“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Not that this is an attention-grabbing opening line, but if I were granted such power I would decree that no one could quote Ephesians 2:8-9 without also quoting Ephesians 2:10. Here’s why:
The debate about works and faith is as old as the New Testament itself. Do we perform works as a means of receiving salvation? Do we perform works because of salvation? Or it some mixture of the two?
Paul stated his position clearly, “For by grace you are saved by faith, this is not [literally] out of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). That is the part I memorized as a child and serves as the foundation for a great deal of Protestant theology. It is true, right, and eternal. My salvation is a gracious gift from God.
So what about works? Paul anticipated the question and penned the verse that should become mandatory memorization. Let’s look at it phrase by phrase. “For we are God’s workmanship” – we did not save ourselves, not one of us. God did the work. “Created in Christ Jesus” – this is Paul’s theological key. He believed in the union of Christ and you in faith. As a Christian you are in Christ, and Christ is in you. You are a new creation.
“For the purpose of good works” – ah, now we’re getting close. We are saved in order to do good works, but not exactly. Anyone can perform good works. The Good Samarian performed a good work, but he was not, per se, a Christian.
The key to understanding my mandatory verse is the often overlooked phrase: “which God prepared from the beginning for us to walk in.” The translation is my own and admittedly awkward. Here is what I think Paul meant. God created us to live in a particular way (i.e. “to walk”). This life of goodness, internal and external, was His original plan from the beginning, thus “prepared beforehand.” The only way we return to the Creator’s original purpose is by becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus.
If you are asking if you are saved because of works, or saved in order to do works, then you are asking the wrong questions. You are saved in order to be good. The good works are a product of who you are in Christ. Good works can never merely be calculated to impress God, earn salvation, or “because I have to.” Grace is its own reason and produces fruit as naturally as an apple tree produces apples.
The point is not an easy one. In fact, Paul’s grace/works theology was so distorted in the first century by both enemies and misguided supporters alike that James was led to write “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Theology, even with pinpoint-accuracy, can be completely hollow. A sounding gong, a white-washed sepulcher.
Now of what practical use is this wordy column? Three things mainly. First, no single verse or collection of verses says everything about a single topic. We make no progress at all when we try to play Paul off against James in the faith/works discussion. They both had a point to make, and we had better hear and do that point.
Second, if you are sitting around trying to figure out how to be more peaceful, more joyful, more loving, patient, faithful, etc. then you really are wasting your time. DO SOMETHING! GRACE WORKS! Grace is love in action. The times you felt most joyful coincided with a moment of selfless giving. The impulse to do good came from a non-calculated impulse to be good. You shared a burden, brought a smile, provided an insight. In some way, another person saw God a little more clearly through you. The joy you felt is the song of creation, God’s glory through you.
Third, be an agent of God’s grace. Look for the ways to share grace with someone else. Again, grace is its own reason. You share grace because you are suffused with it. Someone around you needs that grace today. Give it because grace works.
Dr. Terry Ellis
August 5, 2012