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.
“Yet he was compassionate; he atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them. He often turned his anger aside and did not unleash all his wrath. He remembered that they were only flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” – Psalm 78:38-39 (CSB)
Even though Israel’s repentance was not genuine, God displayed incredible patience and compassion with his people. Although they did not keep their part of the covenant, he did. The infinite remembered the finite. Despite our relative insignificance in the grand scheme of eternity, God is gracious and merciful with us. So deep is his love and care for us that even in our sin, he did not destroy us but instead made a way through Jesus for us to be with him.
“But they deceived him with their mouths, they lied to him with their tongues, their hearts were insincere toward him, and they were unfaithful to his covenant.” – Psalm 78:36-37 (CSB)
When their situation turned for the better, Israel again wandered back into sin. Their repentance was not sincere. It was merely an effort to avoid the consequences of their sin. It’s easy to shake our heads at Israel but if we’re honest, we do the same thing. We honor God with our lips in an effort to get him to act on our behalf. But our motives are twisted. We want something from him so we feign contrition. In doing so we rob ourselves of the joy that comes from true repentance. May we honor God with our lips and in our hearts.
“Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe his wondrous works. He made their days end in futility, their years in sudden disaster. When he killed some of them, the rest began to seek him; they repented and searched for God. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God, their Redeemer.” – Psalm 78:32-35 (CSB)
Despite God’s miraculous provision of food in the wilderness, Israel was not satisfied. The nation continued to grumble, complain, and long for Egypt. Only when faced with calamity did some turn back to God. We too have a tendency to leave God out of the picture until we feel that we have exhausted all the other options. When our backs are against the wall, we are suddenly willing to cry out to God. Oh that we would remember God’s work on our behalf when times are good and when times are bad.