GOD’S WORKMANSHIP Ephesians 2
“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:3–5).Considering what God had to work with, He’s done an amazing job!
God selected sinful, spiritually dead human beings as materials for His church (2:1–3). He gave us life and called us to good works, that His grace might be displayed (vv. 4–10). United now, Jew and Gentile form one building, with Christ the Cornerstone (vv. 11–22).
Understanding the Text
“Dead in your transgressions and sins” Eph. 2:1–3. “Death” is one of the most awesome and complex of biblical concepts. We understand biological death, and to a certain extent spiritual death is modeled on it. As the dead body cannot sense or respond to the material world, the dead spirit cannot sense or respond to God. But spiritual death moves beyond this to imply corruption. As the physical body decays, so the spiritually dead become infested with all sorts of corruption. The spiritually dead “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air [Satan].” The rotten flesh of the spiritually dead gasps and heaves in the grip of “the cravings of our sinful nature,” whose desires and thoughts the lost blindly follow. Paul’s graphic portrait is horrible, and we may well draw back. But Paul wanted us to understand that this is the raw material from which God constructs His church! This mass of corruption is what God intends to use to display His glory and the beauty of His holiness. It’s not nice. But it is important for us to be totally honest with ourselves and with God. Paul drew this portrait, and he said, “This was you.” He went on. “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature.” Thank God this is what we were, not what we are! And thank God that He saw fit to make me His own anyway. I once worked with a man, not a Christian, who had chosen to marry a woman who had been a prostitute. I remember one of my coworkers telling me, “She’d do anything for Jim. He always treats her like a lady.” We Christians are not to deny our past. We’re to remember, and to realize that in spite of what we were, God has loved us and made us His own. And He always treats us “like a lady.” What a motivation to do anything for Him! “Because of His great love for us” Eph. 2:4–7. The old song rightly says, “I’m not what I wanta’ be, I’m not what I will be, but thank God I’m not what I was.” Paul has reminded us of what we were. Now he tells us what we are, and will be. What we are is persons who have been given the gift of life. He has “made us alive with Christ.” The Gospel message brought us to life, raised us up, and even seated us with Him in the heavenly realms! This last image is one of power. God, seated on heaven’s throne, is Sovereign over all. In Christ we are not only alive, but conquerors. Never forget who you were. But never imagine you are still the same old man or woman. Addiction, depression, depravity, despair, low self-esteem, inconsistency, lack of self-discipline—whatever troubled you, was an expression of the old life that had established a grip on your personality. Now you have been raised with Christ to a vital, new life capable of breaking out of any bondage. Don’t look back. Look ahead, and realize that God has destined you to display “the incomparable riches of His grace.” “By grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” Eph. 2:8–9. Many debate whether the gift of God here is the faith, the salvation, or the grace. In a sense, it makes no difference. Paul simply wants us to understand that our life in Christ is a miracle. We didn’t earn it; God gave it. The TV last night reported on “sweat equity,” a new approach to home ownership. People who have no money for a down payment on a new home can contribute labor, while the bank or government finances materials. The work they put in on building their own homes is their “sweat equity.” Well, verses 8–9 state that you and I don’t even have “sweat equity” in our salvation. We had no cash for the down payment. And there was not a single thing we could do to contribute to the work. God did it all, so that for all eternity you and I will stand as trophies of His grace, saved through no merit of our own. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” Eph. 2:10. Good works can’t contribute to our salvation. But good works are an outcome of salvation. We have been given life to glorify God. And one way we glorify God is by performing good works. What are “good works”? The Greek word here is agathois, which means “useful, helpful.” God has saved us and set us on a path filled with opportunities to be helpful to others, and useful in accomplishing His own purposes. Again we sense the contrast between what we were, and what we are. Corrupted by sin, we could do nothing for God, for ourselves, or for others. Made alive by God in Christ, we are different. And we make a difference! Never put yourself down. God has prepared useful works for you to do. “In Christ Jesus you who were once far away” Eph. 2:11–13. Paul directed these remarks to Gentiles, who were isolated from the promises and covenants given to Israel. Christ, however, has changed their situations as well as changed them! In Christ God brings believers to Himself, and to each other. The image of a living temple helps us here. A building is a construction: formed by fitting different kinds of material together. The cement foundation is laid, a wood frame is put up, plywood sheeting and plaster board are added. God’s church is also a construction, and this too requires that different kinds of material be fitted together. What God has done in Christ is to draw all believers to Himself, and thus draw us into intimate relationship with each other as well. If you or I isolate ourselves from any of God’s other building materials, some beautiful aspect of His living temple may be marred. “He put to death their hostility” Eph. 2:14–18. In New Testament times the Old Testament Law was a “barrier” between Gentile and Jew. And that barrier did create hostility: anti-Semitism led to frequent riots in ancient cities, and ancient Jews did look with contempt on Gentile neighbors. Then Jesus died, and made Law irrelevant. Jew and Gentile alike approached God by faith, and through faith each had direct access to God the Father. Suddenly it became clear that the church is one, and that out of the two hostile groups God formed “one new man” which was called to live at peace. How we need to learn that lesson today. Whatever there may be in any society that creates barriers, and arouses hostility, is irrelevant now. Blackness and whiteness are irrelevant now. Each approach God through faith in Christ, and from the two God is at work forming His “one new man.” Think of any groups who have inherited a tradition of hostility, and the Christ of the Gospel cries, “Peace.” Christ has brought you near to God through faith, and in bringing you near God He has brought you near each other. Let’s realize what God is doing in His church. And let’s make peace. “In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” Eph. 2:19–22. Whatever may divide us, Christ brings us together. Whatever fears or suspicions arouse hostility, Christ brings peace. And we must let Him. For the “holy temple in the Lord” that Jesus is building today rises only as we, His people, are “joined together.” Don’t let the partisan divide you. Don’t let the strident preacher of doctrinal distinctives isolate you from brothers and sisters whose faith is one with you, but whose beliefs may differ. And don’t let race, or age, or social status, or education, or wealth or poverty, drive you apart. Reach out for others, and hand-in-hand be built, “together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
Were, Are, and Will Be(Eph. 2:11–22)
Christianity is a faith of contrasts. Often the contrast we emphasize lies between past and future. We were lost sinners. But we will be raised in Christ’s own image. The “were” and “will be” of Christianity are exciting. But Ephesians 2 reminds us that there should also be a contrast right now, between what we “were” and what we “are.” Being a follower of Jesus is to make a dramatic difference in our present. What we “are” is to stand out as clearly as what we “will be” against what we “were”! Here in Ephesians the “were” and “are” contrast is seen in our relationships. Human beings by nature are separate from Christ and, as strangers and aliens, are isolated from His people. In fact, sinful human beings find all sorts of reasons to separate themselves from others. We turn away from others because of race, of looks, of clothing, of customs, of wealth, of language. And we look down on others, supposing ourselves better than they. This is a “were” dimension of human beings separated from Jesus Christ. How different those who know Jesus are to be. The cross has reconciled us to God, and brought us near to Him. And, in Christ, God has brought us near to all humanity, and especially those of the household of faith. We “are” one now with all believers. One in the Spirit. And by God’s grace, one in love, one in caring, one in honoring and respecting each other. We “are” being “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” When you and I ignore those things that divide mere human beings, and because of Jesus reach out to others who are different from us, the contrast of what we “are” with what we “were” gives vivid witness to our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Real love for those who are different is evidence of God’s work within.
“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”—Peter Scholtes