Tuesday, May 28, 2019


In the previous installment of this series (The Spirit of This World), we began looking at one of the most astounding statements of all of Scripture. We saw the first part of this statement, in which Paul tells us that because God was rich in mercy and because of the great love with which he loved us, saved us and gave us life—even when we were dead in our sin. “By grace you have been saved.”

To complete Paul’s thought on this, we continue: 

—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 display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7 BSB) 

By means of his grace, God has pulled us up out of a raging ocean of sin controlled by the prince of the power of the air. In that ocean we were held captive and drowning in what Paul calls, “the passions of our flesh” and carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. These are things in which we can never find satisfaction. In that ocean, the more we try to breathe in a breath of life and freedom, the more our lungs fill with corruption. Indeed, these things will finally drown us, plunging us down into death.

But God raised us up. He has reached down his great hand, and by the exercise of his grace, he has given us life. We are rescued and we are sitting, so to speak, safe and sound on the rescue boat of God’s love. 

Beyond the Rescue

To expand upon this analogy, after being pulled out of the ocean, God could have left us safe and sound and on board on the boat, but we could be still coughing and wheezing and spitting out salt water. We could be simply left sitting alone of the deck, dripping wet and shivering in the cold air. We are glad to be alive but we are still feeling the effects of our near death experience.

However, God’s involvement with us does not end with the rescue mission. He does not leave us shivering in the cold, happy to be alive but still wondering what to do next. God instead takes us home with him and then takes the inconceivable step in seating us with him in the heavenly places!

This last phrase is so amazing that we might think that we are continuing the analogy of what God does for us, but this is no ambiguous suggestion of something else. This is the reality of what God gives us!

Earlier, Paul spoke of the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. This concept of being seated with Christ is one that we see in other places in the New Testament. Jesus himself made allusion to this with the twelve disciples when he told them that they would sit on twelve thrones (Matthew 19:28). Also, in the book of Revelation, John speaks of seeing twenty-four thrones on which sat twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:4). We cannot be sure of the specifics of this truth of being seated with Christ, but only that it is the result of his mercy, love and grace.

From our position of being seated with Christ, we will have all of eternity to begin to understand the equally eternal riches that God has given to us. We also spoke earlier of the riches of the inheritance in Christ, and how we are limited in our understanding of what these heavenly riches could be. Our understanding of eternal benefits is limited because all that we have within our experience about what an inheritance is, is what we know here on earth. This is not enough to give us a picture of what eternity is like.

However, it should not concern us if we are not able to understand these things now, since we see in this verse that even in eternity our understanding will be one of continual growth and discovery. It is in the coming ages that God will show us the immeasurable riches of his grace. The kindness of God is too deep and too broad to be able to understand with a single viewing.

The Pre-eminence of Grace

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 BSB)

The above words summarize and encapsulate much of what Paul had been saying in the verses leading up to them. When we consider how we come to have a life-giving relationship with God, these words show the distinction of the teachings of Christ and how they differ from every other religious teaching in the world.

Except for the teachings of Christ, every religion in the world is more or less a set of instructions of what men and women must do to establish this relationship with God. It is a list of rules that one must learn to follow to better themselves enough so that they come to the point of being acceptable to God. God is often portrayed as a Being with very high demands of His people, and one must always be striving to live up to standards that he has placed upon us.

According to the teachings of Jesus (here transmitted by Paul), this is twisted thinking. It is not that God does not demand the highest of standards, it is just that even with our very best efforts, we could never even come close to achieving them. What God actually does demand, in fact, is perfection! There is no room for anything that is not completely without fault.

That is why we cannot rely upon our own works, and it is why God has offered us his gift. It is not by our doing that we come into a relationship with God, but it is by God’s doing. He extends this gift to us although we have not earned it in any way, nor do we merit it. This is the meaning of grace.

The Importance of Faith

As vital as the concept of grace is to us, it is one of the most difficult truths for us to accept. It is difficult for us because in order to accept it, we must come to the point where we recognize that we are utterly destitute of any ability to help ourselves. Everything regarding our salvation must come from God and is because of his grace.

Faith is the acceptance of that fact. It is the recognition that we come to God, offering nothing and receiving everything. Faith is the belief that if anything good will come out of our lives, it will be done by what God accomplishes. The offer of the grace of God is always present, even in the absence of faith. However, salvation can only come when faith is demonstrated. Faith accesses the grace of God and applies it to our lives.

