Good Works

by Catherine McNiel on February 28, 2020

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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 2:1-10

Yesterday we read how Martin Luther, having spent his life imagining himself dead in sin and facing an angry judge, was utterly changed by reading Paul’s words in Romans about being saved by grace. I think today there are those of us who have spent our lives imaging ourselves dead in sin but saved through grace—but still haven’t heard the full story. 

Sometime during my college years, I read Romans 12:1 and experienced a shock like I imagine Luther felt reading Romans 1:17.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 

As we’ve seen this week, a dead person can do nothing to come alive again. That’s the mercy and grace Paul speaks of, the grand gesture of unrelenting, unearned, unlimited love God has for us. But now that we’re alive again, there is so much for us to do. In fact, this is why God brought us back to life: to do the good works He prepared for us to do. We are alive, but we are living sacrifices, offered back to Him. 

The fact that we are saved by grace does not mean God wants us to sit around. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are saved, brought to life, adopted as sons and daughters, in order to join God’s team, His family, His redemption project.

Do my children need to earn my love before I will give birth to them, care for them as infants, give them a home and a place in my family? What a crazy question! What can an unborn baby or infant (not to mention sperm or egg) do to earn my love, or the right to be born or adopted into my family? And yet, my dearly loved children can’t just sit around watching television and reminding each other of my love: they need to do the dishes, share their toys, do their laundry, treat the family with respect, work hard at school, love their neighbors, make sacrifices that benefit others. Not to earn my love or a place in the home: that comes free and clear. They must work now because they are part of the family. 

We don’t work to earn God’s love. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work. We work because, entirely outside of our own efforts or worth, God made us alive in Christ and gave us work to do. 

His Kingdom is coming, and we are the ones brought to life to work alongside Him. What greater gift could there be than an invitation to work with God to bless the whole world?

Questions for reflection and discussion: Do you get stuck between grace and works? How can you work for God from a foundation of grace? What has struck you in this week’s readings? What will take away into your week—and into your life?

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