Last week we focused on what God did when he intervened, what God did when Paul said, "But God". He brought us out of our spiritual death and sat us with Jesus at the right hand of God. He overcame for us all of the adverse effects of sin and trespass. He rejoined us with God; he gave us the ability to escape the guilt of our lost innocence; he restored our ideals; and he gave us the opportunity to regain our will to strive for those ideals.
Then we studied why he did that -- why he went through the ugly cycle of creation, fall, rejection and finally to salvation. Paul told us it was because God loved us, and to show the rest of the world what an awesome and loving God he was. In his own way, Paul says we as believers are God's turtle on top of the fence post. It is obvious to anyone who sees us that we did not, could not have gotten to this position on our own. Only God could have done this.
Ephesians 2:7 is the often ignored but valuable verse that explains why he did all of this.
Today's Lesson: Saved by Grace
Last week we skipped over the parenthetical phrase,
...but this week we will get back to it vis-à-vis verses 8, 9 and 10 of Ephesians 2. As we discuss the question of saved by grace, not by works, let me share a story that Terry emailed to me this week.
"NO!" the children all answered.
"If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?"
Again, the answer was, "NO!"
"Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?" I asked them again.
Again, they all answered, "NO!"
"Well, I continued, "then how can I get into Heaven?"
A five-year-old boy shouted out, "You gotta be dead!!"
From our human perspective, the boy is correct. But from God's perspective, we are already there, paired up with Jesus. But of course we are not there because of any good things we did.
So on with the study of Paul's letter to the churches in Asia Minor, but more importantly to us, the letter is to us as believers.
After verse seven, telling us why God did all this, Paul goes on to those two verses that many Christians know so well. Many Christians have memorized Ephesians 2:8.
Ephesians 2:8-10 are probably the clearest statement of salvation in the Bible. You might put in your notes Romans 3 and Philippians 3 as commentary. As is often the case, the Bible is the best commentary on the Bible. If you want to study Ephesians 2:8,9,10 there is no better commentary than the third chapter of Romans and the third chapter of Philippians.
Notice that salvation originates with the grace of God and that it is his initiative. It is given to us as our present possession. It is not something that you get when you die. It is not something you get in the future. It is something that you either have or do not have right now. And the way that you got it, in order to get, it is through faith. It is the result of a commitment of a person to The Person. The faith Paul is talking about is your personal commitment to Jesus, your total dependence on him. By the way, never say, "I hope I am saved". If you have put your trust in Jesus, you already are saved. Philippians 1:6 states that clearly.
Keep this verse handy. There are times that you will need this verse. Your conversion is not an end, it is a beginning.
You really should not stop just with verse 8, because verse 8 and verse 9 are one thought.
Your salvation cannot be earned by confirmation or by baptism or by church membership or by church attendance or by tithing or by holy communion or by trying to keep the Ten Commandments or by living by the sermon on mount. By the way, that's tougher than the Ten Commandments. Read the Ten Commandments and read the sermon on mount and compare them. You're better off trying to keep the Ten Commandments.
You can't get salvation by being a good neighbor or by living a moral respectable life. None of these things get the job done. Man is not saved by works. Ephesians 2:8-9 is the most definitive summary support for the fact that man is not saved by works.
Man is also not saved by faith plus works. Many people are confused by that point. Faith plus works are wages. The Lord Jesus paid all of the wages that are due. Man is saved by faith alone. Jesus did it all. To try to add to what he completed is blasphemy. This is a nontrivial issue. This is not just a theological debate. This is fundamental. We're talking about a completed job. Any attempt to add anything to his completed work is blasphemy and takes away from what he did for us.
Let's hammer this home by turning to John 17. This is the incredible prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father that incredible evening. John 17:1-4 is one of those rare instances where we get an insight into Jesus' praying to his Father.
Even here Jesus' glorification is to glorify the Father. Wow, what a verse -- that God should give eternal life to as many as God has given to Jesus. Jesus says, I have finished the work which you have given me to do. Some time, just sit down and really study John 17. This is a rich chapter and one that will really bless you, if you really study. And of course,
It is finished. It is completed. It's paid in full. It's done. It's a done deal. The main thing is that we can add nothing to what he did. Our authority for that is Hebrews 10:1-4. The summation is,
Salvation is a gift, not a reward. This salvation is a gift, given to you fully paid for. There's nothing outstanding, nothing due on it. It is a done deal. Done to glorify the Son and the Father.