An Illustration of Faith

It is something akin to having a great reserve of water in an enormous tank during a time of drought. A man dying of thirst may have been told of this water, but he cannot see it or touch it. In fact, there is nothing that is overtly obvious to him that would verify to him that the water is present. The sun above his head is just as bright, and the weather just as hot.

Nevertheless, there are evidences of the water. There are some plants that are growing around the tank that he has been told have been watered from the water in the tank. There are also other people who seem to be thriving and without thirst, and who have told him that it was because of the water in the tank.

Because of these things, the man is convinced that there indeed must be water in the tank. In his thirst, he travels to where it is and reaches up to turn on the spigot. This is the act of faith. Faith is a hand reaching out for life. It is accessing the water that was always present. The life was given to him by the water in the tank, but he had to believe it was there and he had to act on that belief.

The analogy is not perfect, but in much the same way, by grace we are also saved through faith. The agent that saves us is the grace, but unless we act in faith, we can never know the grace of God, although God’s grace is always present and it is always available.

The Significance of Works

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10 BSB)

Despite the fact that grace is the essential aspect of our salvation, we will also notice that works do come into the picture. In fact, as we see in the above verse, the very reason we have been born into Christ Jesus is to do good works!

At least, this is what this verse seems to be saying. It may be beneficial for us to pick this verse apart a little to try and determine why Paul used the words that he did.

The first word that I would like to look at is the word workmanship. This is a word that is used only one other time in the New Testament, also by Paul. In that verse, Paul says of God, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made(Romans 1:20 NAS emphasis added).

The Greek word is the same in both cases and is the word poiema. The word is, incidentally, the word from which we get our word English poem. Although this particular word is used only twice in Scripture, the concept of us being the creation of God is replete throughout: “Know that the LORD himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3 NAS).

We understand that as people, when we make some item, it is because we intend for that item to fulfill a specific purpose. This is true for practical things, like a building or an automobile, but it is also true for more imaginative items such as art and music.

Also, in the same manner as much can be learned about our own natures and personalities by seeing the things that we produce, much of the nature of God can also be understood by observing what he has made. It is for this reason that Paul explained in the first chapter of Romans that there is much about the personality of God that we can learn by observing his creation. We may not be able to come to know him personally in this way, but we should be able to begin to know that he is God.

Thus, because we are the workmanship of God, it follows that we have been made for a specific reason. God has made us as an expression of his nature and that we should fulfill a purpose. That purpose, as we see in our verse of Ephesians, is that we should do “good works.”

Notice that we do good works not for the purpose of gaining a relationship with Christ Jesus; rather, it is the other way around. We are given the relationship with Christ by grace through faith, and because of this, we are finally able to fulfill the purpose for which we were created in the first place.

Second, it is good to see that these good works are things that God had prepared beforehand. This again reminds us of what we read in the very first part of Paul’s letter, when he said that we were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” This concept is much the same as what Paul would later write to his young friend Timothy, when he told him that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV).

Like the security that comes from the fact of knowing that God has been involved with us by choosing us from before the foundation of the world, we can also be assured that even the tasks of our lives were given to us from before the ages began. Many people have a difficult time with finding satisfaction in living, and often one of the reasons is because they are not seeking those good works for which they have been created.

Also, the reason is because they are focused on themselves, thinking that they themselves should be the object of the quest for fulfillment. Paradoxically however, one will never find fulfillment in this way. It is instead the way that Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 ESV).

A Philosophy for Living

Many people, if asked to state their philosophy of living, would not know how to respond. They had never thought about it. But it is important to think about it. If you want your life to have any direction, then you must decide what it is that will guide you.

A philosophy for living does not need to be complicated or stated with words so deep in meaning that no one really knows for certain what you are saying. At least that is not how my philosophy in living is.

Mine is simply stated: “When God asks me to do something, I try to say ‘yes.’”

I realize that I am God’s workmanship. He has made me to accomplish certain tasks—tasks that he had determined for me to do even before the foundation of the world. It would be foolish of me to try and figure out my purposes when God has already chosen the best ones for me.

This has been my guiding principle. As I look back on my life, I can say that by the grace of God there have been only a few times when I thought that God was instructing me to do something, and I have said, “No.”

I have always tried to say “Yes,” and I think that I have usually been faithful to what God was telling me to do.

However, there have been a few times when I was not faithful. Now, as I look back, I must ask myself, “What did God have in mind for me during those times? What was his purpose for me in those times that I did not fulfill? What blessings have I missed?”

We are his workmanship, created for good works. Do not miss the blessings in your life. Do not miss that purpose for which God has created you and prepared you.

Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10 ESV).


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