For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
This is perhaps the clearest description of what it means to be a Christian in the whole Bible. Whether one is saved or unsaved is determined by the application of this single verse. Historically, most of the trouble and dispute in the church over how one is saved has arisen at this point. It is because so many have never been clear on this foundation, that they are still confused about so many things. Confusion often arises when people take clear, great statements such as this and make them matters of controversy; and this verse has been used to stir up much confusion.
Let us look at what this verse clearly says. First, this verse tells us that we are Christians entirely and solely as a result of the grace of God. He is not obliged to save anyone; He is fully within His right to apply His law and have its penalty fully inflicted upon us as children of wrath. We have already seen in the previous verses, that our contribution to our regeneration is our trespasses and sins, in which we were dead – until God, by grace, makes us alive (v. 1-5). There is no indication whatsoever that salvation is God’s response to anything in us; we have no right to it nor can we merit it; we have no plea with God, His justice or His holy law. But God in His own wondrous and sovereign mercy, love and kindness has granted us the gift of salvation. Spiritually dead creatures have been made alive – how has it happened? God has done it! Salvation is of the Lord! That is what grace means. And so, we are in the words of the great hymn, “debtors to mercy alone.”
We have also seen that our salvation is an eternal display of grace (v. 7); it is so, because it is all of grace. “By grace” (the Greek preposition, gar = by) suggests the source or origin of salvation. But then it comes “through faith,” (the preposition dia = through) denotes the subjective means or instrument of its operation. Grace, which is completely objective, takes its place in the human heart, and thereby activates faith, which is the human conduit through which we are saved. It is clear from this verse that faith is not the first cause of salvation, but the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ is. Thank God that it is this way – God forbid that I should glory in anything but the cross of Christ! By grace, through faith eliminates any and all grounds for boasting.