Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9) Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Acts 18:27: And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:
Which came first, the grace or the faith? The featured texts, at first glance, seem to be teaching opposite relationships between faith and grace. In Eph 2:8, the grace that eternally saved the saints in Ephesus, to whom Paul is writing, came through, or by means of, faith. In Act 18:27, the disciples believed (had faith) through, or by means of, grace. So which is it, do we get God’s grace through faith, or do we get faith through grace? The answer is that both of these statements are correct. The key to understanding this apparent contradiction is to understand of whose faith each verse is speaking. If both verses are speaking of our personal faith, then we have a contradiction in scripture or at least something that is very confusing. Since, “The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psa 19:7) and “God is not the author of confusion” (1Co 14:33), we know that there is no contradiction, nor confusion, when these verses are properly understood by “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1Co 2:13).
The faith spoken of in Acts 18:27 belonged to the disciples in Achaia; Apollos “helped them much which had believed through grace”. Their faith came by means of the grace of God, which came by Jesus Christ (Joh 1:17). Peter, when writing to God’s elect (1Pe 1:2), told them that they “by him (Jesus Christ) do believe in God” (1Pe 1:21). Our faith is born of God (1Jo 5:4). We have obtained our faith “through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2Pe 1:1). How then do we get grace, the means by which we have faith, if so many preachers out there tell us that Eph 2:8 teaches that we get God’s grace by our faith? If Eph 2:8 is teaching that our faith is the means by which we obtain God’s grace, then we are in a catch-22. We need faith to get God’s grace, but yet we can’t have faith because we don’t yet have God’s grace. It is just like the old saying, “which came first, the chicken or the egg.” The answer to both problems is the same. God was the first cause in both situations, both creating the chicken and having the initial faith that it took to give us the grace that alone saved our souls and enabled us to have faith.
Someone is thinking right now, “How do you know that it is not of our faith that Eph 2:8 is speaking?” Easy, because the rest of the verse tells us so, “…through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” The verse comes right out and says as plain as day that it is not through our faith that God’s grace came to us. “Well then”, one might say, “whose faith could it be?” The main reason people misunderstand this Bible verse is that most of them are not reading a real Bible. If you have God’s holy word which is preserved in the KJV, it is easy to see whose faith it was whereby we obtained God’s grace and were eternally justified. Not having a KJV and relying on another “version” for these next few verses is only going to further confuse the matter.
The Bible teaches it is by Jesus’ faith, not ours, that we are justified. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith OF Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith OF Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal 2:16). All new-[age] bibles render this verse “faith in Jesus Christ”, which makes our faith the means by which we are justified, rather than by Jesus’ faith. It was Jesus’ faith that made us righteous; “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith OF Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:” (Rom 3:22).
Here is one final verse, that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2Co 13:1), to show that it was by Jesus’ faith, not our own, that we were made the recipients of God’s grace. We should all follow Paul’s lead and want to “be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith OF Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” (Phi 3:9).
In addition to what the verse says ever so plainly, that the faith that God’s grace comes through is “not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”, the apostle Paul continues with the next verse, “Not of works, lest any man should boast,” to ensure that it is understood that the faith is Jesus’ faith, not our own. Grace and works are mutually exclusive terms. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6) And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Rom 11:5-6). The definition of work is: anything that is or was done. If a man has to do anything (work) to get God’s grace, then it is not grace but a debt that God owes that man (Rom 4:4). The very definition of grace attests to that fact. Grace: Favor, favorable or benignant regard or its manifestation (now only on the part of a superior); favor of good will, in contradistinction to right or obligation, as the ground of a concession. (Oxford English Dictionary). Someone will say, “But, faith and belief are not works, right?” What saith the scripture? In Joh 6:28-29, the disciples asked Jesus “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Faith is something that we do, which is by definition, work. Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “[ye] have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Mat 23:23). If the faith that God’s grace came to us though was our faith, then it would have been of our works and we know that not to be the case because it is “not of works”.
So far it has been shown that Jesus’ faith came first, then God’s grace came through Jesus’ faith, and then our faith came through God’s grace. The observant reader is probably wondering why the word “Grace” is used one final time in the title of this meditation. Once God’s grace was bestowed upon us through the faith of Jesus Christ, we then, through that grace, can have faith, by which we then have access to more of that grace, wherein we stand, that we can enjoy in this life. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:2).
We should all be thankful that our Lord Jesus Christ first had faith in order to give us grace that enabled us to believe and access that grace wherein we stand, through faith. Let us take full advantage of this most blessed privilege and access all the grace that we can in this life by faith.