Have you ever been left out? If so, you know it stinks… In the second half of Ephesians 2, Paul reveals that the recipients of his letter were once left out in a major way. Their exclusion did more than just hurt their feelings, however. As Gentiles, referred to by Jews with the derogatory title, “uncircumcised” (2:11), they were once “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise” (2:12). Cut off from the people of God, they were “without hope and without God in the world” (2:12).
God’s gracious condescension is celebrated in Psalm 113. The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stoops to look down upon us. Yet he is not, as the pop song proclaims, just “watching us from a distance.” Rather God “stoops down” to be near us (113:6). He “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (113:7). What an amazing picture of God’s condescension!
If we stop for a moment to remember what happened when sin entered the world, we should not be surprised by what we will soon discover in the second half of Ephesians 2. As you recall, when Adam and Eve sinned, the very first result was interpersonal… So, if God were to save us from sin and its results, as in Ephesians 2:1-10, then we should expect that salvation to mend not only our relationship with God but also our relationships with each other.
What good works has God prepared for you? Many of us would be inclined to answer this question by pointing to specific things Christians tend to do as expressions of our faith. Good works would include: attending worship services, praying regularly, studying Scripture… and so forth. These are surely among the good works God has prepared for us… But, if we think of good works only in these terms, we miss the expansive breadth and depth of God’s plan for our good works.
We do not earn our salvation through anything we do. Salvation by works? Absolutely not. But this does not mean that good works are irrelevant to salvation. In fact, as this passage makes abundantly clear, salvation and good works are closely connected. Good works do not earn salvation, but they do follow salvation. To put it differently, we are not saved BY good works, but FOR good works. Good works are an expression of the fact that we have been saved by grace.
I realize that you might not feel like a masterpiece today. You may be feeling like something far less than this… You wonder: How could I possibly be God’s masterpiece? The answer is that your status as a masterpiece is true, not because of how healthy you are, how accomplished you are, or how moral you are. You are a masterpiece because of what God has done in your life by his grace. You have been newly and wonderfully created through Christ.
Psalm 112 is not meant to be the last and only word on the earthly rewards for those who fear the Lord. It is one word among many in the Psalms. And it is a word we do need to hear. This psalm reminds us that earthly rewards often follow from right living. When we seek to do God’s will, when we live according to his commands, we will experience goodness in this life, even as we look forward to the life of the future. Yes, we will also know sorrow. But the joys and rewards of seeking the Lord and his ways will sustain us.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do…” Even though this verse is obviously connected to the preceding verses, it has often been neglected by Christians, especially those of us who swim in the Protestant stream. We have been so excited (rightly) by the truth of salvation by grace through faith that we have failed (wrongly) to follow Paul’s thought to the end.
Paul’s example reminds us that there are times when it’s appropriate to boast about people other than yourself, to speak positively about them to others. If you’re a boss, for example, you may find it right on some occasions to brag about members of your team… a boss who gives heartfelt and legitimate credit to her team can be a real encouragement to them. Similarly, there may be times when you should tell others about the excellent work of a colleague.
Is boasting always wrong? Are there times when boasting may be okay? Ephesians 2:9 frowns on boasting about our salvation. Because we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works, we cannot boast about salvation. It’s nothing that we have earned or for which we can take credit. But this doesn’t mean all boasting is always wrong… salvation by grace leads us to praise God and to boast of God’s wonders. Boasting, in this case, is simply a matter of telling others how great God is.