Do curious inconsistencies captivate you? Do you mull over mysterious misfits? Ever examined Ephesians 2:8?
Normally when Paul describes the basis for salvation, he credits God’s work through Christ. He might point to Jesus’ blood providing forgiveness or Jesus’ atoning death. Although obscured in many English translations, Paul even spoke of the “faith of Jesus” being the foundation for redemption and righteousness, as in Romans 3:22-24 and Philippians 3:9.
Conversely, whenever Paul described our appropriation of God’s gift of forgiveness and sonship, the language changes to believing in Christ, being baptized into Christ, obeying the gospel and confessing Christ. God saves; we respond in order to receive.
Why then in Ephesians 2:8, did Paul run counter to his customary manner by describing salvation based upon our faith?
The deeper we look at this verse the more profoundly puzzling it becomes. From Ephesians 1:18 through at least the end of chapter 2, Paul’s persistent goal is to emphasize God’s power through Christ toward the believer.
God raised Christ from the dead. He makes us alive. He created us in Christ to do good works. Through Christ’s blood a new body is created where unity exists. Why, then, disrupt this doggedly determined focus upon God’s activity in Christ by interjecting the role of our faith?
Paul’s singular focus becomes clearer when we consider that even though this context is filled with baptismal concepts, Paul refused to break away from emphasizing God’s work in order to mention this human response. This is a message about what God has done through Christ. It is not about our response to God.
So why then, at the very heart of this message about how God’s power has supplied our salvation, reverse engines to speak of our faith as the basis? Our faith sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of a smooth and consistent message about God’s working through Christ.
On the larger scale, what should we make out of the parallels between Philippians 3:9 and this text? Both contrast faith and works. But in Philippians Paul amplified upon faith penning, “faith of Christ.”
Could it be, when Paul anchored salvation upon faith, he did not have our faith in mind? Might Paul have been focused upon the faith of Christ? This is not to deny that we must trust in Jesus for salvation. The question here is, *in this text* was Paul focused on our faith or the role of Jesus’ faith to supply God’s gift of salvation?
Paul does qualify this faith with “and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” He seems to be making it clear that the saving faith he has in mind is not ours.
Curious. Is this just a mysterious Pauline hiccup or has Paul been consistent all along, but we have not been listening closely? Are we interpreting this text based upon what others have taught us it means or the context? I think I’ll be mulling this over a bit more.