The Question of Works

Ephesians is a short book with six chapters, but I’m taking the time to savor it a few verses per day, to dig deep, and to follow wherever my questions lead me. I write my thoughts in a journal, and sometimes I share them on this blog. If you haven’t attempted this kind of Bible study, I highly recommend it.

Ephesians 2:8-10 brings up the question of “works” that causes so much contention among Christian denominations:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Context

Paul’s letter was written to the Gentile Christians who were being pressured by the Judaizers, Jewish Christians who believed Gentiles must first follow the law of Moses so they could be considered righteous.

Paul denied that Gentile Christians needed to obey the works detailed in the Law of Moses: the rite of circumcision, the sacrifices, the dietary proscriptions, the observance of clean and unclean, the regulations and commandments. Paul stated that observance of the Law could save no man because no man could observe the Law perfectly.

Verses 8 and 9 are frequently taken out of context to mean that there are no required actions in order to obtain salvation or to keep it, and likewise, there are no actions that can cause us to miss out on salvation or to lose it. Certainly, it is God who saves us, and we have nothing to boast of except the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. However, we mishandle scripture if we twist this verse to mean that we may be saved or lost through no choice of our own.

Hearing with Faith

Belief is an act of submission—a conscious choice–as is repentance and confession and baptism. Even listening to the word of God is an act of submission and acceptance, for how can we believe except we hear the word of God? “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17

Similarly, in the letters to the Galatians, Paul directly addressed the pernicious teachings of the Judaizers to the Gentile Christians and made these statements in Galatians 3 about hearing with faith:

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 3:1-3

And again in Galatians 3:5-6:

“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?”

Ephesians Written to Believers

We should be careful not to misapply the meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9 beyond it’s original context, a letter written to Jewish and Gentile Christians who had been baptized into Christ, as recorded in Acts 19. When viewed in it’s proper context, we see the central question is: Can someone “earn” their salvation through “works?” Paul’s response was, “No.”

Created for Good Works

However, at no time does Paul negate the need for “works” in the Christian faith. In the same breath Paul denies the need for works of the law and insists on “good works” ordained by God. Even Christ was ordained to work, as he said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” John 9:4

The work of God is to save those who hear with faith, and the work of the believer is to do good works “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

If you have not already “put on Christ” in baptism (Galatians 3:27), consider that God has given you that invitation today.

My Related Posts:

Heavenly Considerations (more thoughts on Ephesians)

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6 thoughts on “The Question of Works

  1. I’ve been looking at Ephesians verse by verse on my blog. It is amazing how much richness we can find in Scripture when we slow down and read only a verse or a couple of verses at a time. Be blessed today and bless someone else!

  2. Pingback: Jesus Welcomes the Profane | Christ's Reflections

  3. Pingback: Prisoner of Christ Jesus | Christ's Reflections

  4. Pingback: Christ is Our Peace | Christ's Reflections

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