by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
If we did not get the point from what Paul said in the first chapter and in the first few verses of chapter 2, he now is going to drive that point home. As a matter of fact, Paul delights in repeating himself, not for the purpose of boring us to tears, but because he knows the great difficulty that we have in understanding God’s way of rescuing the world.
St. Paul repeatedly draws our attention to the fact that we have the blessings of God only as we are in Christ Jesus. He draws attention to the fact that salvation is totally of God’s grace; it is God’s work from beginning to end and has nothing to do with our efforts or our plans. So he comes back to that same argument again, and in these three verses (Eph. 2:8-10) he gives us the end of all human pride and boasting.
There is probably no statement anywhere in all of Scripture more important than the first seven verses of Ephesians. Paul tells us in the first three verses that we are dead in trespasses and sins and are unable to help ourselves. In other words, he states the argument negatively. He asks us to see ourselves as we are before God: totally dead in our sins. He is laying the foundation for us to appreciate the riches of God’s mercy, because if the damage that sin has done to us only needs a little Band-aid, then God does not need to do much for us, and we do not need much help. As a matter of fact, we might be able to cure ourselves. But he says that we are not just wounded a little bit on the surface. No, we are dead in our sins and in our trespasses.
So after he has in verses 1-3 very eloquently made that point of the problem of sin, he turns positively to state the argument in verses 4-7, where he tells us that a remedy has been found – not by us, but by God. God is the One who has put forward the plan of salvation. He is the one who out of His mercy has saved us from our sins. And all of this, he tells us, is for the glory of God’s grace. “For by grace we have been saved.” This is a description of what it means to be a Christian.
Before we go further in expounding these verses, I want to say very clearly that the main reason we have difficulties in our Christian lives, both individually and corporately in the Church, is that we do not properly appreciate this very point. Christianity at the very beginning is nothing less than a realization that we are dead in our trespasses and our sins, and if there is any remedy for that problem it is that God must do everything. God must send His Son; Jesus Christ must die on the cross; and the Holy Spirit must come into our lives to enlighten us, to give us new hearts, and to make us alive. If we make a mistake at the very beginning, then the further down the road we get in our Christian lives, the more problems and troubles we will get into.
Now we turn to verses 8-10. Here Paul again states the argument, and this time he turns it around. Verses 1-3 were a negative statement, and verses 4-7 were a positive statement. Now he reverses this order: verse 8 is positive; verse 9 is negative. Then in verse 10 he combines those two things. Consider first of all that we are Christians solely as a result of God’s grace. Then, secondly, consider that being a Christian gives no reason for boasting. Thirdly, being a Christian is entirely the result of God’s work.
I. We Are Christians Solely by God’s Grace
As we have already seen we are saved because of the unmerited, undeserved favor of God. This arises solely and absolutely from God’s gracious character. It comes totally by God’s initiative. There is nothing that we do. As a matter of fact, it is in spite of ourselves.
There are some people who believe that human beings come into the world and live their lives in a kind of moral neutral gear. They believe that the car of their spiritual life is sitting there idling in neutral, and while they may not deserve God’s favor, because they have not done anything good to merit it, neither have they done anything particularly bad. So if something bad happens to them, they say, “What did I ever do to God to deserve such treatment as this?” Or if something good happens to them, then they sing the little song that is in The Sound of Music: “I Must Have Done Something Good.”
Paul’s argument goes far beyond that. It is not simply that we did nothing to deserve God’s grace, but as a matter of fact, we have done everything against God’s grace and against God’s favor. God’s grace comes to us in spite of what we deserve. It is not that we do not deserve anything. We do deserve the just punishment of God. That is the point of verses 1-3. We cannot imagine anything worse than the human condition apart from God.
In verse 5 Paul repeats the fact of our deadness, and he puts it right next to the grace of God so that we can see God’s grace very clearly. If we are really dead in sin, what conclusion could we draw other than that if we are saved, it must be totally God’s initiative that grows out of His grace. Paul is doing what Jesus did when he spoke to the Pharisees. The Pharisees would say something like, “Are you talking about us?” And Jesus did not say, “Oh, no, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about somebody else over there behind the bushes.”
No, Jesus does not say that. Jesus says, “Yes, I’m talking directly to you. I’m stepping on your toes, and I’m driving the point home right to you. I’m applying this passage of Scripture to you, and you are the ones who are in trouble.” Very often preachers tiptoe around and try to avoid controversy and confrontation when, as a matter of fact, the truth of God and the salvation of the individual soul are at stake. Because they tiptoe around the truth, the Church is weak and people are not being saved from their sins. St. Paul makes it very clear. He says, “You were as dead as a doornail.” And the only conclusion you can draw from that fact is that if you are saved, it must be by the grace of God alone.
What else can Paul himself say when he looks back on his own conversion? He did not see himself quietly sitting in his house in Jerusalem, studying the Talmud and having a good time smoking his water pipe along with all his friends. At the time of his conversion Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, to throw them into jail, and maybe even to kill some of them. He was not just sitting in neutral, waiting for God to catch him. He was actually fighting against God. Jesus knocked him off his horse, and said to him in effect, “Paul, I could kill you right here in the road.” But He did not kill Paul. He redeemed him, and then He made him an apostle to the Gentiles.
