For Works, Not by Them (Ephesians 2:10)
Passage: Ephesians 2:10–2:10
Saved by Grace
For Works, Not By Them
April 26th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. Freed By Grace
In 1862, the French writer Victor Hugo completed his classic work, Les Miserables. The main character in this novel, which of course was in more recent times turned into a Broadway musical, the main character is Jean Valjean. At one point in the novel, Valjean, who is living in extreme poverty, steals a loaf of bread in order to feed his sister and her seven children. He is caught and sent to prison. After an escape attempt, he ends up serving a nineteen year term of hard labor. When he is finally released, he, as a former criminal, cannot find work.
He eventually meets a kind bishop who shelters and feeds him. But Valjean, in the middle of the night, foolishly steals the bishop's fine china and silverware, and flees into the darkness. Listen to what happens next as the story moves back to the bishop's residence and we hear a knock at his door:
"Come in," said the Bishop. The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute. "Monseigneur--" said he. . . .[The bishop] advanced as quickly as his great age permitted. "Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?" Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of. "Monseigneur," said the brigadier of gendarmes, "so what this man said is true, then? We came across him. He was walking like a man who is running away. We stopped him to look into the matter. He had this silver--" "And he told you," interposed the Bishop with a smile, "that it had been given to him by a kind old priest with whom he had passed the night? I see how the matter stands. And you have brought him back here? It is a mistake." "In that case," replied the brigadier, "we can let him go?" "Certainly," replied the Bishop. The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled. "Is it true that I am to be released?" he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep. "Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?" said one of the gendarmes. "My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them." He stepped to the chimney-piece, took the two silver candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean. . . .Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. "Now," said the Bishop, "go in peace. . . ."
Victor Hugo gives us in this novel a beautiful picture of grace. Jean Valjean receives the exact opposite of what he deserved. That's grace.
Along these lines, you and I, over the past two weeks, have been talking about the grace that God makes available to us in Jesus Christ.
Turn with me, once again, to Ephesians 2.
II. The Passage: "Created...for Good Works" (2:10)
Let's look this morning at verses 8-10 of Ephesians 2. Listen again to what we learn about the grace of God...
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Since we have been focusing in on one verse from this passage each week, this morning we find ourselves wrestling with verse 10. Our goal in this study has been attempting to understand what it means to be ‘saved by grace'.
When we think about someone being saved, most people imagine someone being rescued from a burning building or by an emergency room doctor. But God our Creator offers us rescue from the most perilous of all situations: from the slavery of sin and the curse of death. God wants to free our hearts through His forgiveness and give us life together with Him for all eternity. Forgiveness from God; forever with God. What could be greater than that?
So if our goal is to understand how verse 10 fits into this puzzle, let's talk a little more about we learned from verses 8 and 9.
A. The Context: Saved by Grace
The most important thing we learned from these verses is that when it comes to our rescue, our deliverance, our salvation, God did it all; he did everything. That's the point of grace. Even though we deserve to experience the consequences of our daily decisions to live for ourselves and not God, God, through Jesus gives us the exact opposite of what we deserve.
Being saved by grace through faith is, as we see at the end of verse 8, "not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
Verse 9 simply reinforces this fact. We are so prone to think that we are good enough, or somehow can be good enough, to earn God's favor, to deserve some reward, that Paul has to stress again that this rescue is not a result of our "works". No matter how many religious deeds we perform, not matter how many kind words we speak, they can never be enough and they can never by pure enough to merit God's blessing.
In Paul's time, many Jews and many non-Jews believed that they could somehow be righteous enough to rescue themselves. But verses 1-3 of this chapter, along with passages like Romans 3:9-18, make it clear that none of us is righteous and none are seeking God.
So God has to seek us. He has to open our eyes and our hearts so that we can know his forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
And as we talked about last week, not only should this reality humble us, but it should also keep us from falling into that trap of ‘star chart' salvation; that idea that the Christian life is about somehow earning gold stars from God by doing all the right things.
No, walking in faith is not doing this or that to be accepted by God. Faith is walking in grace because we are accepted by God because of Jesus.
