For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of 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 ESV)
People are saved from the penalty of their sins, which is eternal separation from God (we call that hell), not by living a more-or-less good life but having faith in God’s grace. Our so-called good deeds don’t count for anything towards our salvation. We’ve learned this over the past few days. But that does not mean there is no place for good works in our lives.
One of the reasons God saves us is so that (the “For” in today’s verse) He can turn us into something else. The Greek word translated “workmanship” is ποιεμα (pronounced:poy’-ay-mah). It is the Greek word from which we get our English word “poem” and was used in the ancient world to describe a work of art. The NIV translates this word as “masterpiece”. Just like an artist takes a slab of dull, ordinary rock and creates a sculpture, God takes woeful, spiritually dead sinners and turns them into something alive and useful.
The result of God’s transformation is good works. Notice that good works do play a role in the life of a child of God, but only after we are saved. We are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works. God saves us and transforms us so that we can do good things on His behalf.
Like a butterfly is no longer a caterpillar, a saved person is completely different after being born-again. That person still sins – sin is still present in our world and our bodies and will be on this earth – but they hate it. They work to eliminate it from their lives. Instead of desiring to live selfishly (the root of sin), a saved person wants to live for Jesus out of thankfulness for the price He paid to free us from an eternity in hell.
All this brings God glory as our sphere of influence – our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers – see our transformation and realize that the change in our character could only come from Him. Our change in behavior supplies proof that God exists and that He does work for the good of people. This will hopefully encourage others to choose to become one of God’s children too.
Good deeds are not proof that a person is going to heaven [Matthew 7:21-23]. Even non-believers do good things. But good deeds do prove whether someone is truly saved [Titus 1:16, 2:11-12; James 2:14-26].
God’s love is a transforming love. The life of a person truly saved will not be the same as it was before. God’s purpose in saving us is not simply to bring us to heaven while we continue to live a rampantly sinful life on earth. God saves us so that He, like a sculptor, can make us more like Jesus [2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29].
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