8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.Prior to writing those verses, Paul penned a statement that sets the context of his teaching.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4 (NIV)
In order to understand grace, we need to understand God's nature - namely, that God is love (see 1 John 4:8) and that out of His love pours boundless mercy. Choosing to extend love to all, God extends mercy.
To me, the word mercy best defines grace. Through His extension of unmerited love, God provides salvation to all who believe. Upon belief in Jesus and His sacrifice (see last week's post), a person experiences the gift of mercy.
The thing I enjoy most about the concept of mercy is the clear picture of One who has all power choosing to grant a gift of eternal value to one who lacks power. Without the gift of mercy, we do not have the power to set things right (fix; redeem). If anyone could save himself or herself, he or she would have reason to boast. Since everyone comes up short in the "saving" department, only One receives the credit - namely, God.