But God… (A Blog Post For Lent, Part 2)

In my previous post, I asked you to consider the first two vital truths (of three) from chapelEphesians 2:1-10

  • What we were (that is, the condition of everybody apart from faith in Christ);
  • What we are now (as believers in Christ).

It remains, then, only to consider the third vital truth about the human condition that Paul addresses in this paragraph…

How we got from there to here.  (2:8-10)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Up to now in this paragraph, Paul has described the change in Christian believers (over against those who have not yet believed) in terms like being raised from the dead and being liberated from slavery. Now he introduces another metaphor with the phrase… you have been saved.

Now I’m the first to admit that evangelicals have misused and abused that word mercilessly. When I was growing up, the essence of everything it meant to be a Christian was bound up in that word. I was taught that the most important question to be asked, first of all of myself, and then of everybody I met, was:  “Are you saved?”

Paul never intended the term to be code word by which we could determine who was in the group and who was not. He used the term because of the imagery it would immediately generate in people’s minds. To be saved meant to be rescued from impending and certain disaster, as…

  • from a burning building;
  • from a sinking ship;
  • from the brink of Niagara Falls;
  • from any situation that would, invariably and inexorably, lead to ruin, devastation and death.

And the term implies a resolution to the problem which we could not possibly provide for ourselves.  The salvation of which Paul writes is altogether a product of God’s grace. Even the faith by which we recognize our need for a Savior and embrace God’s provision to meet that need… even our faith is a gift from God…

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and (even) this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

Finally, in verse 10, Paul concludes this supremely important paragraph by describing the results, the consequences, that characterize those who have experienced salvation by God’s grace.

In the first nine verses of this paragraph, Paul has gone to great lengths to make the point that our condition outside of Christ constitutes something from which we need to be saved. In verse 10, he makes it equally clear that there is something for which we have been saved, as well.

10 For we are God’s handiwork (His masterpiece, His work of art), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Verse 10 is the clincher… we are saved, not by good works but for good works. The term “good works” is something of an archaic term for which we could substitute a phrase like “faithful discipleship.”

Sometime in the late ’90s, I was attending the annual convention of a small, evangelical denomination on the campus of a Christian college in the midwest. At one point in the program, the denomination’s Director of Youth Ministries was introduced, and he began his report something like this:

“You ask me what is my purpose in life? It is to go to heaven when I die and to take as many people with me as I can.”

I could hardly restrain myself. I wanted to stand up and yell as loudly as I could, “No, no, no! That is not a Christian’s purpose in life! The purpose for the life of every Christian believer is to live in such a way that our lives reflect the glory of God and show the world that we have been touched by God’s grace, forgiven by God’s mercy, and transformed by God’s love. And leave the rest up to Him.”

The Gospel of the Kingdom is not a call to discipleship by grim determination and the exercise of our will. It is a call to a relationship with God, through faith in Christ, which issues in new life and faithful obedience.

Our culture is permeated with obsession, addiction, and injustice—what Paul calls transgressions and sins. People are spiritually dead, consumed and controlled by their lusts, their pagan worldview, and the personal power behind human evil which Paul calls “the Devil.” The whole putrid mess is helpless to save itself, and the situation would be hopeless except for two words…

But God…

  • We were spiritually dead, but God has made us alive in Christ.
  • We were slaves, without honor or power, but God has raised us up to a position of honor alongside Jesus.
  • We deserved His wrath and judgment, but God had mercy on us and, by His grace, which we came to experience through faith, He saved us, so that now, empowered by His Spirit, our lives show to a watching world that we really are God’s handiwork… His work of art… His masterpiece.

Imagine that you are an alien from a planet in a distant galaxy making your first visit to Earth. You don’t know what to expect, but you have the capacity to appreciate the beautyThe Pieta of great art and to value the genius and creativity that is required to produce it.

Imagine hearing, for the first time, a symphony by Mozart or an oratorio by Handel. Imagine seeing for the first time Leonardo’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s Pieta. Imagine reading, for the first time, a poem by Keats or Hamlet or Anna Karenina or the Gettysburg Address.

What would your first reaction be? Don’t you think it might be, “Who carved this? What genius wrote this? What kind of talent painted this? Whose brilliance composed this? Who is the artist responsible for this masterpiece?”

According to this one short paragraph in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, when the non-Christian world looks at those of us who have experienced God’s grace and mercy and love, they should be so amazed by the glorious masterpiece they see that they will want to know the artist.

May God grant it so to be.

In the name of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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