by Terry Wane Benton
Notice the prepositions: by, through, and with. The Book of Ephesians uses all three to describe what is involved with our salvation. It teaches we are saved by grace. It teaches we are saved through faith. It teaches we are saved with the washing of water by the word. It is not grace alone, else faith and washing of water would not be required. It is not faith alone, else grace and washing of water would not be involved. It is not by washing of water alone, else grace and faith would not be involved. But, it is all three involved together.
By grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:5,8). God did not owe us anything, and we did not deserve His grace. But, receiving the benefits of His grace was conditional. If it was grace alone (a common denominational codeword), then everyone would be saved, because He is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9) and He died for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). So, if we are saved by grace alone, there are no conditions, and everyone will be saved (universal salvation).
“Through faith” tells us there is a channel “through” which grace connects us to the gracious salvation provided for all men. (Ephesians 1:12-13; 2:8). The text does not say there has to be a certain content of faith in order for the channel to work. Everybody believes, has faith, in something. So, if I believed in chickens, Buddha, Muhammed, and science would this “faith” be a proper channel for salvation? No? Now, you would have to branch out from Ephesians 2:8 to discuss what the proper content of faith must be. If we just stayed with Ephesians 2:8 then everybody with any content of faith would be saved. But, bringing in other verses we know the content is a crucial element of saving faith. So, the right content of faith must be in place before we can be saved.
The text does not tell us if there has to be a certain level or depth of faith. On this point, would the men in John 12:42 who “believed” in Jesus but wouldn’t “confess” Him have the kind of faith that saves? No? If not, then Ephesians 2:8 cannot be talking about just any level of faith. It must have the right content and it must be willing to confess Jesus. So, if the content and characteristic of “faith” are important, then follow me to the next point.
With the Washing of Water by the Word
Paul says that our cleansing (which we already know happens “by grace through faith”) is with the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26). It does not say that we are cleansed, sanctified, and washed without the washing of water by the word. It says that it is with the washing of water by the word. It does not say we are saved by grace through faith alone without the washing of water by the word, but we are saved by grace through faith … with the washing of water by the word.
Now, let us connect the dots. The 3,000 on Pentecost were instructed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). They were further encouraged to “be saved” from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40). They were then baptized because they “gladly received his word.” Thus, they were saved by grace through faith with the washing of water by the word. Saul was instructed to “arise, and be baptized, washing away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Again, he was saved by grace through faith with the washing of water by the word.
There is no way around it, and an honest person would not try to get around it. An honest person of faith will simply do as the 3,000, Saul, and the Ephesians. We will surrender to God and seek to be “saved by grace through faith with the washing of water by the word.” Be sure you are being honest with God and His word!