Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why it's Good that God Prepared our Works Beforehand

A week or so ago, during one of our staff meetings, Kevin and I listed seven reasons why the truth of Ephesians 2:10 is good news. Here's the text of 2:8-10:

"For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. Not a result of works so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

Please take a moment and let this sink in--the last time you shared the gospel, served your spouse, taught the truth, picked up trash, helped the poor, or whatever "good work" you did, in Christ, the Bible is saying God had already prepared that for you. You did not think it up, he did.

If this strikes you immediately as good news, you're probably not thinking very well about it! (Please don't take that as an insult, I just happen to think it's true.) As a friend of mine has said to me several times lately, "If I give some expression of love to God only to find out he himself had prepared that expression for me and caused it to come about, it doesn't seem to me like an authentic expression of love. Why would God do things that way?" My friend was thinking.

What follows is not a full and satisfying answer to these questions. It is simply the musing of two pastors who believe the Bible, love it, and know that understanding what it teaches, on its own terms, is the path to true joy.

1. This is good news because it removes self-centered boasting from our hearts and mouths and replaces it with boasting in God alone. This is perhaps the most important reason why this teaching is good news.

2. It's good news because the path to walking in these works is communion with God. I don't have the time to develop this argument but here's what I mean: we are not pre-programmed robots. God causes us to walk in the things he's prepared beforehand by means of our connection with him. We draw close to him and he to us, we hear from him through the Word and prayer, and then we obey. I'm not saying we get verbal commands every day from God as to precisely what we ought to do, but I am saying that communion with God is the foundation of walking in the good works of God. I'm really tempted to develop this point, but I'd better move on. If you have confusion about what I'm trying to say, though, please ask me to clarify.

3. God is holy to the core of his being, and therefore the works he has designed for us are perfect and pure and right and pleasing to him. One of the reasons our good works are filthy rags before the Lord is because they're developed by profoundly flawed beings. But since God is profoundly without flaw, his works are perfect, and this becomes a source of great joy as we walk in them.

4. God is wise beyond imagination, and therefore he skillfully designs works that perfectly fulfill all of his purposes in the world. God knows precisely what is needed, and how much of it is needed, to fulfill any purpose he has, and thus in designing our works he has guaranteed that they will play their part in fulfilling his purposes.

5. In preparing our works, he also prepared our fruit, and in this way God has guaranteed his glory, the good of others, and our joy. We can rejoice in these works God has prepared because we know--we know--they will produce lasting fruit! (See John 15:1-11)

6. As one of my spiritual "fathers" used to say, where God guides, God provides. Therefore, that God has prepared our good works is good news because along with those works comes all the necessary grace to perform them. Were we to create our own good works, who knows if we would have the energy, patience, tenacity, etc. to complete them (2 Cor. 9:8).

7. Finally, that God prepared our works beforehand is good news because it makes us very bold--humble before God and others, but bold. It makes us unafraid to give ourselves passionately to whatever he's set before us because we know that his works in his way WILL produce his fruit! Who will stop him?

I hope these several thoughts have encouraged you. I'd love to hear your feedback, questions, comments, arguments, whatever. But most of all I hope you take these things before the Lord and come to rejoice in this God so great that he would disperse abroad the riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7).

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