"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV).
Understanding grace, faith, and works can be challenging. However, studying such concepts can bring great rewards. We can develop a healthier and more accurate understanding of God and ourselves.
First, we need to understand that we have been saved by grace. Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sins because God loved us. We had done nothing worthy of Christ's sacrifice. It was his gift to us. Without it, although God loved us, his anger could not have been averted. We were facing hell. We could not buy our way out of it. We could not resist enough temptations to avoid it. We could not commit enough random acts of kindness to make up for the failures already committed. We had spit in the face of the most righteous and powerful being in existence. We had no hope of reconciliation. That is what makes God's grace so amazing. He was willing to forgive us, not because we deserved it, but because Jesus was willing to stand in our place and suffer for us. That's what God's grace is all about.
Then we need to understand the faith through which we have been saved. In this context, faith is not merely believing facts. It's that and much more. Faith is trusting in and depending on Jesus Christ to save us. We believe the facts concerning Christ's identity as the sinless Son of God, his death in our place on the cross, his resurrection by the power of a pleased Father, his ascension into heaven, his sending of the Holy Spirit to live within his people, and his promised return in triumph over his enemies. However, the faith through which we are saved moves beyond believing facts to placing our confidence in the one those facts describe. It is a confidence in Christ that leads us to follow him alone, because we realize that we cannot be confident in ourselves. We have found ourselves lacking, but Jesus completely adequate. Our faith is placed in him.
Finally, we need to understand that our works do not cause God to save us. Our salvation is God's gift. We have no reason to brag. He has never been impressed with any effort to impress him. Naturally, an appreciation of God's grace and a trust in Jesus Christ will lead to God-honoring actions, but they are not the basis of our salvation. He wants our trust before he wants even one good work. He knows that a good work without trust is empty showmanship, but that humble, grace-inspired trust will produce a life full of good works, an artistic masterpiece created by God himself. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV).