Our text this morning is one of the most eloquent and beautiful passages in the Bible. Ephesians 2:8-9 are two of the most memorized verses among Christians; for good reason. These verses describe what it means to be a follower of Christ.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. [Eph. 1:5b-10]
In this passage Paul gives three essential truths of Christianity that are the foundation of the Christian faith.
We are Made Right With God by Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)
In verse 5 we have this simple but powerful statement: “It is by grace you have been saved”. The word grace is used in many ways in our day. Sometimes it describes elegance, such as in a graceful dancer. Sometimes we talk about someone being gracious and we mean the person was kind and welcoming. However, when the Bible uses the word grace it refers to an “undeserved act of mercy”.
In verse 9 Paul underscored this view. He said we are saved by grace, not by works. Grace is not something we EARN; it is something we receive. In the book of Romans (chapter 4) the Apostle Paul used Abraham as an example. He said Abraham was not made right with God because of something he did. He was made right with God because He believed God’s promise of mercy and grace. Paul argues that if Abraham would have been made right with God because of something he DID, salvation would be a payment or a wage, not a gift.
The Bible affirms not only that we are saved by grace rather than our good works. It affirms that this is the only way we can be forgiven and brought into a relationship with God. In the Reformation this truth was affirmed by two Latin words: Sola Gratia (meaning: Grace Alone).
The Biblical testimony is this: the only thing that you and I bring to salvation is the sin which has made salvation necessary. Let’s review the progression Paul has taught us:
- We were dead in our sin and could not respond positively to Him. We are rebels by nature and in the depth of our heart.
- God chose to save us; we did not choose to seek Him.
- God accomplished our salvation through the work of Christ not through our behavioral reforms.
- He “made us alive” by His Holy Spirit and then drew us to Himself.
Our text adds yet another dimension to this grace: even the faith that we exercise to come to Christ is a result of God’s grace. “For it is by grace that we are saved, through faith, and even this is not of yourselves, it is a gift from God.” God plants and stirs up the faith in us that leads us to come to Him. Even that faith we exercise, is a gift.
We are truly saved sola gratia, by grace alone. God in His grace has provided for our salvation, has awakened us from our dead state in sin, and He has provided us with a faith to believe all that God has done.
Why would God do things this way? Paul says it is so no one can boast. God saved us by grace so that instead of measuring each other, ranking each other, climbing over each other, we would be united by our dependence on Him alone for our salvation.
This Salvation Begins the Moment We Believe
The second great truth is found in these words,
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
This is not written in the future tense, it is written in the PAST tense. The significance of this, I believe, is that it shows that salvation is not something that is only in the future (“I am saved, so someday I am going to go to Heaven”), it also impacts us in the PRESENT.
Think about a baby who is born into the Royal family. That baby may not be King or Queen until sometime in the far future. However, that child is immediately part of the royal family; they are set apart and their life is set on a royal course from that first moment. Every day of that child’s life is impacted by this reality. The same is true of every believer. When we become a child of God we immediately become a part of God’s family. We don’t immediately become what we will be, but we will never again be what we used to be.
When a person comes to faith by God’s Spirit and we say “I do” to the question: “Do you put all your hope and trust in Jesus as you Savior and King” several things change immediately. We
- Change our destination from Hell to Heaven
- We move from bondage to sin to freedom from sin’s power
- We exchange despair for hope
- We move from being enemies of God to part of God’s family
- We move from death to life
Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he IS a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17) The moment that we put our trust in Christ, we become part of the family and Kingdom of God. We are new people and the transformation begins. We don’t have to wait until some future day to “be saved” the process has already begun. We have a new standing, a new power (from the Holy Spirit), a new heart with new desires. We have new priorities and a new appreciation for the wonder of life.
It is a mistake to talk about salvation only in terms of what happens after we die. When we receive Christ as our Savior and our Lord we are transformed immediately. In Galatians 2:20 we read “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
God’s Grace is Revealed in Practical Ways
Paul has told us that we are saved because of God’s and grace not our good works. However, once we become a child of God it will have a real effect on the way we live our lives. In verse 10 Paul adds,
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are not saved by our works . . . we are saved for good works. We don’t earn God’s grace but a person who has God’s grace will live differently. It is a subtle but important distinction. People tend to look at Christians and see that their lives are different (if they are true believers) and conclude that they changed their lives so they could become a follower of Jesus. In truth, they became a follower of Jesus and then their lives began to change.
I like the way the NLT translates this,
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Paul says we are God’s workmanship or God’s masterpiece. It would be an astounding (and arrogant) claim if we were the one making this claim. However we are not making the claim, He is. The fact that God calls us his “masterpiece” has some very practical implications.
First, if we are God’s masterpiece then we should stop moping around. We should stop acting like we are worthless. We are priceless works of God! I remember the old saying “I must be special because God doesn’t make any junk”. This is true regardless of your
- Age, gender, race, or nationality
- Your physical health
- Your mental acuity
- Your appearance
- Your skills and abilities
- Your social or economic standing
- Your scarred (or resplendent) past
No matter who you are, or what your status, if you belong to Jesus then you are His masterpiece. You reflect His greatness. It is a transforming truth!
