Does Ephesians 2:8-9 teach that we are saved through faith alone?
Ephesians 2:8-9 is a favorite verse of those who believe we are saved by grace through faith alone and not by or through our works.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
This verse seems to be clearly teaching that we are saved by grace through faith alone. However, some, such as the Roman Catholic church and the Iglesia Ni Cristo have doubted this. What does this verse really teach? When we examine the passage, we find that it really does say we are saved by grace through faith alone.
We are saved by grace.
Grace is God's unmerited favor, the key word being "unmerited". In other words, if we are truly saved by grace, there is nothing we can possibly do to earn that favor. The word "grace" itself means that there cannot be works that are required to receive salvation.
This is not our own doing.
Verse 8 explicitly says that this salvation is not our own doing. If it is not our own doing, that must mean that there are no works that we can do in order to secure this salvation.
It is a gift.
Verse 8 also says it's a gift from God. If it is truly a gift, that means that we can't have worked for it. Any works done as a requirement for that gift would make it a wage or payment for that work.
Romans 4:4-5 (ESV) - 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Romans 4:4-5 agrees that if salvation were acquired by works, it would no longer be a gift. Therefore, it is not works that define who is justified and who is not, but faith.
It is not a result of works.
Ephesians 2:9 states very clearly that this gift of salvation is not a result of works. This phrase alone is enough for us to understand that salvation does not come at all through our own works, but through faith.
The INC claims that the works being spoken of in this verse are not general acts of love, but works of Levitical law, such as not eating pork. However, that does not fit with the rest of the passage which argues about it being a gift and not being our own doing. Also, we see over the rest of this verse and the next, that such an understanding of this verse is not possible. If these works are really obedience to Levitical law and not general acts of love and doing as God commands, why does it say we are created for these good works in the next verse?
No one can boast in salvation.
Verse 9 tells us that we cannot boast in our salvation. Therefore, there is no work we can do that would earn our salvation because that work would give us grounds to boast.
This cannot only be speaking of Levitical law, because if salvation came through obedience to any law whatsoever, this would also give us cause to boast. For, example if one is saved because he loves his neighbor, he can proudly say over those who do not love their neighbor that he did something to achieve that salvation that they did not.
We are created for good works.
Despite the fact that we are saved by grace through faith, works do have a place in the believers life. We read in the next verse:
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) - For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is not our works that cause our salvation, but our salvation that cause our works. When we are saved, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). In that new creation, we are created to do good works. Therefore, someone who is truly saved will do good works, but those works are not what saves.
Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly teach that we are saved by grace through faith alone, not of works. When the INC teaches that this is only speaking of obedience to Levitical law, they are ignoring what this passage says about works, boasting, and the nature of our salvation.
Additionally, we also see in verse 10 what the true role of works is in a Christians life. Christians are a new creation in Christ and it is because Christ has changed their lives that they serve him and are obedient.
Going deeper, there are two doctrines here that are important to differentiate. The first is Justification and the second is Sanctification. When Roman Catholics and Iglesia Ni Cristo mistakenly confuse these two doctrines they fall into their works-based salvation error. See this article for more information.