May 2, 2013

What Are the Good Works God Has Prepared for Us?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10 reveals that we have been "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." This raises an obvious question: What are the good works God has prepared for me?

Many of us would be inclined to answer this question by pointing to specific things Christians tend to do as an expression of their faith. Good works would include: attending worship services, praying regularly, studying Scripture, giving generously from our financial resources, joining a small group, going on mission trips, caring for the poor, working for justice for the oppressed, loving our neighbors, and so forth. These are surely among the good works God has prepared for us. We rightly engage in these activities as people who have been transformed by God's grace through Christ.

But, if we think of good works only in these terms, we miss the extent to which God's plan for our good works is much broader and deeper. Our translation explains that we are created for good works, "which God prepared in advance for us to do." The Greek original reads more literally, "which God prepared in advance, so that we might walk in them." The language of walking was used by teachers in the time of Paul in the way we might talk of living or engaging in a certain lifestyle. In other words, the good works of verse 10 are not obviously religious activities scattered throughout an otherwise secular life. Rather, the good works encompass the whole of the Christian, all that we do by God's grace for God's purposes.

Ephesians 2:10 is similar to other passages of the Pauline letters that envision all of life as lived through and for God. Romans 12:1, for example, says, "I urge you ... to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God." This offering takes place, not in identified temples, but in everyday life. Similarly, Colossians 3:17 proclaims, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus."

Therefore, though it's certainly right for you to invest yourself in the life of your church and to engage in works of outreach for the sake of the poor, the oppressed, and those who don't know God's grace in Christ, Ephesians 2:10 would encourage you to learn to see your whole life as an interconnected series of good works offered to God. This means that your good works can include that which you do at work, in the classroom, on the football field, in your neighborhood, and in your community associations. If you're a boss, part of your good works involve the way you manage your employees. If you're a parent, your good works include making dinner for your children as well as praying with them as you tuck them into bed. The more we grow in our faith, the more we see ourselves as God's masterpieces, the more we will indeed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, by his strength, under his authority, and for his purposes.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you tend to think of your whole life as an offering of good works to God? Or do you tend to think of your good works mainly as activities that are obviously religious? How might your life be different if you began to see your whole life as an offering to God?

PRAYER: Gracious God, I find the perspective of this passage exciting, compelling, and counterintuitive. My culture and even much of my Christian experience have taught me to divide my life into the "stuff for you" and "all the other stuff." I am learning to think more truly and inclusively, to see my whole life as an offering to you.

Help me, Lord, to walk in the good works you have in store for me. Help me to be open to all that you would have me do. Teach me to see my whole life as you see it. By your Spirit, may I come to see every moment of every day as an occasion to do good works—including good work—for you. Amen.

 

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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