By the way, here's something to think about on the way home. If we're not saved by our good works, then our salvation cannot be lost by our bad works, can it? That's not a license to sin -- don't misunderstand. But it is something to consider.
The question is why. Why is the only path to salvation, grace through faith? Why did God set it up this way? Paul tells us that God set it up this way to totally preclude the ability for man to think he did it himself. God precluded human boasting. Look at Romans 3:27:
If man could be saved by works, then Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane was not answered. Remember in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father. He knew what all was coming. He prayed, "if there's any other way... Let's do it if there's any other way. Then those wonderful words,
Three times the prayed that. If there is any other way for man to be saved other than shedding the blood of Jesus on the cross, then do that. If there was any other way for man to have salvation, the prayer of Jesus was not answered and he died in vain. If man can be saved by works, then the death of Christ was unnecessary. That prayer by Jesus authenticates that the way it was done was the only way it could be done.
Also if man could be saved by works, he would be his own savior. And if he's his own savior, then he's a God. That's idolatry. Idolatry is forbidden starting in Exodus 33. God said in Isaiah 42:8 that his glory would not be shared.
But then we get to verse 10.
The Greek word translated as workmanship is poiema. This is the word from which we get the English word, poem. Isn't that picturesque? Do you ever picture yourself as God's poem? Well he's not finished with you yet. You are a poem in progress, so hang in there.
The good works have to follow salvation. Prior to that you can call nothing good. Our part of the bargain is the good works, but it's post salvation. By the way, this word workmanship only occurs here and in Romans 1:20 and is used only about God's creation. We're the handiwork of God. Even your good works are the handiwork of God. They are the natural outcome of what he has done. We are his masterpiece:
Your conversion is a beginning, not an end. We are created into good works. Works are the fruit, not the root. The works are the daily consequence, not the antecedent of our acceptance of Jesus. We work because we're saved; not to earn salvation. We work because were already saved. Works simply demonstrate the reality of our faith. If your life isn't bearing fruit; if your life is not bearing some works; then there's something wrong with your faith. James chapter 2 deals with all of that.
James did not say it was lost, he said it was dead, fruitless.
Here's the Pauline Paradox. All the good works in the world cannot put us right with God, but there's something radically wrong with the Christian who does not perform good works. Good works can never earn salvation, but there's something radically wrong if salvation does not produce good works.
What kind of works is Paul dealing with here? Those that God prepared beforehand. The works that will bring rewards in heaven are the works that God has foreordained for you to do. Your grand adventure in life is to discover what unique opportunities, what unique plans God has prepared for you to do. The ultimate responsibility of each of us is to find out God's will for us and to obey it.
The life of a Christian is the story of the two seas. There are two seas that are fed by the same source. One is rich and green and fertile. It is surrounded by rich orchards and farms. From an area less than the size of Bernalillo County, it is the third largest exporter of food in the world; sells flowers to Holland; sells electronics to Japan; sells fruit and vegetables all over the world. But there's another sea, fed by the same source. But it is the symbol of death. Two seas. One the Sea of Galilee and one the Dead Sea.
What's the difference between them? The Sea of Galilee receives water from the Jordan River, from Mount Herman and the watershed above, and passes it on; it becomes a source of life to the whole region. The Dead Sea receives, receives, receives. All it does is receive. I wonder how many Christians sit in Bible study and receive studies for years; just receive, receive, receive? But they may be like the Dead Sea. The difference is they don't pass it on. The difference is to have the word of God received and passed through your life to others. Paul says that you were saved by the Grace of God and that God did that with the intent that you would produce good works. Don't just be a Dead Sea, receive, receive, receive. Be a Sea of Galilee; receive and pass it on. Be fertile.
...we will pick up with Ephesians 2:11 and Paul will start to try to get us to understand that our barriers were removed; and the sky is the limit, God's sky.