A False Gospel Derived From Scripture

Oftentimes the gospel itself is misrepresented by preachers and teachers who, because they fail to consider context, misinterpret Scripture. False teaching regarding God’s grace abounds for this very reason.

For example, Paul’s statement about salvation being a product of grace and not works, found in Ephesians 2:8, has been abused to promote a false gospel, all because context has been ignored. Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Many focus exclusively on Paul’s statements about salvation being by grace, a gift, and not a result of works. From that, contrary to the testimony of hundreds of scriptures, they derive that there is no connection between salvation and holiness. Some even go so far to say that repentance is therefore not necessary for salvation to occur. This is a classic example of how Scripture is misinterpreted because context is ignored.

First, let us consider what the actual passage under consideration says in its entirety. Paul does not say that we have been saved by grace, but that we have been saved by grace through faith. Faith is every bit as much a part of the salvation equation as is grace. Scripture declares that faith without works is useless, dead, and cannot save (see Jas. 2:14-26). Thus Paul is not teaching that holiness is irrelevant in salvation. He is saying that our own efforts are not what save us; the basis of our salvation is God’s grace. We could never be saved without God’s grace. But it is only as we respond to God’s grace with faith that salvation actually occurs in our lives. The result of salvation is always obedience, the fruit of genuine faith. By looking at the context no further away than the very next verse, this is substantiated. Paul says:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

The whole reason we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, now new creations in Christ, was so we could walk in good works of obedience. Thus Paul’s salvation equation looks like this:

Grace + Faith = Salvation + Obedience

That is, grace plus faith equals (or results in) salvation plus obedience. When God’s grace is responded to in faith, the result is always salvation and good works.

Yet those who have ripped Paul’s words from their context have concocted a formula like this:

Grace + Faith – Obedience = Salvation

That is, grace plus faith without (or minus) obedience equals (or results in) salvation. That is heresy as far as the Bible is concerned.

If we read just a little more of the context of Paul’s words, we also soon discover that the situation in Ephesus was the same as it was just about everywhere Paul preached. That is, Jews were teaching Paul’s new Gentile converts that they had to be circumcised and keep some of the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law if they wanted to be saved. It was within the context of circumcision and ceremonial works that Paul had in mind when he wrote about the “works” that don’t save us (see Eph. 2:11-22).

If we read just a little further, taking in more of the context of Paul’s entire letter to the Ephesians, we see very clearly that Paul believed that holiness was essential for salvation:

But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph. 5:3-6; emphasis added).

If Paul believed that God’s grace would ultimately save someone who was unrepentantly immoral, impure or covetous, he would never have written those words. Paul’s intended meaning of his words recorded in Ephesians 2:8-9 can only be rightly understood in the context of his entire letter to the Ephesians.