B. So Why 2:10?
So if verses 8 and 9 tell us all that, if they give us an unparalleled view into the wonder of God's gift, then why do we need to pull in verse 10? If a bible study or a topical bible or some kind of book wants to reference the idea of ‘salvation by grace through faith', in most cases, the reference will read, "Ephesians 2:8, 9". So why verse 10?
I believe there are two very good reasons to pull verse 10 into a study like this:
1. A Reemphasis that God Did (Does) Everything
First of all, verse 10 is in fact a reemphasis that God did it all...everything. Or to be more accurate in light of verse 10, it is a reemphasis of the fact that God DOES it all...he DOES everything. Look at the verse again:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Verse 9 makes it clear that none of this is about our works. In fact, verse 10 reminds us that this is about his work: we are his workmanship. We have been recreated by Him.
And for what purpose have we been recreated? For "good works"! So what Paul is telling us here is, "No, this is not about your works. But by grace through faith, you will practice good works. But you can't take the credit even for those. God prepared those works beforehand. He planned them so that we would walk in them."
Grace reminds us that at no time can we boast in what we have done. God did it all. God is doing it all. God will do it all. That should be music to our ears.
2. A Response to Misunderstandings about Grace
But I think there is something else going on here. I think that Paul also feels it necessary to include verse 10 because grace is one of those things that can very easily be misunderstood. The early church struggled with grace in a variety of ways.
Like we've already seen in verses 8 and 9, some people simply couldn't accept that human works are not part of the equation when it comes to God's salvation. Such people feel that grace must be redefined in some way or else believers will not be motivated to obey God.
And so many fall into the trap of legalism, the belief that our strict adherence to God's commandments will somehow justify us before God.
But chapter 6 of Paul's letter to the church in Rome also gives us a glimpse into the misunderstandings of some in the early church. Listen to
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (v. 1) Paul goes on to ask in Romans 6:15, What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
It's clear here that Paul is trying to correct certain misunderstandings about grace. But this time the problem is legalism; it is libertinism. It is license. It is the foolish idea that God's grace implies that what we do doesn't matter; that somehow we are free to live however we wish. Walking in sin doesn't matter if you are under the umbrella of grace, right?
I think it is this mentality that Paul wants to defend against in verse 10. Is this about our works? No, it isn't. So then our works don't matter. Yes, they do.
What Paul is trying to tell his readers here, what God is trying to tell us this morning through this verse, is that we have been saved for works, not by them.
III. The ‘Why' of Our Rescue
We began our time this morning with a picture of grace courtesy of Victor Hugo. When we left that scene, Jean Valjean was bewildered by the grace he was shown by the bishop. Listen again as Hugo finishes this scene:
Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. "Now," said the Bishop, "go in peace. . . .Then, turning to the gendarmes:--"You may retire, gentlemen." The gendarmes retired. Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting. The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:--
"Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man." Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:--"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."
You may certainly know this already, but what I failed to mention earlier is that this episode takes place near the beginning of Les Miserables.
The rest of the book, this ten volume story, goes on to describe how Jean Valjean became a new man; how he prospered, and most importantly, how he lived sacrificially for the good of others.
You see, the grace that Jean Valjean experienced was not in his mind, an opportunity to pick up where he left off; this wasn't a lucky break that allowed him to go back to his old life with a smirk on his face.
No, his deliverance by grace marked the beginning of a new life. He was not only saved by grace; he was being saved by grace; he was transformed by grace.
Let me ask you a critical question: if you have experienced the grace of God, grace so much bigger than that of Hugo's bishop and Jean Valjean, then how does that change the way you want to live your life? Or does it?
Brothers and sisters, the incredible grace that God offers us has always been intended to change us. Jesus came to change us. God's purpose for your life and my life is to completely transform the picture that is painted for us in verses 1-3:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Notice verse 2: in which you ONCE walked. If that is a description of what it means to be spiritually dead, what then does it look like to be spiritually alive?
