Friday, August 14, 2009

Ephesians 2:9

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:9).

We've looked briefly during the last few lessons at the salvation God gives us because of His grace, what His grace saves us from, and what His grace saves us for. Today we will look at verse 9 which continues St. Paul's thoughts about faith that saves us, and the working out of that faith.

When the apostle writes, "For we are His handiwork" he uses the Greek word poiēma for "handiwork." It's the same word from which we get "poem." I like that distinction. God created us to be in Christ as a poem to others. Even a love poem, for whatever is not done for others in love falls far short of how God requires us to act toward others.

Scripture and Sacred Tradition could not be more clear, as we have seen in earlier lessons which linked to Biblical texts and to the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- we are "born again" by virtue of our faith in Christ's work on Calvary.


Nothing we did, or could do, brought us into Christ, because we were "dead in our transgressions." And we remained dead until the Holy Spirit made us new creatures. God reconciled us to Himself --brought us into favored fellowship with Himself -- through the blood of Christ, and imputed to us His very righteousness. No wonder, then, having been brought into the Kingdom by our baptismal faith, we can have such liberating sense of freedom from fear and guilt, knowing we did not enter into God's favor by our works -- nor do we stay in His favor by our works -- but because of His grace working through our faith (for example, see here, here, here and here).

Indeed, St. Paul makes it clear that we are justified (declared guiltless by God) on the basis of our faith in Christ's atonement for us (see also here and here, as well as the Catechism here). That is why St. Paul also tells us that to seek justification on the basis of how well we follow the law does nothing but place us in mortal jeopardy.

Yet, having said all that about faith, good works are nonetheless a vital element in our salvation. We remain in fellowship and in favor with God by faith that is obedient to the Master --as the Lord Jesus said many times and in many ways, "If you love Me, keep my commandments" (for example, here, here and here. See also the Catechism here).

St. James tells us faith, without accompanying works, is worthless faith. He calls it "dead." James uses the same word for "dead" (νεκρός [nekros]) in chapter 2 of his epistle as St. Paul uses in the first verse of chapter 2 in Ephesians describing how we are "necrotic"[dead] in our transgressions and sins.

But the critical nature of faith and works should surprise no one. The Lord Jesus was never one to let people get by only by their faith, for He required a doing faith. Based on the Lord's words in Matthew 25, good works, rooted in a loving affection for the Master, are the key for entry into His kingdom. It is our good works -- and not our faith -- that creates in others a desire for the Kingdom. And we cannot neglect forgiveness, a "work" (and difficult one, indeed) which Jesus also made a requirement for us to extend to others if we hope to receive God's forgiveness ourselves.

Likewise, as we noted a few lessons ago the words of St. Augustine: It is not that we keep [God's] commandments first, and then He loves us; but that He loves us, and then we keep His commandments. This is that grace which is revealed to the humble, but hidden from the proud. Or, as we read in the Catechism (para 546) Jesus' invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the form of parables . . . . Through his parables he invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough, deeds are required.

The faith-works question is not best defined as "Faith versus Works," but rather Faith demonstrated by Works. Faith is what makes possible the works that illustrate our salvation.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Some people place the proverbial cart before the horse, believing good deeds more important than faith. Others disconnect the cart from the horse, thinking all they need is the horse to get them into the kingdom. And still others disconnect the two and drag the cart behind them, believing they don't need faith in Christ, for when God weighs their good deeds to their not-so-good ones, they hope to weigh-in on the right side of the equation. Based on your study of the last few lessons, what responses could you make to those philosophies?

2. What are the one or two promises of Scripture in this lesson that stand out most to you? Why do you thing those texts touch you?

3. What do you think St. Augustine meant when he wrote (see above): "This is that grace which is revealed to the humble, but hidden from the proud"?

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