Ephesians 2:10: Created for Good Works?
Ephesians 2:10 reads “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
But doesn't that contradict what comes two verses earlier: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Which is it—the “grace” of verse eight, or the “works” of verse ten?
Let’s take a closer look.
Works God prepared “for us to do”
Ephesians 2:10 starts with the phrase “For we are God’s handiwork.” The word “for” connects verse 10 with what precedes it, especially the fact that we have been saved by grace. Salvation is not only deliverance from death into life. It also involves being newly created in Christ.
The word “handiwork” comes from the same Greek word that’s related etymologically to our word poem. It means “made by someone,” a “work” of someone’s hands. The ESV goes with “workmanship.” The NRSV has “we are what he has made us.”
The next phrase—“Created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”—raises some questions. Why do good works show up so positively in this verse?
The preceding statement in Ephesians 2:8–9 is clear that salvation does not come by works. But we miss the full implications of salvation if we stop reading in verse 9. No, our works do not earn our salvation. But our salvation should indeed lead us to a life of good works, works God has prepared “for us to do.” Yes, we are saved by God’s grace. But receiving this gift means living with and for God in a new way. The Greek reads, “in order that we might walk in them,” thus ending 2:1–10 as it began, with a description of how we walk or live. When we receive this grace, we aren’t merely delivered from a bad way of living into some kind of neutral existence. Rather, we are created anew in Christ for a new way of living, a way embodied in good works.
The truth that God has good works for us to do is fully consistent with the rest of Ephesians. God chose us to be holy so that we might belong to him and be devoted to his purposes (1:3). God determined that we should exist “for the praise of his glory” (1:12, 14). In the latter chapters of Ephesians, we’ll learn much more about the nature of these good works that glorify God.
Our good works are an expression of a Christian community. We can easily miss this through an individualistic reading of Ephesians 2:10. Yes, you are individually God’s handiwork. And, yes, God has good works for you yourself to do. But that’s not the whole story. As becomes clear in the next part of Ephesians 2, God has good works for the community of the faithful to do together. In fact, you and I cannot walk in the good works God has for us apart from intentional fellowship with other members of Christ’s body, as Ephesians 4:16 tells us:
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Hope from Ephesians 2
In language that is both foreign yet strangely familiar, Ephesians 2:1–3 describes the deadly life that many of us know all too well. Even if, because we are Christians, we are no longer completely dead in our sins, we still walk according to the lethal ways of this world. We still feel demonic power drawing us into toxic behaviors. We choose what we know to be harmful in order to gratify our desires.
But Ephesians 2 doesn’t leave us with the depressing diagnosis of a living death. Rather, it offers the good news of what God has done in Christ and the hope of a different way of living. At the center of this good news is the truth that we have been saved by grace. Though we cannot save ourselves, God can and does save us through Christ.
This gospel can sound hollow to many of us, since the gospel we have heard is mostly about a great life after death. Our life in this world is relatively unaffected, except for the fine print that came along with it: a long list of regulations to rule our life. Most of us have never heard that we have been made alive with Christ, raised with Christ, and enthroned with Christ. We do not realize that when we trusted God for salvation, we became his handiwork, newly created in Christ for good works that God had planned for us.
We don’t have to settle for a driven, empty, unhappy life. Rather, we can begin to live now in Christ and with Christ. We can begin now to experience the power of the resurrection that is for us because we have been raised with Christ. We can begin now to live as God’s workmanship, contributing to God’s work in the world and, therefore, knowing that our lives really matter.
The starting point
As I write these words, there is something in me that demands, “Okay, so what should I do?” But Ephesians 2:1–10 tells me this is the wrong starting point. I should not begin with my efforts. Rather, I should begin by listening deeply to the story of God’s gracious salvation in Christ. I begin by seeing myself in this story. I begin by leaning back into God’s great love, wealthy mercy, and incomparably rich grace. I let the truth that God has saved me by grace be the foundation of my life. I start to see myself as God’s handiwork, letting this inspired vision transform my sense of identity and purpose. Only then may I take the time to consider what I might do as God’s handiwork, since there are good works God has prepared for me to do. But if you’re the sort of person who wants to run your own life, and if, like me, you rush to the question of what you must do, then you need to take time to let the story of God’s grace in Ephesians 2:1–10 sink in. Grace changes us. It changes our stories.
Let grace rewrite your story.
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