8You were saved by grace through believing and trusting in God. It didn’t come from you [not even the believing and trusting-HN]. It’s God’s gift. 9It doesn’t come from accomplishing a certain set of good works. If it did, you could boast. 10For you are a product made by God, created in Christ Jesus for good works. These good works are ones God prepared for us ahead of time so we could make them our lifestyle. — Ephesians 2:8-10 (My paraphrase and annotation)
[This is Henry]
I believe that grace is a rather simple concept, and our passage today expresses it very clearly. I have paraphrased it, but I’d suggest reading it in a couple of other translations if you have time. I particularly like the NLT.
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that I find the concept of grace easy to accept and live with. I don’t. The problem with being a recipient of grace is that you don’t have any control over it. We all like some kind of control over our own lives. So grace is fairly simple. It says God has this all under control. It’s also fairly simple. It means I’m not.
Now sometimes in the great free will arguments those of us on the Wesleyan side speak as though free will means that we receive initial salvation by grace, but then the rest of our life is a sort of horse race. It’ nicer than a horse race, because all the horses can get a ribbon, but woe to the horse that quits running!
The problem with that view is that it doesn’t fit with grace at all. You see, just as Paul points out that we can’t get into heaven without grace, he says that God prepares “good works” for us to do after he saves us so that we can do those good works. In other words, God has a plan, and then God has another plan. None of it is your plan or my plan.
We’re just the folks who have discovered the blazingly obvious. We can’t do it.
Think of it from the point of view of creation–a point of view we consider much too rarely. God made rocks, and they do “rock” things. Trees do “tree” things. Dogs do doggy things. And people? Well, we were created for some purpose as well. Now I’m not here to discuss what God’s purpose was. You can surely all fill in some things from scripture.
My point is that God didn’t have to give us any purpose whatsoever. God didn’t have to give us dominion over the earth. He doesn’t have to give us eternal life. He didn’t have to make us desire to worship him. He didn’t have to do anything. Our very existence, our ability to discuss all of this, is a matter of grace. Grace at the beginning, grace in the middle, grace all along the way, grace at the end.
But even so, God graciously created you to fill a particular place. The rocks do rock things, trees do tree things, dogs do dog things, and people, well, we’re supposed to do “people” things, and that is those good works from Ephesians 2:10. We really are created to be a positive force in this world, no matter how much the devil says to the contrary.
So do we live as recipients of grace? Have you ever tried and tried to accomplish something and found that the harder you try, the worse things got? I have, and it’s no fun. Grace means you don’t have to try alone. Grace means that God is there with you all the way. Living in grace means living with God all the time. Go ahead, ask him. He’s been giving grace since the beginning.
There’s one other phrase that I’d like to underline, and that is “created in Christ Jesus.” I didn’t paraphrase that one. It’s a pretty literal translation. It’s the sort of phrase that drives theologians to write multi-volume books. But there are several ways to view it. One is simply that you live your live with Jesus as you were crucified with him, made alive in him, so you live in him.
But another is to think of Christ’s body as in 1 Corinthians 12. Grace means you don’t have to go it alone. The particular form of God’s grace to us in the church is that it is never “me alone with God alone.” It’s always “me in the body of Christ with God.”
As recipients of grace we have nothing of which to boast. That also means we have no need of pride. So living the grace filled life means I can go ask for help from my brothers and sisters in Christ.
We were all created in Christ for good works together.