So, today, we are looking at a text that should be familiar to anyone who has been around Covenant Shreveport for any length of time, but we’re considering this passage today in light of our study of Romans, which we will pick back up this next week. If you recall, two weeks ago we dove into Romans 9, which is as we’ve said one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament because Paul begins to answer a question about the Jews and why some Jews have followed Christ but many have not.
The Jews from virtually the beginning of the Old Testament have been called the chosen people of God and a Messiah, a Savior, was long prophesied to be coming through their line, specifically the line of the great king, David. Finally, according to Paul, this has occurred, Jesus is saving king, and yet, many Jews then and now don’t believe. So, what do we do with that information?
Paul’s basic answer that we saw two weeks ago was this. Just because you are a Jew does not mean that you will be called a child of God. He talked about children of the flesh and children of the promise, but ultimately, the point was that one’s ethnic heritage does not guarantee salvation outside of faith in Christ. Outside of Christ there are none who will be saved.
But, Paul also speaks to God’s sovereignty, or his absolute authority and power as a way of explaining why things are the way that they are. Paul says, we know that God is not unjust in anything that he does, but we also know he does whatever he wants, whatever suits his will and good pleasure. We can’t always explain it from a place of human logic, but, to quote Romans 9:18, “he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”
Today, I want to look at what is in many ways a supplementary text to Romans 9. In Romans, 9, Paul is speaking specifically to the issue of Jewish salvation, but in Ephesians 2, he speaks more to gentiles. But, this sets the stage for a question that we will move into next week, which has to do with us choosing God. What does it mean for me to make Jesus my Lord and Savior? What role do I play in that and what role does God play. Here’s what he says:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians was probably written 5-8 years after Romans. But, notice how here in a pretty short paragraph, Paul has concisely summed up much of what he has talked about in the first 9 chapters of Romans. So, he is writing in a much more expedient way. He talks about how, prior to Christ, we were all walking around in death. We’ve seen this in Romans. Walking in death, perhaps oblivious, hopeless. Following the flesh, following the enemy, carrying out not the desires of God but, he says, the desires of the body and the mind. And, notice, verse 3, he says that because we were in that state, we were by nature, children of wrath like the rest of mankind. In other words, what we were doing was natural because we have all been born into sin.
But, then, Paul says, something changed. What changed? Was it you that changed? Was it you that did something. Did you do something outside of your nature? No, Paul says, God did something. Verse 4:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
So, you’re bebopping along through life doing what you want, controlled by you passions and emotions and desires, and then God does something. And, what God does is he shows up and extends grace. Now, look at verse 8, this is key:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
So, grace is the catalyst for or agent of our salvation. It is by grace that you are saved. But, faith in Christ also plays a critical role, but we know this, you are not saved by your ability to have faith or on the merits of the purity of your faith. You are saved by God’s grace, and I believe that God’s grace empowers you to have faith. So, we are not saved by our ability to have faith, we’re saved by God’s grace, but anyone who is saved has faith in Christ. So, how do we explain all that: “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” Again, critical point, the work of salvation is God’s work. He alone is capable of saving. Now, let me say this, I don’t think that this means that you have no role whatsoever, and this will get into the question Paul will address next week which is, if God is the one who saves, if he is the one who extends grace to whomever he wills, then do I have any choice in this? As Paul will say, can I resist this grace? We’ll consider that question next week in light of what we’ve just read.
Now, let’s get to the last verse:
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Next week, we will see in Romans 9 that God is the potter and that the potter does what he wants with what he makes. We’ve talked in recent weeks about God preordaining work, and we talked about that in light of eternity, that God through Christ has already secured the fact that we will be called His children. But, his preordaining work also extends to your life now. You have been formed by the potter. Gifted by the potter. Empassioned by the potter, and I believe that one of the big roles you play in this relationship is in seeking to move past the pull of sin, the pull of the flesh to be obedient to the good works that God has picked out for you. What great commission says is that we would go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus says, baptize them and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you. So, part of the role we play is in seeking to know and be obedient to the commands of Christ. The foundational command that Jesus teaches is the great commandment. So, in your life, everything should be measured against the standard of love of God and neighbor. But, notice also, this verse, points to the fact that God has specific work for you. And, I think God has specific work for us. And, we always what that is in a broad sense, but we discover what it is in a specific sense as we move forward in obedience. Let’s stop there for today: