We are sinner saved by God’s grace. We used to walk according to our sinful nature but God gave us the ability live for good works. We deserve God’s wrath yet we received pardon and reconciliation. God’s grace and mercy demonstrates God’s love for his people.
We will continue studying the rest of first half of Chapter 2. We will re-examine the second sermon point namely Life by Grace from verses 4-7. Then from verses 8-10, we will end with the third point about the relationship between grace and good works which we named as Grace for Good Works.
Again before we begin, let us pray.
Life by Grace
verses 4-7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
We find here the first main verb since the beginning for chapter 2 (verses 1-3) and reads “made us alive with Christ.” The literal translation of this phrase reads “we co-alive with Christ”. Theologically, it points to the elect’s union with Christ.
At this point of Paul’s exposition of God’s redemptive work, union with Christ here speaks of Christ’s actual union with his people. It is a historical union. It is a union accomplished by Christ in his priestly mediatorial work.
Jesus Christ, the God-man, intercedes for his people. He is our only in-between. He reconciled us to God through his mediatorial work. He did it first by humiliation which means he identifies with us sinners and second by exaltation where he reconciles us to God by paying the penalty for sin and bringing us to heaven. While Paul did not include here Christ’s humiliation, he deals with it extensively in his letter to the Philippi congregation (Philippians 2). But for Christ’s exaltation, Paul mentions here we co-alive, were co-raised, and co-seated with Christ so we continue.
Co-alive, Co-raised, and co-seated were three distinct categories yet describes a similar event. In relation to us, it refers to our spiritual resurrection. It starts with our regeneration then continues with our conversion, sanctification then finally ends with our glorification. It is our semi-eschatological state. The term “semi” here did not mean half-way like a work in progress but it is like an event which the end is guaranteed because it has been inaugurated. Using an Old Testament agricultural idiom, the first fruit guarantees the harvest. As an illustration, we know World War 2 ended when the Allies lands Normandy. The V-day did not happen yet but the D-day led to it.
So in this sense, Christ’s resurrection and ascension guarantees for us our resurrection and glorification. And Paul explains we are spiritually resurrected with Christ. We now belong to heaven. We now possess eternal life.
Even with all these benefits, Paul was quick to remind his hearers two important premises. God did it even when were dead in our trespasses and he gave us all these to demonstrate the riches of his grace. It is an important context as he continues to expound on the role of good works in the Christian life.
Grace for Good Works
verses 8-10: “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.”
Verses 8-10 is considered as one of the most popular verses for Christians. It speaks of grace, faith, and good works. Evangelical Christians go here to explain how salvation is by grace and faith. Yet without the preceding verses from chapter 2 and even without opening context of chapter 1, salvation is often understood with the background of election and the reality of man’s deprivation. As a result, their message becomes a salvation made possible by faith but not as an accomplished work by God in Christ.
Another unfortunate error found in churches in their sincere desire to highlight God’s grace is antinomianism. Antinomian comes from two Greek words “anti” and “nomos” which means “opposite” and “law” respectively. Antinomianism believes Christians live no longer under any law in any sense or form. You can lead sinful lives and live without holiness yet consider yourself saved. It is an equivalent of the false teaching of Once saved, Always Saved (OSAS). As reformed Christian, we repudiate such teaching as erroneous and licentious. Whoever believe such things do not represent the historic protestant reformed doctrine of good works.
So verses 8-10 as whole teaches about good works. It relates grace with good works. No one gets saved by good works. No amount of goodness comes from our depraved sinful state. God accomplishes our salvation by his grace. So clearly prior conversion, we are saved not by works but by grace. Yet when God applies his redemptive work to his elect, they become believers and their relationship to good works changes. Grace becomes the source of their spiritual walk in this life. Paul explains this relationship in detail here in verses 8-10.
In verse 8, Paul reminds them again the primacy of grace even after their conversion. He wrote again the phrase “for by grace you’ve been saved”. Grace saves. Yet Paul added another important information. He teaches how grace gifts us with faith. The relationship between grace and faith becomes important later when he explains it effect as good works. But in the meantime, let us focus faith.
Faith, according to Paul, did not come from your own doing. We know it is the believer who believes so clearly Paul did mean God does the believing for us. Paul identifies the source as God’s grace hence he simply points faith to the ability to receive God’s redemptive work. God grants us the ability to believe. For Paul, it is a gift of God or a gift from him. He is the source and we receive it as a gift.
Faith, Paul added, is not from works. Paul repudiates any merit to faith. To merit means to earn God’s favor. Faith properly understood is not a meritorious work demanding reward but by itself a reward of grace. We are not saved by the mere act of faith but by what we believe into. And to further dispel any misunderstanding, Paul excludes any boasting that comes with work and merit. Faith, by its gracious character, is the opposite of work. It does not contain any merit nor becomes a basis for any boasting,
What then is the role of good works in the Christian life? To answer the question, we need to understand its motivation. Good works comes with true saving faith. It is the necessary evidence or fruit of true faith. When faith is present then good works is evidenced. Paul wants us to realize how in one sense good works cannot saved because of our sinful state but he also wants us to affirm how in another sense good works operates in those who are saved by God’s grace. We are not saved by good works but by God’s grace, we live for it. True faith results into good works. Faith comes from God’s grace therefore the source of all good works is grace as well. It is not for merit and excludes all boasting.
So if good works is not for us to get saved what is it good for? The goal and purpose of good works is God’s glory. It is for the demonstration of God’s gracious work. God gets glorified when his grace is most magnified. Sinful depraved sinners saved by God’s grace are enabled to give glory to God by becoming instruments of his righteousness, vessels of his holiness. Doing good works is the greatest privilege a believer participates into in this life. Verses 10 reads “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works”. To be created in Christ means reflecting God’s image in Christ. It mirrors God’s law. It ultimately fulfills God’s love. It is what we are created for. God appoints us to walk in them. We are called to perform good works for God’s glory.
In sum, good works comes from God’s grace and it is for God’s glory. All these demonstrate his power and might.
ZCRC (Imus), as saints in Christ, we were once vessels of God’s wrath but now God made us instruments of his righteousness. God saved us in order to demonstrate in this dying world how he makes everything new in Christ. Christians, we are called to walk in the path of good works not to gain merit from it nor to receive praise for it but to glory in God’s grace. May we continue to glorify God in our lives. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.