NRS Ephesians 2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
I was struck today by the implication of this verse; that we are what he has made us and that the placement of good works in our lives is not the source or starting point of our salvation, but rather they are the end or goal of being made anew in Christ Jesus. Further, and I quote, “To say that God has prepared the good works in advance in his sovereign purpose is also to stress in the strongest possible way that believers’ good deeds cannot be chalked up to their own resolve, but are due solely to divine grace” (Lincoln, WBC, 116).
I wonder how such an evaluation plays out for those who are not in Christ and who still purportedly do “good works?” Are their good works also only possible by the grace of God, even though they would not acknowledge him as the source? Even still then, this seems to not allow for a reversal of the previous verse in 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through [good works], and this is not you own doing; it is the gift of God” instead of “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” If then both good works and faith are as a result of divine grace, is one better than the other?
At least in this verse, Paul seems to place the primary emphasis on faith. If it is God’s grace that allows us to choose him (whether by predestination or prevenient grace) and if it is God’s grace that moves us toward good works, then it is all by grace, and no one can boast (cf. 2:9). At least from this verse, it might imply (at least in the life of the believer) that good works have always been apart of God’s program of salvation, never attached on as something separate, indeed those made new in Christ, are God’s “good work” or “workmanship,” and so there is really no such thing are as believers (or anyone?) doing “good works” apart from the grace of God, i.e., our good work is really his good work. And so, are those who are trying to earn salvation by throwing good works on the scale simply offering up these good works that have only been made possible by the grace of God in the first place? In this case then, trying to be saved by our “own” good works is not really an option; we have nothing to offer God, which later in Romans 12 leads Paul to say, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”
Ultimately, we can take comfort in the following quote from Karl Barth, “the distinctive thing about Christian or theological ethics is that we do not have to do any carrying without remembering that we are carried.”