This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 22nd, 2012. There is no audio for this sermon
We normally think of our lives as just one darn thing after another, or of stories of how we overcame hardship, or failed to overcome it and are now stuck in some rut. But there is so much more going on than that. In the first two chapters of Ephesians, Paul has been giving Christians an IMAX-sized view, as it were, of our redemption by God. These verses refresh our perspective, reminding us that God has saved us by his love, so that we will become his masterpieces.
Widescreen 1: You Are Saved By God’s Gracious Love, Not by Being Good Enough
The first perspective that needs correcting is “Here’s what makes me right with God.” Paul paints a vast picture of God’s overflowing love and graciousness, and then he summarizes the Ephesians’ lives and the lives of all humanity without God: stuck in sin, thinking they are alive but actually dead to what really matters, pulled this way and that way by their own sinful desires and by the larger forces of the world (2:1-3). But God, who is “rich in mercy,” has redeemed us and forgiven us despite our lack of care for him or his priorities. That’s grace. Throughout Scripture, we see that God loves to save and forgive, and use for great things, those who don’t deserve it…and not just those who “sort of don’t deserve it but are basically nice,” but those who are “total failures or nobodies, and the last people we’d expect to make it to the guest list.”
Paul underlines this in verse 8, in case nobody was paying attention to the previous chapter-and-a-half: “You are saved by grace through faith; and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…not of works, so that no one can boast.” See how he said the same thing in several different ways? “It’s God’s one-way love that we accept; it’s not from ourselves; it’s God’s gift; it’s not because of awesome things we did or rules we kept; no one can brag about being saved.” And people do brag about being saved…even if only to themselves. Whenever I think that God loves and saves me because I successfully kept the rules, I become a Pharisaical judge of all those around me. Learn to spot that tendency rearing its ugly head in you, combat it by taking verses like this one to heart. God’s grace—his undeserved love—is what puts you in a right standing.
Widescreen 2: We Are God’s Masterpieces (Not Trash), Designed for Good Work
At this point in the passage, there’s a tendency for us to absorb this great truth halfway, and think, “That’s right. I’m nothing, but God loves me anyway and has forgiven me,” and stop there. Because we think of salvation as something that happened “once back then,” we forget that it’s still happening. See, it’s true that God loves us despite our deadly flaws. Yes, God loves us despite how unimpressive we must look to him and often to each other. Yes, he continues to love us throughout our lives with him, despite how “prone to wander” we are. But he isn’t leaving us where we are…he has big, big plans for these broken tools he has saved from the trash heap! See verse 10: God is remaking us, through Christ, to do good things that he has mapped out beforehand for us to do.
We are, Paul says, “God’s handiwork.” God’s craftsmanship…God’s custom-built pieces! Is that how you are used to thinking of yourself? Is that how you are used to thinking about your life? It needs to become our perspective: God is remaking us, fixing what’s wrong and showing us what part we get to play in his plan to bring healing and justice and beauty to the world.
This remaking process can be uncomfortable…it can take us to places we’re not expecting to go, because any process of remaking or re-creation will involve changes, additions, and removals. But we have God’s promise that he will keep to the task until it is completed, and he has our good in mind.
How do you find out what “good works” God has planned for you to do? Begin with the relationships and circumstances where you are right now: your interactions with your own family, roommates, co-workers, friends, and neighbors provide opportunities to build up or to tear down. Your community and the larger world have plenty of needs and problems to go around. Look at your possessions and your skills, too: they are given in order to be used to serve others. Novelist and preacher Frederick Buechner helps us figure it out: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The good news—that in Jesus, God is turning junked pieces into a master artist’s precision tools—should tear down our pride (in ourselves) and build up our confidence (in God’s ability to use us in this world).