Today I found myself thinking about works. What really constitutes works? At what point does our responding to God become works? Ephesians 2:8-10 makes some strong statements about works.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 KJV)
The first use of the word works is in verse 9. It is there to tell us that we are not saved by works. I know people who are busy trying to balance a cosmic scale, scrambling furiously to do good works, hoping their good works will outweigh their bad works in the final judgement. This passage makes it clear that trying to balance the scales is working the wrong plan. Our positive actions do not weigh against our negative actions so the plan is doomed.
We are saved by grace, rather than by positive works. God has offered us a gift of salvation. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty we owed for our own sins, and has offered this salvation to us if we are willing to receive it, by faith, as a gift.
But here is where theologians muddy the water. Many define receiving a gift as work. Furthermore, they would say, since humanity without Christ is described as dead in the previous context of Ephesians 2, dead men cannot do anything to bring themselves back to life. Therefore they believe God gives the gift to whomever He chooses and without any involvement by the receiver.
Let me step through some of the reasons why I agree with so much of this logic and yet arrive at different conclusions. First let me address the argument, dead men cannot bring themselves back to life. I would say amen. They cannot, and they do not. Jesus brings us back to life when we are declared forgiven, and not only forgiven, but also righteous in God’s sight. God does the work of redemption inside of the believer, we do not do it ourselves.
Being spiritually dead is a Biblical word picture. It is like being physically alive, but spiritually useless. The lost person is useless to God because of their sinful condition. It is not that they are incapable of doing anything, they spend every day doing something, but these things are of no importance, eternally speaking.
Jesus is offering to replace this useless, perpetual death with a very useful, eternal life. It is His gift offered to us, and like all gifts, one doesn’t have it, until they receive it. A gift we refuse or ignore, we do not get. As mentioned above, many people argue, if we actively cooperate in receiving the gift, such would constitute a work.
I disagree. If a man is to be given a wonderful gift, one they could never acquire on their own, he is not given credit for some brilliant accomplishment upon receiving the gift. All praise for the accomplishment goes to the giver. God gets all the praise for our redemption. Our willingness to receive what He sacrificed so dearly to provide is also to His credit. The receiver neither deserves nor gets any glory. The work of the accomplishment is not in accepting it as a gift, but in the sacrifice that secured it and the grace in desiring to give it.
Thinking, making mental choices, is not work. Following through on the choice might be work, but in this case it is Jesus who followed through, humanity is simply the recipients of the offer. Those who are willing to receive the gift are the redeemed, but not by any merit or work of their own, but by the activity, grace and glory of Christ.
I believe this moment of decision on our part is necessary for many reasons.
Without it there is no relationship in our relationship with Christ, we are only puppets doing whatever God chose for us to do. At least, up to the moment where He gives us Salvation.
Without this moment of decision humanity is essentially given enough free will to do wrong, but not to do right, meaning God is holding them accountable for actions they had no ability to avoid.
Without this freedom to choose, humanities love or God is never freely given and love is only possible when it is freely given.
Without this choice to receive on our part, 1 Timothy 2:4 as well as every other verses referring to God’s desire to reach the whole world, don’t make sense.