Last week we focused on Ephesians 2:8-9, those verses that many Christians have memorized:
This is probably the clearest statement of salvation in the Bible. And we talked about how Romans 3 and Philippians 3 are the best commentary to expound on Ephesians 2:8-9.
We focused on how God is the initiator of our salvation, not us, and that we got it when Jesus died on the cross. It happened then. We accepted it when we accepted Jesus as our personal Savior. It is not something that we get when we die; it is not a future event. You either have it right now, or you don't. If you only hope you have it, you either don't have it or you do not understand what Paul is trying to tell these new Christians in Asia Minor and trying to tell us in this book.
And we discussed that salvation is a gift to us from God, fully paid for by Jesus -- paid in full; nothing due; nothing else owed.
We looked at why there is nothing we can add to it. Salvation is not by grace plus something; (not grace plus works). If that were the case, then Jesus' prayer to his father in the Garden of Gethsemane was not answered and the death of Jesus was a waste. There is nothing you can add to earn or deserve your salvation. If you could, you are saving yourself. Good luck on that one.
Today's Lesson: Created for Good Works
So now let's tie verses 8 and 9 with verse 10.
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. --Ephesians 2:8-10
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 (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Your conversion is a beginning, not an end. We are created unto 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 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.
Jews vs. Gentiles:
Now Paul rolls on to a discussion of another aspect of the change from before salvation to after salvation:
For the previous 10 verses, Paul has been dealing with salvation in general. But now he starts building an interesting case to set the stage for chapter 3.
He's going to start focusing on Gentiles as opposed to the Jews. Most of us have no capacity to really appreciate how much the Jews despised the Gentiles. The Jews were the chosen people. God chose them for a special mission. But tragically, pride and arrogance caused them to indeed be separate on the one hand, which God wanted them to be, but on the other hand, and at the same time, caused them to look down upon the Gentiles. There is probably no gap wider in all of man's culture than the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles in the mind of the Jews, especially in those days. Gentile was a term of reproach, "uncircumcised" was a term of reproach. Jews said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell; that God loves only Israel. It was not even lawful to render help to the Gentiles women in childbirth, because that would be to bring another Gentile into the world.
The barrier between Jew and Gentiles was absolute. If a Jew married a Gentile, the family had a funeral for that Jew. Contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death. Even to go into a Gentile's house would render the Jew unclean.
Before Christ, the barriers were up; after Christ, the barriers were down.
Paul uses circumcision here to represent the Jew, and the uncircumcised to represent the Gentile. Circumcision was intended to be Israel's opportunity to outwardly mark its special selection by God. There are many references to that fact in the Bible. Circumcision was a term meant to indicate that they were chosen or set apart. It was merely physical of course, it was an outward sign; it did not necessarily represent the reality. It was no proof of real faith. A Jew was circumcised on the eighth day. Come on, it could not indicate a belief or a commitment, it was just a sign of separation, but not of the heart. In the Bible, "circumcision" is often used related to circumcision of the heart. That's the real separation. That's the real separation that God wanted.
The Jews often enjoyed great privilege from God, as summarized in Romans 9 and other places, which also led to their pride and arrogance and probably the greatest racial and religious difference that the world has ever seen.
Remember, Paul himself was a Pharisee. That was the most exclusive club in the Jewish community. So he was the Jew's Jew.
It is interesting that after Noah there were several covenants with the Jews, but there was never a covenant with Gentiles. Never a covenant directly to Gentiles. Clearly the Jews had a special position with God.
The words "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel" in the Greek is intended to represent man's separation from God, being outside the promise. The Messiah was promised to the nation Israel. That is emphasized in Matthew 15:24.
Blessings were promised in the Old Testament to Gentiles in Isaiah 11:10 and Isaiah 60:3 and other places. We'll deal with that later.
Notice that it says without God. That doesn't mean that they were atheists; it meant that they were godless in their conduct and they had no real knowledge of the living God.
By the way, verse 12, among other things, refutes any notion that pagan religions are just as acceptable to God as the Christian faith. Paul here is citing the Ephesians' Christless state as a definite tragedy. Don't ever fall into a euphemism of some kind that pagan religions are just as acceptable as Christianity. The Bible refutes that in many ways. Here Paul is doing it specifically. To be outside Christ is condemnation.
The Gentiles knew the true God, but deliberately refused to honor him. You have reference of that in Romans 2:18-23, which hammers that home.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a saga of the devolution of man, not of evolution; the decline of man, not his ascent. It's very clear. When you get to chapter twelve of Genesis, Abraham is called and the Jews are separated so that the Gentiles might also be saved. Salvation is of the Jews, Jesus said in John 4:22:
Prior to Jesus, Gentiles had no hope for the future. The Jews had been selected as the chosen people and had been given the promise of the Messiah. There was no such hope or promise for the Gentiles. The Jews believed that not only had they been chosen as God's people for that, but in fact God was restricted to the Jews and not even accessible or available to Gentiles. The bad part was that the Jews agreed and had the same opinion. To be an Israelite was to be a member of the society of God; it was to have a citizenship which was divine. The covenant God had made was with the Jews. The Jews believe that God had approached their nation with a special offer.
So the Gentiles were in fact without hope and without God. Because of that, the Gentile culture did not have hope for the future. The attitude of the Gentiles was as one Greek writer said "We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish."
So as Paul is contrasting the Gentiles to the Jews before Jesus came, he is contrasting God's chosen from God's excluded; those with hope and those with no hope. As he continues after verse twelve he shows that Jesus is the end of those barriers; the end of those separations; and the end of the differences.
... we will pick up with Ephesians 2:13 and Paul will start to try to get us to understand that our barriers were removed; the sky is the limit, God's sky.