I was looking through Ephesians chapter 2 the other day, and noticed something: A number of passages that are often quoted independently (and not inappropriately so, for each has a good message), seem to take on a new meaning when read all together.
First, verses 4-7 set up some context:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:4-7 NASB
What was the problem? We were dead in our sins. Our very right to live in a relationship with the all-holy God had been forfeited by our choices. (See also How Amazing Is Grace?)
What was the solution? God made a way for us to be restored. Because God is both loving and just, He didn’t have the option of just ignoring our rebellious choices. However, He provided a payment – the sacrifice of His perfect Son, Jesus – to cover the penalty that we incurred, and to buy us back from our deserved punishment.
What did God do, then? He didn’t stop there. After redeeming us, He poured on blessings on top of that.
Why would He do that? God’s nature includes mercy (rather than letting us reap the consequences of our actions permanently), and love (rather than malice or hate…or – as some speakers suggest – rather than apathy).
Next comes a couple of pivotal verses that are often quoted on their own. (That’s probably ok, since they make a great point all by themselves; however, they also tie together what comes before and after them.)
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB
This verse makes it absolutely clear that we do not earn our salvation by living up to the perfect standards for which God created us. No one – other than Jesus – is “good enough” to have achieved our salvation through what we have done. That is, being “51% good” is not good enough to be in the presence of a holy, perfect God. Likewise, doing a lot of “good things” can’t make up for our sinful choices, since we should have been doing the right things, anyway.
And, it’s probably good that we’re not saved by our works. Otherwise, we would probably look down on those that we think are less-good than us (maybe we could call them the “49-percenters”, if we thought that their bad deeds slightly outweighed their good deeds…unlike what we thought our percentage was, of course). If we subscribe to that misunderstanding, the temptation to boast is great.
But, this next verse doesn’t let us off of the hook for our actions. Right after verses 8 and 9, which remind us that God took care of our salvation for us, is this verse:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10 NASB
It’s clear that, although what we do doesn’t save us, we clearly have good things to do. This isn’t to “pay God back”, or to just “make the world a happier place”. Instead, it is what we were made for. God lined up specific roles for us to play in His universal plan, and if we don’t take those opportunities, we’re wasting what He has prepared for us.
This doesn’t mean that you have to do everything. God prepared some good deeds for you to do, some other work for me to do, and plenty of opportunities for everyone else. Together, we can be a part of His mission – not just for us, but for the world.
So, in conclusion:
- God’s grace, mercy, and love are incredible.
- We can only be saved from the consequences of our sins by God’s grace. Being 51% (or even 99%) “good” isn’t enough.
- Although our “goodness” doesn’t save us, God has specific good deeds ready for us to do. We are expected to step into these, and “walk in them”.
Consider reading the entire chapter of Ephesians 2, today, for even more of the story. After all, Paul says it better than I could!