For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2.8-10.
John Ortberg defines grace as “God doing in and for us what we cannot do for ourselves” and that is a good definition — far better than the usual “undeserved favour” definition, for “grace” has an empowering aspect to it that must not be overlooked. That empowering aspect is fully brought out in this morning’s reading which includes not only Ephesians 2.8-9 (which evangelical Christians love to quote) but also verse 10 (which they usually leave in the box!)
But let’s start with verses 8 and 9. They express as clearly as ever can be expressed the absolute truth that salvation is all of God and that no human being has ever been, or will ever be, able to achieve it or obtain it by his or her own efforts or merits. Even the faith that takes hold of the salvation so freely offered is itself part of the gift of God. We are empowered to believe and to trust and to receive. Without the Spirit of God working within us we are incapable even of taking what is given. Were we able to do so without God’s empowering, faith itself would become something we could brag about — a meretricious work on which our salvation could be thought to depend. “I’m saved because I have faith in what Jesus did on the cross.” Not so. I am saved because of what Jesus did on the cross and because of what the Father and the Spirit have done in bringing me into that great work of deliverance. No works (erga) of mine — of any kind, not just works of the law — are involved in the salvation plan of God. Human effort and endeavour and merit play no part in it whatsoever. It is all of God.
Yes, yes, yes. But now verse 10. This is no afterthought or new thought. It is all one with what has gone before; for in verse 10 Paul is telling us what the salvation he has just described is for. We are saved “for good works.” Good works play no part in achieving our salvation but our salvation, if it is real, will produce good works. Our salvation is a work of new creation on the part of God. We are his workmanship. The Greek word is poiema of which one meaning is (as we might guess) “poem.” We are God’s “work of art” (Jerusalem Bible). And our beauty lies in us now becoming what God always meant us to be and, in particular, doing what he always intended us to do. The new creation that is taking place within us by God’s grace, by his loving, empowering activity in our hearts, has but one objective: that we should get back on track and do in Christ by the power of the Spirit the stuff that God had planned for us to do from before we were even conceived. As the Good News Bible puts it: “God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.” If we do indeed have new life in Christ, that new life will and must express itself in good works. Far from being the “dirty word” that some Christians have tried to make it, “good works” are an essential part of what our salvation is all about.
Note: This will be my last posting for a couple of weeks as my wife and I are taking a holiday in the Aegean. Please don’t go away. I’ll be back soon!