We’re going to be looking at a couple verses in the from the book of Ephesians. The book of Ephesians is a letter written by a man named Paul to a church in the city of Ephesus, which is in modern-day Turkey.
Paul had a very close relationship with the Christians at the church in Ephesus and he wrote this letter mainly to encourage them in their faith and remind them of the new life in Christ that they had been given.
But if you read the whole letter, you also see Paul providing instruction, mainly to do with what it should look like to live their lives as Christians.
We can see instructions for the church on how to grow together and how to love one another. We also see more individual instructions given to husbands and wives, and for children and parents.
Paul gives these instructions not to just give the church members a list of ‘dos and don'ts’, but to try to show them how the gospel—the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection—actually changes everything about who they are.
We’re talking about what it means to serve God, and in order to understand that we have to start with who God is and who we are in connection to Him.
Let’s look at Ephesians 2:10:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
There’s quite a lot there in just one verse. Certain questions arise, like:
- What does it mean to be God’s workmanship?
- What does it mean that we’ve been created in Christ Jesus?
- How did God ”prepare beforehand” the good works for which we’ve been created?
But first, we need to think about what the phrase “good works” means. What does it mean that we’ve been created for good works?
Another way to ask this would be: “What do we mean when we talk about serving God?” Does it mean that I’ve been saved to just be a good person, to be a good example?
I think we also have to make it a bit more personal for ourselves as well. I’d like us to not only be asking the question ‘What does it mean to serve God?” but also: “What would it look like for me to serve God where I am?”
I think there’s a lot of things that keep us from serving God or even knowing what that means in our lives. I’ve come up with a couple things here and maybe you’ll be able to identify with a couple of them.
Perhaps you don’t have a clue where to start, maybe you don’t feel like you have any gifts or skills to use, or perhaps you’ve got this constant, nagging feeling that you're not doing enough, or you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others and the ways they serve God. Perhaps the problem is just laziness. You might be here today and you’re stuck in a cycle of feeling discouraged or burnt out in serving or maybe it's just become a duty for you, a task that you feel you have to tick off your list.
Perhaps you’re fighting a feeling that people are watching you, that everybody’s observing you to see whether you’re really serving God or not. Or maybe you’ve looked at your life and how little you do for God and you’re wondering, “Am I even saved? Has God really changed me”
If I’m honest, I’ve struggled with every single thing on that list, sometimes all in one day. But I think that if we look a bit closer at what Paul has to say in Ephesians, that'll help us sort out what God actually says about us and how we are to serve him.
So let’s look back at our passage now. I actually want us to look back a couple verses and study Ephesians 2:8–9 as well.
Those two verses are going to help us really understand where we stand with God.
I have two pretty simple points for us to think about today that I think sum up what Paul wants us to take away from these verses in Ephesians.
- We are saved by grace
- To do good works
And then at the end we’re going to talk a bit about what that looks like in our daily lives and our churches back home.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from you, it is the gift of God, not from works , so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10)
How We Are Saved
We’re going to go through this as a whole to figure out what it means but just notice for a second that word, “works” coming up again.
We’re seeing Paul connect two thoughts about our works together here. The first is that our salvation is not from, nor because of, our works. And the second is that we’ve been created to do good works.
Let’s try to figure out how these two statements fit together. Looking back at verse 8, Paul starts off by saying “For by grace you have been saved through faith”. Paul is explaining here how a person is saved, how a person receives the gift of salvation. He says it’s by grace.
Who’s grace? Well, the second part of the verse answers that for us. He says, “And this is not from you, it is the gift of God.” So the only way anyone gets saved is by God’s grace.
Now that may seem like a pretty obvious statement, but let’s dive a bit deeper here. Paul didn’t have to include the second part of verse 8. He could have just said “For by grace you have been saved through faith” and that would still be true.
But I think Paul knows the hearts of his readers quite well here. He would have known that there is temptation to believe that our faith in God, the faith that we need to believe in Him, needed to come from us.
That we needed at one point to have faith, to summon up faith within ourselves in order to believe in God, to believe the gospel. But he’s very clear here that our faith, the faith that has saved us was not from us but it was a gift from God. Maybe that’s a new thought for you. I think often we can separate in our minds our salvation and the faith that is needed for salvation.
It’s easy enough to accept that we can’t save ourselves, right? A drowning person can’t throw themselves a life-ring, can they? So that makes sense in our head. But often, I think we believe that the pressure is or was on us to have or get that faith in Jesus, to have the faith in the gospel in the first place.
But first of all, that isn’t the case according to Paul, which we’ll look at more in a second But secondly, that leads us down a slippery slope doesn’t it? If we were responsible for the faith that led to our salvation then that means that we’re also responsible for the faith that keeps our salvation.
That somehow, we have to get up each day and make sure that we have enough faith to keep trusting in God and his promises. If you’ve been a Christian for almost any length of time, you know that that’s pretty much impossible isn’t it?
We might have seasons where our faith feels strong and following God seems easy but probably more often we feel as though we’re only just barely holding on by a thread. But what’s wonderful here is that Paul knows that and more importantly God knows that.
Look at what Paul says about it a little further back in chapter 2. Let’s look at verse 4–6. Paul says “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”
Look at how Paul describes us here. He calls us dead. He says that before being saved we were dead in our trespasses, the word ‘trespasses’ there just means that we were dead in our sin.
We weren’t physically dead of course but we were spiritually dead. It’s not that we were drowning, needing rescued. We were already cold and dead at the bottom of the ocean and we needed to be resuscitated.
Dead people can’t somehow earn God’s grace or his love through faith, and that’s why we have to cling to the truth that our faith is a gift from God.
And why did he give us this gift? We will look at that next week.
This is part one of a series on ”Saved to Serve.” Stay tuned for further blogs in the weeks to come.
The author of this blog, Rachel Parenteau, is the women's worker at Charleston Community Church in Dundee. Find out more about the gospel work happening there by clicking here.