Saved for Good Works

Ephesians 2:8-10

(A sermon preached on November 5, 2006, at Jack Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia)

This morning, we will take a brief look at the grace of God in saving us and the purpose of that salvation. This message is fundamental to the Christian faith, but one that so many Christians miss as they get side-tracked and lose sight of what Christ has done for us.

Grace - Grace has been defined as "God's unmerited favor," and that is a good definition. It is often contrasted with "justice" and "mercy."

Justice is getting what I deserve;

Mercy is not getting what I deserve;

Grace is getting what I don't deserve.

You will notice that Paul speaks of our salvation in the past tense: "for by grace you have been saved&ldots;" Salvation can be considered in three phases; past, present, and future. Here, Paul is referring to the legal transaction that has occurred in the past. But it is more than that. I am not a Greek scholar—in fact, I don't know Greek at all. But my pastor does, and when I shared my notes for this sermon with him, he helped me understand how difficult it is for the Greek to be translated in this instance.

When God declares us righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ, a judicial act occurs that is taken care of on our behalf in the heavenly courtroom. In theology that act is known as justification. Justification is a once-for-all action that is never repeated. This is where the difficulty in translation comes in, because in the Greek, this is called a perfect passive participle. Literally it says, "For by grace you are, having been saved through grace." This perfect tense is reflecting past action with present results. So, with this, let us continue.

It is because of justification we can lay claim to being "born again." The important point of my message today regarding justification is that it is a legal act on the part of God, and it never needs to be repeated, because the action of the past is continuing right now and will continue forever. It is forever. It is a declaration by God Himself concerning you and your relationship with Him. Amen!

Of course, as you probably realize, there are two other aspects of our salvation. There is the present salvation that we as Christians are experiencing daily. It is called sanctification. This is the process whereby we are being saved. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12b-13 to "&ldots;work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." Some people take this verse to mean that works saves us. I am going to show you today that is not at all what this verse means. Instead, the meaning of this verse is that the works you do are your own works—not the works of another. You are responsible for your own works, and you cannot interpret the works of another as to whether they are good or not. Notice that we are to do this with fear and trembling. Why? Paul tells us why—each of us has an assignment from none other than God Himself!

You see, God takes the fact of our assignment from Him real serious. It is no small matter that you were brought into being when you were—no matter when that was. God is the unique Creator and He accomplishes His will using us. It is a blessed reality that He uses us, and it behooves us to realize it.

Just so we can close the loop in this area of discussion, there is a third part of our salvation—a future tense. It is called glorification, and I will not be commenting on that, other than to mention that when your life on earth is finished and God calls you home to Heaven, you will arrive there PERFECT. That is the glory of glorification. This old body is NOT going to heaven! No, I will have a new, glorified body, and we really don't know very much about all of that. Praise God, He has saved us, He is saving us, and He will save us—a process so sure that in Ephesians He speaks of us as being in the heavenly places, and He speaks in the present tense! That's how sure our salvation is, brothers and sisters!

Going back to our verse in Ephesians 2:8, our salvation is a fact. We received that salvation through faith. Now, let's talk about this for a moment. Do you know that everyone has faith? A simple illustration of that is that when you sit in a chair, you assume—by experiential faith—that it is going to support you. So, all of us exercise faith. But the faith that is spoken of in this verse is special. You probably have memorized this verse, but you may not have ever noticed this little phrase: "&ldots;and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Often times this phrase is interpreted to mean that our salvation is the gift mentioned. But, that is not it at all. It is the faith that is the gift. You are given the ability to believe as a gift from God! Jesus says in John 6:44 that "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day."

The next time some unbeliever that you are witnessing to tells you that he will come to the Lord whenever he pleases, you just tell him that he will only come when the Father draws him—and the decision is not his to make at all! Salvation is all of God, from the beginning to the end. We have absolutely no part in our salvation at all, other than to receive it by grace!

Now the proof of what I am saying, that the gift is faith and not salvation itself in this verse is found in verse 9, which continues the sentence. "&ldots;not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Everyone wants to work for their salvation. We express it that way quite often, until our theology gets set straight. We think that we have to do this or that to be pleasing to the Lord. We wonder if we are in His will, and fret because we cannot tell. He does not come out and tell us whether we are doing what He wants us to do or not. We are almost slaves to wondering if we are pleasing God or not. Friends, this verse should put an end to that!

The point is that none of us have anything to boast about, regarding our salvation. We cannot do anything to earn it. We cannot do anything to merit it. We cannot even come to the Lord on our own. Why? Paul tells us why a few verses earlier in this chapter: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (2:1). You see, a corpse has no ability to respond to anything. You were DEAD before you be-came ALIVE! Think about it. In the normal course of life in this world, we think of being alive first, and then dying. But, in God's realm, we were dead from the beginning, and then made alive.

What is life? Our dear Savior tells us what life is in His High Priestly prayer: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent" (John 17:2). You began living—and that life is an eternal life—the moment you came to Christ. Amen.

Well, where does works come into all of this? I'm glad you asked that question. I will tell you the answer. It is found in the next verse, Ephesians 2:10. "For we are His workmanship&ldots;" Whoa! Think about that for a moment.

