In Ephesians 2:4, we’re told that God saved us because He was rich in mercy and because of his great love with which he loved us.
In other words, it had nothing to do with who we were and everything to do with who God is. He alone has the power to not only forgive someone but actually bring them back to life. Paul says that even though we were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ.
If we look back at our key verse, verse 10, that’s exactly what Paul means when he says we’ve been created in Christ Jesus. We’re a new creation, we have a new being, a new life in Christ.
New Life in Christ
It’s hard to put into words exactly what’s happening here. I’ve heard it described as being similar to a caterpillar that goes into its cocoon for a bit and then out it pops, a beautiful butterfly. It’s transformed—changed from something rather ugly to something beautiful.
But that doesn’t quite capture what Paul is describing here. If we think about it, a caterpillar always had the potential to become a butterfly. It was created with the DNA and ability to build a cocoon for itself and grow the wings and everything else.
But the Bible is clear. We had nothing. We had nothing to give to God. No good works, no lovable qualities that made God bend the rules a bit for us.
But God made us alive. He created us again in Christ. That kind of newness, that kind of re-creation, can only come through Christ. It can only come through being connected to the only perfect one who paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to.
It Took A Cross
That’s what we received when he died that horrible death on the cross. We got his righteousness. We got his perfect record. He took on our guilt and our shame and we got his perfection and a clean slate before God.
In another one of Paul’s letters, he describes it like this: “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13–14)
You’ll notice how legal-sounding his language is. It’s the kind of language you’d hear in a courtroom. Paul does that on purpose. He wants to communicate the full weight of what’s been done for us. Our debt is paid. Our death sentence has been removed. We have a new standing before God. Not because of anything we’ve done but because of what Christ has done.
We’ve been forgiven, and now when God looks at us, the words “Not Guilty” are over us. In order for this to be true about us, in order to receive that new standing, to be made a new creation, we must acknowledge that we bring nothing to the table. We come with empty hands to receive the gifts of a gracious God.
Paul shows why that’s important in in the end of verse 8 leading into verse 9. He says that this forgiveness, this grace, is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one can boast.
That word ‘boast’ is a bit unfamiliar. It’s not really a word that we use outside of reading the Bible these days to be honest.
It's similar to bragging or bigging yourself up. But it’s a bit more than that. It’s not so much about bragging about your accomplishments but it has more to do with where you find your identity.
The risk that Paul sees here is that if we as Christians start to believe that we somehow earned our salvation based on how we lived our lives before Christ, then that automatically translates to how we view the significance of our lives after Christ.
It’s similar to what I said before about faith. If we believe that we had to make faith happen in order to be saved then we’re going to believe that we need to continue to make faith happen in order to stay saved.
It's the same with our works, with how we live our lives. If we believe that there was something about us, something about our lives that earned us our salvation, then the Christian life after we’re saved becomes all about keeping up those good deeds, keeping on doing the right thing so that God doesn’t change his mind about us.
Again we see that Paul really gets the hearts of his readers here. He knows what we’re like. He knows that our automatic response to the gospel is to try to earn it, to try to live up to it. We say “Ok, grace was a gift, and I didn’t earn my forgiveness but now I have to live up to it. Now I have to make sure my life is different and I act like a Christian”.
But that’s exactly why he adds verse 9. He could have just stopped by saying “it is a gift of God” and that would be true. But Paul was desperate for both the believers in Ephesus and us today to understand that good works do not come from us.
He strips away every possibility here of us thinking that any of this comes from us because he wants us to realise exactly what he means when he says that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works.
That leads us to our second point. Point 1 was ‘we were saved by grace’ and now we’re on to point 2, ‘to do good works’.
’To Do Good Works’
Let’s think for a second about serving. Now if we’re honest, the thought doesn’t immediately fill our hearts with joy. The word ‘serving’ obviously come from the word “servant”. My first thought when I think of a servant is to think of Downton Abbey.
You may hear “servant” and I think of a second-class citizen, people of lower status separated from their upper-class employers. It may seem very old-fashioned and far away but in reality we know that serving or service is still very much a part of our lives now.
We have service industries and service organisations that help people when they’re struggling. Right now relief and aid organisations all around the world are gathering together to help the people of Ukraine. They’re doing that because we can all recognise that Ukraine needs help and we can and should step in and do our part.
In fact, in order for this conference to go ahead, many people have had to step up and serve in many ways in the background, sometimes for months in advance in order for all of us to be here today.
We know as humans that serving is a part of life. In the book of Genesis in the bible, we read that we were actually created to serve God. God created the world and everything in it and he gave humanity the special responsibility to have command over the world and take care of it.
This brings glory to God as we live out the purpose he gave us. But when sin came into the world, everything got derailed. Now we rebel and push back against the responsibility God gave us. We don’t want to serve him, we want to serve ourselves instead.
But this is where everything changes through the power of the gospel. As new creations with a new identity in Christ we also have been given a new heart to live for God. This is what Paul means when he says that we are God’s workmanship. We’re hand-picked and hand-crafted by God as his new creations. He maps out every moment of our lives leading up to our salvation and every moment afterwards. He molds us and shapes us, he allows specific circumstances and people to affect us throughout our lives as he teaches us who he is and shows us our need for him.
For Paul it’s one, flowing motion of God’s saving grace. God saves a person, he changes and uses that person, and then finally he glorifies or honours that person by uniting that person, joining that person to himself in love forever. This is the process that every Christian goes through as a result of what has happened inside us, as a result of the new life that we now live.
God does this in us to bring glory to himself and to (amazingly!) use us to do his work on earth. It melts my brain a bit to think about, but from the moment we’re saved until the moment we die God’s purpose for us is for us to carry out his work on earth. He could choose to do it another way but he’s chosen us to be the messengers of the gospel and the light in the world that will draw people to Jesus.
Perhaps even more amazingly, Paul says at the end of verse 10 that God prepared these good works for us beforehand that we should walk in them. God planned the ways we would live for him before we were even saved.
None of it is random. It doesn’t depend on us making sure we get it right. Every moment of our lives we have a God-given opportunity to serve God and serve the people around us. Every unexpected spiritual conversation you’ve had, every opportunity you’ve been given to love your children, every time you’ve set aside your desires for the sake of someone else.
Every time you’ve become aware of your sin and repented of it, every time you’ve silently asked God for help when you feel anger rising up in you. Every cup of tea you’ve made for a hurting friend, every prayer you’ve prayed, every tear you’ve shed for the lost . . . all of it is meaningful.
All of it is given meaning by a loving God who is shaping you and using you for his glory. To serve God is to enjoy him with our whole lives.
This is part two of a series on ”Saved to Serve.” You can read part one here.
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.