Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:10a “For we are His. . .”
“His workmanship” defines what it means to be a Christian. Believers are God’s handiwork. The possessive pronoun “His” is significant. God is the doer. He performs the work. We do not make ourselves Christians. We are not what we are as a result of anything we have done. We contribute nothing of merit to our salvation. Our role is solely to receive.
Salvation is devised by God alone. Michelangelo assumed responsibility for his sculptings from start to finish. He went to the quarry himself to select the marble block on which he would work. Once it arrived at his studio, no other hand was allowed to touch the stone, lest it be marred.
God deals with sinners in a similar fashion. Everything in us which pleases God is the supernatural handiwork of God. He goes to the quarry of rock-hardened hearts, marks out a dead stone, quarries it, breathes life into it, makes it a living stone, and begins to fashion it.
We, the blocks of stone, want to do something to help God. We yearn to merit our salvation, but each time we begin to exert ourselves to buy His favor, He says, “Stop and desist! Be still and know that I am God.” The Lord wants salvation done right and thus does it all Himself.
Eph. 2:10b “. . .workmanship,. . .”
A wonderful word from the field of art. “Poiema,” based on a verb meaning to do or to make, denotes something which is made. F. F. Bruce translates, “His work of art, His masterpiece.” The word pictures God as an Artist laboring in a workshop, fashioning, forming, bringing into being. Believers are by-products of God’s artistic genius.
Being taken from the realm of art, “poiema” denotes something orderly and beautiful, something which is being fashioned toward perfection. The relentless pursuit of excellence is the craft of the artist. Believers are God’s “Workmanship,” through which He seeks to manifest order, beauty, and perfection. He crafts us in His studio, displays us in the gallery of Earth (MT 5:14-16), and prepares us for the gallery of Heaven (EP 2:7).
“Workmanship” referred to any work of art, including a statue, a song, an architect’s drawing, an engineer’s building, a painting. From “poiema” we derive “poem,” our title for the master-stroke of literary workmanship. Poetry is the highest, most skilled, and most painstaking form of writing. A true poet strives for absolute perfection, even to the smallest syllable.
Believers “constitute the syllables in God’s great poem of redemption” (Ironside). Let us be careful lest we try to mar the Divine poems. The Master Poet dips His pen in grace, let us not blot His perfect writings with blotches of works for merit. Any effort to improve perfection only mars it.
The poet lyrically says, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” A layman distorts it by blurting out, “Hey! Romeo! Where are you?” The poet gently remarks, “What light through yonder window breaks?” A vulgar tongue utters, “I wonder who turned the light on.” Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be: that is the question” is certainly more penetrating than “Shall I kill the rascal, or not?” The poet caresses our hearts with, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” We feel crudely violated by, “Whatever you call it, its pollen makes me sneeze.”
Even as a coarse tongue detracts from poetry, we detract from God’s work when we try to merit salvation. Cease trying to improve on Divine perfection. Salvation is God’s work, something only He can accomplish.
Eph. 2:10c “. . .created in Christ Jesus. . .”
Only God can save, for it requires creation, the making of something out of nothing. Salvation is not merely assistance, or the doctoring up of our old man a little bit. Our sin nature is not improved into a better one. Salvation is a creation. Where there is nothing, God creates a new nature. Salvation requires an omnipotence which wills the material into existence.
In the first creation, in the midst of a vacuous void of nothingness, God “spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (PS 33:9). The people of God’s first creation have been marred by sin, and thus He has instituted for them His second creation. People whose lives are marred and ruined by sin can be “created” anew “in Christ Jesus.”
Our Savior, “Christ Jesus,” truly can save. A man can have a radical change in his life in a moment. This truth we hold dear. Wretched sinners can be altered in an instant. This goes against the grain of our culture. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks; you can’t change a leopard’s spots.” The new birth throws these cliches to the wind. A man can be radically changed, “created in Christ Jesus.” Though vile as Lucifer, one can be made pure as Gabriel. No sin is too huge, no sins are too many, to cripple the saving power of God. Any suggestion of overwhelming the grace of God wilts before the question, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (GN 18:14).
Eph. 2:10d “. . .unto. . .”
This preposition directs our thoughts toward the purpose of the new creation. A Creator who wills the material into existence has every right to exert absolute sovereignty over His creation. God has the right to determine whatever purpose He chooses for every thing He creates.
God has this right, and exercises it. He assigned a specific purpose to each part of His first creation. Sun, Moon, stars, planets, plants, and animals function in ways ordained by God. God also has a purpose for His second creation. Each believer has a divinely specified mission.
We are created “unto good works.” After much hesitation, Paul is finally feeling comfortable enough to discuss the role of works in a believer’s life. He has been very careful to keep works in their proper place.
In verses 7-10c, Paul has already delivered a divine decalogue extolling salvation by grace alone. He has mentioned “exceeding riches” of God’s grace, God’s “kindness toward us through Christ,” “By grace” are ye saved, “through faith,” “not of yourselves,” “it is the gift of God,” “not of works,” no one can “boast,” we are “His” workmanship, “created” in Christ. With a ten-fold blow, Paul has hammered against the doctrine of salvation by works.
“Unto” is Paul’s eleventh blow at the error. We are saved “unto,” not “by,” good works. To put works first is truly “preposterous,” a before (pre) coming after (posterous). This is contrary to nature and cannot be. To put works first inverts “the order of things. It is beginning at the wrong end. It is saying X Y Z before you have learnt to say A B C” (Maclaren).
Good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation. They are effect, not cause. Good works are a result, a consequence, of salvation already accomplished. Many try to use good works to work their way upward to Heaven. No, no, no. Believers are already seated in Heavenly places. We do not do good works looking upward toward earning Heaven. We sit already in the Heavenly places and work downwards from that blessed fact.
Eph. 2:10e “. . .good works. . .”
Now, after eleven jack-hammer blows for grace, the champion of grace speaks favorably of good works. Paul forcefully opposed works as merit for salvation, but favored works as the proof of salvation. It is acceptable to object to a thing in the wrong place, and appreciate it in the right place. Fire is fine in my fireplace, but bad in my couch. Works have nothing to do with earning salvation, but are important in their proper place.
Works cannot save us, but something is terribly wrong with any who claim to be Christian, but do not live a life which issues in good works. Works are the necessary outcome of faith. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Do not delude yourself. Be not deceived. The proof of faith is good works. We Calvinistic Baptists trumpet the belief that justification by faith leads without fail to glorification. We sometimes seem slow to champion the parallel truth that justification by faith leads without fail to sanctification. Good works are an inseparable condition of the new creation.
A believer is “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Thank you, God, for giving us a way whereby we can analyze whether or not we are saved. This is ever the acid test of Christian living, “Do you desire holiness? Are you ever yearning to be set apart to God and set apart from sin?”
Anyone who uses the doctrine of salvation by grace, or its corollary doctrine of eternal security, as an excuse to sin has never been saved by grace. One mark of a grace-saved one is absolute awe and devotion.
When someone greater or better than ourselves loves us and bestows favor on us, we know we do not deserve it. Their love is merely a gift. Nevertheless, we know we must spend the rest of our life at least trying to be worthy of that love. All of life has to become one long effort to express gratitude and to try to deserve such favor.
When we grasp the doctrine of salvation by grace, we are awed by God’s forgiveness, and find ourselves compelled to love Him and serve Him. A love which saves undeserving wretches as ourselves constrains our hearts to be knit to Him forever. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (Watts). Thomas Chisholm expressed it well:
Living for Jesus who died in my place,
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace,
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His Leading and give Him my all.