Verse 10 tells us: spiritual life is characterized, not by walking in trespasses and sins, but rather spiritual life is characterized by walking in "good works". Paul tells us in 1:4, that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
So what are these good works Paul mentions here in 2:10? Is a good work like a good deed, like helping an old lady across the street? Well, I'm sure that could be a good work, if it wasn't motivated by an expectation that the woman would give you cash when she got to the other side, or the desire for others to see you being kind and say, "Hey, you're a really nice guy!"
No, listen to what Paul says in another letter about grace and good works:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
I love that passage because our two key terms are positioned like bookends here, framing this section of verses: "grace" at the beginning and "good works" at the end. But did you see how well those verses described our new life in grace? If we went on to read the last three chapters of Ephesians, we would see all the same things. What is the path that God has created us to WALK on? Just listen...
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk [that is, to live your life] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace...you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds (4:17)... Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (4:8b-10)... Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise (5:15)...
You see, God's grace does not give us the exact opposite of what we deserve in order to help us live however we choose. Grace gives us the exact opposite of what we deserve in order that we might live in the exact opposite way we once lived.
Therefore, in some sense, these good works are evidence that we have been truly saved by grace. That we have become God's workmanship; recreated by Him. If after grace, you choose to live in either self-righteous legalism or sinfully rebellious license, you demonstrate that you do not understand genuine grace. Those who say that transformation or obedience, that is, growing as a disciple is somehow a second, optional step in what it means to be a Christian are simply wrong. Again, we are not saved by good works...we are saved for them.
Now, I know that some of us hear that and think, "Well, I don't feel new. I don't feel like my life really is about good works. Maybe I'm not doing enough. I struggle more than I succeed. What does that mean about my salvation?"
Listen, the amazing thing that we learn here, the liberating truth that Paul explains here is that God has prepared these works for you. That means we don't need to fall into the trap of focusing on what we can do. God has everything ready. It's all been worked out.
So what does that mean for our daily lives? Well, let me ask you this: if one day you discovered that you were, in reality, someone else's workmanship, that you were in fact a robot made to look like a human being, what would you do? You would probably try to discover why you were made, right?
Well, what if you found out that you were made to be the fastest runner on the planet. Or, what if you discovered that you were built to be the greatest mathematician in history...what would you do?
I think you would quickly grab a pair of running shoes, or a pencil and some paper, right? If you were built for this explicit purpose, and preprogrammed to accomplish these things, wouldn't you to start doing these things?
Listen to the verse again: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Brothers and sisters, friends, God is calling us to step out in faith. He is calling us to believe Him when he tells us that we are His workmanship; that we were created for good works.
We were made to forgive. We were made to encourage. We were made for prayer. We were made for purity, and for patience. We were made to depend on Him. We were made to serve others. We were made to hunger for the word. We were made to sacrifice. We were made to love.
That does not mean it will always be easy. But it does mean that we can always be confident that we are on the right path, and that we will grow in these things.
If you were a young, aspiring basketball player, and I traveled back in time from the future and brought you a pair of your NBA, top of the line shoes, you might not be comfortable in those shoes instantly, but you would be encouraged by and press forward in the reality of what you would become. The shoes are yours. They will one day fit you perfectly.
Christian, press on in the reality of what God is doing in you. And remember, the only reason we are His workmanship, the only way in which we can walk in these good works, the very definition of God works rests on one glorious truth. Listen again to another verse taken from the second half of the book; another verse about walking:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (5:1, 2)
To be saved by grace is to be rescued for a life of grace; the "good works" prepared for us are simply the ways in which you and I are becoming more and more like Jesus; that's why it says that we were "created in Christ Jesus for good works". Jesus makes all of this possible.
Look at what Paul is doing in the verses leading up to 2:10...even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ...6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus...10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We don't live to do "good works". We live for Jesus Christ. We live in the love, the humility, the fear, the gentleness, the patience, the faith, the joy, the peace that only Jesus Christ can inspire. To borrow a phrase from chapter 1, when we are looking to Jesus in all things, we will see that we have been made, we have been freed, we have been saved to live "to the praise of [God's] glory".