May 30, 2018 • Life for Leaders
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.
When I was in school, I was encouraged to avoid the passive voice in my writing. Why? Because most 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 Mr. Bottaro to avoid the passive voice in my writing.” (Mr. Bottaro was my high school English teacher, whose teaching changed my writing and my life.)
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 comes from God (see 2:7, “the incomparable riches of his grace,” and 2:9, “it is the gift of God”).
You have been saved, not by your own efforts, not by good luck, not by getting in touch with the divine within you, but 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.
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.
People receive this truth differently. Tomorrow, we’ll consider how we might respond to salvation by grace alone. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on this truth by using the following questions and prayer.
Something to Think About:
When you hear the word “grace,” what comes to mind?
When have you experienced grace in human relationships?
How did it feel?
Something to Do:
Find a time today when you can be quite for a few minutes. In that time, reflect on the fact that you have been saved by grace. Let the truth of God’s grace for you sink in to your heart. What thoughts and feelings come to mind when you do this?
Gracious 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.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful: Eucharisteo with Ann Voskamp
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Grace is the ultimate gift from God that many people are unwilling to accept!
Yes, indeed. Thanks for your comment, Chuck.
Passive voice is also avoided because it’s wordy (usually 2-4 more words are required to write a sentence in passive voice rather than active voice) and because the reliance on “to be” verbs robs writing of the power that active, vivid verbs provide. I’m sure you know all this, given your love for grammar, but I just wanted to mention other reasons for avoiding passive voice (although God’s Word often uses it to refer to His Work).
Oh, and there’s a typo under “Something to Do”: “quite” should be “quiet.” I make the same error all the time, and, of course, Spellcheck and even Grammarly usually miss it. 😉
Soli Deo Gloria,
You’re absolutely right about the grammar. Thanks for the addition, and also for catching the typo.