Last Sunday I preached my first sermon since graduating Bible College, on Ephesians 2:1-10. It is an amazing passage about God’s grace, and there are a lot of deep truths in those ten short verses, so it was hard to keep the sermon down to 20 minutes. For this post, I want to dig just a bit deeper on one aspect of God’s grace, and how it relates to our desire to do good works.
Ephesians 2:1-10 shows us clearly that we are not saved by good works, but we are saved to good works. We’re saved by God’s grace, and then commissioned by Him to do good works in grateful and joyful response to God’s gift of salvation. This is completely counter-intuitive – our human tendency is always to try prove ourselves by our good works, to feel like we deserve to be saved.
Even if you’re a Christian who knows all about God’s grace, the temptation will still be there: we try to good works to prove ourselves to God. Sure, we need forgiveness for sins, but maybe if we try hard enough, our sins won’t be that bad, and so our salvation will really be more of a joint effort between us and God, rather than His free gift of grace.
But it’s foolishness. Regardless of how hard we try, we’ll alway be in need of God’s forgiveness. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
When we try to earn salvation by our own good works, we’re letting our pride get in the way, and frankly, we’re insulting God and His grace.
Imagine if you were in huge debt. You had no chance of ever repaying the debt, and you were in absolute poverty as a result. You are stuck, with no way out, and you know it’s your own fault. But then, to your great surprise, a relative comes along and completely pays off your debt! At great cost to themselves, they’ve freed you from your trap of debt.
But then, you try to give your relative back some loose change to repay them. You let people know that you helped repay the debt, that it was a joint effort. Wouldn’t that be just pointless, deceitful, and insulting to your generous relative? They paid off a debt that you never could have, and yet instead of humbly and gratefully receiving it as a gracious gift, you tried to take credit for helping to pay off the debt.
Well that’s what it’s like when we think that our good works contribute to our salvation. God has already paid our debt in full, and it was entirely His gift of grace. So let’s humbly and gratefully receive his gracious gift, and acknowledge that our own good works are mere loose change – they could never have saved us.
So we’re not saved by good works, but we’re saved to good works. We do good works not to earn our salvation, but because God has saved us by His grace and freed us to do good works. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).