Friday, July 14, 2017

We Are God’s New Creation in Jesus Christ

https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/9357786924/
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Last time, we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9, at the patron/client relationship in Paul’s day, at the nature of faith as faithfulness when the object of faith is a person, and considered that faith/faithfulness is not our own doing but the gift of God’s grace. My belief is that the faith/faithfulness through which we have been saved is the faithfulness of Christ himself.

As we come to verse 10, we should remember that it is just as much about salvation by grace through faith/faithfulness as verses 8-9 are. Paul does not switch gears but continues his thought. This is indicated by the Greek word gar, translated as “for,” which connects to the previous verses. But the salvation aspect should also be apparent to us by the remainder of verse 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In the patron/client relationship, marked by “grace” and “faith”, there was an expectation that good works would follow. So, in verse 10, Paul speaks good works. But notice whose works these are: “We are God’s handiwork,” Paul says. The Greek work for “handiwork” is poeima and refers to something that has been made or done. We are God’s workmanship, God’s doing, and not our own. This is not only the reality of our creation, it is also the reality of our redemption. We are, Paul says, “created in Christ Jesus.” We are part of God’s new creation in Christ. If any man be in Christ, Paul says elsewhere, he is a new creature — the old has passed away and now there is new creation! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are created in Christ Jesus “for good works.” The NIV wording is misleading — “which God prepared in advance for us to do” might sound like God preordained a to do (or to don’t) list for us to follow. But that misses what Paul is talking about. Having been saved by the grace of God through the faithfulness of Christ, our new life in Christ does not now collapse back down into moralism.

The Lexham English Bible does a better job here: “which God prepared beforehand, so that we may walk in them.” What God prepared for us beforehand was not a moralistic list but the good works themselves. This is why Paul does not say that we should do them — the only doing here is God’s — but that we should walk in them. Because we are God’s workmanship, these good works are God’s works, not ours.

Paul speaks of this divine work in his letter to the church at Philippi: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). And a little bit later he tells them to continue to “work out” their salvation, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). It is God in us, willing his will and desire in us and then energizing it in us.

Because we are created in Christ Jesus, these “good works” are his works, not ours. Our part is to walk in them, to live in what God has prepared and what Christ has done, to yield to the life of Christ in us, and to the new creation we are in him. In Galatians, Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith [faithfulness] of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 KJV).

We may also think of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) manifesting the life of Christ in us. This fruit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) is not something we generate ourselves — fruit is not something we clip onto the tree but comes forth from the life of the tree. It is the Holy Spirit who brings forth his fruit in us.

All of this is God’s work through and through — the work of God, the life of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit. Our part is to walk in it, yielding ourselves to it in faith. It is purely by the grace of God that we are saved through the faithfulness of Christ. And by faith, we come to know God through Christ, to embrace who Christ is in us (and who we are in him), and begin to live out the reality of God’s new creation.