We Are Nothing
By Shawn Tomlin
The minute you asked any Christian, or an unbeliever for that matter, if they believe that our works help to gain their salvation I can almost guess that the vast majority will refuse this idea. “Of course not! Faith alone! FAITH ALONE!” On the surface they are right, but many take a stand somewhere in the middle, thinking that Jesus saves us, but we can get some extra brownie points with the Father if we do a good work. In the end, our sinful nature stains our idea of good works. We have to keep in mind where our works come from.
One of the verses of scripture that I love clearly shows the point that I’m trying to make: we are nothing and God is everything. That isn’t the only thing you can pull from this passage, but just bear with me. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Let’s start at verse 8, to better understand verse 8 it is best to go back to verse 1 of chapter 2. Verse 8 turns out to be the only logical outcome if we read this in the context of what Paul is trying to say in chapter 2. Unless you’ve seen a dead person ever save themselves, then I might be wrong, but Paul’s choice of language here is important. We were DEAD in our trespasses and sins. Dead... I know the dead vote in Chicago, but here in Ohio the dead can’t do much, including save themselves.
“We are nothing, except through the pure exercise of His kindness.”
Paul continues on in verse 4 of chapter 2 and says, “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-...” What we see here is not a “meeting God halfway” thing or a “you HAVE TO do x,y, or z in order to be saved by God” thing. Someone once said, maybe Sproul, “God didn’t just throw you a life preserver to you while you were drowning, He dove to the bottom of the ocean, pulled your lifeless corpse up to the shore, and breathed life into your dead body.” I’m paraphrasing but it went something like that. The point I’m trying to make here is we are nothing but lifeless corpses, we were born spiritually dead, and it is only by the grace of God that we have been made alive in the faith of His Son, Jesus Christ.
As Paul continues on in verse 9, he basically restates the tail end of verse 8 where it says, “...not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” This time he says, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul is simply not giving any room for anyone to credit anything to themselves, it all flows from the mercy of God.
Lastly, in verse 10 of chapter 2, there are a couple points I want to make. When Paul refers to us as “workmanship” he is not referring to the original creation, but those who have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The other point is that we can’t claim anything if our own, including our good works, because He has already prepared for us good works. We truly are nothing without the divine gift of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
John Calvin says in his commentary on Ephesians 2:10, “We must look to Paul’s design. He intends to show that we have brought nothing to God, but which He might be laid under obligations to us; and he shows that even the good works we perform have come from God. Hence it follows, that we are nothing, except through the pure exercise of His kindness. Those men, on the other hand, infer that half of our justification arises from our works. But what has this to do with Paul’s intention, or with the subject he handles? It is one thing to follow up the doctrine, that it is not from ourselves, by this argument, that we have no right to claim good works as our own, but have been formed by the Spirit of God, through the grace of Christ, to all that is good. When oil lays down the case of justification, he dwells chiefly on this point, that our consciences will never enjoy peace until they rely on the propitiation of sins. Nothing of this sort is even alluded to in the present instance. His whole object is to prove, that, “by the grace of God, we are all that we are” (1 Cor 15:10).
Let’s clarify something else in verse 8 in order to bring into our understanding of this whole passage. Let us look at the Greek word “sesosmenoi,” which in the ESV translates to “have been saved.” When looking at the Greek, we grab depth that isn’t as prominent in English. Let’s look at “sesosmenoi”-
-The tense indicates it was completed in the past, but the results can be seen in the present.
-The mood indicates a full completion/reality.
-The voice is passive, meaning the subject receives the action, so the subject is NOT the performer of the action.
-It’s in second person, so it applies to the person reading it, or who it is spoken to.
-It’s written in plural number, so “all may receive.”
Now let’s apply this to “have been saved.” The focus of this verse isn’t grace, faith, yourselves, gift, works, or boasting... it is focused on the free, unmerited gift of SALVATION to those who will believe. So using the Greek we can see that salvation was completed on the Cross, at a particular point in time, but God uses that to draw us to Himself by His Word to this day. Salvation, once given, is complete. Since it is passive in voice, it indicates that we did nothing to “become saved,” God alone saves us. It is intended for all who read/hear it and if they come to faith in Jesus Christ, will be saved. God and God alone does the work of salvation, completely, without anything coming from us. Calvin summed it up well in his commentary on this epistle when he said, “we are nothing except through the pure exercise of His kindness.”