Today you came read this with your identities secure: I am a fifth grade teacher; I am an electrician; I am a second year student at college; I am a homemaker; I am a dad; I am a mom; I am a husband or a wife; I am a son or a daughter; I am lawyer; I am a retired salesman.
But before your eyes leave this page, I am praying that God will give you a new identity: “I am a minister.”
Oh, so you don’t feel called to be a minister? Well, listen first to God’s Word.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2.1-10 ESV).
I want to tell you how my Aunt Eva got my goat. I once had a goat named Buck. Believe it or not, Buck was so big that I could ride him, which I often did. I grew to really like old Buck. Buck was a pretty white color. He was fun to be with. Yet Aunt Eva never really got attached to Buck like I did. One day, in the spring of the year when our many azalea bushes were in full bloom and the magnificent bridal wreath spireas cascaded onto the lavender flowers which Aunt Eva prized almost as much as she prized me, Buck apparently got very, very hungry. This gastronomical, gourmet of a goat proceeded to eat down all of those azalea bushes along with the spiraea next to them. Once discovered, Buck was history. The last I saw of Buck, he was in the back of a livestock trailer headed to who-knows-where. I still remember his look of surprise. I still remember my own. Well, Buck was a fine animal, or at least I thought he was, other than that episode, a pretty good goat. But on that fateful (and for Buck, fatal) day, Aunt Eva declared that Buck was not good, but just “good for nothing.”
Christians are to be good for something, although I willingly admit that we can also seem to be “good for nothing.” In fact, Jesus said that when we stand before Him on judgment day, some will be like sheep and some will be like goats. The sheep, in his story in Matthew 25, who will be on Jesus’ right hand, at the place of sonship, are true believers who manifested their faith in tangible expressions of love to others. Jesus says that these sheep will have fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, provided hospitality to the homeless, clothing to the naked, visited the sick and those imprisoned. And Jesus identifies Himself with the needy. On the left hand, there will be the goats. Just as good works shows the sheep’s true faith, the goats are known because of their lack of good works. They did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to strangers, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and imprisoned. Again, Jesus identifies with those people and says “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did not do it to Me” (Matt. 25.45 NKJV). Jesus was speaking about the response of the nations to the Gospel and those who go out in His name to preach the Gospel, but the story is also clear: true faith requires good works or else, it is a goat that is good for nothing.
Christians are to be good for something. “Blest to be a blessing” is the way someone put it. And that is exactly what we will see as we look at the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, chapters 1 and 2. In Ephesians 2.1-10, one of the great passages in the Word of God, Paul unfolds the glory of God in salvation, all of grace, that leads us, in verse 10, to His purpose for saving us: good works. Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian of yesteryear, says that this passage begins with “the spiritual state of the Ephesians before their conversion” and goes to the “change which God had wrought in them” and leads to “the design for which that change had been effected.” You see again, as Hodge saw it, that this passage is about answering “What is the reason for it all.”
This passage is to show that you were made for Good Works, or as we might say: You were made for ministry.
There are three affirmations we must take from this part of God’s Holy Word.
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To begin with, we need to affirm something very important in this passage that will clear up a lot of misunderstanding in the Body of Christ:
I. Good Works Requires God’s Grace (vv. 1-9)
I once heard of a man who said that, like Smith Barney, he got his religion the old-fashioned way: he earned it!
Well, of course, nothing could be further from the Gospel truth, especially pressed home by Paul in the second chapter of Ephesians. Looking at the entire section of verses 1-9, we see how we are saved, by grace. By a free, sovereign act of a loving God, through the life and death of Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit drawing us to Christ, and through an act of faith in Him, we are saved by being translated out of a spiritual death into new life and all of that by God’s grace.
This is the passage that gripped my soul so many years ago. I am here only because of the power of this passage and I do not doubt, that like me, there are some here today that have grown up in the church, heard the Word for many years, but have missed this central and essential truth of the Gospel. In fact, this is THE Gospel. We are saved not by works but by grace. This morning, may God clear your mind of man-centered religion and infuse you, supernaturally, with the wisdom of God to believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.
As if to preclude the antinomianism of some (those who throw out the law as unnecessary in the Christian life), who would use this passage to promote an intellectual religion that has no point, no practical application, the Great Apostle shows that we were saved by grace unto good works. He moves effortlessly from grace to salvation to works. And this is what we mean when we say that we are made for ministry: We were made for Good Works in Christ Jesus.
This is also what James says when he writes:
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2.17 ESV).
Now some say that this is a contradiction of Paul. Others say that this compliments Paul. And so it does. But Paul himself in this passage makes the same statement so that even if we did not have James to compliment and explain, there is enough here to teach us that faith produces good works.
The Westminster Confession is helpful to us at this point: In Chapter 16 of the Confession entitled, “Of Good Works” the Westminster divines, with Scriptural footnotes after each phrase, clearly show the place of good works in the Christian life:
“…Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith (and it goes on to say that by them we manifest our thanksgiving to God for our salvation)”
Now. Can you have good works done by unbelievers? Again, the Confession of Faith deals with almost all of the questions about our faith and here we learn that while there are works that bring good, even out of a sense of duty and thinking they will earn salvation through these works, and while these works may certainly benefit mankind, are not good works because their end is not the glory of God.
