Saved by grace to do good works
- Titus 2:11-15
- Ephesians 2:1-10
Augustine who lived a life in search of fulfilment in excessive pleasures, false religions, philosophy, debauchery and distractions—futilities that left him so weary of himself he could only cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” At the very moment when he uttered that cry, circumstances led his eyes to a passage in Romans that showed him he could be freed from sin. Shortly afterward, he was baptised.
With his heart bursting with the reality of God, he dips his quill and begins, “Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and your wisdom is infinite.” He realises life ends and begins in God. Then he wrote his famous line: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
For years Leo Tolstoy searched for an answer to the question, “What’s the purpose of life?” He addressed it to many of his contemporaries. No one gave him a satisfactory answer. Then one day he met a peasant friend, who upon listening to the well-worn query, immediately replied, “To serve God.” Whereupon the Russian literary genius declared it to be the highest wisdom he had ever encountered.
David writes, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” (Psalm 119:73, NIV)
Every human being, whether admitting it or not, will forever search for meaning in life, until he understands that God made us for his purposes, and not for ourselves.
God’s original creation
God made us not for ourselves, but for Him, for his glory. Before sin everything was good, very good indeed. Then Adam and Eve thought they could improve on God’s creation, and disobeyed Him. That day they began to die. Everything went wrong: they became enemies of God; their own relationship went wrong; nature turned out to be their enemy; their firstborn killed his brother.
If sin had not come into this world everything would have been perfect. By nature we would have lived to God’s glory; we would have loved one another – yes we would haven naturally been inclined to doing good works. We would be have been able rule over God’s creation as His ambassador and representative with no resistance. We would have been freely communicating with God as He did with Adam and Eve. God’s perfect plan for his creation would have unfolded. There would not have been a need for evangelism and missions. There would not have been Sundays or days of rest, because our lives would have been brought glory to God who made us for that purpose.
What we read about the new Jerusalem in Revelation would have been everyday business for us, as it will be then – only then everything will reach full consummation.
We messed it up
The moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned against Him, death entered into this world. We exchanged God’s rulership over us for another: Satan took over and corrupted everything. The Bible calls him the ruler of the kingdom of the air. We think we live for ourselves, and in a way we do, but ultimately we live for him. Rebellion took over and we began to live for ourselves. We became the centre of our existence and instead of glorifying God we chose to glorify ourselves and our master. The Bible says:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey …(Romans 6:16, NAB)
He enslaves us and pay us wages too.
But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. (Romans 6:21, ESV)
The best we could do
What is the best we could do? Nothing good! Go with me once again to Ephesians 2. Verse 3: Instead of living to the praise and glory of the Father who created us, we were
… gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3, NIV)
All along we thought we were pleasing ourselves, but in reality we were slaves to our lusts and sins. And it is still the same with those who are not saved be grace through Jesus Christ. People want to live free? Free from what? Man would forever be a slave to sin, unless he is rescued through the righteousness of Christ through his blood. In his search for freedom man will look at different ways to express his bondage, and in the process become more and more entangled in the web of his master. In the end he will be given the wages of his labour to evil: death – eternal death.
The best we could do was to plod deeper into sinking sand exposing ourselves more and more to the wrath of God.
God did not leave us in death
For reasons unknown to us, God loved us. He gave his Son to save us. This process is described in Ephesians as an act of re-creation. We were beyond any possibility of being improved. God does not make us better people; if that was the case we could claim some bragging rights. We became new creations. What died in paradise, is made alive. Like God created out of nothing then, He did again through Jesus Christ. His original intention for creating mankind was to live to his glory; that is also the purpose in re-creation.
Let’s go through verse 10 of Ephesians 2.
The translation “workmanship” is the Greek work, when used in connection with what God does, the same word used for “create.” So Paul says, we were dead in our sins. God did something not unfamiliar with Him: He created. Out of death He created, He made, He called into existence. Do you remember the valley of dead bones in Ezekiel 37? God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the dead bones, and while he did that, God did the miracle:
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. (Ezekiel 37:10, NIV)
The same here. God created a new nation for his glory. He made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. All of this is by grace, for it is by grace that we are saved, not by works, so none of us would boast.