Second, since this is true, it should change the way we view each other. We not only need to see that we are God’s masterpiece . . . but also that our brothers and sisters in Christ are masterpieces as well.
If you walked into an Art Museum and looked at art displayed, you would see the beauty of some of those works of art immediately. Other pieces might take some work to appreciate. However, they are all considered masterpieces (at least by the curator of the gallery). So it is with our fellow believers. We may not immediately see the beauty in others but it is seen and cherished by the Father.
C.S. Lewis made a powerful statement in this regard.
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . . .there are no ordinary people.
Paul not only says we are masterpieces, he says we are masterpieces created for a purpose. We were created by God for the purpose of doing good works. The Greek word for “do” here means “to walk about in”. In other words these works are not occasional acts but a new orientation for our living. They don’t have to be extraordinary acts, they can be everyday things done for the glory of God.
Think about a homeless person you might meet on the street. You could give the homeless person a couple of dollars to get something to eat or you could give them a job in your company. If you give them a job you could actually change the direction of the person’s life. Their life may not change overnight, but with each subsequent paycheck that person will have the opportunity to move toward independence and a new life.
God is not interesting in simply giving us a few dollars so we can feel better for a brief time. He wants to change the direction of our lives forever. He sets us on a new course. He gives us a new job. He teaches us new skills and practices. Over the course of time we will begin to see a real change in the way we live.
Consequently, the first reliable indicator of genuine faith is a new orientation in life. Instead of rebelling against God’s guidelines we begin to embrace them; instead of being absorbed by selfish ambition we begin to see the need of those around us; Instead of living life for the trinkets of this world we begin to long for the riches of Heaven.
If you want to know where you stand with Christ, look at your doctrine and your life. Do you believe in the true Jesus? Do you see and embrace the fact that we are made right with God through God’s grace alone? Is there positive change taking place in your life? Are you moving toward godliness? These things are true of the true believer.
This is an amazing section of the Word of God. And if you understand what is being said there are some conclusions we can draw.
First, Since salvation is of grace and not tied to our “record” it means you too can be saved. How many people do you know who feel they are not good enough to warrant consideration for Heaven? They have had a spectacular failure, repeated sin, or a “hidden life” that they would never want to admit. Whenever someone says “I don’t think I could ever be good enough for salvation” we always reply the same way: “You are right . . . . but neither am I”.
The gospel is not meant for “good” people (because there aren’t any). It is meant for sinful people who are willing to cling to the One who alone can save them. So here is the question: Are you one of those people? Are you willing to stop trying to impress God (and everyone else) with your goodness and instead receive His gift of grace on your behalf? I encourage you to stop pretending to others and lying to yourself. Let down your guard and let Him love you and make you new.
Second, The People who will have the most difficulty with grace are those who are the most esteemed in the world. A story is told about a church that reached out to a wide variety of people. They had witnessed amazing conversions.
On one occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling at the communion rail beside the very judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. This burglar had been converted and become a Christian worker. As they knelt there, the judge and the former convict seemed to be unaware of each other.
After the service, the judge said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said, “Where did you see that grace?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it was natural for the burglar to receive God’s grace when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was his hope salvation and joy. He knew how much he needed that help.
“But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. I thought I was doing well. Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.
Like any of you, I too grew up in the church. I was blessed by parents who made worship, Sunday School, and youth group a priority. As I looked around at others I tended to believe I was one of the “good people” of the world. Like this judge, God had to awaken my heart to show me that even though I was in the church, I was still far from Him. Thank God for His mercy and His amazing grace.
If you have never responded to the message of salvation and new life I ask a simple question: Would you like to receive this grace today? Have you been given the faith to take the hand of Jesus and say,
“I trust you Lord, for my salvation. I receive your forgiveness for my sin and ask that you begin the process of remaking me by your Holy Spirit.”
In that simple moment of sincere faith your life will be changed. You will become a masterpiece of His grace. You will start down a path that will lead you in a different direction. As you take each step you will experience God’s grace and see its wonder more clearly. I encourage you to begin that journey today.
Truth faith is not just something you “believe”; it is some ONE that you follow. It is practical not merely academic. Let me give you an example: You might testify that you think a particular teenager is old enough and responsible enough to “babysit”. However, faith is demonstrated when you actually entrust your children to their care. You may tell others that I am a good carpenter (which would indicate you don’t know me at all!) However, real faith would be when you hired me to do a repair at your own home.
We can recite the creeds, sing the songs, and even nod with approval as the Word of God is being explained. However, true faith is revealed when we are willing to “bet our lives on Jesus”. True faith is when we show that we have stopped living by our whims and desires and have, by His strength, begun to follow in His way and according to His purpose.
I encourage you to memorize Ephesians 2:8-10. Hide these precious truths in your heart. Meditate on this concise yet clear teaching so that you will not only understand the truth but hopefully live it. When you embrace (or are embraced by) God’s grace I warn you that will see others differently. You might even stare at yourself in the mirror and marvel at what you see. Why? Because you will see reflected in that mirror a masterpiece that amazes you and changes you. What you see will lead you to worship and give thanks. You will bow with wonder not at the masterpiece, but for the artist who created and continues to create by His life-changing and eternity-altering grace.