The phrase, este sesosmenoi (Eph. 5, 8) is perfect passive (periphrastic construction), meaning: “By grace have you been saved and are being saved through “the faith” (or “faith”—either rendering does no injustice to the point being presented. However, our hearts are “purified by the faith (Acts 15:9; 1 Pet.1:22; Jas. 1:18, 21; cf. John 6:63).
Therefore, the grammatical construction locks together the past action (have been saved) with the present continuing action (are being saved), referred to as the periphrastic construction or aspect. We “got saved” by grace through faith and continue “getting saved” by grace through the faith. Salvation is not simply a one-time deal. Even John 3:16, often quoted by “faith only” folks, specifically says, “that whosoever continues believing in Him might not perish but might have everlasting life.” Having faith, therefore, is not just a one time saving experience, but an ongoing one. One’s eternal salvation depends on this ongoing faith, which is why the phrases “might not perish” and “might have everlasting life” are in the subjunctive mood—the “might” or “maybe” mood.
Just how did the Ephesians “get saved”? (See Acts 19:1-6). The Faith is needed for both “getting in” and “staying in.” Moreover, there are works, designed by God, for “getting in” and works, designed by God, for “staying in.” After we are “born again” “out of water and out of Spirit” (John 3:3-5), we have been changed to walk in a new way, or “newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4), which Paul summarizes in Eph.2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
We were created “in Christ Jesus” (“got in”) when we were baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4, 17; Gal. 3:26-27) just as the Ephesians (Acts 19:1-6). However, God ordained (prearranged) certain other works to be united with faith for “staying in,” which serve as our sphere of moral action, or a pathway of righteousness in which we need to confine ourselves in order to “stay in.” Leaving this pathway gets us back into the world (Matt. 7:13; Eph. 2:1-2). The works of Eph.2:9, which relate specifically to the works of Eph. 2:11, are not the good works of Eph.2:10. These “good works” are not optional but obligatory, since leaving that pathway (of ordained good works) brings destruction. The periphrastic construction accounts for the nature of grace, faith, and works in getting in and staying in.
We must also note that these God ordained “good works” are necessary to produce. This is the point of since the Holy Spirit used the word epi, meaning “upon, on the basis of.” The phrase “unto good works” does not have the word eis (unto, toward, for) but the word epi (on the basis of). It’s on the basis of these God ordained good works that we should continue to walk in them. Not continuing in them means we are not continuing in Christ’s word (John 8:31). Not continuing them means we are not walking in the light (1 John 1:7). Not continuing in them means we are not continuing in the faith, whereby we forfeit our standing in Christ and the blessings of His sacrifice—His blood (Col. 1:21-23).
As for the “works” of Eph. 2:9. As alluded to previously, these works are the works of the law of Moses. Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus, which was comprised of Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 1:1-12, the apostle Paul describes the salvation of the Jews alluding to them as those who “first trusted” (1:12)—and describes the salvation of the Gentiles saying, “In Him you also trusted” (1:13), meaning they “trusted” second (note the change in pronouns). Ephesians 2 then speaks to the existing divide between Jew and Gentile by virtue of the law of Moses (2:14-15) and circumcision (2:11-12).
The Jews were forcing circumcision upon the Gentiles, which wreaked havoc in the early church (Acts 15:1-5). However, it was the message of the Gospel preached, “For the Jew, first, and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16-17) that brought both groups together by the blood of Christ, being reconciled to God “in one body”—the church (Eph.2:16). This was the mystery revealed (Eph. 3:6), which serves as the background to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Th apostle Paul often spoke the divide between Jew and Gentile, especially in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Certain Jews (“Judaizers”) were perverting the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-9, 5:1-6), demanding the Gentiles be circumcised in order for them to be justified, and this what Paul is addressing within our context (Eph. 2:11). Without circumcision, the Jewish Christians felt the Gentile Christians were not justified. The Jews had always boasted in circumcision as a means of justification, and it was this act that caused the separation (Rom. 2:25-29). Please note Romans 3:27-31, with emphasis on verse 27 which says: “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.”
The Jews boasted in the law (of Moses) and in circumcision. What works were excluded? The works of the law of Moses (cf. Gal. 3:10). What law excluded them? The law of Moses, itself? No! It was the law of the faith, (3:30-31) or Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). Therefore, under the gospel system there are no works of the law of Moses to do since we live under an entirely new system, the New Covenant law of Christ (Heb. 10:9; Rom. 7:1-6, 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:6ff; Gal. 3-4, etc.). However, God has provided works for those of us living under the New Covenant (Eph. 2:10, Rom. 2:6-11, 1 Cor. 7:19; 2 Cor. 5:10; Titus 2:14, 3:8; Jas. 2:14-26; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; Rev. 2:2, 19, 22:14-15). While these works are different than the works of the law of Moses, they are works we must do, nonetheless.
Quite simply, we must continue producing works of obedience for Christ as “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9). The present tense suggests continued obedience. Of course, the opposite is just as valid: “He did not become the author of eternal salvation unto all them that do not continue obeying him.”
Within the context wherein we find Eph. 2:8-11, the troubling matter of division was at hand, which, again, was Jew vs. Gentile due to circumcision and the law (2:11-15), but it was through the Gospel that peace would come between the two (Eph. 2:17, 3:6). Therefore, within the context, itself, there is the tension between the Jewish Christians and the law of Moses, and the Gentiles who have obeyed the gospel. The context demonstrates, therefore, that the existence of the article before faith in Eph. 2:8 is sound and justified. Of course, grammatical rules, including those rules for the use of the definite article (the) are mostly determined by context. One writer said it this way:
If Paul was addressing the problem of Judaizing Christians, who insisted on coupling the Law of Moses to the Gospel of Christ, “faith” in this passage likely refers to the system of faith in Christ contrasted with the works of the Law of Moses.
When one considers the immediate context, as well as the contexts of Paul’s other letters, we find the repeated Jew/Gentile motif on display. We also see the Gospel or “the faith” being contrasted with the law of Moses. This is why that Majority Text supplies the definite article making it “the faith.” After all it is the shield of “the faith” that quenches all the fiery darts of Satan (Eph. 6:16). This is the one faith (Eph. 4:5, 13), which we must contend for (Jude 3).
In Ephesians 2:8, Paul is referring to the objective standard, the Gospel/the faith. He is not referring to the subjective belief of the individual, especially since Paul destroys such a suggestion with the qualifying statement, “and that not of yourselves.” It cannot be one’s own subjective faith since it cannot be out of one’s self. Therefore, we are saved by grace through the faith or Gospel (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 1:6-9, 23; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; Jas. 1:18, 21).