For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (verse 10)
We have just heard Paul joyfully affirm that our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. It’s not by works. Nothing we could ever do in our own strength could earn salvation for us.
But now, in this very next breath, he tells us that there are in fact “good works” for us to do. What gives?
I think of Adam and Eve in the Garden prior to the Fall. They were there purely by grace. They certainly hadn’t created themselves, nor had they worked hard beforehand to earn their place in Eden. They actually had no previous track record whatsoever! They were simply brought into paradise, fully alive, by the sheer gift of God. It was only after that initial act of creation that God commissioned them with work – good work – which was part of the gift of paradise itself. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28). The work was good; it was a calling that would provide purpose and yield joy. The accomplishment of the work was not the precursor to creation, but rather the result.
So, too, for us in the new creation. Good work doesn’t get us birthed anew into salvation, but once birthed anew, good works are the joyful outflow.
Indeed, it was for this very reason we were created. “We are God’s workmanship,” Paul says, using a Greek word that comes into English as our word “poem,” giving a sense of the artistry and craftsmanship involved. A piece of art carries something of the character of the artist. A craftsman puts his own distinctive touches into his handiwork. A Stradivarius is not just a violin, it’s a masterpiece. God has crafted us on purpose, with purpose, which is itself part of the gift he has bestowed on us in the new creation in Christ.
So, what are we to do? How are we to respond? Where do we get inspiration for the “good works” we’re to do?
Again, we’re dependent on the Lord himself. It turns out that he has “created” good works for us – that they have been “prepared in advance,” saturated in the forethought of Almighty God. Since Paul has already told us we ourselves were chosen “in him before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4), it seems these good works have been on the books for a very long time! The implication is that there will be joy and purpose when we step into them.
Indeed, “step” is exactly the right word, for what Paul literally writes comes out clearly in the English Standard Version (ESV): “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I love the image of walking. It’s so ordinary, yet determined. Not heroic, yet persistent. But more, walking is an activity that allows an ongoing sense of discovery – moving forward, with eyes open for each next step, we begin to uncover all that the Lord has dreamed in advance for our lives.
Isn’t it amazing that we are his workmanship, that he values us so much? Oh, the tragedy of missing out on any of it. But, oh, the joy of taking another further step.
Lord, thank you that I have been in your sights since before the creation of the world. Thank you that from eternity past you have had good works in mind for me to do in Christ Jesus. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear and ongoing sensitivity to your Spirit’s guidance that I not miss any of what you have prepared. I offer myself to you, one step after another.
Reflect: What “works” lie before you today that you already know the Lord has called you to step into? How will you keep eyes open for anything else he has in mind which you haven’t yet anticipated?