His Workmanship in Christ

The following is a guest post written by Dr Julian Newman.

For the start of the New Year 2018, let us consider the following text:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10

Before discussing this text, I would first like to describe the context in which it appears. These verses conclude a beautiful part of Paul's God-breathed letter to the Ephesians. This part of the letter starts in 1:15, and communicates the following key truths:

  • In the central events of history, Jesus Christ, after His crucifixion, was resurrected, ascended into heaven, and majestically seated at the right hand of the Father. All this was achieved by the mightily working power of God the Father. And being thus seated at God's very right hand, our Lord and King is exalted far above all creation, including everything that we see and experience in this world, as well as the invisible demonic forces that govern so much of it.
  • This same mightily working power of God, which achieved all this, was also mightily at work in us at our salvation. For by this power, we were linked to Christ Himself and to the aforementioned central events of history:
    1. When we were dead (that is, spiritually dead in our hell-bound worldliness and sin), God the Father brought us to life, together with Christ in His resurrection. God did this because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were the way that we were; salvation is by grace.
    2. God raised us up into heaven (spiritually) together with Christ, in His ascension.
    3. God seated us (spiritually) in Christ where Christ Himself is seated.
  • This same exceedingly great power of God towards us is still at work in us; see also 3:20.
  • When God exalted our Lord to His own right hand and made Him Head over all things in the universe, God then "gave Him – as Head over all things – to the Church", namely to us. This Church, consisting of people who were once dead in sin and justly hell-bound, is now the very body of Christ Himself; according to the plan of God, the Church is the fulness of Christ Who fills all in all.
  • Finally: The reason why God in His love made us alive and raised us up and seated us in heaven in Christ – the reason why He did all this for us – is given in 2:7 (immediately preceding the chosen text). He did all this so that He might eternally have on glorious display His immensely vast grace-riches; His eternal praise and glorification He has purposely bound up in the kindness which He has shown to us His beloved undeserving beneficiaries. (See also 1:4-6, 3:21.)
It is in conclusion of this description of God's kindness towards us that the above text (2:8-10) appears, summarising what it means that salvation is “by grace”. This topic continues to this day to be much misunderstood, though among all true believers it is known experientially. While more could be said on these verses, I would like here to focus briefly on verse 10 (as underlined), which succinctly and powerfully conveys the following aspects of the gospel:
    1. Our salvation is not a consequence of our "good" works, but is a gracious act of God that remedies our evil works; indeed, our own righteousness is "as filthy rags".
    2. Salvation is a work of creation: although we already existed as conscious human beings before we came to Christ, if we are in Christ then we are a work of God's own craftship in which He created us in Christ Jesus.
    3. Our new Christ-created selves are specifically hand-crafted for good works.
    4. Even the good works that we can now perform do not spring from ourselves; God's power and providence are the source of our fulfilling His sovereignly pre-prepared plans for our lives (cf. Psalm 139:16).
    Thus overall, the text that we have considered explains how God has made it simultaneously possible that men can walk in good deeds which please God, while at the very same time any concept of boasting is made an utter absurdity!

    A good way to start the New Year might be to read through Ephesians, or at least to read through and meditate upon Eph. 1:1 - 2:10. The truths of our spiritual blessings in Christ are such a firm foundation for encouragement, perseverance and ongoing sanctification as we live in this world for the Lord Jesus Christ and await His glorious appearing from heaven.