God promised to do so even through the prophets:
“This is the covenant I will make [create] with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, NIV)
So, says Paul, God created us, another translation then is “We are what He has made,” his worksmanship. We are the result of what He made. Most of the time I am not proud of what I do in my workshop; I throw things out because it does not work out the way I wanted them to look like; my worskmanship fails. God’s worksmaship is perfect. He speaks the word and it stands. It is interesting that, as Ephesians 2:10 puts it “we are created in Christ.” Is Jesus Christ not known as the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God!” God speaks through his Son, Jesus Christ; He creates through Christ. He has become our Saviour, being a human being like us, yet without sin, to become our righteousness as He died and rose again from the dead. United by faith with Him, we died with Him, but we rose with Him. This happens by the grace of God.
But God never creates without purpose. He created us with a purpose: to serve Him and to glorify Him. This the the meaning of the word “in advance”: He created with a purpose.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)
Paul in Romans 9 writes about God, the Potter, who takes us, the clay, and He makes what He wants with the clay. He concludes:
What if He did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory— (Romans 9:23, NIV)
… and [He] has made [created] us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:6, NIV)
What are these works He prepared “in advance”?
These good works which God “prepared for us in advance” is nothing mysterious, as if He would reveal to each of us individually something special He wants us to do tomorrow. This expression takes us back to God’s original intention and purpose for creating us. The difference is this: we messed things up, and will do so again if it only means that our Father took us back to Eden. What lies between Eden and us is the cross and substitutionary work of Jesus Christ. The grace of God is known to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7); and we are created in Him (verse 10). Good works, if not “in Him” amounts to nothing more than good works in order to be saved, and not good works because we are saved. Christ is our righteousness: He fulfilled the law of God extensively and perfectly. The good works God prepared for us in advance, are those things Jesus already accomplished in our place.
But it surely doesn’t mean that we are left out of the picture. The point is, because of Christ we are included into the picture, and involved in doing good for the glory of God. The good works God wants us to do is possible because of Christ. Let’s start right at the beginning:
This is where it begins for the sinner to come back to God.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4, NIV)
Being made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, and being put in the household of God through grace, we are now living under God’s roof as his adopted sons. His people are different from the world.
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:20–22, NIV)
Doing what is pleasing to the Father
The writer of Hebrews goes back to God’s original purpose for which man was created:
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, NIV)
To be model citizens
We in this land do not find it hard to live in submission to the government; it is not always easy in other countries. The way we submit in things lawful under the Word of God is a testimony to unbelievers. We don’t do as others who plant bombs to blow up places of government or public; we exercise our democratic duty and we pay our taxes, stop at traffic lights, and obey the speed limits. Paul writes:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…
This verse is smack-bang in the middle of Paul’s reasoning for doing good. He talks about Christ who gee Himself to redeem us, and continue, almost as if it is a logical consequence of being saved, to be obedient to rulers and authorities.
Serve one another
Being members of the household of God, adopted sons and daughters, the next comes automatically. But we always have to keep in mind our “eldest” brother, Jesus Christ, who put us in the right relationship with the Father. Because He showed us what love is, we love one another too.
to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1—2)
We display God’s goodness
In whatever we do, Christians being made new as new creations in Christ display a different lifestyle:
…those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:1–8, NIV)
We are made to work in gathering in the lost
Being a saved sinner makes of us people living and working in the Kingdom of God. His work of recreation includes making us fishers of men.
Jesus said to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17, NAB)
This “making” you fishers of men is the result of God’s re-creational work. Being evangelists and disciple makers don’t come naturally. We can only be made, create into disciple makers. That’s what the Spirit of God do. He demands of his church to obedient to this command. That’s why it is our business to go to the nations to tell and teach them about Jesus Christ who gave his life as a ransom, but who also had victory over death, hell, sin and satan.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 March 2014