But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:4-10
I know many people are disconcerted with the concept of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things which includes his providence. Personally, I have come to find great comfort in it. The sovereignty of God is one of those Scriptural topics that must be handled with great care. God’s sovereignty never diminishes our responsibility for our own decisions and actions. It is paradoxical but true.
Knowing and doing God’s will can be very stressful, especially for people new as Christ-followers. Those who have taken submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ with great seriousness are anxious to please the Lord. And we all should be.
Some things are quite clear and easy to discern. The Scriptures are clear about certain conduct. Don’t sin. If Scripture puts a certain conduct in the category of sin, the will of God is simple, don’t do it. On the other hand, Scripture is clear about what we should do. Things like having patience with one another, carrying one another’s burdens, praying for one another, etc. These are all good works that are clearly taught in Scripture.That’s not where the stress comes in. The painful decisions lie around things like what job to take, what career path to pursue, what ministry activities should I pursue.
As we mature in Christ and come to understand how he has gifted us, his calling for us becomes clearer, and these decisions become more natural. The last verse in our reading today is packed full with insight for this kind of stress.
First, we are his workmanship. Not only did God create Adam and Eve and by extension us through procreation. We are each God’s workmanship. That means we are all uniquely made by God as he pleases. As the saying goes, “God don’t make no mistakes.” This is not to say God created us with our propensity to sin in our own certain ways, so it’s OK to sin. It is to say; God has made us with a certain intelligence, gifts, talents, physical abilities, etc. It is these that make us who we uniquely are; we are God’s workmanship. Sometimes I wish I were more mechanical, but I’m not. Sometimes I wish I were more creative, but I’m not. I am made a certain way, and I am fulfilled when I get to function in that way. I am driven to encourage other people to progress in their lives. I don’t have to try; it comes naturally. It is God’s workmanship. The same is true for you. If you are not clear on how God has constructed you, I encourage you to seek to understand that. It will make your life easier, or at least better understood.
Good works are not the cause or even an aid to our salvation. Our salvation in Christ is all of grace and not of works. We did not and cannot do anything to earn God’s favor or grace. But, once we were made a new creation in Christ, it is for good works. Good works are the product of our salvation, not it’s cause.
Now, this is really cool. The good works we are to participate in were prepared by God beforehand, way in advance. This isn’t something that slipped up on God, and he has to find something for you to do. Like the manager who got a new employee, he didn’t know was coming and has to find work for them.
I learned a long time ago that God has gifted me as an exhorter or encourager (Romans 12:8). My “work” is to open my mouth or write my words as word of encouragement or exhortation. God prepared this for me beforehand. As a result, given a choice, I will talk with people before doing some kind of manual labor to help them. On the other hand, Karen, my wife, is gifted as a server (Romans 12:7). She would prefer to never open her mouth, especially in a group. (She does, however, have lots of wisdom to share and when appropriate she does.) She would rather bake someone a cake if she thinks that will be helpful to them. Serving in a practical way is the more natural way for her to show God’s love to someone. We both do what we are supposed to do because we are God’s workmanship. It is important that we understand how God has made us because we are exhorted to give ourselves to that gifting, whatever it may be (Romans 12:6).
What good works are you involved in? It is encouraging to know that God prepared them long ago for you to do. You can be at peace with the work God has given you. Don’t be distracted from what he has given you.