For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Those who approach Scripture with the presupposition of a 5-Point system of Calvinism will make subtle equivocations without realizing it. For instance, the 5-Point system of Calvinism requires that faith is a gift to the elect (as Calvinism defines the elect), and so here is how Calvinists interpret the text:
Calvinism: “For by grace you have been given the gift of faith; and that faith is not of yourselves; faith is the gift of God; faith is not as a result of works, so that no one may boast of their faith.”
Of course, no apostle ever complained that people boasted of their faith, though there were protests against boasting in the Law, especially as pertaining to circumcision. (Galatians 6:13) Moreover, this is despite the fact that the focus of the text is on grace, in contrast to the works of the Law. Thus, it is more natural to read salvation as the “gift” since Paul said that at Romans 6:23: “…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” and because Paul identified where faith comes from, which is from hearing Scripture: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
J. Vernon McGee comments: “Paul is not talking about faith when he says, ‘And that not of yourselves.’ He is talking about salvation. Salvation is a gift that eliminates boasting. It is all of God and not of us. It is God’s gift.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Ephesians, p.80, emphasis mine)
The gift is not faith. Faith comes from hearing the Gospel: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) The gift is Jesus. According to John 3:16, God gave His only begotten Son. He is the gift.
The contrast is between faith vs. the works of the Law. The Jews supposed that they could earn salvation through keeping the Law, but Paul is saying that salvation cannot be earned because the Law cannot be kept. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that God holds out salvation as a free gift through faith. That’s grace. That’s the mercy of God, because otherwise, no one could be saved. We are fallen and depraved creatures, and cannot keep the Law to perfection, as a holy God demands, but thank God that He has been so gracious as to provide another way, a way in which we could, in fact, become holy and blameless before God, which is through the shed blood of His own dear Son on the cross of Calvary, so that through Him, salvation is held out as a free gift, which is received by trusting in Him. Nowhere is this passage teaching that faith is the gift. The subject is salvation, and the gift of salvation is received through faith. But none of that matters, because today’s Calvinist needs a proof-text for Calvinism, and hence, “faith is the gift.” Keep in mind, however, that yesterday’s Calvinist did not teach the same thing at Ephesians 2:8:
Apparently, John Calvin agrees: “…if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all praise, it follows that salvation is not of us.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.144, emphasis mine)
Next, believe it or not, Calvin will explain how a grace-alone salvation is a faith-alone salvation:
Calvin explains: “Now it may be asked how men receive the salvation offered to them by the hand of God? I reply, by faith. Hence he concludes that here is nothing of our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all praise, it follows that salvation is not of us. … When, on man’s side, he places the only way of receiving salvation in faith alone, he rejects all other means on which men are accustomed to rely. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.144, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “It is the gift of God. Instead of what he had said, that their salvation is of grace, he now affirms that it is the gift of God. Instead of what he had said, ‘Not of yourselves,’ he now says, Not of works. Hence we see that he leaves nothing to men in procuring salvation. For in these three phrases, he embraces the substance of his long argument in the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, that righteousness comes to us from the mercy of God alone, is offered to us in Christ and by the Gospel, and is received by faith alone, without the merit of works.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.144, emphasis mine)
Calvin acknowledges that faith is non-meritorious and Calvinists should take notice. Secondly, he affirms that God’s mercy is an offer, and founds such mercy in Christ, where it truly does originate.
Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Calvinists infer that this means that anything apart from Irresistible Grace necessarily implies that you have something to “boast” about, meaning that your decision was wiser and better than others, and that’s why you are going to Heaven vs. non-believers who are going to Hell. However, does the context explain “boasting” in those terms, or are Calvinists importing a foreign meaning into the expression for boasting? Does the overall context of Paul’s letters, ever specifically describe what people were boasting about?
Romans 2:17: “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God.”
They weren’t boasting in God. They were boasting in their circumcision. They didn’t need Jesus. They had their circumcision to save them.
Romans 2:23: “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?”
Exactly. They were boasting in the Law.
1st Corinthians 3:21: “So then let no one boast in men.”
Actually, that’s what Calvinists do, when counting heads and bragging about the Reformers.
1st Corinthians 4:7: “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
If God gives us the gift of salvation, or other gifts in Christ for service, then what do we have to boast about? What this verse doesn’t say anything about is alleged Irresistible Grace as being the means of salvation. (Ironically, the prior verse speaks about exceeding what is written and becoming arrogant).
Galatians 6:13: “For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
The biblical reality is that the actual boasting that went on in Paul’s day, had to do with Jews or Judaizers, who boasted of their observation of the Law, and boasted in their circumcision, and people boasting of their own leaders and/or of their own following. There’s no hint from the biblical record that the prohibition against boasting had anything to do with Free Will, as Calvinists allege.
Moderate Calvinist, Norman Geisler, states: “The gift of salvation is received by faith. As Paul said, it is ‘by grace you have been saved, through faith’ (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation comes through faith; faith does not come through salvation. Nowhere in the Bible is faith given only to some to believe (see appendix 5).” (Chosen But Free, p.64, emphasis mine)
Geisler adds: “...it is a mistake to believe that the exercise of faith or trust in God’s complete provision for our salvation is a ground for boasting. As a condition for salvation, faith is opposed to works and works are opposed to faith.” (Chosen But Free, p.72, emphasis mine)
Steve Finnell writes: “Many believe that Ephesians 2:8 teaches that God arbitrarily bestows faith on a selected few so they can believe and be saved. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ephesians 2:8: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.’ (NKJV) Salvation is the gift of God, not faith. The gift God gives is forgiveness from sin. How do men receive faith? Romans 10:17: ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ (NKJV) Faith comes from hearing the gospel preached. Faith is not arbitrarily dispatched to a chosen few. Romans 1:16: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greeks.’ Salvation is attained by believing the gospel. Salvation is not predetermined by God and forced on a select few by forcing them to have faith and be saved. 1 Corinthians 1:21: ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the messaged preached to save those who believe.’ (NKJV) God saves men through preaching the gospel. God does not preselect men and the force them to have faith so they will be saved. John 3:36: ‘He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but that the wrath of God abides on him.’ (NKJV) If God imputes faith to all who believe, why would those who do not believe receive the wrath of God? Non-believers would have no responsibility nor capability to believe and be saved. 1 John 3:20-23: ‘And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.’ (NKJV) Why would God command us to believe on His Son Jesus Christ if we are not capable of believing, unless He arbitrarily bestows that faith on non-believers? Jesus said ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved.’ (Mark 16:16) Jesus did not say God will give you the gift of faith so you can believe, be baptized and be saved.” (A Christian View, emphasis mine)
It seems clear that the subject is “salvation,” in which “it,” meaning “salvation,” is (1) by grace, (2) through faith, and (3) is God’s gift of eternal life. (The parallel passage is Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gift, obviously, is eternal life, which again, is salvation. Calvinists may wish to interpret this passage to mean that faith is a gift to only a certain elect individuals, but it doesn’t seem to carry much weight.