By Jen Hatmaker
BEING GOD’S POIEMA — In Ephesians 2:10, God calls you His workmanship, His poiema, meaning His masterpiece. Do you struggle with self-deprecation or self-loathing? Do you waste much time in guilt or shame? You, as a new creation in Jesus, are a treasure, the chalkboard upon which God writes for the world to catch a glimpse of His love.
I live in Austin, Texas, and you might remember that our team , the University of Texas Longhorns, played a rather large football game at the end of last season. (I, for one, threw a huge party where we only ate orange food, and I may or may not have busted out some old cheerleading moves. I’m 35 years old. Whatever.) If you watched the National Championship game, our quarterback was injured on the fifth play. He took a stinger on a tackle, and consequently, lost the use of his right arm. “One fanatic” was shocked those trainers couldn’t get him back on the field and screamed, “Where is Mr. Miyagi?” (If you’re too young to understand that reference, I’m not explaining it. Google Mr. Miyagi if you must.) After the game, the quarterback said of his injury, “I’m not in pain; my arm is dead.”
No amount of massages, injections, or chanting could get that kid back on the field with his throwing arm intact. The human race has an identical spiritual condition, and no amount of church attendance, good behavior, or Bible studies can improve it.
THE BAD NEWS
Ephesians 2:1-2 makes a hard-core statement about the human condition: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age …” This is no soft sell. Before Jesus redeemed us, we weren’t sick. We weren’t injured. We weren’t hooked up on life support. We were dead. This was the background Paul painted as he unpacked the miracle of salvation. A dead person has no role to play in his or her own resurrection. A dead individual is beyond the boundaries of medicine, therapy, hospitals, and specialists. The only way to restore life is through the miracle of resurrection, which the dead person can’t initiate, assist, or earn.
Most people view salvation as a cooperative effort: God does most of the heavy lifting, and we attempt to attract His grace by being good and doing nice things for other people. Pollster George Barna found that 7 out of 10 evangelicals believed the statement, “God helps those who help themselves,” was either a direct quote from the Bible or an excellent summation of what the Bible says (strikes one and two).1
That position assumes God’s grace is imparted to us like a process, as we begin making better choices, patching up our junk, and towing the party line. Somehow grace is perceived as medicine, doled out to us in increments as we transition through life with equal parts “God’s mercy” and “our efforts.”
THE GOOD NEWS
But God’s grace isn’t infused gradually; it’s granted instantly the moment God alone decides to raise us from the dead through the sacrifice of Jesus. “But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved!” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Once we understand that we don’t deserve this grace, we can maintain a sane picture of ourselves. Imagining we have anything to do with our invitation to stand before God as righteous is the ultimate self-deception. Faith is simply the outstretched hand that receives the gift of grace; the power is not in the faith of the human but in Jesus, the Rescue for sinners.
This now makes sense: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation — created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Rather than finding ourselves marginalized by such an egocentric view of salvation, we’re now held up as marvelous trophies of God’s grace. We are new creations, breathing testaments to the power of mercy. We walk around healed, transformed, redeemed … alive.
Now this seems obvious and nearly beside the point: We were created in Jesus to do good works. Good works are the indispensable partner to salvation; not as its means but its consequence. Once you are liberated by Jesus, if you don’t respond with joy and gratitude and a desire to see God’s kingdom come, then you don’t understand the nature of the gospel that raised you from a hopeless, helpless, dead person.
LIVING OUT THE GOSPEL
Find freedom in this: You didn’t earn your grace, so you couldn’t possibly lose it. It wasn’t granted to you by your merit, potential, good habits, history, attempts, successes, good intentions, or legacy. You were just a corpse when Jesus’ ridiculous love resurrected you, and now you’re a new creation — righteous, holy, redeemed, restored, in perfect harmony with God. If you weren’t good enough to activate it, then you can’t be bad enough to nullify it. This is why we run toward those good works Jesus prepared for us to walk in; not to activate another injection of grace into our lives, but because grace raised us from the dead when we had nothing to offer.
1. GeorgeBarna andMarkHatch, Boiling Point (Venture, CA: Regal Books, 2001), 189.
Jen Hatmaker is a speaker and author of seven books and Bible studies, including Ms. Understood and Interrupted. She graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University and currently lives in Austin, Texas. Find out more at jenhatmaker.com.
WALKING IN GOOD WORKS
When you translate Ephesians 2:10 literally, it says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to walk in” (emphasis added). Don’t you like the idea of “walking in good works” more than “doing good works”? I like it because walking in good works sounds natural and normal. It reminds me of a life immersed in goodness, not just tacking on a project or event to get my good works quota filled.
What would walking in good works look like for you today? Who will you walk by? Where will you be spending time? How can you walk in goodness today on the path you are already on?
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Collegiate Magazine. To subscribe, click here or on the magazine cover.