered
by Frank Tyler
Some people believe that the new birth occurs before faith. Reformed theologians commonly cite Eph 2:8-9 as evidence that faith is the gift of God. For example, R. C. Sproul says, “Faith is a result of the Spirit’s sovereign work of regeneration” (Grace Unknown, pp. 156-57).
In another work Sproul similarly commented, “We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order that we may believe” (Chosen By God, p. 73).
A Strategically Repeated Parenthetical Expression
In Eph 2:5 the parenthetical expression by grace you have been saved explains in abbreviated fashion the preceding content of verses 4-5. The adversative, but, contrasts the bad news in Eph 2:1-3 of man’s depravity with the good news in Eph 2:4-7. Ephesians 2:4-5 reads:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
Three verses later the Apostle Paul repeats this same expression, by grace you have been saved: For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves.
By strategically linking Eph 2:8 with the content of the parenthetical statement in Eph 2:4-5, Paul exercises a wonderful economy of words (cf. J. B. Bond, “Ephesians” in The Grace NT Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 868).
Paul’s words in Eph 2:4-5, God…made us alive together with Christ, are clearly parallel to his words in Eph 2:8, For by grace you have been saved. We know this because Paul put by grace you have been saved parenthetically after verse 5 and then repeated it again in verse 8. But notice that in Eph 2:8 Paul adds “through faith” after you have been saved [or made alive].
According to Paul, God made the Ephesians alive together with Christ, that is, He regenerated them… through faith. God regenerated them after they believed, not before they believed. Clearly, the instrument of faith precedes the magnificent gift of being made alive together with Christ…through faith.
In John’s Gospel the Lord Jesus repeatedly promises that the one who believes in Him has everlasting life (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25-27). Jesus never reverses this order to reveal faith as a result or gift following regeneration. The instrument of faith always precedes regeneration.
Therefore, the Ephesians did not come to faith “[as] a result of the Spirit’s sovereign work of regeneration,” as R. C. Sproul suggests (Grace Unknown, p. 156).
Grammar Confirms Salvation as the Gift of God
It might surprise many Calvinists to read what John Calvin said about the gift of God in Eph 2:8:
But they [theologians] commonly misinterpret this text, and restrict the word “gift” to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating his earlier statement in other words. He does not mean that faith is the gift of God, but salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it by the gift of God (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, p. 145).
Regarding Eph 2:8-9, R. C. Sproul, writes:
What is the antecedent for the word that: grace, saved, or faith? The rules of Greek syntax and grammar demand that the antecedent of that be the word faith. Paul is declaring what every Reformed person affirms, that faith is a gift from God (Grace Unknown, p. 156).
Though Sproul dogmatically asserts that Greek grammar supports his view of faith as the gift of God (contra Calvin himself), Greek grammar actually supports Calvin’s statement.
In Koine Greek, gender agreement (masculine, feminine, or neuter) helps identify the antecedent of demonstrative pronouns. In verse 8 Paul uses a neuter demonstrative pronoun, that (touto). The words faith and grace are feminine nouns. Thus touto is unlikely to refer back to either of those nouns. Quite often neuter demonstrative pronouns look back to conceptual antecedents. Noted grammarian, Daniel Wallace, himself a Calvinist, commenting on Eph 2:8-9, says: “On a grammatical level, then, it is doubtful that either ‘faith’ or ‘grace’ is the antecedent of touto” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 335). He also said, “(t)he neuter… [touto] is routinely used to refer to a phrase or clause” (p. 333).
All believers may rejoice in God’s wonderful salvation through faith: For…God made us alive together with Christ… through faith (Eph 2:5 and 8-9). The instrument of faith is not the result or gift of regeneration: Salvation (i.e., everlasting life, Eph 2:5) is the gift of God.
By Grace Through Faith Salvation Results in Certainty About Your Eternal Destiny
Although man utterly fails in all of his efforts to save himself, God saves man according to His sovereign plan that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The fullness and beauty of God’s grand design in Christ Jesus rests on the certainty that God made alive together with Christ those who believe in Him. This assurance remains essential for every Christian’s endurance today (progressive sanctification) and for hope for tomorrow (glorification with reward). Regarding the church the apostle writes: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10). Amen!
Ephesians 2:8-9 powerfully affirms that all who believe in the Lord Jesus have everlasting life. Regeneration does not precede faith in Christ. The contextual relationship between Eph 2:4-5 and 2:8 shows that the instrument of faith precedes regeneration (or being made alive together with Christ). Truly, when understood within the context of Eph 2:5, the message of Eph 2:8-9 is and always will be the good news by which all Christians have been saved: For…God made us alive together with Christ…through faith (Eph 2:5 and 8-9).