Perhaps John Calvin put is best when he said:
“It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone.”
Taken as a whole, and not out of context, the teaching clearly establishes the relationship of God’s grace and God’s intent that we should be engaged in good works.
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So let us have this pillar of truth firmly established and then let us move on to understand good works. And so we move on and live in verse 10. Here we read:
“For we are His workmanship…”
The force of the passage is that regenerate human beings are masterpieces of a gracious God. Thinking about it from our use of the word, we could say that life of a believer is poetry and designed to be poetry in motion.
Here we affirm:
II. Good Works Reflects Christ’s Ministry (10a: “His workmanship”)
The reason that we are to be about good works begins with the fact that we have been made in the image of God. We are “His workmanship” and the very fact that we exists shows that God is not just about philosophical interests, but interested in red-blooded men and women. If we are a “piece of work” belonging to God, then we should naturally reflect Him in our own lives. To reflect Jesus Christ is to be about good works.
The early church father, John Chrysostom, wrote:
“Mercy imitates God and disappoints Satan.”
Let’s consider how Jesus Christ is a God of “mercy” and “good works” and how if we are His workmanship, we should be demonstrating those good works:
1. Jesus came to do good works
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45).
We are His workmanship, made in His image, and so we are most like Him when we serve others and give our lives away for the sake of the Gospel. Now most of us can understand giving our lives away to God. But Paul shows us that we give our lives away to God as we give our lives away to others:
“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2.10).
To give your life away to someone who will never thank you, even mistreat you is more like Jesus. That is being His workmanship.
2. Jesus did good works, as the eternal God, in works of creation:
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1.16).
We are His workmanship, made in His image, and so we are most like Him when we are creative and productive. Good works thus involve fulfilling the cultural mandate of Genesis:
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1.28).
One thing that John Calvin taught us in the Reformation is that work is holy. Ministry is not only volunteering at church on Sundays, but also giving your best for your fellow-man in the marketplace. Whether you are a homemaker, a teacher, a businessman, a student in elementary school or high school or college, the way we approach our work reveals our hearts.
The other day one of our elders, a well-respected man in our community, told me that he got up out of bed and said, “Now what if I didn’t have anything to do today!” And he thanked the Lord for work. May we all thank God for the opportunity to plant, to harvest, to labor for the good of others, whatever our profession. For we are in the image of the Creator, our Lord Jesus.
3. Jesus did good works, as the perfect Man, in works of obedience:
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2.52).
To be His workmanship means to do good works of obedience. Jesus Christ was obedient to His parents, obedient to the Law, and even as we see Jesus attending synagogue and participating even in festivals that were more cultural than Biblical, for instance in the feast of dedication or Chanukah. And of course our Lord was obedient to His Father. He came to do His Father’s will. And we too, though saved by grace, should be motivated by that grace to obedience. And do you see the difference? We are constrained by love not duty. It is a duty of the heart that brings our lives into conformity with God’s will.
4. Jesus did good works, as the fully Human One, in works of mercy:
“And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1.34).
We are His workmanship, made in His image, made for ministry, and we should reflect His image in mercy. Jesus used miracles to draw attention to His power and to illustrate His teaching. And so mercy illustrates the Gospel.
I know of a young lady in seminary who was preparing to go to the Middle East as a missionary. One of her friends was killed in Iraq. Her friend was there working at a water purification plant, seeking to provide clean water for the people of Baghdad. But of course, she was there to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to teach the truths of Ephesians 2.8,9. But those truths are powerfully demonstrated through good works.
Jesus was more human than anyone who ever lived. His heart was filled with compassion for poor, hurting people and so must ours be. The Gospel must go forth in word and in deed.
5. Jesus did good works, as the Lord of Lords, in works of atonement for sin:
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19.30).
On the cross, grace and good works wed. There, in that salvific cry of the King of Glory, “It is finished” the good works for our salvation was complete.
Now we are His workmanship, made for ministry. And though we cannot in any fashion add to that great work, we must carry that work to others through evangelism, through a good old-fashioned word that we don’t use any more, “soul winning.” Yet the Bible says:
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11.30).
Some time ago I received a call from a very fine Christian lady, advancing in years and in poor health, who has gone for care in another city. This dear lady called me to give me an update on her travels. She told me that everywhere they go in this large metropolitan area, they go by taxicab. She said, “You know Mike these are all Middle Eastern folks around here.” She then lamented that she didn’t as much about their culture as she would like, to engage them. “But,” she said, “Mike, I just tell them about Jesus, about His love, His sacrifice, His perfect life, His resurrection, and I let them know that according to the Bible, He will forgive their sins and give them eternal life if they will receive Him as Lord. And then I just leave it with Him.”
There is a wise woman. And there is a woman who models the ministry of Christ. For she is His workmanship.
