For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
God has always had one plan of salvation: by grace through faith. This plan or pattern fits with the Old Covenant as well as the New. It was the same before the time of the Law, during the time of the Law, and after the time of the Law. It is as consistent as Jesus Christ, the one from whom the plan comes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8).
But, what does “by grace through faith” mean?
We must recognize that the plan itself is the gift of God. Salvation is not something deserved or earned “for there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10); it is given by God because He is loving and merciful. He is not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but wants all to turn to Him so as to live (Ezekiel 33:11). Salvation is not the result of human effort or ingenuity. Only God in His wisdom was able to bring about so great a salvation (Isaiah 59:16; 63:5).
“Grace” emphasizes God’s role in salvation. He has provided the means by which we can be reconciled to Him, namely, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23). It is in Christ that the grace of God is made manifest (2 Corinthians 13:13). Christ did all of the work required to satisfy the wrath of God and pave a way to the Father (John 14:6).
“Faith” emphasizes man’s role in salvation. This salvation that God has provided by His grace in Christ must be received by faith (Romans 3:25-26). We must turn to God in faith in order for the atonement and reconciliation purchased by Christ to be applied (John 3:16).
Thus, salvation is “by grace”, namely, because of the work of God Himself in providing atonement and redemption in Jesus Christ; and, it is “through faith”, that is, it is applied when a man chooses to accept this gracious gift and place his faith in Jesus Christ and the work that He accomplished.
I would like to emphasize God’s grace and magnify it even more.
When a man places their faith in Christ, God’s grace, which afore had provided the One in whom man should place His faith, again works, and brings to pass the application of the atonement in the heart of the believer. And, inasmuch as “the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) it is equally true that, after conversion, the righteous shall live by grace, constantly benefitting from the work of God Himself (grace) as they trust in and submit to God (faith). Therefore, all of salvation is “by grace through faith” from beginning to end, not merely the beginning.
I would like to magnify God’s grace even more!
A man may think that because it is his responsibility to have faith in Jesus he somehow accomplishes or earns his salvation. The man who places his faith in Christ no more earns, merits, or accomplishes his salvation than one who is promised a gift if he would only meet the giver at a certain time and place in order to receive it earned, merited, or accomplished the giving of the gift. As the servants in Jesus’ parable, the ones who place their faith in Christ and so receive the gift of salvation should say “We are worthless servants; we’ve only done our duty.” (Luke 7:10). Furthermore, the fact that we are able to exercise our faith so as to receive the gift of salvation is itself an example of God’s grace. Given our sinfulness, God could have simply left us in our peril so that we would perish as was our due, but He graciously provided salvation and conditioned its application on our faith.
Truly, the salvation available in Christ is so great! As the author of Hebrews says:
…We must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away…how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? – Hebrews 2:1-3
My final point is simply that no matter what period of time in redemption history we look at this pattern of salvation “by grace through faith” holds true. God is gracious and provides the way of salvation and those who receive salvation must simply place their faith in God, that is, submit to the working of His grace to enable them to walk along that way.