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  • Writer's picturePastor Elaine

March 10, 2024: On Works, Grace, and Being Wonderfully Made

Updated: Mar 18

“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”


The early Christian leaders had a problem.  Well, to be honest they had a number of problems!  There was the persecution of the believers by the Romans. There was infighting amongst the Apostles,  Peter and Paul did not see eye to eye!  So there were divisions among the believers - do you follow Peter or do you follow Paul? And what about James and John?  And there was disunity and division in the early Church communities themselves.  That is why we have the letters to the Romans, Colossians, Corinthians and as we read today the Ephesians. As we look back at all these divisions it is almost a miracle that Christianity survived and thrived!  Perhaps one of the biggest problems for the early Christians and their leaders was what to do about the fact that Jesus had not returned.


Uh-oh.  Jesus had not come back.  They had expected he would return soon  - at least within the generation after his death.  But he had not returned.  So what did this mean?  Had the earliest followers - those closest to him - his disciples and apostles misunderstood his teaching?  Or could it be worse?  What if they were completely mistaken and he was not coming back?  What did he say about his return?  Then as in the generations that have followed there is the lingering question - when? And the lingering doubt - what if he doesn’t?


This is part of what is going on in the letter to the Ephesians.  This letter had originally been attributed to Paul.  This is no longer the case and the letter is now suspected to be by a disciple of Paul and was probably written later than the authentic Pauline letter.  It is “Paulish”.


For early believers there was an idea that Christ is seated or sits next to God and we see that language in Ephesians.  In this letter the followers are introduced to the possibility of receiving a position alongside Christ.   This is a future hope.  If you believe that there will be a place for you then perhaps you can cope with the trauma of the present better.


But we cannot stay with this.  The author of Ephesians did not want the audience to only focus on the future side by side with Christ.  We are told that Christ followers have been created for the purpose of doing good in the world.


The author of Ephesians has something to say about Grace and God’s actions.  God’s grace offers us salvation and keeps us from our wanderings and missteps. This author, following in Paul’s footsteps, adds a new nuance to the idea of salvation.  Salvation is no longer an event that will occur sometime in the future, it is a present reality.  And this is going to change things.


God’s grace saves.  This is the good news of this portion of the letter to the Ephesians.  This text is a favourite of reformers with its focus on grace and faith.


"…by grace you have been saved."  We know these words, this phrase, because it is part of our confession and forgiveness….for by grace you have been saved through faith.


Again we come up against grace and faith and salvation and redemption and acts of good works.


Good works - are they about personal moralism? What about the social justice component?    We know that we have God’s forgiveness, God’s love, God’s compassion.  We believe that there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s love.   We believe that grace is a gift that is freely given.  All we need is faith and a willingness to say yes to the gift.  But as we read in the letter to the Ephesians, maybe there is something more.


In Ephesians 2:10 we can affirm that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works.  This is to be our way of life. Our good works are a reflection of God’s grace at work in our lives.  We are to build up the community of the faithful.


The letter to the Ephesians is one of the simplest and succinct summaries of Pauline theology.  Ephesians 2:1-10  - the passage we read this morning in a central text of our faith.  


By grace you have been saved.  Because of this we do not have to waste our time with questions like do I believe? Do I really believe?  Am I saved?  Am I really saved.


And what about those good works?  The author of the letter to the Ephesians echoes Paul, that good works are the result of God’s grace - this gift makes us want to do good works.  It becomes a way of life.  Perhaps we can see good works as an expression of Christ alive in us, ministering to the world?


There is a second part to the equation given to us in this passage.  It too is as important as the knowledge that we have been saved by grace.


Verse 10 “For we are what he has made us…” and we know that we are wonderfully, beautifully made in variations and complexities.


AMEN



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