Good works includes sharing the Gospel in whatever we do. Good works includes, for the believer, bringing the Gospel to bear in our families, our vocations, in all of our relationships. For this is the great and last work of our Savior.
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Finally, we read in this great verse these words:
“Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”…”
III. Good works Realizes Christ’s Mission (10b:”which God prepared beforehand…”)
Again, the great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, saw this section as leading from the transformation of the Ephesians in order for them to realize Christ’s purposes for their lives: to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.
From the foundation of the world, God intended for you to fulfill His mission for the world through your intentional acts of mercy and kindness and love. What Paul is really saying is that God ordained the end and He also ordained the means.
Those in liberal churches have been suspicious of evangelicals who went to preach but do no physical ministry. Those in evangelical churches were suspicious of those who did physical ministry but didn’t preach. The truth is the to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ is to do both. This is what James meant when he taught his congregation:
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2.15-17
Question: how are you ministering in His name? When you give your tithes and offerings to your church you certainly do that for almost every Christian church I know supports physical needs ministries in that way. Yet more and more I am asking myself the question: “Don’t just tell me who to write the check to. Tell me how I can be involved directly, personally, with meeting the needs of others. For I need to become a believer who doesn’t simply write checks, but ministers a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, who “casts out demons” as we step in to help an unwed mother and through our hands on love snap the cycle of pain in young women’s lives. Oh that we might become, in your place of worship and mine, a place that heals as we help build homes and tear down walls of racial division. We want to be a place that lives out what God told His people through Micah:
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.6-8).
I wonder if there is someone reading this today, in the quietness of his heart, who will commit to bring heart and hands, to bring the first fruits of increase, to bring the gifts that God has given you, to help others in the name of Jesus?
Don’t let anybody get your goat: to be a true believer is to be in ministry, to be about the good works which God has given us to do. These good works require God’s grace. Good works reflect Christ’s ministry. And these good works realize Christ’s mission. What a powerhouse of a passage! Saved by grace. Saved unto Good Works.
One night, several years ago, the telephone rang. Not unusual, except that is was late. Again, not totally unusual for late calls to a pastoral home. But when my wife answered the phone, and responded, “Oh, hi Toni!” I knew who was on the line! It was late and I was tired, but I knew I would be on the phone for a good while. And I would not mind for one second! You see, Toni was one of the original members who came to form our core group when we were church planting in Overland Park, Kansas. She and her husband, Bo, were faithful friends and went out to share the Gospel with me, ushered at Sunday worship, set up chairs, encouraged so many, and gave and gave and gave, laboring in love in so many ways. This dynamic retired couple started our outreach and assimilation plan by showing good works to visitors and our “First Touch Ministries” was based on their commitment to show Christ’s mercy to others. Bo was our treasurer and many times we went to the Lord on our knees to ask Him to supply our needs to continue that ministry. And God always supplied. Bo and Toni were real models of good works. Several years after our church was planted, our first land was purchased, and we crafted our first sanctuary, Bo died. Understandably, Toni has had a hard time. So she called me now and then. We always talked about the same thing. We talked about Bo. And about how hard it is. And how faithful Christ is. I would always tell her that she has the right to miss him. And then she will say, “Why, that’s right. God does give me the right to cry.” And I would say “Yes ma’am.” So it went each time this dear saint of the Lord telephoned me. I would be still talking to Toni long after my family were in bed. At first, I would grow a bit tired. But the more we talked and prayed, the more I felt like I was right where I should be, doing exactly what I was called to do, and becoming exactly who God wanted me to be. I felt the power of Christ flowing in me. And Toni told me that she did too. All of a sudden I realized: the Lord meant for that time in my life to “be Christ” to Toni. Just like for so long, Toni and Bo were “Christ to me.” Then I came to see that Toni was not an interruption in my evening. She was the reason for my life at that moment.
I wonder: Do you see the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual needs of people around you as interruptions in your spiritual life? Or invitations to show the love of Jesus which He has shown you?
You were made for ministry. And the words of a newer hymn in the Church sums it up:
“Let your heart be broken for a world in need; feed the mouths that hunger, soothe the wounds that bleed, give the cup of water and the loaf of bread¾be the hands of Jesus, serving in His stead.
Blest to be a blessing, privileged to care, challenged by the need, apparent everywhere. Where mankind is wanting fill the vacant place; be the means through which the Lord reveals His grace.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ayto, John. Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990.
NIV Greek Concordance (6.1.2) Accordance, 2004 [cited 2004].
The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations. Edited by Martin H. Mansere. Louisville, KY: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2001.
 Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, first published 1916, 1991 reprint), 57-58.
 See the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVI, Section 7.
 The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, ed. Martin H. Mansere (Louisville, KY: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2001).
 “poi/hma, poieœma, n. . what is made, workmanship, creation” in NIV Greek Concordance (6.1.2) (Accordance, 2004 [cited 2004]).
 John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990), 401.
 The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations.
 John 10:22-23 states, “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”
 Bryan Jeffrey Leach, “Let Your Heart Be Broken” in The Trinity Hymnal (Atlanta: Great Commission Publications, 1998 Seventh Edition), 595.