For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 (CSB)
While good works do not merit us anything in our relationship with God, they are vital and indispensable. They are evidence of the radical transformation that has taken place within us. God may not need our acts of kindness, but our neighbors do. And as we do these works, they are not just random acts of kindness. They are precisely those works which God planned for us to do when he created us. In a culture where people are increasingly self-absorbed, doing good for others sends a powerful message. It points them to the one who has saved us, changed us, and deserves all the glory.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (CSB)
Lest we think our radical transition from death to a stunning new life was our doing, Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace. Period. End of story. Christianity excludes all forms of boasting because it is God who saves. It’s not in any way dependent on something we have done. Our works are powerless to save us. After all, what could we really do for an infinite, perfect, and holy God? What could we offer to make him change his mind about us? It’s only by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf that we are made right with God. What separates biblical Christianity from every other religion is that it’s not about what we do. It’s about what God did for us. We were dead but God made us alive through Christ. That’s amazing grace. That’s good news.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-7 (CSB)
Made alive, raised up, seated with Christ – when God intervened into our spiritually dead existence, he didn’t just nudge us over the line. He gave us a vibrant new life. The old is exchanged for the new. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection make this reality so certain that Paul can speak as if these truths have already happened in full. Even though our present experience does not match what he describes, sin is on its death bed. One day it will be no more. And for all eternity we will worship the creator for the incomprehensible way in which he displayed his grace, mercy, and kindness to us.
“But God” – Ephesians 2:4a (CSB)
Two words change everything. Two words preceed the announcement of good news. Two words convey the supernatural. We were dead in our sins, but God. We followed the ways of the world, but God. We went after the sinful desires of our heart, but God. We carried out the passions of our flesh, but God. We deserved wrath, but God. We could do nothing for ourselves, but God took the initiative to do it for us.
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (CSB)
Paul doesn’t mince words when describing our spiritual condition before Christ. You were dead. I was dead. We weren’t in need of a pick me up. We weren’t sick. We weren’t on life support. We were unable to do anything to change our condition. We couldn’t even want to be alive again because we didn’t know we were dead. We can push back and self-justify all we want. But the objective evidence from our lives was clear. We were spiritually dead and without hope apart from a supernatural intervention.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
Grace. One word sums up the message of salvation. One word addresses our deepest need. One word shatters every categorical distinction.
Grace is for those who think they are beyond the reach of grace.
Grace is for those who think they don’t need any grace.
Grace is for those who think they are unlovable.
Grace is for those who think they are inherently lovable.
Grace is for those who think grace is only what “the other people” need.
Grace is for those who think they have grace figured out.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the first part of Ephesians 2. It’s a succinct description of our life before Christ (verses 1-3), God’s miraculous intervention to change us (verses 4-7), and the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone (verses 8-9). The section ends (verse 10) by noting that we have all been uniquely created by God to carry out the good works that he has planned for us. From there, Paul moves into a discussion about the one new family of God brought about through the work of Christ. I think his transition to talking about the church is particularly interesting in light of what he has just said in verse 10.
Although the good works God has planned for us impact every area of our lives, they are especially important in the context of the local church. It’s there that we can use our gifts to encourage and push one another into greater love for God and greater love for one another. It’s there that we tear down the walls of hostility toward those who are different. It’s there that our good works come together and enable us to grow into the fullness of what God has for us.