Paul also says we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (v. 10). So far in Ephesians 2:1–10, all the discussion about our works has been negative. We are not saved by works (v. 9). Our deeds were transgressions and sins (vv. 1, 5). We lived to gratify the cravings of our flesh (v. 3). But here we see that God wants us to do good works.
Why affirm the value of good works now? The text has been so careful to say that our works do not save us. Paul has meticulously demonstrated that they have been pushed to one side. Why now suggest that works are part of the equation?
The answer has to do with the placement of verse 10 in the argument. Now that Paul has made it abundantly clear that we are not saved by our works, we can address the right place for works. They are not for salvation, yet good works matter. Once we have been created in Christ Jesus, we are able to live in a way that pleases God. It was not possible to please God while we were mindless zombies, obedient to the evil one and trapped by our own desires. But now that God has made us alive with Christ and saved us by his grace, we have become new creations. We no longer belong to the evil powers that held us. We belong to Christ.
Belonging to Christ means that we can live in a way that pleases God. Our works can be good. (Notice that our works were not called “good” until verse 10.) So believers should seek to please God in the way we live. We should strive to serve God. We should consider how we are acting in this life. We should seek out the good works that God has prepared for us to do.
In fact, when Paul says we have been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” this is literally, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to walk in.” Yes, we come back to walking. This occurs only in verses 2 and 10 in this passage, providing a contrast between two types of walking. The first is the “zombie walk,” as the spiritually dead walk in their sins and trespasses. The second is the walk of the spiritually alive, who walk in good deeds pleasing to God. All human beings will walk one way or the other. We will either walk like zombies, following the world, or we will walk in the way of Christ.
One encouraging aspect of walking this new way is that God has already planned ahead of time the good deeds he wants us to walk in. It’s hard to know how specific this is. Does it mean that God has planned every good deed for every Christian? Or does it mean that God has planned the good deeds (in general) that his people (as a group) will walk in? It’s probably both/and. Throughout the Bible, God’s plans and actions show a concern for the one and the many. He cares for the group and the individual. You can’t have a group without individuals. The one and the many go together. And so, God has planned a way (in general) for us (as a group) to walk in. As members of that group, we each will walk in the particular good deeds God has prepared for us.
This means that even our good deeds are given to us by God. God doesn’t just save us by grace and then leave us to our own devices. We are saved by grace, and we live by grace. God plans the good he wants us to do, and he enables us to do it. This is truly encouraging. We do not need to beat ourselves up for not doing enough good in the world. Nor do we need to worry about whether we are doing “the right” good things. God has arranged the good deeds we will do, and we should take comfort in that. He is in the driver’s seat, and we are glad to go where he takes us.
If we truly understand God’s grace, it will change our lives. But to understand his grace, we must first comprehend the depth of our sin and our complete spiritual deadness prior to receiving God’s grace. Only then can we appreciate that being made alive with Christ is an act of pure grace. It is the sheer gift of God that he raises the dead and gives us new life. We have been made anew, no longer trapped by the world and the devil to mindlessly walk in rebellion against God. We now belong to him, having been seated in his very presence in the heavenly realms.*
Now that we have been made alive with Christ, we are able to walk in a way that pleases God. We have been created for good works. We can walk in the deeds he has prepared for us to do—not to gain our salvation, but because we are saved by grace.
If we truly understand this, nothing can remain the same. The burden of sin and guilt has been lifted. Our feelings of inadequacy are now quenched. We may rest secure in the overwhelming love of God and in his abundant mercy. We know the true freedom of God’s grace.
Grace: Grace is a “free gift.” When God saves us by grace, it means that he saves us from the punishment we deserve, and he does this “for free.”
Sin: Sin is rebellion against God. We rebel against God by wanting to live our own way apart from him. We rebel by making ourselves boss, when God is the rightful boss of our lives.
Salvation: Salvation is to be rescued from something. Salvation in the Bible means being rescued from the punishment we deserve for rebelling against God.
Reconciliation: To reconcile is to fix problems in a relationship. Instead of remaining enemies, two people repair their relationship. Instead of being enemies of God, we become members of his family.
Transgressions: A transgression is breaking a rule or a law. Transgressions are a type of sin (see above).
Ruler of the kingdom of the air: The ruler of the kingdom of the air is one way of talking about the devil, or Satan. The kingdom of the air is part of the spiritual realm the devil has influence over.
Flesh: The flesh is our “sin nature.” Not just our bodies, but our bodies influenced by ungodly desires and motivations.
Participation with Christ: Participation with Christ is sharing in the key events that Jesus went through: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It means we “hitch our wagon to his wagon.”
Resurrection: Resurrection is coming back to life after we have died.
Ascension: Jesus ascended when he was taken up into heaven after his resurrection.
Coming age: The coming age is the period after Jesus’s return. After judgment day, and after bringing about the new heavens and new earth, the “coming ages” is when we will live with God forever.
Works: Works are actions done to earn something. Works can be anything good and helpful, but will not earn God’s approval.
Seated in his very presence in the heavenly realms: Being seated in the heavenly realms means that we are spiritually with God and Jesus. While we still live on earth, because we participate with Christ (see above) we are also “where” Jesus is.