“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” – Ephesians 2.8-10, NRSV
Last Sunday at the Randolph Church of Christ, I preached on Ephesians 2.1-10. This is one of those big theological passages that is difficult to cover in 20-25 minutes. My hope was to say something about what our salvation in Christ is and will be and in doing so to help the church understand why salvation is by grace through faith – which requires learning how grace and faith are to function in relation to salvation.
To start out, there can be no denial of the grace of God at work in this passage. Twice, the passage describes the us as dead in our trespasses and sin (v. 1, 5). To make this point emphatically, each time a present-tense participle is used to literally say “and you being dead” which emphasizes the present nature of our condition as God acts to save (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 157.) That death is a result of our life lived, described in v. 1-3.
However, in v. 4, we read “but God…” There is the difference maker and why there can be no denial of God’s grace. Prior to God’s saving action, we are dead. Think about that for a moment…what do dead people do? Absolutely nothing! The saving work in this passage is God’s work in Christ and that is why v. 4 begins “but God…”. If it were not for the work (action) of God, all would remain dead. But God…and now there is salvation.
However, what is salvation? In scanning the current landscape of the broad evangelical Christianity (of which I believe Churches of Christ fit into), one might get the impression that salvation is merely the forgiveness of sins or justification from sin. But pick up any introductory book on New Testament theology or the letters of Paul and one should learn quickly that salvation certainly does include forgiveness and justification but to speak of salvation as though it is a synonym of forgiveness and justification is very reductionistic of biblical salvation.
The big picture of salvation has to do with restoring creation, restoring it from the destruction that has been incurred through sin and evil and thus, making creation new again. That is what God is doing with us. So in v. 10, we are described as “God’s workmanship” (NIV). The word used there in Greek is poiēma which is where the English word “poem” comes from (D. Edmond Hiebert, “God’s Creative Masterpiece,” 117.). We are like a piece of art, such as a poem, being fashioned (made) by God. Interestingly, the New Jerusalem Bible reads “We are God’s work of art…” (italics mine).
This is where faith comes into play, as we are saved by grace through faith. Good art work remains good art work in the right hands. In the wrong hands, good art work can be ruined by neglect or even willful mistreatment of the art. V. 10 goes on to describe this poetry making as being “…created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand, so that in him we might walk [a new way of life].” The passage does not seem to be speaking of any specific works or deeds but more of a way of life the believers are being made to live (literally, “walk”) in.
Therefore to have faith is to trust God to live in the life he has made the be for us, not because such obedience is our way of saving ourselves but because it is how we trust God as he continues to fashion us as poetry…his poetry. So we repent, we submit ourselves to Christ in baptism, we allow God to place us within a local church community where we learn to pray, serve, love, show mercy, do justice, grow bold in faith, etc… To do otherwise is to reject what the crafting hands of God is trying to make us into. But that in no way means we save ourselves.