Saved by Grace To Do God’s Work

 

starry-night-van-gogh.jpgFourth Sunday in Lent – March 12, 2018

Numbers 21:4-9  • Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22  •  Ephesians 2:1-10  •  John 3:14-21

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 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.

Ephesians 2:1-10 New Living Translation (NLT)

In this week’s reading, we find ourselves in Ephesians 2. Paul shares the Gospel with the church in Ephesus.  There is so much packed into these 10 verses.  I tried so sum them up quickly but ended up writing a paragraph as long as the verses themselves. Let me see, if I can try to do this in bullet point style:

  • Once we were dead in our sins – disobedient to God – and under God’s wrath
  • God – rich in mercy and love raise us to life in Christ by his grace.
  • We are examples of God’s grace and kindness
  • We are saved by grace when we believe
  • Salvation is not something we can earn (because we would take credit for it)
  • Salvation is a gift from God
  • We are God’s masterpiece (made new in Christ)
  • He saved us to do his work – that has been planned for us for a long time.

There, that summarizes those 10 verses in 8 points.  An even shorter summary is in the title.  In our very me-centric culture, it might seem that God saves us so that we can be better people.  However, it is very clear in these scriptures that we were dead in our sins and unable to help ourselves.  We don’t like to hear the words that Paul writes here – we don’t hear much about God’s wrath anymore.  Yes, we talk about God’s love, but here Paul tells us that we were subject to God’s anger or wrath because we were dead in our sins.  Paul reminds us here just as he does in Romans that all of us who are in the church were sinners at one time and incapable of helping ourselves – after all we were dead in our sins.  That could be very bad news. It doesn’t sound like there’s much hope in being subject to God’s wrath.

BUT GOD

I love how the tone changes. Paul sets up the bad news, but then reminds us of God’s great love and mercy. He says, “God is so rich in mercy.” Of course God is…and that’s what makes all the difference…yes, we were subject to God’s wrath…but he had a plan…a plan that was put in place from the foundations of the earth…Interestingly enough, Paul does not mention the cross in this passage, but the resurrection.  Paul says that even though we were dead in our sins and subject to God’s wrath, he gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead!  WooHoo!  Salvation and grace is a work that God does in us through Christ.  It is not something that we can do on our own.  If we could do it on our own, we would only mess it up.  But for those who believe that Christ died for our sins and believe that God raised Christ up from the dead…we will be saved and salvation belongs to us – not because of anything good we have done – after all, we were dead in our sins. Salvation is a gift from God – a gift of God’s grace.

Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we too can be raised up from the dead – the deadness of our sins – because of God’s grace.  When we are raised up from the dead, we are united with Christ and then….we become his trophies…trophies of his grace…what is a trophy of grace?  We are held up as examples of God’s incredible wealth of grace and mercy and kindness to us – who were dead in our sins and incapable of following God.  We can’t earn grace – we can’t earn salvation, because it is a gift from God.  Because if we could earn it….like I already said…we would mess it up…Paul says that we would boast about it.  In another passage, Paul tells us that the only thing worth boasting of is the love of Christ and his saving power (that’s my paraphrase by the way.)

Even more amazing….is the fact that we who were once dead in our sins…have been made into masterpieces.  I’ve included a masterpiece at the top of this post.  It is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the work of the Impressionists.  I think their work is awesome.  There are many great artists out there and they have created masterpieces.  When we think of their work, we stand in awe.

Did you ever think of yourself as a masterpiece created by God? Whether you think that or not, you are God’s masterpiece.  God created you – and he created you uniquely – there is no one like you and he created you for his purpose to do good works for God.  God had a plan for you from the very beginning…we weren’t so able to follow it…but he desires that we place our faith in him, so that he can create us new, so that we can do good things for him.

I love the way Keith Green put it so many years ago:

We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ.
He calls us to offer up ourselves a living sacrifice.

We are his workmanship — we are his masterpiece.  We have been created to do good works for Christ…those good works don’t save us…but they are fruits of our love for Christ.  I had forgotten about this song by Keith Green, but included it below.  Go out and be God’s masterpiece.

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