August 2, 2021
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
How often have you heard this verse repeated and emphasized over the course of your life? If you’ve spent any time in a church, it’s likely this is an extremely familiar section of Ephesians. It’s used to remind us to love our neighbors, go on a mission trip, give tithes, and share the gospel with others. But before we rush out the door and spend our day doing good deeds, let’s take a look at the verses 4 through 9 for some context.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Let me highlight a couple of keywords: Great Love. Rich in mercy. Grace. Incomparable riches of grace. Kindness. Grace. Faith. Gift.
And finally, “not by works”.
How is it that after all of these verses on love and grace, culminating in the assertion that we are not saved by works, we are reminded that we are created to do good works? It sounds like a contradiction. Why would God go through so much trouble to create us and prepare good works for us to do and at the same time caution us against focusing too much on them?
Paul, the author of Ephesians, knew all too well the propensity for pride that lives in the human heart. Even though God did all of the creative work, and laid the foundation of all the good deeds we might do, we are quick to take credit. Even worse, pride causes us to turn around and tell everyone coming after us they should try and live up to our standard.
Here’s an example. You were created to hit home runs. But God gave you the muscles and the coordination. He set the baseball in front of you, gave you the best baseball bat, cleared the infield, and moved the outfield fence way, way in. He is so focused on your success, he’s given every advantage possible. Your home run is a gift.
Today, see your opportunities to do good deeds as neither burdensome obligations nor examples of your extraordinary selflessness. Instead, see them as gifts placed before you, and take notice of how it feels to participate with that in mind.