In this episode of Theology for Life, Lynn and Ed delve into Ephesians 2:8-9 and what was going on culturally when people first heard Paul say this. What would they have been thinking about, especially related to works and what they needed from God? Who was this passage written to, and why does this matter? Ed discussed why he believes all people are wired towards a works-based righteousness that will please God/gods and how this passage addresses this tendency.
Lynn explains that after the Holocaust, many Christian scholars began to rethink how they were writing about Judaism and if they were being fair. The findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls also gave us more information on what Judaism actually looked like in the first century. This reexamination of Paul has come to be known as the New Perspective of Paul. In fact, the Jews did not work to get saved, but to stay in the community of God, which God created through His grace. How do the traditional view and the New Perspective contrast, and why does it matter?
Theologian John Barclay, however, came back to reminding us that Jews in the first century actually believed deeply in grace. In light of this, what does it mean that “by grace you have been saved through faith”? Barclay discusses “unconditioned” grace, something Lynn says would have been very dangerous to say in the Ancient World, as it opens up the idea of giving a gift to someone not worthy of the gift. But then we have the idea of sola fida, Ed reminds us, that God gives us something without us bringing any value to the table.
However, in the Ancient World, there was the expectation that you gave a gift to someone worthy of it. Lynn tells us that Barclay reminds us that gift-giving in the Ancient World was not unilateral; instead, it always involved reciprocity. If you gave a gift, you expected a gift in return. So when Paul said that we would do good works through God’s power, it was completely understood. We can’t give back to God in kind, Lynn says, but we can show our thankfulness.
The scandal still exists, Ed concludes, in that there is grace that must be responded to in faith, and those who were dead in their sins are now made alive in Christ. We, therefore, don’t need to over-read into Judaism of that day.
So what do we–what do you you–do with the gift of grace that we’ve been given? And what does this mean for our identity?
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.