Now having that as your conversion experience – meeting the Lord of Glory, in the middle of the road, while you are out trying to destroy his kingdom, and to have Him redeem you – what else can you say except that you were dead in your trespasses and sins and that you were saved solely as a result of God’s grace?
II. Being Redeemed Gives No Reason for Boasting
You have nothing to brag about if you are a Christian. You cannot pat yourself on the back and say, “Wasn’t I so smart? I figured out before hell got here that I needed to flee from the Day of Wrath and be a Christian.” No, Paul says that because it is all of grace, there is no room for human boasting. It is the end of human pride.
So I ask you, What is your idea of yourself as a Christian? How do you view yourself? Do you think of certain areas in which you would commend yourself, areas in which you are really doing pretty well and are in good shape? What is your Christianity dependent upon? What does your eternal security depend upon? Does it depend on you at all, even a little bit? If there is any room for boasting at all in your Christian experience, then according to what Paul says in verse 9, you are not a Christian, because the work of Jesus Christ in grace to save a poor sinner excludes all boasting.
Paul knew a great deal about boasting. Before he became a Christian he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. He was proud in every respect regarding his nationality and his tribe. He was a Pharisee. His religion was exemplary. His morality was beyond reproach. He had knowledge greater than everyone else. But when he became a Christian, when Jesus Christ captured him, Paul said, “I regard all the things that I had before, the things that I boasted about, as dirty, rotten, stinking dung.” Now that certainly is nothing to boast about.
The Apostle Paul knew human nature. He knew our sinful attitudes. He knew that we are always quick to boast about two things: something we have done, or that we have such great faith. We tend to look at ourselves and at our own works, and brag about them. The problem with the Pharisees was not just that they bragged about their works, but that they actually did good works – that is, after a fashion. They were opponents of Jesus Christ, they were good and religious people, not because they just talked all the time, but because they were trying by their works to save themselves. So they were boasting in their good works.
But when the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes, it strips us of all our good works. It takes away all our good notions of ourselves. It denounces our reliance upon our works and upon our pride. And we do not like that. We would like to come into God’s kingdom bringing a little bit of our own baggage with us. But God says, “No, it’s all excluded.” There is no room for human boasting in your own works, because to go that way is to walk in the way of condemnation. Even our best works are not good enough for God. Paul tells us in verse 10, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” God is the one who creates us unto good works. Let us not turn it around backwards.
The other reason that we are always ready to boast is because of our faith. There are some people who turn faith into a work. They say something like this: “The reason I am a Christian is that I believed. I have such great faith. I turned away from my sin and I now believe in Jesus Christ with great faith.” My dear friends, even though the Scriptures teach us that we must cling to Jesus Christ with great faith, even though the Bible does call us to repentance for our sins, and even though the Bible tells us that we must trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, the Bible never teaches us to believe that our faith is the foundation of our salvation. It is only and ever the work of Jesus Christ.
It is only because Jesus Christ has died on the cross for our sins, and God by the Holy Spirit has raised us to newness of life that we ever do believe in the first place. So our faith cannot be the ground of our salvation. It is Jesus Christ alone who is the ground of our salvation, and faith is only the channel by which we receive what God has done for us.
You see, if we take Paul’s argument in the first part of this chapter seriously – the argument that we are dead in our trespasses and sins – then how is it possible for a dead man to believe? If you go into a morgue and say to the dead bodies, “I have free ice cream for the first ten people who will get up and get it,” how is it possible for any of those dead people to believe that you are telling the truth? They cannot do it. They are dead. Faith is the action of a live person. So we cannot even boast in our faith.
III. Being a Christian Is the Result of God’s Work
Paul tells us in verse 10 that “we are His workmanship.” As if the point were not already clear enough, he now emphasizes it again: We are His workmanship. Nothing else but God’s workmanship would do. Paul is trying to combat our high conception of ourselves, and our conception of Christianity is too low if we think that we can do anything to make ourselves Christians. It is not even our deciding for Jesus that makes us Christians. It is Jesus’ deciding for us. It is Jesus who works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure.
A Christian is not just a good person or an improved person. A Christian is one who has had the almighty power of God work in his life. The life of God has come into his soul. Being a Christian does not mean attending church, performing duties, singing songs, and praying. All of those things are excellent, but they can never make you a Christian. They can never make you alive if you are spiritually dead.
At the beginning of the world God created everything out of nothing, and that is exactly what He has to work with when He creates a new heart in the sinner. He does not take anything you have and morally improve it. He creates out of nothing. For us to think that our good works or our moral improvement can bring us closer to Jesus only makes us into Pharisees. It does not make us into Christians. The only thing that will make a Christian is the work of God.
We could make a list of all the things that people think will make them Christians. Then we could take the list to God and say, “These are the things that we are doing. Just look at this long list of all the moral activities that we are doing.” The Bible says that when God looks at those, what He sees is a big pile of filthy rags. That is what all our righteousnesses look like to God.
The only remedy is the love of Jesus Christ working in us to bring us to God. A Christian is one who is made new after the image and the pattern of the Son of God. We can praise God that it is not of works and it is not of believing. It is nothing of which we can boast.
As Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” My dear friends, let us not glory in ourselves or in anything that we might accomplish, but let us glory only in the cross of Jesus Christ.