How Can I Be Saved? The Passive Clarified

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

When I was in school, I was encouraged to avoid the passive voice in my writing. Why? Because immature uses of the passive voice tended to be unclear. Consider the first sentence of this paragraph, for example. I used a passive construction, “I was encouraged.” But I did not specify who did the encouraging. It could have been my teachers or my parents or the editor of the school paper. My use of a passive construction left things vague. It would have been clearer if I had identified the agent of the action, “When I was in school, I was encouraged by my English teachers to avoid the passive voice in my writing.”

As we saw yesterday, Paul uses the passive voice in Ephesians 2:8 when talking about salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith.” But, you’ll notice, he does not leave us guessing about what saves us. He does not say only, “For you have been saved.” Rather, he adds, “For it is by grace you have been saved.” The context reveals that the grace of which Paul speaks is God’s grace (see 2:7, “the incomparable riches of his grace,” and 2:9, “it is the gift of God”).

You have been saved by God’s grace. Or, to put it in the active voice, God’s grace has saved you. The answer to the question, “How can I be saved?” is simple: By grace.

And what is grace? The Greek word translated here as “grace” is charis. In secular Greek, it meant “kindness” or “favor” or “thankfulness.” In the New Testament, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul, charis identifies God’s unmerited favor or undeserved kindness. Grace, by definition, cannot be earned. It is given freely by God on the basis of God’s nature and decision.

If Paul had written, “For it is by God you have been saved,” this might still have allowed us to believe that we are somehow able or required to earn our salvation. God might save us only on the basis of our good intentions or meritorious deeds. Salvation could be like God giving us an "A" for living moral lives. But Ephesians 2:8 overrules this understanding of salvation. Yes, you are saved by God ... by God’s grace, by God’s unmerited favor. You are saved by God precisely when you do not deserve it and have not earned it.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you hear the word “grace,” what comes to mind? When have you experienced grace in human relationships? How did it feel?

PRAYER: O God, how I thank you for your grace. You have done what I could never do, saving me from sin into righteousness, from bondage into freedom, from death into life. And you have done this, not on the basis of my worthiness, but because of your amazing grace. What a gift! What a wonder! What good news! Thank you! Amen.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.