Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 5/31/1998
We come today to study the climax of a climax. Ephesians deals with God's eternal purpose to unite all things under the Lordship of Christ through building his Church. 2:1-10 concerns the relation of regeneration to that purpose: before fallen humans dead in sin can become a part of that purpose, they must b forgiven, cleansed, and made alive. Therefore vv. 1-3 describes our state of death in sin; 4-7 the life to which we are restored in Christ. 2:8-10 is the climax of this section, focusing on the Gospel, the good news of this salvation: what it is and how it comes to us. V. 8 tells us how to be saved--by grace through faith. V. 9 tells us how not to be saved--by works. And v. 10 deals with the question "So what if you're saved?"
If 2:8-10 is the climax of Paul's discussion of Regeneration, then v. 10 is the climax of 2:8-10. It is not a mere appendix to verse 8-9. If v. 8 and v. 9 are like two hedges, a positive and a negative, which mark out or define the path that leads to salvation, then v. 10 is the path itself. This is the goal toward which the whole passage has been heading. So finally today we are there. Therefore, let us consider
"We are his workmanship." This great affirmation of the place of good works in the Christian life begins where v. 9 left off: with the denial that they can ever be a means of salvation. That we are HIS workmanship is the final climactic reason why salvation by works is impossible. It is not just that we are spiritually dead and therefore incapable of true good works (in a spiritually acceptable sense) until after we come to Christ; it is not just that good works would not take away the guilt of previous sin; it is not just that good works would be sinful in themselves if not done by faith; it is not just that salvation is too glorious a gift by far to be earned by any amount of good works; the final reason we cannot be saved by good works is that we ARE a work: we are his workmanship.
One of the most basic and prevalent misunderstandings of Christianity is that it is something we do. The average person thinks that a Christian is someone who goes to church, lives by the golden rule, etc. This assumption is hard to shake. Even after conversion many Christians think far too much in terms of what they do (or don't do). But the whole biblical emphasis is radically contrary. The first fact about the Christian is not what he does, but what God has done and is doing. He has chosen, predestined, redeemed, called, forgiven, has changed and is changing, has regenerated and will raise. The final reason you cannot become a Christian by PERFORMING a work is that you ARE a work: you are his workmanship!
If you are a believer today, this shifting of the emphasis away from your own efforts and achievements should ironically do wonders for your self concept. The word translated "workmanship" is the Greek POIEMA. It means handiwork, craftsmanship; in English it becomes the word "poem." A poem is the most carefully crafted kind of literature, into which goes every device and all the artistry of the author. It would therefore not be illegitimate to paraphrase this verse by saying that "You are God's masterpiece." After Jesus Christ himself, you as a member of Christ's body are the fullest statement of God's creative and redemptive heart that he ever plans to make. You are becoming a trophy of his mercy, a reflection of his glory, a showpiece of his grace. When he brings you to perfection at the return of Christ, the whole universe will look at you in order to understand God by what he has made. No work coming from you could ever be worthy of this; but those Christ works in and through you will by his grace.
Therefore, do not ever think you are unimportant, insignificant, that you do not matter. To do so is a denial of the very Gospel itself, for you are his workmanship, created in Christ unto good works. Therefore no other human being--including you yourself--is competent to stand in judgment of your worth. You may be a rude and shapeless lump of clay now, but if you are a Christian you are God's masterpiece, being shaped into a thing of beauty and wonder even as we speak. Look not to yourself; let not the clay try to struggle into the shape of a Grecian urn of its own strength. Yield rather to the Master Craftsman, and you will become a vessel useful for service and graced with honor. This is the only way.
"We were created UNTO good works." We cannot be save by works, but we are saved for works. Is this a paradox? No. We must simply learn to distinguish cause from effect. Can you drop a stone into a pond without ripples rushing out from the point of impact? Of course not. Good works are the ripples in the pond of life when the stone of grace is thrown into the soul by God. Salvation by works would be like a pond trying to ripple itself. Salvation without works is a theoretical impossibility also. You are saved by grace alone, justified by faith alone; but if what you do is no different from the non-Christian, then you deny your own profession of that faith. If you claim to be a recipient of grace but there are no ripples, we can only conclude that the stone did not hit the pond.
Therefore, you can neither be saved BY works nor WITHOUT works. They are necessary, not as cause but as effect; not as reason but as result; not as ground but as the gratitude which motivates a changed life. Their total absence is prima facie evidence therefore of a false profession and an unsaved soul.
What then is the nature of good works, of the works for which we were saved, of the works that please God?
First, they must be covered by the blood of Christ. We have already seen that the "good" works of unbelievers are only relatively good and in fact positively sinful, for whatever is not of faith is sin. The service of believers is offered not as meritorious but as the tokens of gratitude and the fruits of grace. Even they are acceptable, not because (yet) of their own inherent worth or purity, but because they too are covered by the Blood. Because they come from grace, they are accepted for Christ's sake. But it is still HIS righteousness imputed to us, not our own, that saves us.
Second, they have a specific and definite character; they are not just anything we think would be "good." They were "prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." God has definite ideas what they should be. How do we discern them? By remembering their next characteristic:
Third, they must be in accordance with Scripture. Not every impulse of compassion that flows from our own wisdom is necessarily good. Surely it is good to give to the poor; but it is also scriptural that the one who will not work should not eat. We must keep both principles, the whole counsel of God, in mind lest our foolish attempts to do good actually result in evil.
Fourth, they are not one-time occurrences but constitute a lifestyle. The were prepared beforehand "that we should WALK in them." God is no doubt pleased any time we read our bibles . . . pray . . . attend church . . . give . . . witness and proclaim the Gospel . . . show his love. But what he is really looking for is a way of life that makes it natural and habitual to do so. Therefore, the works that are truly good are not coincidental but continuous; they are not random but regular; they are not haphazard but habitual, flowing from a fixed orientation and disposition of the soul.
Fifth, truly good works must have as their motive, aim, and effect the glory of God. Jesus himself said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Mat. 5:16).
How do we summarize them? The whole counsel of God; Ephesians chapters 4-6; the person of Jesus Christ.
These then are the works which please God, which he considers good: Christlike deeds flowing from Christlike character in response to the grace of God in Christ for the honor and the glory of the name of Jesus Christ. You cannot be saved by performing them, for you cannot begin to perform them until you have been saved. You cannot be saved by performing them, but neither can you be saved without performing them in some degree, for they are the necessary and unavoidable effects of the grace of God. For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created unto Good works in Christ Jesus, that we should walk in them." Let us so believe, and so walk.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams