Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
We are His workmanship. The truth of this text explains the precious truth contained in two previous verses.
Saved by grace. And nothing but grace. “By grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8a).
Because it is grace, then it cannot be works. At least, not our works—not human works. “And that not of yourself: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).
Because it is grace, it is God’s work. Not only is salvation God’s work, but those who are saved are God’s work—”his workmanship.” That the saved ones are God’s workmanship explains why salvation is not of us, but of God and of His grace.
It took nothing less than a divine work to save us from death in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). It took a divine work to make us alive with Christ, to raise us up with Christ, and to make us sit with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-7).
It is only when we realize the greatness of God’s work which saved us that we will walk worthy (Eph. 4:1-3). We do not live the Christian life in the church, in the home, in the work-place, in the midst of this evil world (Eph. 4-6), unless we first have a true understanding of what it is that makes us a Christian.
Salvation in Christ is entirely the work of God. The saved ones are “his workmanship.” It is a work of God. Not man’s work. Not man’s decision. Not the result of man’s efforts.
In the context the inspired apostle is presenting the reason for the tremendous change in the life of the Ephesians, a change which Paul also had experienced. The Ephesians went from death to life, from being dead in sins to being alive unto God in Christ—because God did a mighty work in them.
This clearly implies that we do not make ourselves to be Christians. This should be so obvious that it should not have to be said. However, given our human natures, which always want some credit for self, it cannot be said too often. We are not saved as a result of anything we have done. Nothing whatsoever! God alone is the Workman. He is the Potter and we are the clay pots, fashioned by Him.
The word “workmanship” speaks of a forming or fashioning that is in harmony with a plan or purpose. The word always implies a predetermined purpose, which serves as the standard according to which a work is performed and accomplished. Also, this word indicates that God is directly at work, as with His own hand. Each of the vessels of honor are worked on directly by God. He determined a design and purpose for each. And then during their lifetime He continuously works on them. God uses all things to shape and mold the vessels of honor into conformity with the image of His dear Son.
Think of it! You are God’s workmanship. There is no more exalting statement that can be said of you. This is the truth about each Christian and about the church as a whole. The more we think of ourselves in this way, the more we will walk worthy of the name “Christian”!
In order to emphasize that salvation is God’s work, the apostle is inspired to use the word “create.” Only God creates. No one else can.
The work of making a Christian is nothing less than a creation. A Christian is not just a morally good person. A Christian is not just an improved person. A Christian is a creation of God in Christ Jesus. God came to us when we were spiritually dead, and He put the life of Christ into us. God, the Workman, brought something into being that was not there before. There is nothing more wonderful than realizing that we have been fashioned by God Himself—and that for His glory. And there is no greater travesty than to think that we saved ourselves by something we did.
The first creation—of this universe—was a display of God’s power. Our spiritual re-creation is a display of God’s grace in addition to His power. The first creation was earthly and serves a temporary purpose (even if it is already 6000 years). The second creation is heavenly and will endure forever.
We are God’s creation “in Christ Jesus.” Repeatedly Paul uses this brief expression in this epistle to describe the intimate union that exists between believers and Christ. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior are told that they are blessed in Christ (Eph. 1:3), elected in Christ (Eph. 1:4), redeemed in Christ (Eph. 1:7), and have an inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:11).
First, our creation is in Christ Jesus because it is only in Him that we have the right to become new creatures. Through His sacrifice on the cross, He cleanses us from all the guilt and pollution of our sinfulness and of each sin. He who was delivered unto death because of our sin was raised from the dead, because through His death we had been completely justified (Rom. 4:25).
And, second, our creation is in Christ because the essence of this creation is the life of Christ being implanted into us. We who were spiritually dead toward God are made alive toward Him, when the life of His Son is implanted within us. God makes us Christians by applying to us that which He has done for us in Christ. It is the Spirit of Christ which is the instrument God uses to regenerate us, to justify us, and to sanctify us. We receive His very life when His Spirit is given to us. It is all in Christ, so “of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). We receive the benefits of His death and resurrection.
It is all of God in Christ. It is all of grace. It is not of us. It is not our work.
When God performs His work of re-creating someone in Christ Jesus, He has a glorious design. The ultimate design is the gathering together of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). God intends that each re-creation be fitly framed together unto a holy temple, a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:20-22). That is God’s ultimate design. God’s near design for each re-creation is the performance of good works. We are created in Christ Jesus “unto good works.”
God saves us unto good works. In Adam we were created to do good works in the service of our Creator, but we lost that ability completely. Our fall into sin took from all those who were represented by Adam the right, the ability, and the desire to do good. Consequently, all of man’s works became evil. Everything man does has the goal of bringing all things into the service of self. Nothing man does arises out of faith. Nothing man does is in an effort to obey God’s law. And nothing man does is aimed at the glory of God. No human being has the ability anymore to do good works.
What a change God made when He re-created in Christ Jesus! Those who are in Christ are saved from doing only evil! By grace, God has re-created us. This creation is in Christ Jesus. And this creation in Christ is unto good works. This clearly implies that our being God’s workmanship does not make us stocks and blocks, i.e., inanimate and inactive. Rather, those who are God’s workmanship are made active in the performance of good works—because a part of salvation in Christ Jesus is the restoration of the right, the ability, and the desire to do good works. Admittedly, our old man can easily, and quickly, contaminate this desire by twisting us, pretzel-like, so we begin to think that our good works are payment to God or should receive some reward. Nevertheless, the grace of God which creates us in Christ Jesus creates us unto good works; and this grace works in every believer the desire to thank and glorify Him for this salvation.
While man may call good many of the things he and his fellowmen do, only God is the Judge of what is good and what is evil. The good works unto which He created every one of His children are those which arise out of a true faith, are in harmony with God’s law, and are unto the goal of the glory of God. These good works are loving God with our all and our neighbor as ourselves. They are acts of repentance and self-denial.
God is interested in good works. Not in man’s good works, but in His own good works. The good works which God created us to do are the ones He has “beforeordained.” We, as persons, are before ordained (in the divine decree of predestination), but also our good works are before ordained (in the divine decree of providence). God not only decreed predestination, but also providence. In His decree of providence God ordained (or determined) absolutely everything that takes place in the whole of His creation throughout all time. This obviously includes our works. God prepared our good works in His counsel. He chose not only our glorious end in heaven, but also every step of the way to that end. Each step is prepared to fit perfectly in our walk through this life. Between regeneration and glory are good works. While our good works do not save us, they are designed by God to be the fruit of our salvation—of our being created in Christ Jesus.
It is in the way of these before-ordained good works that we “walk.” This “walk” is the whole of our life from the cradle to the grave. It includes every aspect of our life. We walk in the good works God before-ordained for us. We walk in them, not as robots, but as rational, moral creatures. It is by grace that we are made to respond, but this response is something we willingly and lovingly do because He first loved us and because we are ever so grateful for His great grace.
Each day God sets good works before us. Each day we walk in them.
Of course, the experience is not that we can see ahead what God has before-ordained. What do we see? First, we see God’s law, commanding us to love Him with our all in absolutely every situation of life and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And we see saving grace (its greatness and its power), which God bestows upon us in Christ. Then the believer is grateful. Tremendously grateful. The believer’s gratitude is shown in his praying and by his walking in obedience to his loving Father. The believer is made willing in the day of God’s power. He willingly and actively seeks to do God’s will in every way.
Then afterward, the believer looks back and realizes that His sovereign God was working in him both the will and the ability to do good works. This is God’s workmanship. The believer obeys in gratitude. And his obedience consists of precisely the good works God ordained that he should walk in them. The believer is ordained (Acts 13:48). And the good works of the believer are ordained.
Paul wants the blessed saints in Ephesus to know this, to be consciously aware of this. The reason he wants them (and us) to be aware of the fact that they (and we) are God’s workmanship is so that they (and we) are delivered from ever thinking that they (and we) have to do something—have to be good enough—to be saved. He wants them (and us) to live and walk assured of the fullness of the power and grace of God to save, not in part, but completely. He wants them (and us) never to boast before God of our works. He wants them (and us) to glory only in the Lord.
What a marvelous work of God we are! We are His workmanship! We are His creation in Christ Jesus!