Ephesians 2:8-9: Quick Tips

This one goes into the “quick-and-easy-bible-bash tips” bin. While it may not be the most exhaustive or thorough way to understand the issues, this is a quick, honest, and effective way of dealing with a common anti-Mormon criticism. Part 1 is about Eph. 2:8, and Part 2 is about Eph. 2:9.

Ephesians 2:8 is the battle cry of sola fide Evangelicals everywhere. It reads:

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

This passage is used as a club against the Latter-day Saints because we believe that one must actually do something to maintain the covenant that God makes with us.

But too often our critics set up a false dilemma. They will demand that one is either saved completely by grace (and nothing else at all), or completely by our own works (and nothing else at all). Latter-day Saints recognize a third way, in which we are asked to do something and we are able to do it because of the grace of Christ.

So, without further ado, here it goes. If an Evangelical insists that this passage must be interpreted to say that it is only by grace that we are saved, remind them of these other passages:

Rom 8:24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? 1

1 Cor 15:1-2
1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

Rom 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

These passages suggest three other things beside grace that save us. If a critic insists that Eph 2:8 must be interpreted to mean that we are saved only by grace, point out that these passages say that other things contribute to our salvation alongside grace. At the very least, it eliminates the cry for “grace only” because now we have hope, the gospel, and Jesus’ life as contributing factors to our salvation. Former LDS apologist Kevin Graham noted in Mormonism 201:

“Does hope, grace, the gospel or the life of Jesus save us? The way Ephesians 2:8 is commonly interpreted by our critics, only one would be required and only one could apply. If the strict understanding of only should be read into the verse referring to grace, and not the rest, then let our critics justify the clear case of special pleading. Until they do, the Bible itself clearly provides a diversity of instances of “saved by…” to nullify the false dilemma.”

Ephesians 2:9 reads:

Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

This passage is interpreted by some Evangelical critics to say that any amount of work we do is worthless and only leads to false boasting. The false dilemma they invent is that God doesn’t ask us to do works, because if we did works we would boast about them. Thus, it is a choice between doing works (and boasting) and not doing works at all (and not boasting). But, that isn’t the only way to understand this passage. It could be useful to show them this passage from the Book of Mormon, which offers a perfectly rational (and better) alternate way to understand it:

Mosiah 2:20-24
20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments
; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you
; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

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11 comments on “Ephesians 2:8-9: Quick Tips

  1. Eric says:

    If someone wants to spit Ephesians 2:8-9 at you, a much simpler approach is to ask him/her to continue on through verse 10, which breaks the false dichotomy by making clear that works are an esssential part of the Christian life.

  2. James says:

    Hi Eric. I agree that verse 10 is important. But in my experience that verse isn’t enough. The sola fide Christian will agree 100% that works are essential to the Christian life. The question is, are works essential to salvation? I suppose it depends on what we mean by salvation.

  3. WalkerW says:

    Not to be self-promoting (ok, maybe a little), but I wrote a blog entry on ‘faith’, ‘grace’, and ‘works’ as understood in the NT culture. It is called “‘Faith Is Believing What You Know Ain’t So.'”

    It can be found here: http://walkstar.blogspot.com/2009/12/faith-is-believing-what-you-know-aint_27.html

    I use mainly non-LDS sources. Here is just one example, which in my view turns the common view of grace on its head:

    “Grace must be met with grace; favor must always give birth to favor; gift must always be met with gratitude. An image that captured [the concept of grace] for the ancients was the picture of three goddesses, the three “Graces,” dancing hand in hand in a circle…From [many] ancient witnesses, we learn that there is no such thing as an isolated act of grace. An act of favor and its manifestation (the gift) initiate a circle dance in which the recipients of favor and gifts must “return the favor,” that is, give again to the giver…Only a gift requited is a gift well and nobly received. To fail to return favor for favor is, in effect, to break off the dance and destroy the beauty of the gracious act.” (David A. DeSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, 2000)

    I highly recommend Blake T. Ostler, “Re-vision-ing the Mormon Concept of Deity,” Element 1:1, Spring 2005. A paragraph of my blog entry borrows largely from this article.

  4. James says:

    Thank you Walker. I’m very much aware of Ostler’s work, as I’m currently working on both vol. 2 and 3 of his series! Thanks for the head up about your blog.

    As I indicated in the post, this post was meant to be an idea for quickly and effectively responding to a common anti-Mormon accusation (that grace “only” is what saves). I recognize that much more sophisticated, and lengthy, treatments are available. I have been looking into the New Perspectives on Paul scholarship which I think is likely a huge step in the right direction.

  5. WalkerW says:

    ‘New Perspective on Paul’ is excellent stuff. I quote from E.P. Sanders and James D.G. Dunn in my post. I enjoy N.T. Wright’s writings on the subject as well (I also like his historical treatment of the resurrection).

  6. Steve says:

    This article misses a huge point, one that everyone seems to miss, but is right under all our noses in plain sight.

    The verse does NOT say this: For by grace are ye saved; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

    It DOES say this: For by grace are ye saved THROUGH FAITH; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

    So how is this verse different that the supposedly contradictory verse in the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 25:23) that says: “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”? It’s not.

    The Bible teaches us very clearly all that having faith entails, which is more than just casual belief. Faith is acting on what you believe and if you believe in God – if you love him – you’ll keep his commandments. Keeping the commandments of God is exercising faith, which combined with the grace of God saves you. The message in Ephesians and the Book of Mormon are the same.

    • Evan says:

      Steve, that is spot on. The Spirit taught me early on that faith is the gift of God. I try to explain this every time someone throws that at me during the course of a theological discussion. I also find that the language used lends itself to that. Saved by grace, through faith and THAT not of yourselves.

  7. James says:


    As I mentioned to an earlier commenter, this post was not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the topic. It was only one way to approach it if needed.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. Robert says:

    As an LDS JEDI KNIGHT I believe we are saved by True Grace [Charis] Alone “Through” True Faith [pistis] Alone. The Key is understanding the anchient Biblical meaning and understanding of True Grace and True Faith in the anchient Biblical world.

    In His Debt/Grace

  9. Andrew Herbst says:

    I believe I agree with the general position of the author, but think a more effective argument about Ephesians 2:9 is the NT Wright argument: the “works” that do not save are specifically the ‘works of the Law of Moses, not the more general category of “good works”. In other words, the author of Ephesians is not denying that ‘good works’ play some kind of role in salvation, he is denying that only Jews can be saved. If you read verses 11 and following, it becomes astonishingly clear (in my view) that the NT Wright is indeed correct.

    • James says:

      Thanks Andrew. I actually agree completely with you. I’m a big fan of Wright and the so-called “New Perspective” on Paul.

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