You are unique. Do you know how I know that? Because there is not another person exactly like you anywhere in the world. In fact, you are so unique that no one exactly like you has ever existed! You know, we know our God is infinite, and we can tell that just by His creation. You have trees here. You can tell what kind of tree it is by the bark, general height of the tree, and especially by the leaves. But, are you aware that every single leaf on every single tree is unique? No two leaves are alike. They are close enough that by a cursory examination, you know what kind of leaf they are, but no two are the same.

What about grass? The same thing. Every blade of grass is different. You could crawl around a fine meadow all day and never find two blades of grass exactly the same! Now, what does that tell you about our God? Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork." In other words, the creation itself declares God, because of the uniqueness of everything He has created.

So, how do we apply these things to our subject today? You and I are the workmanship of God. Each of us are unique, and each of us have a unique calling, a unique purpose to fulfill, a unique reason for being in existence. Praise God! He has a purpose for your life!

Not only are we God's workmanship, but we were "&ldots;created in Christ Jesus for good works." Now, do you see where good works comes in? There is a relationship between our salvation and works, but it is not what many of us have thought. Salvation does not come through works. Works come as a result of salvation.

You know, my experience with the Lord has been that His is an up-side-down world! The way we think things are is just the opposite of the way they actually are! The ways of the world are just backwards from the ways of a Christian.

So you can see that you have been created for good works. That is, you were brought into this special creation of salvation, in order to do good works. Your works do not save you, but they demonstrate the fact that you are saved. A Christian who has no good works is not a Christian at all! His works will be burned and he will be left destitute. It will be discovered in the end that he never was one of us. The Apostle John warns about this kind of thing in 1 John 3:19, where he is speaking of those who come into the church under false pretences. "They went out from us; but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that [or, in order that] they might be made manifest [or it might be revealed about them] that none of them were of us."

Well, the fact that you have been saved and are demonstrating it by your works is a valid thing. You see, the rest of our verse proves this: "&ldots;which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Does this phrase just blow you away or what? You might ask, "You mean, brother John, that God decreed before I was born the works that I am to do?" Yep, that's exactly what I mean.

You see, God has it all worked out. He has certain things that He wants accomplished in this world, and He has chosen to use us to accomplish them. In fact, it is Christ that is actually accomplishing these things, because we are created in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit is dwelling in your heart. I am sure that you know that. But do you know that the Holy Spirit is none other than the Spirit of Christ?

Think of it this way: When Jesus was present in this world, He was limited to time and space, just as any other human being is. Oh, I know, He could walk on water—but He could not be in more than one place at a time. Yet, He needed to be. So, He set in motion a wonderful thing that started in eternity past. He decreed every moment of time and space and everything else. Thus, when you were created, you fit in exactly the place He placed you.

Have you ever wondered why you were born when you were? Have you ever wondered how God selected your parents? How He selected where you live? Your country? The time of your birth? Each of us fit exactly into the creation that God planned for us. None of us had anything to do with when we were born, or where we were born, or even who our parents would be.

Notice what it says here: "&ldots;which God prepared beforehand&ldots;" See, you may think that the events of your life are sudden and surprising. They are—to you! But not to God. Not only does God know everything about the past and the present—He knows everything about the future, as well. Even the day-by-day events of your life! In fact, it is in those day-by-day events that He gets the most glory, because you have the opportunity to work with Him and bring Him glory every day.

What did Jesus say was the most important thing to Him, when He was here on the earth? "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son does in like manner" (John 5:19). Doing the will of the Father was the only priority that Jesus had.

Now, if you don't get anything else that I say this morning, please get this: As a Christian, your only priority is the will of our Heavenly Father. He has placed you where you are. He is in charge. But you do not have to worry about the will of God. Staying close to Him by reading and applying the Word of God is all you need to do! We often think that the day-to-day things of life are mundane and unimportant. Nothing is unimportant to God. His purposes are accomplished as we simply serve Him each day.

As we conclude this message, I would like for you to consider what I have said this morning. Each of us this morning are in one of maybe three phases of life. First, it may be that you have never entered into a relationship with Christ, and all of these things are foreign to you. I urge you to come to Christ. Confess to Him that you are a sinner. Ask Him to save you this morning. Repent—that means to turn away from your sin—and turn to Christ. Seek the help of your pastor or deacons or other church leaders today and come to Christ.

Second, it may be that you are a Christian but you have wandered from Christ and are feeling isolated. You may have sin in your heart caused by a bitterness toward another person or from something in the past. Come today to Jesus and refresh your relationship with Him. He will receive you again, for you are still His child. He will not turn away anyone who has a broken heart.

Third, your relationship and fellowship with God may be wonderful and you are rejoicing with Him today. Praise the Lord. Ask Him to help you reach out to someone else and pray with them or for them. Thank the Lord for His faithfulness and His grace in your life. God loves a cheerful, thankful heart and will always receive such a person.

Let me pray for you, and then I will turn the service over to our pastor.

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Copyright © 2006, by John E. LeHew, Sr.

Bible text is from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.