March 7, 2018
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:10
St. Paul is contending against those who say that their “salvation”—that is, their acceptance by God—is the result of their “works” (Ephesians 2:9), what they have done in obedience to the Law of Moses (Galatians 2:16). He turns this way of thinking completely around on them. Far from our own workmanship somehow earning God’s favor, before we can do anything we ourselves are already God’s workmanship. The Greek word Paul uses, poiema (literally, “a made thing”), has given us the English word “poem.” We are God’s works of art, by virtue of the fact that he, the master workman, has created us. In the beginning, he shaped us as a potter shapes clay (Jeremiah 18:6). “The LORD God formed man of dust from the ground,” we’re told, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). But Paul has in mind instead a makeover, such as God shows the prophet. “I went down to the potter’s house,” says Jeremiah, “and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:3-4). Spoiled as we are by sin, he has re-created us “in Christ Jesus,” for—as the apostle says elsewhere—“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is God’s good work, the purpose of which is that we should imitate him by doing good. The “good works” that he has “prepared” for us “beforehand” are not the deeds themselves, which are ours to perform. Rather, they are opportunities for us to prove that we are in fact his workmanship. It all comes back to obedience. “My beloved,” Paul writes to the Philippians, “as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).