How do we reconcile divine grace and human responsibility in the work of salvation?
Ephesians 2:8 is maybe the best verse for understanding the divine-human dynamic in the work of salvation. Through this text we can assert, by introduction, that these two are reconciled within a particular covenant relationship. Let’s look:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
This simple text lays out in order the proper relationship and mutual responsibility that brings and sustains salvation. First is God’s grace. The covenant relationship is always initiated by God; it is a divine gift. Second is the human response, faith. Trusting and believing, we humbly receive God’s gift, knowing that salvation, and faith itself, is beyond ourselves.
Volumes can be, and have been, written about the power and beauty of these two wonderful words: Grace! Faith! Residing at the heart of salvation and the divine-human relationship, we can plum their depths by attending to two more words in the broader context of Ephesians 2:8: Jesus Christ!
The complete reconciliation of the divine-human relationship rests in Jesus. He is the foundation of God’s grace and human faith, as seen in verses 1-7. While all of us were “dead in trespasses and sins” and defined by disobedience, lusts, and wrath (vv. 1-3), God’s rich mercy and great love for salvation was revealed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made “alive together with Christ” (vv. 4-6). We exclaim, based on Apostle Paul’s words, Oh “the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7)!
We truly understand the profundity of grace and faith only by attending to our Lord Jesus Christ. As both human and divine, Jesus, first and alone, perfectly demonstrated God’s grace toward man and man’s faithful response to God. That’s how a new covenant relationship has been established in His blood. While the divine-human relationship was always defined by grace and faith, we know from the old covenant that on our side of the equation, faith and faithfulness has always been faulty.
While God’s gracious faithfulness is always reliable, from Adam to Israel, we learn that the same cannot be said of human beings (Numbers 14:11; Deuteronomy 1:32; Psalm 78:22, 32; 106:24; Romans 10:16; Hebrews 3:18; 4:2; Jude 5). Before Jesus, broken relations were what defined the divine-human relationship. But as Hebrews 11 illustrates, there was always a remnant of faith: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses. These faithful pointed to the One “True and Faithful” (Jeremiah 42:5; Revelation 19:11), and now our “obedience to the faith” is experienced only in, and through, Him (Romans 1:5; 16:26). At the cross, in Christ, God’s grace and human faith meet in perfect union. Relationship is reconciled, and sin and death are defeated.
As we conclude, let’s return to Ephesians 2, where the consequences of this grace and faith in Christ are shown. While human working and boasting are set aside in simple submission to Christ, God’s grace continues to work through faith:
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (v. 10).
The same grace and faith that bring salvation bring our sanctification too. That is the result of the ongoing work of God, in Christ and in us. It’s a sobering truth: Our responsibility is to walk in Him as He works in us (Romans 8:1; Colossians 1:29).
— Elder Jason Overman
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